Fantasy Football Reaction: Cleveland Browns trade for QB Deshaun Watson

Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) attempts a pass during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL simply never takes a day off, as Deshaun Watson is taking his talents to the Cleveland Browns and signing a new five-year contract worth $230 million – all guaranteed. The news comes just a day after the Browns were reportedly out of the running but now, they’ll have elite play under center for at least the next half-decade.

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

  • 2017: 24.1 fantasy points per game (No. 1 among qualified quarterbacks)
  • 2018: 20.7 (tied for No. 4)
  • 2019: 22 (No. 3)
  • 2020: 23.8 (No. 6)

Overall, Watson’s average of 22 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 statistics are every bit as impressive. The ex-Texans signal-caller has posted elite marks in PFF passing grade (90.6, No. 8), QB rating (104.5, No. 4) and yards per attempt (8.3, No. 2) among 68 quarterbacks with 300-plus dropbacks since 2017.

The problem with valuing Watson in fantasy land for 2022 is the potential of suspension. Six games has been floated out as a possible number, but it’s truly anyone’s guess as to what Roger Goodell will do. The potential to lose 33% of the season in an instant makes it tough to fully embrace Watson as the top-tier fantasy signal-caller that he’s been whenever on the field throughout his career.

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

Last season's Texans offensive line finished as PFF's 29th-ranked unit while the Browns finished eighth. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt‘s presence give 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 Amari Cooper with a high-level free agent (looking at you Will Fuller) or high-round pick (Drake London).

This will bring an end to Baker Mayfield’s time in Cleveland, as he will now be granted his trade request. This means Case Keenum and Nick Mullens could spend the first chunk of the season under center, slightly lowering the fantasy ceiling of everyone involved. Still, Watson will be a top-six fantasy quarterback, at worst, the second he’s under center, and that sort of upside will keep him firmly in the QB1 discussion despite the potential for missed action.

The pieces are truly in place for the Browns to operate a true top-five scoring offense once Watson is under center. Chubb deserves to be ranked as a borderline RB1 who would be far higher with the backfield all to himself while Hunt is more of a low-end RB2 who possesses (wait for it) league-winning upside should Chubb miss any time.

Cooper is the biggest beneficiary of the news and should be considered an upside WR2 at worst. PFF’s Dwain McFarland had Cooper as just his WR26 before the news, but it’d make sense if Cooper rises into the upper-tier of fantasy's WR2 group alongside DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Diontae Johnson and D.J. Moore. It’s also fair to upgrade Donovan Peoples-Jones and throw a late-round dart or two in best-ball land; just realize more roster moves at wide receiver are inevitable.

And then there are tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant. All three Browns tight ends (including recently released Austin Hooper) played 16 games last season. Hooper played at least 75% of the offense's snaps in three games while Njoku did it once and Bryant did it zero times. Two-tight end committees are tough to figure out in fantasy land, and three is nothing short of a nightmare. Cooper's presence inside of this run-first offense somewhat caps Njoku and Bryant's ceiling, but at a minimum, the decision to part ways with Hooper should be seen as a positive for both of the team’s incumbent tight ends. Njoku literally didn't miss a single snap in Week 15 with Hooper sidelined, although he wound up with a fairly pedestrian 3-29-0 line on five targets for his trouble. The Browns have only fed Njoku more than five targets in a game once over the past two seasons, but don’t be surprised if both of the Browns’ talented tight ends remain better real-life talents than fantasy assets despite the massive upgrade under center unless Njoku is given a true every-down role.


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