After weeks of speculation since relieving Freddie Kitchens of his duties, the Cleveland Browns made their decision and named Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach. Finally, all 32 NFL head coach positions are filled, and we can go from the speculation phase and transition to the analysis phase to see how this affects the Browns’ offense for 2020 and beyond.
Stefanski was one of seven candidates interviewed for the Browns’ head-coaching vacancy. He previously served as the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive coordinator in 2018 and 2019. Cleveland fired Freddie Kitchens on Dec. 29 after just one season leading the franchise. Stefanski will be the Browns’ eighth head coach since 2010 and their third in the last three seasons.
As we know, anytime a new regime takes over, it can have a massive fallout for fantasy football and player production. To get a better idea of what to expect, we need to take a look back and see how offenses looked under Stefanski at his previous stops and how it translates to the Browns.
Stefanski’s path to Cleveland
While this is the most notable change for Stefanski, this is not the first time he has been a part of a change in location or staff. He worked closely with Brad Childress as his assistant from 2006-08 and was elevated to assistant quarterbacks coach in 2009. When Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in 2014, Stefanski transitioned to tight ends coach for two seasons and running backs coach for another before he was back with the quarterbacks in 2017. Despite a change at offensive coordinator from Pat Shurmur to John DeFilippo entering the 2018 season, Stefanski maintained his position before eventually taking over for DeFilippo, who was fired after the team’s Week 14 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
After taking over in Week 15 in 2018, the Vikings found quick success with Stefanski calling plays, racking up 418 total yards and a season-high 41 points in a beatdown of the Miami Dolphins. In Stefanski’s first full year as the offensive coordinator, the signs of improvement continued. The Vikings ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring offense (25.4 points per game) and sixth in rushing offense (133.3 yards per game).
Looking at the rushing game closer, it was clear it was a focal point of his offense. Under Stefanski, the Vikings were #1 in running back carries per game and in red zone rushing percentage as well. When looking a bit deeper, the Vikings called the second-most rushing plays and ran the third most goal-to-goal rushing plays in the NFL. If you’re a fantasy owner, you love these kinds of trends. Volume and opportunities in crucial situations are vital for fantasy success. Not every touch is created equal, and ones in goal to go situations are obviously the most desirable.
As for the quarterback and wide receivers, the number isn’t as fantastic, but certainly not a downgrade either. In 2019, Kirk Cousins finished as QB15 in fantasy averaging 15.02 points per game. Stefon Diggs continued to be a reliable WR2 option, finishing 2018 as the WR24. Adam Thielen did not have as good of a season; however, injuries played a large part in this as he missed eight games this year.
When looking at Stefanski’s new home in Cleveland, some of the offensive roster similarities are uncanny and could be an excellent sign for fantasy owners.
Cleveland’s fantasy future
There is no denying the biggest benefactor of Stefanski’s hiring is running back Nick Chubb. In spite of Cleveland running the 22nd-most rushing plays in 2018, Chubb still finished as RB8 in fantasy with nearly 1,800 total yards for the season. Much like Dalvin Cook saw in Minnesota, Chubb will be the primary running back in this offense and should see a considerable boost in rushing attempts. Whether in dynasty or redraft fantasy leagues, Chubb should be taken in the top-5 of his position. Even though he could be sharing snaps again with Kareen Hunt so long as they bring him back, they have different enough skillsets not to hold the other back. Chubb will be the workhorse and get the majority of volume plays while Hunt will see the passing work and receives a more substantial boost in PPR formats.
Looking around at the rest of the offense and we should expect to see a similar boost all around thanks to the new coaching staff. Given Stefanski’s past as a quarterbacks coach and offensive mind, Baker Mayfield could finally get some much-needed coaching and development. Cleveland doesn’t need him to be a Top 5 quarterback; they need him to make the right reads and check downs. The same goes for fantasy. We don’t have to have Mayfield throw it deep every play to be successful. If he is similar to what Cousins was in 2019, a QB2 finish would be a welcome sight to help stabilize his falling value.
As for the receivers, once again, another similarity shows up in another dynamic duo of talented players. Both Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry have every week WR2 or better upside. Coming off a disappointing season in 2019, Beckham could see an excellent return to value with this change in coaching. He is one of the best talents in the NFL at his position and is probably the cheapest he has ever been in fantasy to acquire.
Regardless of who you own or wish to target in a draft or trade, virtually every Browns’ offensive player should see a boost in value and rankings thanks to Stefanski’s hiring.
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Tommy Garrett is a writer for PFN covering Fantasy Football. You can follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.