Deshaun Watson Suspended Six Games: Fantasy Football Takeaways & Implications (2022)
The news we’ve all been waiting for finally dropped early Monday morning. Judge Sue Robinson announced her ruling on Deshaun Watson‘s suspension. He’ll miss the first six games of the 2022 NFL season, unless Roger Goodell and the NFL appeal the ruling to, well, Goodell himself. The NFLPA has called on the NFL and Goodell to accept Robinson’s ruling, but the commissioner will have the final say.
Andrew Erickson and Derek Brown are here to break down the fantasy football implications of the deal.
Fantasy Impact: The NFLPA announced Sunday night that it would not appeal whatever Judge Robinson decided. The NFL can choose to appeal, which goes directly to Roger Goodell, though the NFLPA’s announcement called on them to accept whatever ruling came down. From a fantasy perspective, the six-game suspension means that Watson’s first game will be on October 23 against Baltimore. He is currently being taken as the 19th QB off the board, but we can expect his ADP to climb a couple of spots now that the uncertainty of his future has been removed.
– Kelly Kirby
Six-game suspension for Deshaun Watson. If this holds, his first game will be Week 7 at Ravens. https://t.co/W3Yx7J2Teq
— Matthew Freedman (@MattFtheOracle) August 1, 2022
Derek Brown’s Fantasy Football Takeaways
The last time we saw Deshaun Watson on an NFL field, he was among the best quarterbacks in the league. Watson finished 2020 as the third-highest graded passer per PFF. He ranked third in big-time throw rate behind only Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers (minimum 100 dropbacks, per PFF). Watson was a big play waiting to happen as an aggressive downfield thrower. He was fifth in deep completion rate and 12th in deep passing attempts. The Browns’ offense will receive a big boost once Watson is in the huddle in Week 7.
The Browns’ offense limped along last year. They ranked 20th in points per game and 23rd in red zone scoring attempts per game. Jacoby Brissett could struggle to match those marks this season while he’s under center, but Watson should have no issue eclipsing them.
|Cleveland Browns schedule Weeks 1-6|
*2021 Defensive DVOA rankings per Football Outsiders*
The Browns open the season with a cakewalk schedule for rushing. Four of their first six opponents finished last season 26th or lower in DVOA against the run. While we already figured Cleveland to lean on their running backs until Deshaun Watson returned, this should cement that thought. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will get all the work they can handle, while the outlook for their pass catchers should be more muted, with the volume outlook more meager across these six weeks.
I’ve moved him up to QB12 in my rankings with the news of Deshaun Watson‘s suspension length. Yes, he’s missing a substantial chunk of the fantasy season, but this is a quarterback that we’ve never seen finish lower than QB5 in fantasy points per game in any season. Once he’s back, it’s not far-fetched to expect him to come close to that mark. In redraft, it’s not difficult to stream the quarterback position for the first six weeks until Watson is back. Justin Fields is a perfect compliment to do so. Fields’ ADP is late enough, and his rushing upside is bountiful that his floor should be high with spike week potential. Through the first six games, Fields doesn’t face a pass defense that finished higher than 13th in pass defense DVOA last year (per Football Outsiders). Fields will square off with SF, GB, HOU, NYG, MIN, and WAS. Also, I must mention that I have no interest in streaming Jacoby Brissett while Watson is out. At this point, we know who Brissett is as a low-ceiling game manager.
Impact on Cleveland pass catchers
Amari Cooper is a tough player to evaluate for 2022. First, we have to discuss the bad. Cooper ranked 58th in yards per route run last year (minimum 50 targets, per PFF). He has seen his yards per route run decline in each of the last three seasons. Last year was the second-lowest yards per route run mark of his career. If Cooper is truly a player on the decline, he could massively disappoint in fantasy this year as he’s currently the WR23 in 0.5 PPR ECR.
