The Kitchens Effect: Revamped Offense
This is an update of a previous article in my New Coaching Impact series to reflect roster moves and changes since it was first published on January 18th, 2019. Please enjoy.
A lot has changed for the Cleveland Browns in the 76 days since the first edition of this article was published. All the Browns have done is add a couple of guys you may have heard of by the name of Kareem Hunt and Odell Beckham Jr. They also brought back Rashad Higgins and signed an underrated Demetrius Harris to play tight end.
For this reason, I am scrapping much of the original article because of the major impact these moves have had on the offensive side of the ball. Let’s dig in.
The Kitchens Effect: Revamped Offense
Freddie Kitchens came to Cleveland with very little offensive coordinator experience and zero head coaching experience. However, he does have a long history of coaching in the NFL. To illustrate, Kitchens has coached under the likes of Bill Parcells (2006), Ken Whisenhunt (2007-2012) and Bruce Arians (2013-2017). This article covers the success he had after taking over for the Browns offense in Week 9. We will also explore the potential fantasy impact at each major position.
Reason to Believe
After Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired, Kitchens let Baker Mayfield loose. Mayfield was almost dead last in fantasy points per game under Jackson. Granted, he didn’t start the first couple of games. Below is a Point Per Game (PPG) chart.
Take a stab at who averaged the most yards per play in Weeks 9 through 17 in the NFL. Was it the Rams? Chiefs? Saints? Nope. It was the Cleveland Browns. Talk about an immediate impact.
The result was a thriving and efficient offense that finished 3rd in yards gained per drive during that same time period. Baker was QB8 in the 2nd half of last season.
An argument could be made that the Browns had an easier strength of schedule. However, regardless of how easy or hard you think the strength of schedule was, 6.86 yards per play is impressive. In Weeks 1 through 8, they faced the 18th hardest schedule in terms of defensive efficiency. That number was 7th easiest in Weeks 9 through 17.
The Addition of Monken
Kitchens has hired Todd Monken as his offensive coordinator. This is a smart hire given Monken’s offensive success in the Tampa Bay offense over the past few years. Monken brings 30 years of coaching experience to Cleveland, along with experience in the Air Raid offense.
Monken was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010 and 2011. He had great success and then propelled it into the head coaching gig at Southern Miss. This is a big boon for Baker Mayfield. Monken is already familiar with the air raid offense, and one would assume this will be a part of the Cleveland offensive attack in 2019. The chart below shows the numbers for Brandon Weeden at OSU while Monken was the offensive coordinator.
Let’s look at the revamped Cleveland Brown’s offense position by position.
Baker Mayfield (QB1)
The charts above show Baker Mayfield’s potential under a competent coordinator. Let’s extrapolate his second-half numbers over a full 16 game season. That puts him at 385.4 points (QB6), ahead of perennial studs like Brees, Brady, Rodgers, and Russell Wilson. That’s also two points more than Jared Goff and just 12 points behind Deshaun Watson.
It has been a meteoric rise for Baker Mayfield in fantasy football drafts since the Beckham trade on March 13th, 2019. His average draft position has climbed almost three rounds between March 4th (9.04 ADP) and April 2nd (6.07 ADP) (according to Fantasy Football Calculator ADP).
It’s easy to understand the hype, but Mayfield is being drafted as QB4 right now. That may be stretching a bit for a second-year quarterback playing under a first-time head coach with little experience even at the coordinator position. We can see the inconsistency in this chart courtesy of FFStatistics.
I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect a similar outcome from Baker in 2019 that we saw the second half of 2018. Keep in mind he was a rookie and still learning to play quarterback in the NFL.
In addition, Mayfield’s rushing upside makes him an intriguing option as well. Rushing yards are “hidden” points at the quarterback position. Baker had just 139 yards on 31 carries (3.36 YPC), but we know he can keep plays alive that often results in a positive play. In Mayfield’s sophomore year at Oklahoma, he did rush for 405 yards and seven TD.
Nick Chubb (RB1)
Nick Chubb saw a similar 2nd half as Mayfield. In fact, Chubb finished Weeks 9-17 as the 6th RB in fantasy points. He finished with 141.7 over those eight games, good for 17.71 PPG. Chubb showed the ability to catch the ball as well. In four years at Georgia, he only caught 31 balls. However, in the final eight weeks, Chubb caught 18 balls on 23 targets, including two TDs.
For comparison, under Haley and Jackson, Chubb was RB56. This was only 52.8 fantasy points over that span (6.60 PPG). If projected out to a 16-game season based on his usage under Kitchens, Chubb would have had 283.4 fantasy points. That would put him at RB6 in 2018. Running backs on the list below that number include James Conner, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Joe Mixon, and Phillip Lindsay.
The signing of Kareem Hunt does leave some cause for trepidation, but may actually be an opportunity for you to buy low on Chubb. A dynasty owner may be panicking with the Hunt news. Keep in mind it’s a one year deal,and the Browns may have just signed him for the compensatory pick when he signs elsewhere after a year of rebuilding his image.
