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NFL Matchups: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Fantasy Football Preview




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This a snippet of Adam Pfeifer’s NFL matchups column, previewing the Browns vs. the Ravens for Fantasy Football Lineups. Fantasy rosters needed protective spray because players were bit hard by the injury bug in Week 3. Multiple backup quarterbacks made starts, and running backs and wide receivers all suffered injuries this past weekend, with a handful of key offensive linemen also going down. As a result, we missed on plenty in this article, but we hit on plenty, as well. Back on the horse. With that in mind, let’s dig into some NFL matchups and NFL game breakdowns for your Week 4 Fantasy Football Lineups. What to do with Lamar Jackson & Odell Beckham Jr?

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Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens

Total: 46.5

Line: BAL -7

Browns passing game

I have been incredibly disappointed in Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland passing attack so far. It is still early and they can make adjustments, but there are plenty of red flags. For starters, Mayfield continues to struggle reading zone defenses, as his average yards per dropback is basically cut in half against zone defense compared to man. Baker is also completing just 66.2 percent of passes when given a clean pocket, which ranks 30th among all signal-callers through three weeks. When his first read isn’t there, Mayfield has looked downright awful, which may be why Cleveland ran some more RPOs on Sunday night.

He was really good when holding onto the ball for less than 2.5 seconds in that game, completing 13-of-20 passes and a touchdown. If the Browns continue to run those run-pass options, perhaps that will help Mayfield, but it is still tough to trust him as a fantasy starter. Cleveland’s offensive line has been poor, as Mayfield has been under duress on 44.2 percent of his dropbacks over the last two weeks. Head coach Freddie Kitchens has done an awful job of calling plays through three weeks and reportedly won’t give Todd Monken play-calling duties. Until I see some change, Mayfield will be ranked in that 15 or 16 range.

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Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t take a slant 89 yards to the house but was once again the most-targeted receiver on the Cleveland offense. Through three weeks with his new team, Beckham is averaging 6.3 receptions on 10 targets per game, giving you a solid floor each week. But Beckham’s ceiling will likely be lower than some other elite receiver until the offense figures some things out. Beckham has still seen a market share just over 28 percent and will face a Baltimore secondary that remains beat up, missing the likes of Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young. The Ravens have essentially allowed three different receivers to go for 100 yards against them this season, keeping Beckham in the WR1 discussion and an interesting GPP play at just $7,300.

I had very little interest in Jarvis Landry this year for similar reasons why I was off Corey Davis. As the clear top option in the Browns passing attack last year, Landry was eighth in the league with a 26.4 percent target share. However, he also struggled with efficiency, ranking 39th among wideouts in fantasy points per snap (0.22). He was miscast as the WR1, and the Browns used him as more of a deep threat, posting a career-high aDOT (11.29), which was way higher than his 2017 mark (6.28). Now he is back to being the short-yardage slot man, lining up there 78.2 percent of the time.

However, he’s struggled so far, catching just 10 passes for 161 yards. The Ravens have struggled with slot receivers this year, as both Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk both went over 100 yards in Week 2, while Mecole Hardman caught an 83-yard touchdown from the slot last week. Still, it is tough to feel great about him with the way this offense looks. He’s nothing more than a WR3 in PPR formats.

Keep an eye on Rashard Higgins, folks. He has missed the last two games with a knee injury but returned to practice in a limited basis this week. Mayfield has a good rapport with the talented Higgins, who is a very intriguing GPP option this week if active. The Ravens funnel almost all production to the passing game and Higgins would get the best matchup. He’d line up against third-string corner Anthony Averett if Smith and Young aren’t available. Averett has surrendered 16 catches (6th-most) for 269 yards (fourth-most) and two touchdowns in coverage so far this season, to go along with 1.78 fantasy points per target.

