Deshaun Watson Fantasy Outlook: A Must-Deliver QB on the Win-Now Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson is carrying his franchise's near-term legacy on his shoulders. What is his fantasy outlook in 2023?

At PFN, we’ve researched more than 350 fantasy football players, trying to identify which ones are overrated, underrated, and priced right. With that in mind, here is Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson’s fantasy outlook for 2023.

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Deshaun Watson’s 2023 Fantasy Outlook

When the story is written about the Browns, Watson will merit his own chapter. It doesn’t matter what he does these next four or five years (or more) while helping to lead a franchise to its first Super Bowl title. He is now a fixture in the Browns’ lore, and ironically, his story has barely begun.

Cleveland went all-in last offseason when they acquired Watson, whose legal troubles sidelined him for nearly two full calendar years. The championship-desperate franchise handed him the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history.

And this past offseason, they restructured his contract to engineer a “win-now” roster in 2023 while catapulting his salary to nearly $64 million per year in 2024, 2025, and 2026.

In other words, there’s no slow burn to the Watson venture. Either he helps them win it all, or the entire effort will prove a disappointment. Either way — fame or infamy — Watson figures prominently in what the Browns are, and will become, for the foreseeable future.

From a fantasy perspective, there might be no better time to invest in Watson. That doesn’t guarantee success. It merely reflects financial realities. The cleared cap space for 2023 and existing skill-player contracts running through 2024 give this team a brief window to achieve football immortality.

The former all-world QB is coming off a fairly disastrous return to the field, in which he shook off plenty of rust while acclimating to a new team and perhaps the highest expectations ever bestowed on an in-his-prime quarterback.

And “disastrous” is not intended to sound unkind. He averaged the 25th-most QB fantasy points per game while completing a relatively anemic 58.2% of his throws, resulting in a 7:5 TD:INT split.

He netted his lowest yards-per-carry average ever. Even worse, four of his opponents were non-playoff teams. A fifth — the Ravens — yielded the seventh-most passing yards last year.

Watson did not closely resemble his former great self. He didn’t even remotely resemble him. In fact, in an alternate universe, had the Browns stuck with Jacoby Brissett at QB, they might have eked into the playoffs.

Brissett had the misfortune of starting his final seven games against the Chargers, Patriots, and then five eventual playoff teams. Surely he could have turned things around in a relatively puff close-out schedule.

Regardless, Brissett is now a distant memory. This is Watson’s team. He must play better — much better. The Browns are boxed in. They can’t bench him even if he continues to struggle. They must hope he propels himself back to greatness.

Fantasy managers who draft him must embrace these risks. This is unchartered territory for a player and franchise. The good news is that he’s not going anywhere. The shaky news is that he’s not a sure bet to be great again.

Fortunately, by going all-in, the Browns have committed to surrounding him with talent. Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and David Njoku remain. Underrated TE Jordan Akins — a former Watson teammate — has joined the effort. More notably, the additions of Elijah Moore and rookie Cedric Tillman have helped transform this receiving corps into a potentially fearsome one.

The rest hinges on Watson, whose dual-threat abilities will keep him relevant regardless of the pace of his redevelopment. In other words, his floor is fairly secure. He can’t get much worse than he did last year. So we might assume no worse than QB18 production. Yeah, that’s not promising. But it’s a useful starting point.

To crack the top 12, he doesn’t necessarily need volume. In fact, he’s never been a big volume passer. But he needs to get comfortable in this offense in a hurry. The personnel has been assembled to make him look good, make the Browns look savvy … and win a Super Bowl. It’s all tied together.

If you’re bullish about Watson’s return to greatness, then everything else should fall into place. It’s a giant risk with a massive payoff.

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