If the predictions hold-up, it could very well be a solid day for Browns (and Bengals) players in the realm of fantasy football. There are a few players to keep an eye on in the “Battle of Ohio” match-up on Sunday.
**The “Average Fantasy Stats” are based on projections from four fantasy football websites, and Browns Gab. Projected stats were added together from all five sites, and averaged out based on the number of sites contributed to a stat. Not every site listed similar stats. Some averages are based off of sites who contributed to the particular stat. Sites used for projections include: CBS.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com and Yahoo.com**
Here’s a look at what you can expect from a few of the Bengals players…
Andy Dalton, QB
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 14 comp. 185 yards 1 TD 1 INT; 5 rush yards
Note: Dalton will try and execute the west coast offense to perfection against the Browns. He certainly has the talent around him to put up decent numbers, but it’ll be hard to do against an improved Cleveland secondary.
Recommendation: It’d be better to wait a few games to see where Dalton is at, both statistically and mentally, as a starting QB in the NFL. It’d be hard to imagine starting a rookie QB who’s first NFL start is opening day, on the road and against a divisional rival.
Cedric Benson, RB
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 18 rushes 75 yards 1 TD; 3 catches 14 yards
Note: Benson should be used early and often for the Bengals. Establishing a ground game will be critical for the Bengals in order to help settle down their rookie QB. The Browns haven’t been great stopping the run, and doesn’t cover backs out of the backfield particularly well either.
Recommendation: Benson is worth a start if you have a flex position available on your roster, otherwise, it’d be best to give him a few games to prove himself as a solid fantasy point maker. In 2010, Benson had a solid season for the Bengals, but off the field issues may distract him early on.
A.J. Green, WR
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 4 catches 52 yards
Note: Like Dalton, A.J. Green is also making his rookie debut. This year’s first-round draft pick for the Bengals, has all the talent in the world to be a great WR in the NFL, but may have a tough first day in office on Sunday. Green is likely to be matched-up against one of the best cover corners in the NFL – Joe Haden for the Browns.
Recommendation: Green might be worth a start in deeper leagues where you have 3-4 opportunities to start a WR. It may get old, but Green is another player that may take a few games to establish his game in the NFL. He’ll get a few targets on Sunday, but if the Bengals are playing from behind those targets could double.
Jermaine Gresham, TE
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 3 catches 34 yards
Note: The Bengals have one of the better young and talented tight ends in the NFL with Gresham on the team. West Coast Offense tight ends are always going to get a number of targets, especially in the end-zone.
Recommendation: Gresham is athletic enough to create batch-up problems for the Browns, particularly down around the goal-line. At 6’5 261 lbs., Gresham is going to be on the field more often than not for Cincinnati. He’s certainly worth a start if you’re shaky at the tight end position.
Cincinnati Bengals Defense – Special Teams
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 22 points allowed 2 Sacks 1 INT
Note: The Bengals will depend on mostly veterans on the defensive side of the ball. Many believe that the Bengals are still at top-half defense in the NFL. The loss of CB Jonathan Joseph will certainly hurt, especially against the number of passes the secondary should see from the Browns pass-first offense.
Recommendation: It wouldn’t be the end of the world if you were forced to start the Bengals Defense/Special Teams, but there are certainly better options out there. Unless you have a top five defense on your fantasy team, it’s easy to swap out your defenses from week-to-week.
And from the Browns players…
Colt McCoy, QB
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 19 comp. 199 yards 2 TDs 1 INT; 11 rush yards
Note: McCoy is making the first opening-day start of his young career on Sunday. With a redefined passing-attack in Cleveland, thanks to the transition into the west coast offense, it wouldn’t be surprising if McCoy becomes a Top 10 fantasy QB in ‘11. With passing a priority, the possibility is certainly there.
Recommendation: They’re playing the Bengals, who have a vulnerable secondary, but it’s really hard to gauge what kind of leader in this offense McCoy is going to be. If you drafted him to be your guy, you may be onto something as the Browns have a fairly easy schedule to start the year. I’d start him, but only if I had to.
Peyton Hillis, RB
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 20 rushes 97 yards 1 TD; 5 catches 28 yards
Note: Hillis should still get a nice load of carries despite the passing game becoming a top priority. If Hardesty can remain healthy for the entire year, it should benefit Hillis tremendously. Due to his bruising style of play, it is critical for the Browns to have a solid back-up to spell Hillis.
Recommendation: Hillis has the potential to be one of the top fantasy scorers in the league if everything goes as planned for the Cleveland offense. There are always going to be scoring opportunities for Hillis down around end-zone. The Bengals could be susceptible to the run game if they key in on the passing game too much. I’d start Hillis until he gives you reason not too.
Greg Little, WR
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 2 catches 34 yards
Note: Little was drafted with the 59th overall pick (2nd Rd.) in this year’s draft. It’s pretty much a consensus around the league, however, that Little very well could have been a 1st Rd. pick instead. Currently listed at No. 2 on the Browns depth chart at WR, Little is likely to see his share of playing time. His ability to make yards after the catch is what will make Little valuable to his fantasy owners.
Recommendation: The Browns seemingly have a lack of talent at the WR position, meaning that first-year Head Coach, Pat Shurmur, might play around with different WR combinations throughout the game. His YAC (yards after catch) ability will probably account for a majority of his final yardage, but Little seems to fit the WCO perfectly. Give him a few games before you start him, though he should have a solid debut.
