Fantastic impact on Browns players like Amari Cooper and Nick Chubb
On Friday, March 18, 2022, the Texans finally traded Deshaun Watson. I would say that ends the year-long Watson saga, but that only ends the part where he will be playing. Saddle up, because it’s going to be long. What are the fantasy football ramifications of Watson joining the Cleveland Browns? Let’s dig.
The Deshaun Watson Trade
On Thursday night, just about everyone “in the know” about the NFL said it was the Falcons and Watson’s Saints. He called the Browns and told them he was out. However, Watson changed his mind overnight and agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the Browns.
In exchange for Watson and a fifth-round pick in 2024, the Texans received the Browns’ first-round pick in each of the following three drafts, a third in 2023 and a fourth in 2024. That’s big loot, but the Browns now have their franchise quarterback.
Watson’s legal situation remains unresolved
This one won’t be as easy as it looks. Yes, everyone on the Browns has a bump because Watson is a massive upgrade over Baker Mayfield. The problem is the other part of the Watson saga – the uncomfortable part of it all.
Watson still faces 22 civil lawsuits ranging from harassment to sexual assault. To date, Watson has received no official sanction. Although Watson did not play in 2021, he has been an active roster member all season. The Texans just voluntarily chose to make him a healthy inactive every week.
Watson could still receive a suspension
Entering the 2022 season, Watson’s playing prospects improved after a grand jury declined to indict him for any crime. At this point, we can be sure that Watson will not face any criminal penalties. However, as the NFL has shown us, legal guilt is not a prerequisite for a suspension.
Ben Roethlisberger and Ezekiel Elliott are examples of the NFL suspending a player without any official finding of wrongdoing. The NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice situation also calls into question the NFL’s consistency in handling personal conduct policy violations.
All this to say that Watson can play 17 games in 2022. He can also play zero. I don’t think the latter is particularly likely. For starters, the NFL will likely consider the fact that Watson missed the entire 2021 season. It also seems unlikely the Browns would have made that decision if they thought Watson was in serious danger of being suspended for the entire season.
That said, I also think he gets nothing is just as unlikely. Anywhere from a 4-8 game suspension seems realistic. The Browns will trade Mayfield. This means they could start a backup quarterback until halfway through the season, which will no doubt impact the fantasy values of Browns players.
Fantastic impact of Deshaun Watson’s trade on Amari Cooper
It’s been quite a week for Amari Cooper’s fantastic value. The new Browns WR1 fantasy value chart resembles the win probability chart at the end of a home and away basketball game.
In Dallas, I rated Cooper as a low-end WR2/high-end WR3. During his trade with the Browns, I was out. He was going to be nothing more than a high WR4, just like Odell Beckham Jr. With Watson in town, well… see the previous section.
Cooper is clearly the alpha WR1 in Cleveland, and now Watson is his quarterback. The former Cowboy and Raider is still very good at football. He has the legitimate advantage of WR1, and I’ll have him classed as mid-WR2, at worst, depending on what happens with Watson. Cooper’s fantasy value throughout the season will be strongly associated with Watson’s suspension length, if at all.
From a Dynasty perspective, this is great news for Cooper. Although the Browns may get out of Cooper’s contract after this season with no cap, they’re signing him through 2024. Cooper is still just 28, and now he’s looking at three years with Watson. Even if Watson is suspended for all of 2022 (again, unlikely), he will be able to play in 2023 and beyond, making Cooper a sneaky buy in the Dynasty Leagues.
Fantastic impact of Watson trade on other Browns
The Browns’ roster isn’t exactly filled with fantasy greatness. Last season, Nick Chubb was the only reliable fantasy asset in this team. They traded Beckham mid-season, and he didn’t gain any fantasy relevance until he joined the Rams. Jarvis Landry was worth a spot on fantasy rosters, but he was only a WR4, averaging 11.4 PPR fantasy points per game.
So how will Watson impact other Browns players?
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt
Running backs are going to be used the same way. Chubb and Kareem Hunt will form the usual dynamic duo with Chubb as power back and Hunt as satellite back.
They will both have a bump due to the Browns offense simply being better with Watson. They are a team that will score more points now, which is good news for everyone.
A real sneaky winner here could be David Njoku. I’ve never been a fan of Njoku as a prospect, but he’s super athletic and has improved as a blocker which will earn him more snaps. The Browns also used the franchise tag on him and named Austin Hooper as the cut after June 1.
Harrison Bryant still exists, but Njoku will be the Browns’ main tight end this season. He will be a popular late-round tight target in the draft leagues. As for Dynasty Leagues, if you believe in his talent, he’s a buy. If you don’t, wait for the dust to settle on Watson’s trade a bit and try to move him based on his speculative breakout.
Mayfield wasn’t really capable of supporting two fantasy-relevant wide receivers. He did it with Beckham and Landry for a few seasons, but neither came close to a WR1. Watson, on the other hand, can certainly support a WR2/3 fantasy alongside WR1/2 Cooper. I will be very interested in the Browns WR2. However, I don’t believe the man is currently on the list.
Currently, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz are the two guys behind Cooper. I don’t buy either of these as anything other than an actual rotary WR3/4. DPJ reminds me of another guy with a triple initial: Marquez Valdes-Scantling. MVS pops up every few weeks with a splash game and a big game. Fantasy managers rush to get him back and then he doesn’t produce. It’s Peoples-Jones.
Schwartz is entering his second season, so it’s too early to write him off completely. However, we have historical data on the importance of rookie production. Schwartz caught 10 passes for 135 yards. It’s not good enough. History suggests that any receiver who doesn’t reach 300 to 350 receiving yards as a rookie will never be anything more than a spinning WR3/4.
Guess the Browns spend a Day 2 pick on a wide receiver. This is a deep rookie class with several prospects coming off as very solid NFL wide receivers. That’s exactly what the Browns need. They could also sign Will Fuller, who reportedly wants to sign wherever Watson is. If it ends up being more complete, we’ll fix it when it happens. For now, just know that the Browns’ WR2 is a player of interest, once we know who he is.