After the NFL appealed the six-game suspension handed to Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, the two parties eventually settled on a resolution. Watson accepted an 11-game suspension and a $5 million fine. Watson will return in Week 13 against, of course, the Houston Texans.
With this suspension saga no longer in limbo, we can evaluate the fantasy football implications of Watson’s upcoming absence. The entire Browns’ offense will receive adjustments with this news. Going from a six-game suspension to 11 is massive for fantasy managers.
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Deshaun Watson suspension: Impact on Watson and Jacoby Brissett’s fantasy value
Watson quickly went from a sleeping giant as a backup quarterback who could dethrone even a solid starter to one who is more of a flier for the final five games of the fantasy season. Although Watson was a top-five quarterback from 2018 through 2020, dropping him into the Browns’ lineup after he hasn’t played since January 2021 doesn’t guarantee similar results.
The lack of a ramp-up period for the most crucial part of a fantasy managers’ season is a major concern. Watson will have played just three games before the playoffs begin. He’s a luxury option for teams likely to make the playoffs.
Watson’s ADP sat at QB19 and No. 165 overall before the suspension news. It’s hard to imagine that stays the same. I’d rather have a full season of Jameis Winston or Mac Jones for a similar price. Watson should drop below them and will likely be undrafted or a last-round flier in most leagues.
Keeping a quarterback who is eligible for only five weeks of fantasy play isn’t feasible for most managers. Don’t be surprised if whoever stashes Watson ends up dropping him for depth at another position of need later.
Jacoby Brissett now becomes a borderline draftable fantasy backup in the meantime. He finished his two seasons the Colts’ starter as a mediocre backup. His 2017 and 2019 final rankings were as the QB20 and 23, respectively.
He’s fine if you need him in a pinch in 1QB leagues. Brissett is absolutely playable in Superflex leagues.
Impact on Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper would have been in a promising situation even while transitioning from a pass-happy attack to a run-first attack with Watson. His consistency and efficiency boded well, even with the loss of volume. Head coach Kevin Stefanski isn’t one to force-feed his star receivers, but Jarvis Landry and Cooper had similar target rates over the last two seasons.
Now the offense will become more of a slog until Watson’s return. This will be a replication of 2021 with an injured Baker Mayfield. Brissett might be slightly better than Mayfield was for his receivers, but it won’t pay off in a significant manner for fantasy managers.
Thus, Cooper drops. He currently sits at WR26 and No. 62 overall. I would drop him from a solid WR2 to a Flex option with mediocre WR3 value. It’s a huge loss in potential and consistency.
Watson’s return will help Cooper. But waiting so long for his return is only feasible for the right rosters. You’ll need at least one star receiver and to get Cooper at the right value.
Impact on David Njoku
Any hopes of David Njoku rising into a TE1 are significantly hurt despite his new four-year, $74 million deal. Njoku has struggled to be relevant in the fantasy space over the last two seasons, averaging just 6.7 ppg and 4 ppg, respectively. A higher-volume attack with a more talented passer brought hope he’d breakout.
The good news is Njoku can still prove to be a solid value as an undrafted tight end or streaming backup. Brissett loves using TEs, targeting the position at the fourth-highest rate in 2019. Stefanski will also bake numerous opportunities into his scheme for Njoku to feast.
Overall, this news isn’t changing much for Njoku but dropping his best-case projections.
What about the Browns’ other pass catchers?
There’s not another fantasy-relevant receiver on the Browns’ roster with Watson out the majority of the season. Youngsters Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Bell aren’t consistent or talented enough to earn the volume needed to make your roster. Bell has also missed time since he’s on the PUP list with a foot injury.
Cooper will be the only notable receiver from this team in 2022, even when Watson returns to the fold. The Browns were already in need of adding a dynamic receiver to the mix. Seeing Watson’s suspension likely removes that need as the team punts until next season.
Impact on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt
If nothing else, this ends speculation the Browns could go with a pass-heavy offense with Watson under center. Those dreams are dead for the vast majority of the season. Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt would’ve benefitted from having Watson take attention away from them, though.
Chubb will still be an RB1 who will earn the lion’s share of touches. He’s ol’ reliable at the end of the first or mid-second round. He’s a terrific option for fantasy managers.
Hunt is more interesting. Incredibly talented and wanting a contract extension or to be traded, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll stay in Cleveland. The Browns have tremendous depth in the backfield and might want to get what they can to shed his salary and get younger.
If Hunt stays, he’ll still be a solid Flex option. Brissett will rely on him as a receiver, and Hunt will get plenty of carries out of the backfield still. He should average around 12 ppg.