Few teams have been in the headlines more in the offseason than the Cleveland Browns. The first big headline was acquiring quarterback Deshaun Watson in a trade that sent a boatload of picks over the 2022, 2023 and 2024 Drafts to the Houston Texans. They then signed Watson to a five-year, $230 million contract extension. Now the waiting game begins as Watson is facing a potentially long suspension from the NFL after facing civil lawsuits of sexual assault by at least two dozen women. He has settled 20 of the 24 cases out of court, but it’s doubtful that will deter a decision on his final punishment.
To completely change the quarterback room the Browns signed Jacoby Brissett to a free-agent contract and shipped former No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield to Carolina for a 2024 draft pick in early July.
In this series, we will look at the most important fantasy football position battles for each NFL team. Opportunity is king in fantasy, as you can’t produce fantasy statistics without getting on the field. So, the first step when looking for value plays is to project — correctly — which players will win training camp battles.
Here’s a look at our picks to win the training camp battles for the Cleveland Browns ahead of your 2022 fantasy football drafts.
Donovan Peoples-Jones vs. David Bell vs. Anthony Schwartz
The one thing that’s clear is Amari Cooper will be the No. 1 wide receiver for the Browns this year. Peoples-Jones posted a decent sophomore season (34 receptions, 597 yards, three touchdowns) considering he averaged a little more than three targets a game. Schwartz, a second-year pro and Bell, a third-round draft choice out of Purdue, will also get in the mix. Bell, a former All-American and two-time All-Big Ten performer, is a big outside target that can take on a high volume. He is the one to watch in camp. With Bell it could be a matter of when, not if, he’s an every week starter.
Our pick to win: Peoples-Jones
When Watson returns, likely in 2023, this will be Bell’s spot. But with an expected target share among the wide receivers to be down this season, Peoples-Jones will come into camp as the No. 2 guy and his experience in the offense should keep him there.
David Njoku vs. Harrison Bryant
The stage is set for David Njoku to be the No. 1 TE for the Browns. The team released Austin Hooper in the offseason and signed Njoku to four-year contract extension with $28 million in guarantees. It might be tough for Njoku to reach his 2018 numbers (56 receptions, 639 yards, four touchdowns) without Watson in the lineup, but he will be reliable safety valve for Brissett and should improve on his 2021 numbers (36 receptions, 475 yards, four touchdowns). Schwartz should see the field plenty given how much the Browns use 12 (1 RB, 2 TE) and 13 (1 RB, 3 TE) personnel groupings.
Our pick to win: Njoku
Hooper had 61 targets last season, so Njoku is going to be a high-usage tight end in 2022 as long as he stays healthy. The offense will be tweaked once Watson is entrenched as a starter, but I expect Cleveland to stick with heavy multiple tight end sets this season.
DeShaun Watson vs. Jacoby Brissett
August 19 update: Watson has been suspended for 11 games. He will return in Week 13 to face his old team the Texans. Brissett appears to be the starter moving forward, as reports have the Browns not interested in Jimmy Garoppolo for 11 games.
Watson is going to be suspended. The general belief is that he will miss a lot of time, maybe even a full season. Cleveland has to be comfortable with Brissett starting, but there could be a situation where another arm is available that could provide some competition (like...say Jimmy Garappolo). Brissett has 37 starts in the NFL, with 30 of them coming with the Indianapolis Colts in the 2017 and 2019 seasons.
Our pick to win: Brissett
Brissett averaged 3,020 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his 30 starts with Indianapolis. He is a bottom third option in fantasy football and someone that will likely be drafted as a QB3.