Start Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper? How Browns COVID Outbreak Impacts Fantasy Football
Jason Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Baker Mayfield.
Editor’s note: The following was written before the Browns-Raiders game was postponed to Monday night, but our fantasy football analyst breaks down what to expect from key players on Cleveland’s COVID list should they return in time to play in Week 15.
The Cleveland Browns are dealing with one of the most extensive COVID-19 outbreaks in the NFL, impacting several players on offense, defense and the coaching staff.
Special teams offensive coordinator Mike Priefer is set to serve as acting head coach in place of Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive on Wednesday. Stefanski, 39, was impacted by the Browns’ COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 as well and has been conducting meetings virtually.
The outbreak will undoubtedly leave the team shorthanded to face the Raiders in a crucial home matchup on Saturday that carries major wild-card implications. There have been last-minute discussions about postponing the game to Monday or Tuesday.
Browns COVID List
Here are fantasy-relevant players on the Browns’ COVID list as of writing on Friday:
- QB Baker Mayfield
- QB Case Keenum
- WR Jarvis Landry
- TE Austin Hooper
Who To Start vs. Sit In Fantasy If These Browns Play
QB Baker Mayfield and QB Case Keenum
Mayfield tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. He is vaccinated and thus, will have to produce two negative tests before Saturday to be eligible to play. Normally, Keenum would be the backup, but Keenum also tested positive for the virus. This leaves Nick Mullens, who was elevated from the Browns’ practice squad on Thursday, and Kyle Lauletta, who was signed off the Jaguars’ practice squad on Friday, as the only healthy quarterbacks on the depth chart.
Mullens, 26, was an undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss in 2017 who signed with the 49ers backing up Jimmy Garoppolo. He made 10 appearances in 2020 in relief of an injured Garoppolo and completed 211-of-326 attempts for 2,437 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
- Verdict if active: Mayfield would be startable as a low-end QB2 if active. For fantasy purposes, his presence mostly helps the Browns pass catchers, very few of which are attractive starts even with Mayfield on the field; left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and guard Wyatt Teller are also in jeopardy of missing the game which could leave whichever quarterback is under center exposed on Saturday. Keenum isn’t a monumental downgrade from Mayfield as a passer and could be used as a desperation spot starter in two-quarterback leagues in the event he is active come Saturday and Mayfield isn’t.
- Verdict if inactive: If both Mayfield and Keenum are inactive, the team will be forced to turn to Mullens — assuming he stays healthy through Saturday — with Lauletta backing him up. This downgrades whichever Cleveland pass catchers take the field. The team will likely need to lean heavily on the run, which will mean increased work from Nick Chubb and D’Ernest Johnson. Johnson was already in line to see an increased workload with Kareem Hunt out with an ankle injury.
WR Jarvis Landry
Landry was among the first slew of players placed on the COVID-19/reserve list on Tuesday. He has been quiet for fantasy, but leads the team in both targets and catches. He is coming off of one of his better games this season in which he reeled in five of 10 targets for 41 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens.
- Verdict if active: Landry is startable as a flex option if he dresses, but does take a downgrade given the quarterback and offensive line uncertainty. Since Week 11, he is WR20 on a per-game basis in half PPR averaging 12.3 fantasy points per game.
- Verdict if inactive: Receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones would be in line to become the team’s No. 1 option if Landry misses the game and could be a deeper league flex play. Rashard Higgins could also be factored in if the Browns have no better options. Peoples-Jones’ and Higgins’ ceilings are capped given the uncertainty at quarterback and the Browns’ offensive line. Landry missing the game would be another slight boost for the run game, namely Chubb and Johnson.
TE Austin Hooper
Hooper was also in the first wave of Browns players placed on the COVID-19/reserve list on Tuesday. He is coming off of his best fantasy performance of the season against the Ravens in which he caught five of six targets for 40 yards and a touchdown. His increased role was due in part to Harrison Bryant and Njoku missing the game. Bryant is in the concussion protocol and is questionable for Week 15. Njoku was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list last week and was activated on Thursday.
- Verdict if active: Hooper has streaming potential if he plays given how lean this depth chart could be come Saturday.
- Verdict if inactive: Njoku would be a dart-throw play if Hooper misses the game. His upside is capped given the uncertainty at quarterback and the Browns’ offensive line.