You can see Chubb was almost as consistent as Hunt was in 2018. I think Chubb will flirt with RB1 value this year in redraft leagues and it will be interesting to see where his ADP lands when the data starts to come out.
Kareem Hunt (RB2)
Kareem Hunt signing with Cleveland is interesting to say the least. His skill set is unquestioned. But, will he be a contributor? That is another question altogether. As seen above, Hunt is a top talent at the position, but the real question is if he will be on the field enough to be fantasy relevant. HE may instead be on the field just enough to showcase his skills to sign with a new team after 2019.
We won’t know that answer until at least Week 9 or possibly even later depending on the Browns bye week. Hunt is probably worth a late-round flier in redraft leagues and certainly a hold if you have him in dynasty. His value is too volatile to get a proper return right now.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Well, what do we have here? Super Bowl talk on the lakefronts of Cleveland. March 13th, 2019 will live in infamy for Cleveland sports fans. Especially if Beckham can deliver them the championship they covet the most. What can they expect out of their new WR1? How about consistency?
Beckham Jr. was a top-five wide receiver his first three years in the league. Odell played in just four games during the 2017 season, and in 2018 he still finished as WR17 despite playing in just 12 games. Beckham should see plenty of targets in Cleveland even with Jarvis Landry and David Njoku as fixtures in the Cleveland passing attack.
Expect Baker Mayfield to throw the ball almost 600 times (with 140 of those going to Beckham) according to the projection model created by our very own FFzinger (give him a follow). As you can see, there will be plenty to go around.
Jarvis Landry (WR2)
The Browns have reunited the LSU stud receiving corps in Cleveland by reuniting Beckham with Jarvis Landry. You should expect Landry to still get his share of the workload. With the Arians influence potentially impacting Kitchens, I expect there to be a large target share for the WR2 in this offense. If we look back at the WR2 chart from Arians, we see a position that certainly holds some value.
Landry should see plenty of targets himself again in 2019. The high volume receiver saw 149 targets in 16 games last year. Look for him to be the WR2 in Cleveland and on your fantasy team as well.
Antonio Callaway (WR3)
Perhaps the biggest loser in the arrival of Odell Beckham Jr. is Antonio Callaway. Callaway looked to primed to be the WR2 behind Landry in 2019 before the arrival of Beckham and did show good rapport with Mayfield after the firing of Hue Jackson and onset of Kitchens as interim. In fact, Callaway finished above the positional average in four of the last six weeks of the season.
Antonio Callaway will still have some leagues that start three wide receivers but can probably go undrafted in redraft leagues under 12 teams.
David Njoku (TE1)
The tight end position in Cleveland is primed to produce. A large portion of Kitchens coaching career stems from being TE coach in Arizona from 2006 to 2012. He has an absolute beast to work with in Njoku. The potential has always been there with David.
The right coach could vault him into the top tier of a very thin position. That coach could be Freddie Kitchens. With the arrival of Beckham, Njoku may not be able to replicate his 88 targets from 2018. However, there is a chance those targets could actually go up because of the attention paid to Beckham and Landry.
Also, his numbers were almost identical under both regimes in Cleveland. He was way more efficient under Kitchens though. The numbers under Hue and Haley were: 31 catches on 52 targets, 297 yards, and two TD. The numbers under Kitchens were: 25 catches on 37 targets, 342 yards, and two TD.
Njoku had 45 more yards on six fewer catches and 1fewerss targets under Kitchens than he did under Jackson. The FPPG were about the same. They come in at 9.09 FPPG Weeks 1 through 8 and 8.90 FPPG Weeks 9 through 17. The Browns also ran 13 personnel (one RB, three TE), which is more than anyone else in the league, under Kitchens. They were ultra-efficient and averaged 12 yards per play from the formation.
Don’t let the TE1 targets from Kitchens time in the desert scare you. Freddie Kitchens was dealing with the likes of Leonard Pope, Ben Patrick, and old Todd Heap and Darren Fells/Jermaine Gresham. Kitchens never had a TE to work with that has athleticism and balls skills such as Njoku. Njoku could surprise in 2019 after disappointing in both 2017 and 2018. Look for him as an ADP value.
We don’t have a very large sample size to predict what Freddie Kitchens will do as the head guy in Cleveland. Fortunately, we do have at least eight weeks of data to pull from to try and forecast what may be in store. I think it will be an exciting, young offense that will be prone to mistakes. The upside cannot be questioned. Especially with the addition of Beckham.
Cleveland has a very good offensive line in place and only gave up nine hits on Mayfield from weeks 9 to 17 with Freddie in charge. The Browns obviously want to protect him. They now also have perhaps the best receiving duo in the league to go with a sure fire top-10 RB in Chubb. The sky is the limit for this offense. Just be careful of paying to high a price for some of them because of the hype. There still are a lot of unknowns that surround them.