NFL Offense Rankings | The Cleveland Browns Breakout

by Joel Ybarra · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

As we progress through the month of June, it’s time once again to examine some of the key NFL offenses around the league. This time the Cleveland Browns are up for examination. Where do the Browns rank in our NFL offense rankings? What are the chances this offense breaks out in 2023?

Finally, A Franchise QB

The Cleveland Browns have long been known for their stout defensive play and a solid rushing attack, but the franchise has failed to field a high-flying offense in any season in recent memory. This has largely been due to their struggles at quarterback. For literal decades, the Dawg Pound has been witnessing a ridiculous quarterback carousel. In the 2022 offseason, however, the Browns landed superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The organization now pins its hopes on him. They will seek to make good on the monster investment made on him in the coming seasons. The Browns are tooled up to field one of 2023’s ascending offenses. The next season will reveal if Watson can return to tip-top form and bring to life a Browns offense which has been slumbering in recent years.

Watson, Interrupted

Deshaun Watson has proven himself to be a prolific NFL quarterback in the past. Before his off-the-field issues surfaced, Watson was one of a group of ascending superstar QBs in the league. In his last full season with the Texans (2020), he led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards. He was also No. 2 in True Passer Rating (113.3), behind only that season’s MVP, Aaron Rodgers. Additionally, Watson was No. 1 in Clean Pocket Completion Percentage (87.8-percent) and No. 3 in True Completion Percentage (76.1-percent).

When he returned last season for the Browns’ final six contests, however, Watson was not himself. He threw for a measly 184 yards and a hair more than a touchdown per game. It was clear the governor was on, however. He averaged just 28.3 pass attempts per game and 6.5 yards per attempt. This was after backup-level talent Jacoby Brissett passed more than 33 times per game at 7.1 yards per attempt the first 11 games of the season.

Keep in mind, though, Watson was not able to practice with his teammates for the majority of his 11-game suspension to start the season. He returned to practice just two weeks before his first start in Week 13. Those six games last season were also his first live game action since 2020. He sat out all of the 2021 season, tending to his off-the-field issues. Watson will enter 2023 with a full offseason of practices in Cleveland. He will be 28 years young and ready to return to form.

Tooling Up

The Browns traded for some high-quality receivers at decent prices the last two seasons. During free agency in 2022, they gave their 2022 fifth-round draft pick and swapped sixth-round picks with the Cowboys to get Amari Cooper. Last season, Cooper put up 1,160 receiving yards (No. 11) on 1765 air yards (No. 5) and caught nine touchdowns (no. 4) with Brissett under center most of the season. The target accuracy on passes thrown to Cooper for the season was No. 86 in the league (6.8). This rendered him No. 3 in unrealized air yards with 870. It goes without saying that Watson represents an upgrade in deep ball passing over Brissett. As the Browns’ number one receiver and with Watson pushing the ball downfield, Cooper is a lock to improve on last season’s numbers.

Amari Cooper Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

During the most recent free agency period, the Browns acquired Elijah Moore from the Jets by trading down from the second to the third round of the 2023 draft. Moore wanted out of New York after regressing from his breakout rookie campaign. He put up just 446 receiving yards in 16 games last season after accruing 538 yards in his 2021 rookie year, in which he played just 11 games. In that freshman season, Moore was stellar. He led the Jets in receiving yards even while he played 80-percent or more of the snaps in only three contests.

Let’s face it: the quarterbacks throwing Moore the ball last season were the worst in the league. The target accuracy rating on balls thrown to Moore was 6.4, No. 93 among receivers.  Moore was getting open. He was No. 12 in the league in target separation, creating 2.14 yards of separation at the catch point. Moore was also No. 25 in the league in Route Win Rate (44.2-percent). He just wasn’t getting the ball delivered to him. Moore is the most talented receiver on the Browns next to Cooper, and Stefanski wants to use him all over the formation.

Offensive Line

The offensive line has typically been a strength for the Browns. They had a middling unit in 2022, however, ranking No. 13 in power (71-percent) and No. 28 in stuffed run rate (21-percent), according to Football Outsiders. The Browns’ line also gave up 44 sacks for an adjusted sack rate of 7.7-percent (No. 18). They did little to add to the offensive line in this year’s NFL Draft, though they did add 6-8, 374-pound Ohio State tackle prospect Dawand Jones to provide depth behind existing right tackle Jack Conklin. Sam Monson of PFF ranked the Browns’ offensive line the best in the league this offseason. They are returning all five starters in 2023 and have built sufficient depth behind those starters. The Cleveland front office regularly invests in their offensive line. According to Spotrac, they have the fifth highest salary cap number allocated to offensive line ($55.5 million).

High-Value Assets to Acquire

Deshaun Watson

In this new fantasy football era when quarterbacks are being pushed to the top of draft boards, Watson is the last great late-round QB. He is being drafted as QB9 (Round 7/8 overall) on Underdog and represents a screaming value at that cost.

This is your chance to acquire him while his value is still depressed by fantasy gamers’ short memories and his poor performance to close out 2022. His last three full seasons before the 2022 campaign, he finished as fantasy QB5 (2020), QB2 (2019) and QB5 (2018) in PPG. Each of those seasons, he ran for at least 400 yards (175 last season in six games), so he provides a desirable rushing floor. His ceiling is in the top six at the position, and fantasy gamers can acquire him at a great price.

Elijah Moore

Elijah Moore is being drafted as WR46 on Underdog even while the buzz on Moore from OTAs is positive. It sounds like Moore will be a significant part of the Browns’ plans on offense. Kevin Stefanski talked up Moore during OTAs, saying “there’s opportunities to hand it to him, throw it to him over the middle, throw it to him outside. I just think there’s no shortage of ways that you want to get him the football.” Yet Moore’s ADP on Underdog continues to slide down toward the 100 mark overall. At the top of the depth chart in a dynamic Browns offense, he will easily return value on that investment.

Donovan Peoples-Jones

Peoples-Jones is being drafted as WR71 (round 14) in Underdog drafts currently. He beat that ADP easily the last two seasons. He was PPG WR61 in 2021 and then WR47 last season. Moore is most likely to replace David Bell as the primary slot receiver. Peoples-Jones will be utilized on the outside, opposite Cooper. Peoples-Jones played only 22.4-percent of his time in the slot last season. He was used downfield, earning 21 deep targets (No. 21) and a 12.2 ADOT. With 4.48-speed, he is capable of winning on downfield routes.

He achieved 1.93 yards of target separation (no. 29) on all routes last season. The deep ball accuracy will improve with Watson at the helm. Peoples-Jones is a low-cost dart throw available in late rounds. The Browns will be in some shootouts in 2023 and Peoples-Jones will have some boom games.

Time to Let the Dogs Out

It has been a long time since Browns fans have seen a quarterback as talented as Watson. The Dawg Pound was ready for an offensive resurgence last season. Their hopes were premature, however. Watson served his suspension and then had to knock the rust off when he returned to game action.

In 2023, the pieces are in place for the Browns to contend in a division which will feature weekly shootouts with the likes of the Bengals’ and Ravens’ offenses. Watson is a strong downfield passer, and the Browns receiving corps is stocked with downfield threats. Get ready, Browns fans. It’s time for a breakout.