After well over a year, the Deshaun Watson legal saga has finally reached a conclusion … at least as it pertains to his NFL status. We all knew a suspension was coming, but we just didn’t know how lengthy. On August 1st, it was announced that Watson is suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season.
However, it is important to note that the NFL has three days to appeal this decision. At this time, it’s not known what action they will take. Therefore, for the purposes of seeing the fantasy football impact this has on the Cleveland Browns’ offense, we will assume that the suspension will stand at six games.
Note: Although Watson settled with 23 of the 24 plaintiffs, this situation is far from over. Him playing football has a significant fantasy impact, but it is trivial when compared to the actual allegations against Watson. I hope everyone’s truth is heard and everyone involved gets the justice they deserve. With that said, let’s get to the fantasy implications.
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Deshaun Watson suspension: Impact on Watson and Jacoby Brissett’s fantasy value
Assuming the NFL does not appeal this decision and lengthen his suspension, this news really breathes life into Watson’s fantasy value. Knowing that fantasy managers will have him for up to 10 or 11 weeks, including the fantasy playoffs, is huge. From 2018 to 2020, Watson was a top-five QB in all three seasons. Given he is missing six games, pending appeal by the NFL, he likely won’t get that high overall, but on a week-to-week basis, there’s no reason he cannot produce those numbers.
Watson’s ADP will likely rise in the coming days and it will rise even higher if the NFL does not appeal the decision. There was general optimism he would play around half the season, so it shouldn’t skyrocket. However, certainty will likely encourage fantasy managers to be bolder when it comes to selecting Watson.
It was always expected that at some point, Jacoby Brissett would be taking snaps for the Browns this season. Brissett is very much a replacement-level-at-best QB for fantasy managers. In his two seasons as a starter for the Colts in 2017 and 2019, Brissett finished as the QB20 and 23, respectively.
That level of performance should not be dismissed in a Superflex league. Brissett can be a solid matchup-based starter on a week-to-week basis, but it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. In 1QB leagues, Brissett is largely an undraftable commodity. He may have value during the season as a streamer, but it’s really nothing more than that.
Impact on Amari Cooper
The biggest impact of Watson’s absence will be felt by Amari Cooper. The Browns’ new WR1 was poised for a bounce-back year after a disappointing WR25 finish in 2021. Cooper averaged just 13.5 PPR fantasy points per game last season.
Brissett was last a starting quarterback (not counting the five games he filled in for Tua Tagovailoa last year) for the Colts, starting two seasons for them. During that time, the Colts’ WR1 was T.Y. Hilton. Here are Hilton’s ppg averages from 2016-2019. Let me know if you notice a pattern.
- 2016: 17 ppg
- 2017: 11 ppg
- 2018: 17.1 ppg
- 2019: 12.5 ppg
Care to guess which two seasons Brissett started?
Unfortunately, Cooper’s ceiling for the first six weeks is severely capped with Brissett. A receiver that previously had high-WR2 potential is now set for a split season. Those first six weeks with Brissett, he may struggle to even have WR3 value. However, once Watson returns, that value immediately increases to high-WR2 with WR1 potential in the right matchup.
Impact on David Njoku
After signing a four-year, $74 million extension this offseason, fantasy managers were back in on David Njoku as a sleeper TE1 hopeful this season. Watson’s suspension puts those dreams on hold once again.
Njoku’s career-best performance came in 2018 when he averaged 9.6 ppg. Over the past two seasons, he’s averaged 6.7 ppg and 4 ppg, respectively. Brissett is not going to be the architect of Njoku’s resurgence.
With that said, Brissett did target the tight end position at a 29% clip in 2019. It was the fourth-highest rate in the league. This news on Watson will likely have a slight on Njoku’s ADP. It could slightly elevate it as many were potentially expecting an eight-game suspension or longer. However, it was becoming clear we would see Watson on the field at some point in 2022, so his value should be fairly settled.
What about the Browns’ other pass catchers?
Regardless of who plays quarterback, I have no interest in Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ will do his usual thing where he catches a deep touchdown on occasion. Outside of a couple of spike weeks, he will be under eight fantasy points.
Brissett is not capable of supporting multiple fantasy-relevant receivers. Cooper will likely be the only Browns wide receiver returning value in the first few weeks. However, when Watson returns, there might be a case to look at some of the other options as waiver wire additions.
Rookie David Bell is intriguing. He completely bombed athletic testing, but his college production profile is fantastic. There’s definitely a chance he emerges into a productive NFL receiver, but it’s unlikely to be early in his rookie season with Brissett as his quarterback. Bell’s off the redraft radar for now, but he could be a solid pickup when we are closer to Watson’s return.
Impact on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt
They say a rising tide lifts all boats. Although Watson’s mobility will potentially take opportunities away from the running backs, the overall offense would be better. This would likely increase rushing efficiency and touchdown upside.
Without Watson, it’s status quo for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The two will continue sharing work, with Chubb as the primary runner and Hunt as the receiving back. Fantasy managers can count on Chubb to be a floor-based high RB1/low RB2, right around 16 ppg.
Hunt averaged 13.8 ppg last season and 13.7 ppg in 2020. That may drop a bit as historically, Brissett doesn’t target running backs as often as Baker Mayfield did. Brissett threw to RBs 18.7% of the time in 2019. Mayfield targeted the position 21.1% of the time last season. However, overall, this backfield should look largely the same.