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2022 Fantasy Football Opportunity Tracker: Bengals and Browns

The 2022 Opportunity Tracker is where fantasy managers come to discover fantasy value and potential sleepers. We uncover value by analyzing team target distribution and adjusting for offseason additions and subtractions. Many players will have new homes in 2022-23, and leading up to the NFL Draft (April 28th-30th), this series provides some high-level insight into the fantasy impact of important offseason moves for each team. Using this insight, we can help managers stay ahead of the curve in dynasty leagues and uncover vacant roles where teams may rely on newcomers and/or rookies to make an impact.

One of the main concepts we use in this series is “Weighted Opportunity“, created by Scott Barrett at Pro Football Focus. Weighted Opportunity (wOpp) is a great way to equalize the value between targets and carries, particularly for running backs. The calculations for this series are done manually, using statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.

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Cincinnati Bengals: Mixon It Up with the Tiger King

Key Additions: Hayden Hurst

Notable Losses: CJ Uzomah (Jets)

Vacant RB Weighted Opportunities: None

Vacant WR/TE Targets: 67

Cincinnati operates a slow-moving, splash-play offense that is capable of supporting three fantasy pass-catchers and a bell-cow running back. The three receivers are locked into their previous roles – Ja’Marr Chase (24% target share), Tee Higgins (20%) and Tyler Boyd (17%) are all roster-worthy in this offense. Tee Higgins’ ADP could slip during draft season following Chase’s outrageous rookie season and is my preferred value of the Bengals WRs.

Bengals Target-ShareJoe Mixon finished as the RB3 in 2021 due, in part, to his 15.5 wOpp per game. His target share dropped to 9% last season, but the targets were; 1) more accurate (+7.2% catch rate from 2020), and 2) closer to the goal line (7 red-zone targets in 2021). The cherry on top is that the Bengals finally addressed their offensive-line problems in the offseason. Mixon should remain a top-5 back in 2021, assuming health, given that teams can no longer load up the box against Cincinnati.

Samaje Perine is a handcuff necessity for all Mixon managers, as he inherits almost the entire workload when Mixon is out of the lineup.

Hayden Hurst will be an improvement over last year’s starting TE, CJ Uzomah, as he steps into a role with 63 available targets from 2021. That is not a knock against Uzomah, but Hurst is a former first-round pick with plenty of athleticism. Hurst projects as a TE2-with-upside, in this role, but most managers should wait to see him in action first.

Cleveland Browns: Hunt-ing for Opportunity

Key Additions: Amari Cooper, Deshaun Watson, Jakeem Grant

Notable Losses: Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Austin Hooper

Vacant RB Weighted Opportunities: 8.7

Vacant WR/TE Targets: 229

Though we do not necessarily have to cheer for Deshaun Watson, he is still a fantasy quarterback, and fantasy analysis is what we do here at Fantrax. He enters a great situation in Cleveland from a fantasy perspective – one that is unique for several reasons.

With Baker Mayfield at quarterback in 2021, the Browns were a run-first team with a very wide target dispersion. They finished ninth in the NFL is rush-attempts per game (28.5) and I assure you, if they had the lead more often, that number would have been well into the 30s. One strange thing is that the Browns finished only 12th in the league in play-action percentage. Again, the explanation here is due to game script – when trailing, traditional drop-back passing is more optimal than play-action. Watson enters the season with top-5 upside in this role, though managers should be wary when drafting him, as a suspension may be looming.

Another reason the Browns’ situation is interesting, is they have a new WR1 in Amari Cooper. 2021 target-leader, Jarvis Landry (7.3 targets/g) was released, and though he plays a different position, Cooper is set to absorb his target share as the clear most talented receiver in Cleveland. Managers that cite Cooper’s boom-bust tendency would be correct in assuming it may follow him to Cleveland, however. The Browns like to run plenty of 2-TE sets, so Cooper, though an excellent route-runner, may have trouble gaining separation in tough matchups.

Donovan Peoples-Jones (4.2 tgt/g) is an interesting mid/late-round WR, after averaging 5.7 targets per game post-Odell Beckham. His 36% increase in targets per game gives us reason to believe he will be the starting WR opposite Amari Cooper in 2021. He is worth a flier and should be rostered in dynasty leagues, given the upside of this improved offense.

The Browns re-signed David Njoku this off-season, locking down both ends of the line-of-scrimmage in 2-TE sets. Njoku (11% target share) and Austin Hooper (12%) spent 2021 eating away at each other’s production, making them both difficult to roster in fantasy. This season should be similar, with Harrison Bryant moving into Hooper’s role.

The running-back room supports two fantasy starters in Cleveland, and they would like it to stay that way. Nick Chubb averaged 12.7 wOpp per game, and Kareem Hunt, 11.7. They operate similar to the Rams, who we covered earlier in the series, by giving both running backs opportunities. The Browns differ, however, in that they rely heavily on the running game near the goal line. Assuming health, both running-backs should be rostered, yes, they can be played in the same lineup.

Check back tomorrow, as we round out the NFC North with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

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