Sleepers, Busts and Bets: The 2022 Cleveland Browns


Jeremy Popielarz and Dan Fornek continue with the 2022 Sleepers, Busts, and Bets series to preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming year. Next up: The Cleveland Browns.


Jeremy and Dan will list their picks with confidence in “The Answers,” Then expand upon their picks with more details reason in “The Explanation.”

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Popielarz: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Fornek: David Bell

Biggest Bust

Popielarz: David Njoku
Fornek: Deshaun Watson

Boldest Bet

Popielarz: Nick Chubb Finishes as a Top-5 RB
Fornek: Bets contingent on Deshaun Watson (see below) 


The Explanation


Popielarz: Donovan Peoples-Jones

It is hard to make any hard-and-fast predictions about the Browns for 2022, in large part due to the quarterback situation. However, one player who has caught my eye in drafts lately is third-year receiver Donavon Peoples-Jones. Last season he saw 58 targets, a significant jump from the 20 he saw as a rookie. He took advantage, producing 597 yards and finding the end zone three times, averaging over 17 yards a reception. Outside of the stats, we also saw him display his ability to stretch the field and become a true deep threat. He also showed off his contest catch ability, converting on 74% of these situations and had 6 created catches, according to FTN advanced receiving stats. With both Austin Hooper and Jarvis Landry moving on, there is a lot of room for opportunity within the offense. That’s especially in the red zone, as both Hooper and Landry were the top two targets in close last season, combining for 22 total targets. This is an area Peoples-Jones could emerge with his aforementioned abilities at contested catchers. Currently, he is only battling with rookie David Bell to become the second receiver in the offense. Cleveland’s run-heavy scheme certainly caps Peoples-Jones’ upside, but becoming a WR3 or weekly flex player is in reach, and that’s with a current ADP of WR75. 

Fornek: David Bell

The general discussion around David Bell has centered on his poor combine performance — he posted an underwhelming 4.65-second 40-yard dash and an awful 4.57 short shuttle. However, this conversation is leaving out a very important point: even with those underwhelming testing numbers, Bell had a stellar career at Purdue despite being opposing defenses’ focal point for three seasons. The receiver averaged over 100 receiving yards per game during his career and never had less than 11.8 yards per reception and six touchdowns in a season. Despite the poor combine performance, Bell was drafted in the third round of this year’s draft.

There are no established receivers outside of Amari Cooper in Cleveland, which gives Bell the chance to establish himself as a starter coming out of the preseason. At the very least, Bell will likely operate as the team’s primary slot receiver and will have a chance to work with advantageous matchups against linebackers and safeties in coverage. Bell could easily finish in the top two or three in targets for Cleveland in his rookie season and could be a fine volume-based dart throw late in fantasy drafts.


Popielarz: David Njoku

David Njoku 2022 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts and Bets

After the Browns cut Austin Hooper, they extended the very talented (and now lead) tight end David Njoku, a player many fantasy managers have been expecting to explode onto the scene since 2018. However, he has struggled to regain his form since his ACL injury in 2019. Last season, he looked the best he has in a long time, producing 475 yards and four touchdowns while working in a trio of tight ends with Hooper and Harrison Bryant. Due to this solid production last season and the moves within the Browns facility this offseason, hype around Njoku has begun to build.

However, it’s misplaced. Yes, he is a talented player, but the Browns have employed a multi-TE system for years now. As a result, they have not produced a top-12 tight end since Njoku’s 2018 season, under a different coaching staff. Since, the team hasn’t had any tight end even finish top-20 in PPR. Expecting this constant to change overnight doesn’t feel right. Also, Bryant has proven to be a great contributor in the passing game over the past two seasons. In a limited target share, he has produced over 200 yards in both seasons and found the endzone six times. It’s more realistic to think that both players will be used in a pairing, ultimately limiting both players’ upside. That means the hype/hope that Njoku will return to the TE1 ranks will likely never reach fruition. 

Fornek: Deshaun Watson

This is contingent on Deshaun Watson missing time during the 2022 NFL season with a suspension. Watson is currently being drafted as the QB16 in early summer drafts, which bakes in some risk of an impending suspension … but not enough. When healthy and playing, Watson is one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. However, we aren’t sure how many games (if any) he will play during the 2022 season. Cleveland is still a team built to play their offense through the run game and lacks top-end weapons. There is a very real chance Cleveland makes minimal offensive changes this season and focuses on the run before investing in outside weapons to let Watson thrive in a passing attack in 2023 and beyond.

If Watson plays all 17 games this season, then early fantasy drafters will likely be getting a steal at QB16. However, until his situation becomes less ambiguous, Watson is the most likely player to bust at his current ADP. It’s not worth the risk.



Popielarz: Nick Chubb Finishes as a Top-5 RB

Nick Chubb 2022 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts and Bets

Nick Chubb finishing as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 has been one of the fantasy football constants. Over his four-year career he has finished RB17 (as a rookie who didn’t start until partway through the season), RB8, RB11 and RB13 in PPR. In 14 games last season, Chubb averaged 15.4 PPR points per game, putting up 215.3 on the season, 40 shy of RB6 Leonard Fournette—in other words, if he had been healthy all 17 games, he easily could have caught Fournette. This season, with last year’s top red zone targets elsewhere, we could see even bigger things for Chubb. Add in the rumors swirling around a potential long suspension for Deshaun Watson, and the Browns could have to lean on their run game even more heavily. That’s Chubb’s path to a top-five finish — if he can see a workload similar to his 2019 campaign, he should be able to easily reach this, especially if he can manage to find the end zone a couple more times this season with all the added work. Add in the fact Jacoby Brissett has loved to target running backs in his career, and the route gets even easier for Chubb, especially in PPR formats. The biggest hindrance in this quest will be the usage of Kareem Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson, especially in the passing game, where both have had good success in their careers. 


The only way to make a proper boldest bet for the Browns is to channel the multiverse and look at possible outcomes depending on if Deshaun Watson plays a full season or not. My first prediction is that, if Watson plays a full season while the NFL lets his civil cases play out, Amari Cooper will finish as a top-10 WR in fantasy. From 2018 to 2020, the WR1 tied to Watson has averaged 144 targets, 100 receptions, 1,296 receiving yards and eight touchdowns per season. Those totals would be good for 18.1 fantasy points per game, which would have finished seventh last year in PPR. We already know Cooper doesn’t have much established target competition in Cleveland, and we also know Watson has no problem funneling targets to the most talented wide receiver on the team. If Watson plays a full 17 games this year, then Cooper has an excellent chance to finish inside the top-10 wide receivers in PPR scoring leagues.

If we live in a world where Watson misses some time (even as much as the entire season), then my boldest bet is that no Browns skill player will finish top-15 at any position in fantasy scoring. If Watson is suspended, the starting quarterback will likely be Jacoby Brissett (assuming Baker Mayfield continues to stay away from the team). Brissett, largely a career backup who has two seasons of starting experience, has never had a wide receiver finish with more than 1,000 receiving yards or five receiving touchdowns. That caps the upside of Cooper, David Bell, David Njoku and the rest of the Browns’ receiving weapons. Brissett starting also means Cleveland will be forced to run more, but teams will have the ability to load the box and force Brissett to beat them. As good as Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are, there is only so much they can do against seven- and eight-man boxes. A partial or full season of Brissett will cap the upside of this offense and render the Browns relatively unusable in fantasy football in 2022.

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