XANDAMERE’S SHOWDOWN SLANT
The second Monday night Showdown of Week 2 is . . . oh, it’s the Browns visiting the Steelers. While I’m excited to get an extra Showdown this week, good lord, why these games. This is a 38 total game with the Browns favored by two, so just like Saints // Panthers, another short road favorite in a low total game. Fun! But there’s still money to be made, so let’s try to figure it out.
Cleveland’s backfield is about Nick Chubb. The uber-talented back saw 22 opportunities in last week’s stomping of the Bengals, putting up 106 rushing yards on 18 carries and catching all four targets for another 21 yards. The passing game work is key to Chubb’s newly-unlocked value sans Kareem Hunt, as we rarely saw him get much receiving work when Hunt was in town. Chubb played 49% of the snaps, while RB2 Jerome Ford played 41% and saw 15 carries (no targets, and also lost a red zone fumble). So is this a split backfield? I would argue no, as 11 of Ford’s 15 carries came late in the second half when the Browns were nursing a multi-touchdown lead against a Bengals offense that couldn’t get anything going. If the game had been competitive, that would have put Ford on pace for something like 6-7 touches, which marks him as a change of pace/breather back, not a timeshare. At $12,200, Chubb is awfully expensive but he’s clearly the premier skill position player in this game. At $200, Ford makes plenty of sense as a value play, but he’s not well-suited to just stick in any random lineup. He makes sense if you think Chubb gets hurt, or if you think the Browns just crush the Steelers and he gets garbage time work as he did last week. Also worth noting is that he played so poorly that we MIGHT see Pierre Strong get some run in this one (also at just $200). Nothing’s certain here, but if running MME sets, I would suggest having Strong in your player pool, manually adjusting his projection to match Ford’s, and setting a “max 1” rule.
Ownership updates automatically
In the passing game, Deshaun Watson looked better in Week 1 than he did last season (which makes sense after his lengthy time off). He didn’t have to do much, but he threw for 154 yards and a score, also rushing for 45 yards and another score (all in pretty gross weather). He’s the clear best cash game captain option and a very strong tournament play. We also get some value here as Amari Cooper has been reported as unlikely to play, which leaves the Browns with a receiving corps of Elijah Moore and Donovan Peoples-Jones as full-time receivers and then some mix of Cedric Tillman, David Bell, and Marquise Goodwin mixing in. Moore should fill the WR1 role, operating from the slot and/or X role, and he’s the favorite to lead the team in targets. He’ll commit egregious drops and missed catches, but he’s awfully fast and talented (when he catches the ball). At $6,600, he’s just flat-out underpriced for his role. DPJ is similarly underpriced at $5k, but his role is generally as more of a deep target – it’s possible that could change (more in a minute), but overall I view him as a more volatile version of Moore. As for the other guys . . . one thing we could see the Browns do is use DPJ in more of a traditional perimeter role but not as a pure deep target, and let either Tillman or Goodwin run the deep routes. I have no real information to suggest this will be the case, but as we consider the possibilities of how the Browns will respond to Amari’s absence, it’s on the list of possibilities. Tillman is an interesting rookie who I think could make an impact when given a chance, while Goodwin is a former Olympian – basically, they’re both super fast and if they get usage and catch a couple of passes, they could take it to the house from anywhere. David Bell is “just a guy.” Early in the season, I feel like it’s likeliest that Goodwin gets more run, or at least the first shot at more run, before Tillman, but this could really go either way. Personally, I rank them as Goodwin, Tillman, and Bell, but I have low conviction in those rankings and you could argue it any possible way. Another path for the Browns would be to use more 2-TE sets, something they’re already fond of (something like a 30% 12-personnel formation in Week 1). David Njoku, Harrison Bryant, and Jordan Akins are all talented and proven pass catchers, so the Browns may opt to lean in that direction instead of their less-tested wide receiver depth. Njoku at $7,000 is the most expensive pass catcher on the Browns, which is funny . . . he’s fine, he’s reasonably talented, had a great training camp, but $7,000 is a lot to pay. He’s something of a pay up to be contrarian option. Bryant and Akins will compete for snaps behind him and at cheap prices are fun punt options (so much value on this slate). I’ll talk more in the rules section about how you can think about constraining pairings of these guys in an optimizer for MME runs.