So now, let’s talk about a rosier outlook. Cooper was still an elite deep threat for all his struggles last year. He was the fifth-highest graded wide receiver on targets of 20-plus yards. He was 11th in yards per route run and first in passer rating when targeted 20-plus yards downfield. With Watson’s downfield accuracy, Cooper could stack ceiling games this year. Cooper is a player I’ll likely avoid in drafts this fantasy season, but I’ll look to get him rolled in a trade package after Week 2 or 3. Once fantasy managers have soured on his muted output, it’s time to pounce for Cooper’s stretch run boost.
David Njoku is a late-round tight-end option I was already interested in. Njoku’s athleticism and talent profile scream late-round upside smash. Last year he was 11th in yards per route run and sixth in YAC per reception (minimum 20 targets, per PFF). Njoku got a small bump with the suspension news to TE12 in my redraft and best ball rankings.
The final receiving threat that gets the biggest boost with clarity on Deshaun Watson‘s suspension news is Donovan Peoples-Jones. Peoples-Jones led the team with 17 deep targets last year (per PFF). He was quietly one of the best deep threats in the NFL, ranking 18th in yards per route run and passer rating when targeted deep last year (minimum 15 deep targets, per PFF). He offers spike week potential once Watson is back, so look to stash him around Week 3 or 4 in your leagues and target him late in your best ball drafts.
Andrew Erickson’s Fantasy Football Takeaways
It’s a bit surprising based on the severity of the allegations that Watson is facing, 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, this honestly could not have worked out much better for the Browns. 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.
So although the Browns will be starting Jacoby Brissett from Weeks 1-6, the soft opening against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers and Falcons should give you the confidence to still have faith in drafting Browns skill players even without Watson under center.
It’s also great for those looking to bet the over on the Browns’ win total.
Nick Chubb (RB13 ADP) remains one of the safest picks across fantasy football at the Round 2/3 turn as he should see a heavy workload to open the year, then an increase in touchdown upside as the season progresses.
The best offense he played 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, and scoring double-digit TDs is well within his reach, with Watson taking charge under center for the final ten games of the 2021 season.
His path to his upside is touchdowns, and that’s represented by his five top-6 weekly finishes last season – 4th among running backs.
Mr. 5.0 yards per carry absurd efficiency essentially locks him into fantasy RB1 production, but a consistent lack of work on every down makes him tough to crack the top-5 unless he scores a boatload of touchdowns.
He definitely deserves a nice boost in the best ball scoring format, which favors Weeks 14-17 in the payout structure.
Amari Cooper‘s a bit more of a difficult fantasy prospect to break down. 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 was due to the high target competition in Dallas – Cooper commanded just a 15% target share.
There is hope that he can provide a higher floor as the clear No. 1 wide receiver in Cleveland. And that floor will be accompanied by an extremely high ceiling when Watson gets back under center.
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 top-20 floor wide receiver supplemented with a top-10 fantasy ceiling in 2022 during the latter part of the season.
However, the boom-or-bust nature of his game will likely remain a staple. Having Brissett over the first six weeks – alongside a projectable run-heavy offense – will make Cooper inconsistent.
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 ten games of the season, the Browns play one game indoors (December 4th at Houston).
I’m probably fine not drafting Cooper in redraft leagues with him likely shaky to start open the year. I’d rather buy low a few weeks in.
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 5 knowing it will take six weeks for the 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.
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.
Three words: To the moon. That’s the analysis for David Njoku.
With Brissett under center for the first six weeks, 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 $56.75M 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, who will be swiftly moving up my 2022 fantasy football rankings. He’s got a top-10 finish already on his resume, vacate targets to take advantage of with a major QB upgrade to boot.
Considering both redraft and best ball tournaments are won in November/December, not September…
He’s worth stashing if you opt to wait on the quarterback position.
Go with a Cousins/Carr plus Watson pairing to leave drafts with.
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) August 1, 2022
For Watson himself as a fantasy quarterback, he’s a top-five option 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).
Considering both redraft and best ball tournaments are won in November/December, not September, he’s worth stashing if you opt to wait on the quarterback position.
In 2QB/SuperFlex formats, Ilike Brissett late. He 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 is also 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, so the Browns could move on from him a year early with a mid-year trade and elevate Johnson to the No. 2 on the depth chart.
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 hard to trust to start
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) August 1, 2022
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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