The 2022 NFL Season is nearly upon us. As part of the run up to the season, we’re preview all the teams, culminating with our picks for who makes the playoffs and who wins the awards this season. Check back each day through September 5. Let’s get ready for some football!
The Browns entered the 2021 season under the weight of expectation. The team made the playoffs in 2020 and even won their first game, battering the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Browns fell short against the Chiefs, the expectation was still that the team would be competing in 2021. But it didn’t happen that way. While the Browns hovered around .500 all season, it wasn’t enough to hang in the playoff race. They ended up 8-9 and missed the playoffs, leading to an off-season of hard questions.
The Browns’ offense struggled in 2021, especially the pass offense. While Odell Beckham, Jr., left mid-season, and the rest of the big pieces on offense shipped out in the off-season. Quarterbacks Case Keenum and Baker Mayfield were traded. Keenum moved to Buffalo to back up Josh Allen, while Mayfield is on track to start for the Panthers. Receiver Jarvis Landry left via free agency, signing with the New Orleans Saints. And tight end Austin Hooper was released, landing with the Tennessee Titans.
But it wasn’t all a one-way move for Cleveland. The Browns signed Jacoby Brissett to add depth at quarterback and made a trade with the Cowboys to acquire receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper caught 68 passes for 865 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games in 2021. He’s a reliable No. 1 target and should lead the way for the Browns’ passing game. The biggest acquisition was a trade for former Texans’ quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson has thrown for 14,539 yards and 104 touchdowns in four seasons as a starter. He went 28-25 as a starter, leading the Texans to the post-season twice. But his off-the-field issues have mounted. Watson was held out of the 2021 season and has been suspended for the first 11 games of the 2022 season.
In the draft, the Browns also grabbed Purdue receiver David Bell. In three seasons, he caught 232 passes for 2,946 yards and 21 touchdowns. The team also added to its running back group with Jerome Ford and snagged cornerback Martin Emerson.
Watson is out for 11 games. When he returns, he’ll be the starter. He could be a decent boost to a team during a playoff run, but I’m still weary of rust. In the meantime, it’s likely Brissett. He’s a QB3 for me.
In the backfield, the team has Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Hunt has been unhappy with his role and lack of a long-term contract, but he’s a decent receiving back. I think he can still finish in the RB3 range. Chubb is the real talent. He’s a great runner and I suspect the Browns offense will lean on him more in 2022. I see him as a low-end RB1.
In the passing game, the lack of continuity and Watson will play a role. Cooper, barring injury, should still see 100-plus targets and is the best receiver in the group. Still, I think he finishes in the WR3 range, but could get a boost in the fantasy playoffs. Aside from him is a group that includes Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz and Bell. They will be growing, learning and stepping up. There will be good games but I doubt any is consistent enough to be a weekly starter. I do like tight end David Njoku. He re-signed with the Browns and I think he could be a solid TE2.
The Browns sunk a lot of money into re-making the offense, but it won’t bear fruit in 2022. The 11-game suspension is a blow in a competitive AFC. I suspect the Browns hang around .500 again but miss the playoffs and look toward a full return of Watson in 2023.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.