Deshaun Watson Suspended 11 Games: Fantasy Football Takeaways & Implications (2022)
The news we’ve all been waiting for finally dropped. NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement on an 11-game suspension for Browns QB Deshaun Watson, including a $5 million fine that will go to charity.
Andrew Erickson breaks down the fantasy football implications of the settled deal that suspends Watson five more games than the original ruling — slating him to make his first regular-season appearance on Dec. 4 in Houston against his former team.
It’s not surprising, based on the severity of the allegations, that Watson’s suspension increased, especially when comparing it to the suspensions of DeAndre Hopkins (PEDs, six games) and Calvin Ridley (gambling, one year).
Before I dive into the fantasy football implications, please consider donating to RAINN to support sexual assault survivors. We all love fantasy football, but please don’t lose sight of doing your part. Thank you.
From a football perspective, it definitely puts a damper on them making any legitimate noise in the AFC North this season despite an easy opening schedule. Per Sharp Football Stats football analyst Warren Sharp, no team has an easier schedule over the first four weeks of the season than the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns will likely be starting Jacoby Brissett from Weeks 1-11.
But a soft opening against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers and Falcons should give you some confidence in drafting Browns skill players even without Watson under center. Just be wary that the production might taper mid-year until Watson makes his return before the start of the fantasy playoffs.
Definitely a forward-thinking opportunity to buy-low before the fantasy trade deadline.
— FantasyPros (@FantasyPros) August 18, 2022
But his touchdown upside falters without Watson through the majority of the fantasy regular season.
The best offense he played in was in 2020 — 13th in points per game — which by no coincidence was Chubb’s best season from a point-per-game measure. The former Georgia back averaged 17.3 PPR points per game, which would have ranked sixth in 2021.
The 12 rushing touchdowns definitely boosted Chubb’s numbers, but scoring double-digit TDs seems like a stretch with Watson taking charge under center for just the final five games of the season.
Chubb’s path to his upside is TDs, and that’s represented by his five top-6 weekly finishes last season – 4th among running backs.
Mr. 5.0 yards per carry’s absurd efficiency essentially locks him into backend fantasy RB1 production, but a consistent lack of work on every down or receiving makes him tough to peg as RB with massive upside without scoring a boatload of touchdowns.
Although he definitely deserves to be drafted higher in the best ball scoring format, which favors Weeks 14-17 in the payout structure. Watson will be playing in those games, giving Chubb a higher ceiling in the games that matter the most.
Those weeks the Browns face at CIN, home vs BAL, home vs NO and at Washington.
Amari Cooper (WR – CLE)
Amari Cooper is tougher to get excited about. The former Cowboys wide receiver Cooper finished last season 27th in half-PPR per game (11.2), which was in line with his career average. His nine touchdowns were a career-high, but he was volatile as ever on a weekly basis. Cooper finished as a top-10 fantasy WR thrice, but outside WR3 territory in nine other contests. Part of his boom-or-bust nature (36% bust rate) was due to the high target competition in Dallas — Cooper commanded just a 15% target share.
There was hope that he could provide a higher floor as the clear No. 1 wide receiver in Cleveland. But that floor won’t be accompanied by an extremely high ceiling without Watson.
The ex-Texans quarterback fueled top fantasy WR finishes for the likes of Brandin Cooks (WR16, 2020) and Will Fuller (WR8/game, 2020) the last time he played. And prior to that, he supplemented DeAndre Hopkins as the fantasy WR4 and WR10 from 2018-2019.
With a WR9 overall finish in 2019 sandwiched between a WR18 and WR16 finish on his resume the last three years, Cooper looks the part of a fantasy WR3 based on sheer volume supplemented without any worthwhile fantasy ceiling in 2022 until the end of the year.
And the boom-or-bust nature of his game will likely remain a staple. Having Brissett over the first 11 weeks — alongside a projectable run-heavy offense — will make Cooper’s production a roller coaster ride.
Although Brissett can prove to be serviceable, he is a significant downgrade compared to Dak Prescott in a super high-paced offense. If Cooper only managed to finish as WR27 in 15 games with Prescott, it’s hard to be optimistic about him as the Browns WR1 or your fantasy WR2.
There’s also a glaring issue with the indoor/outdoor splits that Cooper has posted during his career.
