A New Offense:
Holy Family-Guy-spinoff, the Cleveland Browns may actually be relevant this season. The team ousted Executive VP of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, after going 1-27 under his leadership. Then Cleveland quickly replaced Brown with former Chiefs General Manager, John Dorsey, who has aggressively addressed team needs this offseason.
Dorsey’s first big move was pouncing on offensive coordinator Todd Haley, after the Pittsburgh Steelers declined to renew his contract. Haley has been in command of an NFL offense each of the past 11 seasons as either an offensive coordinator or a head coach. During that time, his teams have averaged 22.3 points per game, which would have finished thirteenth league wide in 2017. Haley’s influence is expected to have an immediate impact on a Browns offense that scored the fewest points (14.6 PPG) in the NFL last season.
It sounds simple, but where Haley excels as a play-caller is getting the ball into his best players’ hands. He adjusts his offense to fit the unit’s strengths, and is open to both a pass-heavy and run-heavy approach. For example, Haley’s Cardinals finished second in pass attempts (630) in 2008 with Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to lean on. Two years later, the presence of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones prompted his Chiefs to lead the league in rush attempts (556).
With a successful offensive mind in place, Dorsey showed no hesitation in giving Haley pieces to work with. Trades brought in veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and slot receiver extraordinaire, Jarvis Landry. After throwing just 16 interceptions in 44 games with the Bills, Taylor’s ball-security should stabilize a Browns offense that led the league with 41 turnovers in 2017. Landry, who caught 400 passes in four seasons with Miami, will provide Taylor with a reliable target underneath.
These additions will pair nicely with what Cleveland already had. For the moment, Josh Gordon appears to have turned his life around, and is still one of the world’s most talented wide-outs when on the field. Duke Johnson proved to be a premier pass-catching ‘back last season, leading the Browns with 74 catches for 693 yards. First round pick, David Njoku showed promise at tight end as a rookie, and the interior of the offensive line remains solid despite the retirement of future Hall of Fame left tackle, Joe Thomas.
So where does that leave free agent signee, Carlos Hyde?
After four seasons in San Francisco, Hyde signed a 3-year contract worth over $15 million with Cleveland in an effort to move closer to family. The former second-round pick from Ohio State was added to replace Isaiah Crowell, who signed with the Jets after leading the Browns in rushing each of the past three seasons. Hyde is coming off the best statistical year of his career, setting personal highs in yards from scrimmage (1,290), rush attempts (240), receptions (59), receiving yards (350), and rushing touchdowns (8). Those numbers led him to tally the eighth-most fantasy points amongst running backs in PPR formats and the twelfth-most in standard leagues. The 27 year-old’s biggest accomplishment of 2017 was remaining healthy enough to play a full sixteen game season. This was the first time in Hyde’s career that he didn’t finish the year on the injury report.
According to Browns Staff Writer, Patrick Maks, Head Coach, Hue Jackson, had this to say about his new running back,
“In order for us to be the type of team I think we want to become, late in the year when it becomes November, December and January, you have to be able to run the football. You have to be able to line up and knock the other team off of the ball and hand the ball to somebody who’s going to make plays, and that’s who Carlos Hyde is.”
Clearly, Cleveland sees Hyde as a lead back who is capable of pounding the rock in the rough and rigid AFC North. The lead back in a Todd Haley offense has averaged 229.7 carries per season. However, Hyde’s injury-riddled past cannot be forgotten. The former Buckeye has played in 12.5 games per season on average over his career. If history repeats itself, we can expect roughly 179 rushes from Hyde in 2018.
Hyde’s yards per carry average slipped to a career low 3.9 YPC behind the 49ers’ offensive line last year — which also could have been the result of the unfamiliarity of Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. However, Hyde can expect to see similar sized holes in Cleveland. According to Pro Football Focus, San Francisco’s line provided the seventh-most yards before contact in 2017 (1.86 YBC). Meanwhile, the Browns’ O-line ranked eighth in that category, allowing 1.81 YBC. Hyde averages 4.2 YPC for his career, so the running back can be expected to average roughly four yards per tote this season.
Hyde will take a backseat to Johnson when it comes to pass-catching duties. Although he’s coming off a career-high 59 catches, Hyde’s 5.9 yards per reception average was the worst amongst running backs with 50 or more catches last season. Johnson was much more effective in this area, managing the third-most YPR (9.4) amongst RB’s in 2017. Crowell averaged 29 receptions per season in the three years he played alongside Johnson. Assuming Hyde plays 12.5 games in 2018, he appears in-line for roughly 23 catches. Hyde averages 5.8 YPR over his career, and there’s no reason to believe that number should increase with the Browns.
We all know the most crucial variable in fantasy football is touchdowns. Over eleven seasons, the lead back in Todd Haley’s offense has averaged seven rushing touchdowns and .9 receiving touchdowns per year. Let’s call it an even eight touchdowns over a full sixteen game season. That number drops to just over six touchdowns if Hyde only plays the 12.5 games he’s averaged in the NFL.
Ball security isn’t a major concern with Hyde. He’s lost five fumbles in his career, three of which occurred in 2016.
Considering what we know about Hyde as a player, Todd Haley’s offense, and the current construction of the Browns’ roster, the following stat-line is a reasonable estimate for Hyde’s production in 2018:
|2018 Projection||ATT||Yards||YPC||TD||REC||Yards||YPR||TD||FUM LST|
Given those numbers, Hyde is predicted to put up 141.9 PPR points this season, which would have finished 30th amongst running backs in 2017. The lack of receiving work doesn’t hurt him as much in standard formats, where he is anticipated to finish as the 24th highest-scoring running back with 118.9 points. Of course, Hyde has the potential to finish as the 17th (PPR) and 14th (standard) highest-scoring back if he’s able to dodge the injury bug and play all sixteen games. Overall, Hyde is forecasted to provide high-end FLEX value with RB2 upside. For fantasy purposes, let’s hope Cleveland doesn’t complicate the situation by drafting a Saquon Barkley.