Donovan Peoples-Jones Fantasy Outlook: Does He Still Have A Role In The Cleveland Browns Offense?

    WR Donovan Peoples-Jones was a top-three Cleveland Browns receiver last year. Much has changed, so what is his fantasy outlook in 2023?

    At PFN, we’re trying to identify fantasy football players that are overrated, underrated, and priced right amongst 350 total players. With that in mind, here is Cleveland Browns WR Donovan Peoples-Jones’s fantasy outlook for 2023.

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    Donovan Peoples-Jones’s 2023 Fantasy Outlook

    Three years ago, the Browns selected Peoples-Jones in the sixth round, back during the Baker Mayfield era. Seems like ages ago. That season, Cleveland went 11-5 and won its first playoff game in 26 years — before Peoples-Jones, Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and many other Browns starters were even born.

    DPJ was a near-immediate contributor in an ascending offense. While not yet fantasy relevant, the 21-year-old showed clear signs with a 70% catch rate and solid after-the-catch skills. The former five-star college recruit — who flew under the radar in the NFL Draft — was beginning to make good on his potential.

    And while Cleveland’s fortunes worsened those next two seasons, DPJ earned greater prominence, culminating in overall WR42 production last year. He was officially a deep-league streamer, seemingly still with room to grow. And as a top-three receiver in a top-heavy corps, he commanded the kind of target share (a healthy 19%) fantasy managers crave.

    But Cleveland had other plans, and the franchise’s gain likely will be Peoples-Jones’ fantasy undoing. Despite Deshaun Watson’s arrival — or rather, because of it — the Browns have gone all in on a near-term Super Bowl run.

    They’re not focused on developing for 2025 or 2026. Watson’s best years either were in the past or are right now. Given what Cleveland’s paying him, he has to produce.

    And so, this offseason, the team aggressively pursued more receiver talent. The Browns traded for 2021 second-round draft pick Elijah Moore from the Jets, where he briefly shined as a rookie before getting phased down (and publicly expressing displeasure over it) in 2022. When it comes to ceilings, Moore’s might be higher than any other Browns receiver outside of Amari Cooper.

    Of course, Moore could flop, but those odds are slim. He’s a speedy and deceptively strong receiver with great hands. He could change the entire complexion of this offense and has an outside shot at leading the team in targets.

    Speaking of which, with one glorious exception in Week 14 last year, DPJ’s targets lagged when the suspended Watson returned to the field, replacing Jacoby Brissett.

    I mention this because Cooper’s targets dropped off, too. Watson has never been a high-volume passer, and if that trend holds, then Moore’s arrival could present even more constraints for an already-capped Peoples-Jones.

    Then there’s 2022 third-rounder David Bell and incoming third-round rookie Cedric Tillman. Both guys have starter potential in the next year or two. It’s hard to envision both riding the pine all year.

    Of course, we cannot forget about David Njoku, one of the league’s most underappreciated playmaking tight ends. He’ll get his looks — probably not as many as last year, but in a more crowded receiving corps, he could realistically net more than DPJ.

    Finally, consider that Peoples-Jones is playing in the final year of his rookie contract. If the Browns are not a playoff-bound team by early December, this franchise might give Tillman and Bell more reps at DPJ’s expense in an attempt to see what they have in their potential rising stars.

    The one thing Peoples-Jones has going for him is his experience as a capable receiver. But “capable” can only take you so far in fantasy. As a top-four offensive asset, he could do some damage.

    But as part of a collection of pieces — and objectively not one of the most talented pieces — DPJ could be squeezed out of a meaningful role before too long.

    As a result, he’s a sharp fade on draft day, offering minimal upside compared to many wideouts you could select later in the draft.

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