Evan Moore, TE
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 2 catches 27 yards
Note: Those who project stats at most fantasy sites, don’t have more posting very impressive numbers. That could all change in a few weeks. It’s no secret that McCoy and Moore have worked on their chemistry between each other all off-season, and it reflected in the team’s preseason games.
Recommendation: You either believe in Moore, or you don’t. There’s really no in between. Moore is a freak athletically, especially near the goal-line. At 6’6 250 lbs., Cincinnati will have their hands full trying to stop Moore in the red-zone. They’re likely to have to cover Moore out of the slot as well. Moore’s value could only increase with the team’s leading returner in receptions, Benjamin Watson, who is also a TE. Moore is worth a shot.
Benjamin Watson, TE
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 4 catches 35 yards
Note: Watson was the team’s leading receiver in 2010, and should be another beneficiary of the team’s switch to the WCO. If Watson can remain healthy throughout the year, he should, once again, be among the top tight ends in the NFL in receiving, yardage and touchdowns.
Recommendation: If the Browns can establish fellow TE, Even Moore, it should open up opportunities for Watson to be effective in the passing game. The idea of Moore and Watson on the field at the same time, along with Little and Cribbs who are expected to be threats on offense, should give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. You can expect a solid game out of Watson, he’s worth a start.
Cleveland Browns Defense – Special Teams
Avg. Fantasy Stats: 10 points allowed 2 sacks 2 INTs 1 fumble recovery 1 defensive touchdown
Note: When the Browns hired Dick Jauron to be their new defensive coordinator, he brought with him the 4-3. The defense has some serious depth concerns, but if they can remain healthy, they could rank in the top half of the NFL in total defense. However, they’re just a couple injuries away from spending another 1st Rd. draft pick on defense. (Probably Linebacker)
Recommendation: Cleveland is looking to finally establish themselves as a good “run-stopping” defense. Although their secondary is young, they’re extremely talented. Up front, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Jayme Mitchell should be able to get to the QB at ease, though nothing is certain. With their best o-lineman out, the Bengals will have to make due with a make-shift group in the trenches. Against the Bengals, the Browns are definitely worth a start. Also remember, Josh Cribbs is one of the best returners in the game, and Jordan Norwood could have a big game returning punts.
A Look Around the Rest of the NFL
Here’s a look at players around the rest of the NFL who should make an impact in most fantasy leagues this week.
Quarterback – Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (Against Detroit)
Note: The Lions have arguably the best defensive line in the league. If there is a glairing weakness on defense for the Lions though, it’s in the secondary. Freeman is looking to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, and has the talent around him to put up solid numbers. Being quick on his feet will help against Suh & Co.
Browns Gab Projection: 20 completions 227 yards 2 TDs 1 INT; 36 rush yards
Running Back – Chris “Beanie” Wells, Arizona (Against Carolina)
Note: When rookie Ryan Williams went down with a serious knee injury, it left Wells as the undoubted starter in the Cardinals backfield. Wells is looking to establish himself as one of the top backs in the NFL, and what better way to do so than against the lowly Carolina Panthers. The spotlight will clearly be on Cam Newton’s NFL debut, but don’t be surprised if Wells swoops in and steals it.
Browns Gab Projection: 18 rushes 97 yards 1 TD; 17 yards receiving
Wide Receiver – Hakeem Nicks, NY Giants (Against Washington)
Note: Nicks tends to get lost among fantasy receivers, his stats are often overlooked. The Giants quietly have one of the best young receiving cores in the entire league. If healthy, Nicks has the potential to be a fantasy star this year for the Giants. Gone from last year’s group of Giants receivers, is Steven Smith (Philadelphia). That could leave Nicks with more targets than he is use too. Washington’s secondary doesn’t scare anyone, and their best safety (La’Ron Landry) is out for this game.
Browns Gab Projection: 6 catches 84 yards 1 TD
Tight End – Lance Kendricks, St Louis (Against Philadelphia)
Note: Kendricks was one of the premiere receiving tight ends in all of college football last season. The Rams run a west coast style of offense, which usually benefits tight ends who are legitimate threats to catch the ball. With Sam Bradford entering his second season, he should have a better understanding of the offense. Being able to stretch the field vertically will also benefit Kendricks in the passing game.
Browns Gab Projection: 4 catches 56 yards 1 TD
Defense – Houston Texans Defense/Special Teams vs. Indianapolis Colts
Note: This game lost it’s luster when the Colts announced Peyton Manning would be out with a neck injury. The Texans and Colts were expected to be the teams to beat in the AFC South Division. With Manning’s injury, that leaves the bulls-eye squarely on Houston’s back. Without Manning, the Colts are going to be extremely vanilla on offense. Old Man, Kerry Collins, certainly anything to worry about. The addition of Jonathan Joseph (picked-up via free agency from Cincinnati) will make Houston’s secondary instantly better. I think the common theme this year will be to start whatever opposing defense is matched-up with the Colts.
Browns Gab Projection: 13 points allowed 2 sacks 2 INT 1 fumble recovery 1 defensive touchdown
We’ll see how well we do this week! Good Luck!