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Browns running game

It was fantastic to see Nick Chubb get more work in the passing game on Sunday night. Kitchens said earlier in the week that he would involve Chubb more in that area, as he had been coming off the field on third downs far too much. Chubb carried the ball 23 times for 96 yards, while adding 35 yards on four receptions. This week’s matchup is brutal but Chubb is so involved in this offense, ranking third among running backs in carries (58), 12th in targets (14) and sixth in snaps (59). His snap rate was at 67 percent through the first two weeks but that number jumped to 99 percent on Sunday night. Now playing on third downs, you feel much better about Chubb, who now ranks fourth in the league in opportunity share (84.9%). Again, the matchup is extremely difficult but Chubb should still be viewed as a mid-range RB1 and because he’s too cheap on DK, I have some tournament interest.

Ravens passing game

After dominating the first two weeks, Lamar Jackson was pretty “meh”, at least as a passer, in Week 3. He completed just 22 of 43 passes for 267 yards but added 46 yards and a rushing score. Jackson missed plenty of throws in this one and was lucky not to have had multiple interceptions. Lamar has now rushed for 166 yards and a score over the last two games and is averaging a gaudy 0.74 fantasy points per dropback. Even with the occasional hiccups as a passer, Jackson has shown that he has weekly top-three upside, while his floor is as high as anyone due to his rushing.

The Browns defense has played pretty well this season, while their pass rush is among the league’s best. However, if Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams both sit out again, the secondary remains questionable, while the absence of veteran linebacker Christian Kirksey wouldn’t be great for middle-of-the-field coverage. He’d also likely be the spy on Jackson. Jackson remains a top-five fantasy option heading into Week 4.

Marquise Brown had just two catches on Sunday but he totaled 49 yards. He was still targeted nine times, while his snaps have gone from 14 to 50 to 61. Brown is being targeted on around 45 percent of his routes this season, while ranking eighth in the NFL in yards per route run (3.24). 41.7 percent of his targets have been on passes 20 yards or more down the field, the eighth-highest rate in football, which presents Brown with GPP-winning upside every week. But it also doesn’t come with questionable volume, as Brown has seen just over 26 percent of the team targets. Hollywood is a weekly WR3 play going forward and is underwhelming Week 3 doesn’t change anything.

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Because Jackson targets Brown and the tight ends at such a high rate, it is hard to ever like the secondary receivers. The Browns really struggle to defend the slot, which theoretically sets up nicely for Willie Snead, but what is the upside? Yes, Cooper Kupp just got them for 100 yards and two scores last week, while the linebackers are the weakest part of this defense. But Snead has just nine targets through three weeks and isn’t even all that cheap on DK at $4,400. Would I be surprised if he had a good game? No, but I’ll pass.

Mark Andrews was dealing with a foot injury heading into his game, and Baltimore beat writers reported that he wasn’t 100 percent. He played 53 percent of the snaps, a number that was at 55 percent in Week 2, so the playing time was the same. The Baltimore passing game just wasn’t on point this week but once again, Jackson looked to his tight ends a lot, as they handled 28 percent of the team targets. Take a look at the tight end involvement since Jackson took over last year.

2018: 30 percent

Week 1: 60 percent

Week 2: 35 percent

Week 3: 28 percent

Andrews will continue to see a ton of targets, while his 2.87 yards per route run rank third among tight ends. Better days are certainly ahead and as long as his minor foot ailment doesn’t keep him from playing, Andrews will be one of the best tight end plays in fantasy.

Ravens running game

Jackson wasn’t great last week but Mark Ingram kept this team in the game, rushing for 103 yards and three touchdowns. He  now has 257 yards on 43 carries (6.0 per carry) and five touchdowns. Jackson’s improvement hasn’t led to a change in offensive philosophy, as the Ravens are still calling run 49.7 percent of the time, the fourth-highest rate in football. Only Justin Jackson is averaging more yards after contact per carry than Ingram (4.30), while he is tied for the league lead in carries from inside the five-yard line with five.

Only Dalvin Cook is averaging more fantasy points per snap (0.57), despite Ingram seeing a stacked box on 30.2 percent of his carries, the fifth-highest rate in the league. While you don’t love seeing Gus Edwards take nine touches, you also have to wonder if that was due to Baltimore chasing points. Ingram has yet to see 20 carries in a game yet but he appears to be locked into 16-18 each week. The Browns are a middle-of-the-road matchup for running backs, keeping Ingram as a mid-range RB2 in fantasy.

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