Also the outdoor/indoor splits for Cooper 🤢 per @pfref
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) July 22, 2022
Over the final five games of the season, the Browns play one game indoors (Dec. 4 at Houston).
Just roster Cooper in DFS that week in Watson’s first week back. 9-200-2 incoming.
I’m fine not drafting Cooper in redraft leagues with him likely shaky for the majority of the year. I’d rather buy low closer to the trade deadline.
Obviously, his fantasy ceiling will grow when Watson makes his return, but I am not sure I’m willing to draft a player in Round 6/7 knowing it will take 11 weeks for a high ROI to kick in.
Not to mention, the up-and-down play from Cooper won’t be subsiding anytime soon based on the reasons I’ve laid out.
Kareem Hunt (RB – CLE)
The Watson suspension doesn’t move the needle for me too much for Kareem Hunt. I was still drafting him plenty beforehand. So any boost from Watson to the offense is just gravy.
Last year Hunt was limited to just eight games due to a calf injury — but he maintained his effectiveness when healthy through the first six weeks of the season. He was a top-10 running back in PPR, averaging 17 fantasy points per game and just south of 15 touches per game.
His 6th-ranked yards after contact per attempt (3.54), 6th-ranked yards per route run (1.81) and 26% target rate suggest he’s not slowing down entering the age 27-season. There’s also the off chance he gets cut or traded at some point and joins a new team as the clear-cut RB1.
With Brissett under center for the majority of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Njoku lead this team in targets.
Former Colts tight end Jack Doyle led the Colts in targets/receptions in the seasons started by Brissett a few years ago, which suggests that Njoku could be a prime buy-low target.
The Browns offense ranks top-three in target share to TEs over the past two seasons under head coach Stefanski.
Njoku also got a fat new $56.75 million extension coming off career highs in PFF grade (70.9, 10th), yards per route run (1.56, eighth), and yards after the catch per reception (7.0, first) among tight ends who commanded at least 50 targets in 2021.
Simply put: Buy Njoku, whose ADP will drop. He’s got a top-10 finish already on his resume, vacated targets to take advantage of with a major QB upgrade to boot.
Deshaun Watson (QB – CLE)
For Watson himself as a fantasy quarterback, he’s got top-five upside when he gets back on the field. He was exactly that from 2019-2020, and there is no reason to think the 26-year-old won’t pick up where he left off.
During his last season of play, Watson led the NFL in passing yards and yards per attempt (8.9). But with just two regular season games and three weeks of fantasy playoffs for Watson to be considered, he’s not worth drafting in 1QB leagues.
In 2QB leagues and best ball tournaments — which are won in December– he’s worth drafting if you opt to wait on the quarterback position.
Would prefer him in 3QB builds as someone I’d consider in the QB25-QB30 range. In superflex, I’d be eyeing Round 10/11 (12-team format), assuming I already have two QBs.
Also in 2QB/superflex formats, I also like stacking him with Brissett late. Brissett finished as a back-end top-24 fantasy quarterback both seasons he started with the Colts from 2017-2019.
And in his four full starts last season (Weeks 3-5, 9), he averaged 20.3 expected fantasy points per game. It’s a pretty impressive number given the perception of Brissett.
D’Ernest Johnson (RB – CLE)
D’Ernest Johnson remains someone to target in the late rounds. He is certainly capable of being more than a third-stringer after an awe-inspiring 2021 campaign that saw him finish as PFF’s highest-graded rusher (90.6).
Johnson also delivered in his three starts, averaging a whopping 22.6 fantasy points per game. He’s a great player to target late with the hope that he finds more opportunities in 2022.
Hunt’s contract ends at the end of the 2022 season and requested a trade this offseason, so the Browns could move on from him a year early and elevate Johnson to the No. 2 on the depth chart.
Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR – CLE)
Other than those players mentioned, there are no other Browns worth drafting in traditional redraft formats. Big-play threat Donovan Peoples-Jones and third-round rookie David Bell will be so hard to trust during the start of the year, that they are not worth roster spots.
However, they definitely hold appeal in the best ball format with increased upside attached to Watson during the playoff weeks.
DPJ finished 2021 second in yards per catch (17.6) last season. Bell finished third in the FBS in receiving yards on the outside (1,097), second in total forced missed tackles (25) and 10th in PFF receiving grade (86.9) among his draft class.
He’s a perfect fit alongside prototypical No. 1 WR Cooper.
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