While quarterback Baker Mayfield’s injury absence Thursday has dwindled the Cleveland Browns offense to a scrap heap, another person’s misfortune can transform into opportunity here in Week 7.
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If this were not a bye week, the clear suggestion would be to sprint far from the temptation of risking a roster spot on the few healthy skill-position Browns.
Yet, this is a loaded bye week, with the Cowboys, Steelers, Bills, Chargers, Vikings and Jaguars all taking a breather.
Ezekiel Elliott, Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, James Robinson, Dalvin Cook are each off, as are Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb, Adam Thielen … You get the point.
That means – just like a freeway rollover – we have to look at what remains of the Browns.
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It’s ugly, we know.
Cleveland (3-3) started the week as a six-point home favorite against the skidding Denver Broncos (3-3). Now, Tipico Sportsbook has the Browns favored by just 2½ points, while the over-under once listed at 44½ points has nosedived to 40½.
Then came word that running back Kareem Hunt would join his power backfield partner Nick Chubb on the sidelines with a calf injury more severe than the one Chubb suffered in the Browns’ Week 5 thriller at the Chargers.
Hunt has been placed on injured reserve alongside former starting wide receiver Jarvis Landry (knee).
When it became known early Wednesday that Mayfield will also miss Thursday’s game after re-injuring his torn left shoulder labrum, veteran Case Keenum is now making his first start since 2019.
The crash was complete, and owning any of those Browns this week leaves a pit in the stomach. If Mayfield’s your guy, a look at the waiver wire shows the New England Patriots’ Mac Jones going against the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold confronting the woeful New York Giants.
And don’t discount the notion that there’s the equivalent of some settling 7UP-type to be found in Cleveland.
While other owners may be distracted filling the multiple bye-week vacancies with their own bench players, there is some hope in being left to swoop up Browns running back D’Ernest Johnson and tight end David Njoku.
Last week, I was left desperate with a thin running backs corps, forced to deal with the injury loss to Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. I moved quick to claim his replacement, Darrel Williams.
Thanks to Williams’ 23.9 points off 21 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns, adding in three receptions for 27 yards, “Pug’s Posse” defeated my friend Nick’s “Auto Draft Warriors” by 15 points.
While Cleveland’s Johnson had only two touches in Sunday’s home loss to Arizona, he will start and run behind a healthy offensive line that has opened all of those holes for Chubb and Hunt.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski called Johnson “very dependable and very accountable … Broke some long runs (last year), can really catch the ball. I have a ton of faith in D’Ernest.”.
With the veteran Keenum replacing Mayfield, the best passing option behind Odell Beckham Jr. Is tight end Njoku.
An ideal security blanket for this transition, Njoku is only two weeks removed from a 27.9-point game in which he had seven catches for 149 yards at the Chargers.
It’s certainly not ideal, but with points at a premium, the Browns at home, have a sturdy hand at quarterback, a creative-minded coach and they confront a bad team.
It’s worth rolling the dice.