Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Fallout: Deshaun Watson's outlook for 2022, how to approach the Cleveland Browns skill players and more

Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to pass during training camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

• Full information surrounding the details of Watson's six-game suspension can be found here.

• Watson’s career-long average of 22.0 fantasy points per game is the third-highest mark in NFL history. 

•  Watson will climb to QB12 status ahead of Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers if/when the six-game absence becomes official.

•  Brissett doesn’t figure to offer much, if any, fantasy upside while under center.

•  UPDATE: On Aug. 3, the NFL appealed Watson's initial six-game suspension. Under the current CBA, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has the option to consider the appeal himself or he can appoint a designee to do so. The ruling by Goodell or his designee will be final and binding to all parties.

On Monday morning, disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson suspended Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson for the first six games of the 2022 NFL season.

Off-the-field issues aside: Watson deserves to be in the top-five fantasy and real-life quarterback conversation. And the former point isn’t really up for debate.

Deshaun Watson: Fantasy points per game since 2017
Season PPG Rank among QBs
2020 23.8 6th
2019 22.0 3rd
2018 20.7 T-4th
2017 24.1 1st

Watson’s career-long average of 22.0 fantasy points per game is the third-highest mark in NFL history, behind only Patrick Mahomes (23) and Justin Herbert (22.3). Madness.

His “real-life” football stats are every bit as impressive. The ex-Houston Texans signal-caller has posted elite marks in PFF passing grade (90.6, No. 8), passer rating (104.5, No. 4) and yards per attempt (8.3, No. 2) among 68 quarterbacks with 300-plus dropbacks since 2017.

The Texans might have been 4-12 the last time Watson was under center, but the blame hardly falls on his shoulders.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the AFC Wild Card NFL Playoff game at NRG Stadium. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimately, Watson’s suspension prevents him from rising into the Tom Brady, Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson tier of quarterbacks, but his upside is higher than all once he gets back on the field.

I'm ranking Watson as my QB14 ahead of Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr while the potential for the NFL to appeal the suspension remains live, but he’ll climb to QB12 status ahead of Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers if/when the six-game absence becomes official. This pocket passer tier simply doesn’t have the same sort of best-case upside — Watson would be my QB7 at worst with zero suspension.

The Browns' outlook with Jacoby Brissett at QB

Of course, the Browns will be without Watson until Week 7, meaning journeyman backup Jacoby Brissett will be under center.

As much as Watson has been better than Mayfield, there’s arguably an even bigger drop-off to Brissett, who hasn’t exactly made up for the lack of efficiency with counting numbers — as evidenced by his 36 touchdowns in 37 career starts.

Player PFF passing grade Big-time throw % Turnover-worthy play % YPA RTG. ADOT
Deshaun Watson 88.7 5.9% 3.0% 8.32 104.5 9.5
Baker Mayfield 80.0 5.8% 3.4% 7.34 87.8 9.3
Jacoby Brissett 63.3 2.8% 3.1% 6.41 83.1 8.0

Ultimately, Brissett doesn’t figure to offer much, if any, fantasy upside while under center. And it’s fair to be pessimistic about the rest of the squad’s chances of keeping up during the first six weeks of the season.

Where the Browns' skill players rank

  • RB Nick Chubb (RB16): Arguably the best RB alive. The problem is Chubb didn't see much difference in his snaps (51% vs. 60%) or carries and targets (17.5 vs. 17.6) with and without Hunt in the lineup. He's two injuries away from earning anything close to a fantasy-friendly target share, although a 15-plus touchdown upside is firmly on the table with even 11 games out of Watson.
  • RB Kareem Hunt (RB28): Hunt was a top-eight RB in yards per carry, yards after contact per carry and missed tackles forced per carry in 2021. His pass-catching prowess arguably gives him a higher ceiling if Chubb misses time as opposed to Chubb if Hunt misses time. Hunt has been one of my favorite buys at cost all offseason, considering the likelihood that he can (again) supply low-end RB2 value if Chubb stays healthy, while his handcuff upside is as high as any back in the league.
  • WR Amari Cooper (WR34): Posted top-10 marks in receptions (292, No. 7), receiving yards (3,893, No. 9) and receiving touchdowns (27, No. 9) among all wide receivers during his time with the Cowboys. Upside WR2 status is firmly on the table once Watson is back in the picture. In the meantime, he’ll be a risky WR3 on a weekly basis inside of this likely run-first offense. PFF fantasy projections are more optimistic than mine and have Cooper as the WR30 in 2022.
  • WR David Bell (WR84): The Browns’ third-round pick should be considered the favorite for No. 2 duties, but a rotation alongside Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz (knee) is possible if not likely. Failure to lock down the No. 2 spot could result in a non-viable role based on volume alone. Only the Dolphins have run more total plays with at least two tight ends on the field than the Browns over the last two seasons, and that's honestly not fair considering Mike Gesicki is a wide receiver we call a tight end.
  • WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR85): Could lock down the second outside spot in two-WR sets, although he could also be out of a job in a hurry should the Browns decide to add a certain former Texans field-stretcher to the mix. DPJ is a better pick in best ball, where his potential boom-or-bust nature won’t require the same sort of weekly start/sit headache.
  • TE David Njoku (TE13): Njoku’s four-year, $54.75 million deal includes $28 million guaranteed, making him a richer tight end than everyone not named George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert and Mark Andrews. Betting on Njoku is betting on his flashes of talent shining through far more often with an elite quarterback under center. I’m willing to take that bet in the later rounds of drafts, although re-draft rosters featuring Njoku best include another late-round option in order to make it through the first six weeks of the season.

What is the outlook for this offense?

Last season's Texans offensive line finished as PFF's 29th-ranked unit, and PFF ranks the Browns as second ahead of 2022. The presence of Chubb and Hunt gives Watson the best rushing attack of his career, while the wide receiver room could also look rather good in a hurry should the front office decide to flank Cooper with a high-level free agent (looking at you, Will Fuller).

Don’t underestimate the Browns to look a lot like one of the NFL’s better offenses once Watson is under center in Week 7.


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