Analysis

Fantasy: How Deshaun Watson’s Suspension Impacts Browns Players

Deshaun Watson NFL Reaction

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has been suspended for six games. While the NFL and NFLPA can still appeal the suspension, we can look at the Browns’ offense with more certainty and understand where we can potentially find value after this news. As far as the first six weeks go from a scheduling standpoint, the Browns have one divisional game and have half of their games come against teams that had top-10 picks in this past year’s draft. 

Jacoby Brissett-led Browns

This passing offense has the benefit of playing a weak schedule in the first six weeks; however, Jacoby Brissett is not the passer to take advantage of it. Brissett has started 37 games in his NFL career, throwing for under 200 yards in 50% of these games with a touchdown rate of 3.0%. The touchdown rate is similar to Brock Osweiler (3.0%), Brian Hoyer (3.0%), and less than Tyrod Taylor (3.5%). All of this points me in one direction: this offense will play slow and rely on the running game and defense to win them games early on in the year.

Starting at the top, Amari Cooper is going as a WR2 in most fantasy drafts, which is an extremely high-risk pick. Cooper will be a WR3 in a best-case scenario for those six weeks and as low as a WR5. For example, T.Y. Hilton in 2016 averaged 17 points per game in PPR with Andrew Luck, and in 2017 with Brissett, Hilton dropped to 10 points per game. In Cooper’s career, he has never commanded over a 22% target share, and he has had 38% of his games in PPR go for under ten points, and that number increases to 49% in half point.

There will be a battle for the WR2 spot between Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Bell. I agree with either option as a bench spot of deep redraft leagues where you can hold them until you see their connection with Watson. Bell has the draft capital, but Peoples-Jones has shown the ability to be a field stretcher on deep balls. Neither WR will touch my starting lineups with Brissett in the lineup, but there’s a chance for one to be a startable flex option during bye weeks.

As for the tight end room, David Njoku is going as the TE20 currently, and if you are picking him as a backup tight end, try to have your other TE with a post-Week 7 bye week. With Brissett, if the Browns kept similar attempts per game as Baker last year, 31 attempts per game. Utilizing Brissett’s career averages, 19 completions, 198.4 yards, and 0.93 passing touchdowns are available. That’s 44 points per game that the pass catchers have available in PPR and 36 points for half point. That’s fewer available points per game than the Trevor Lawrence Jaguars’ had in 2021. Do not spend high capital on players you can’t viably start until Week 7.

The rushing attack will be the focal point for this offense until Watson returns, and I expect these running backs to be utilized the same way they have been since forming the duo. As far as ADPs go, Nick Chubb as the 25th player off the board, is way too expensive for someone that does not have any pass-catching upside. I recommend reading Josh Larky’s player archetype document for why Nick Chubb is someone he has ranked as his 38th-overall player. Kareem Hunt is taking way too many meaningful touches to draft Chubb at his current price tag.

With both Chubb and Hunt in the lineup, Chubb had 52% of the red zone carries, and Hunt had 28%. In 2020, they had a healthy 50-50 split the first three weeks, and to end the year, it was a 50-31 split in favor of Chubb. The split between these backs makes it difficult to buy into either of them at ADP because of the running backs going around them. With Chubb, you have James Conner, who is the top back in his offense from every approach, and with Hunt, you have Elijah Mitchell, who has gotten an extremely high workload while healthy. Neither of these backs is a must-have, but between the two of them, I prefer Hunt at his ADP and the upside he presents. 

Deshaun Watson-led Browns

The return of Watson will present the most challenging portion of the Browns’ schedule, but ultimately these games will have opportunities to be high scoring. Having the Bengals, Bills, and Buccaneers as three of the first five games Watson comes back to will be high upside weeks for fantasy production. Also, the bye week allows an extra week of practice for Watson to acclimate to the team after spending six weeks away.

Watson, in his career, has almost double the productivity of Brissett, with a 6.0% TD rate and averaging 8.3 yards per attempt. Watson will take this Browns’ offense to new heights and be a drastic improvement from what we will see in the first six weeks under Brissett. That said, I normally only carry one quarterback on my redraft teams, so I won’t pick Watson in most situations.

For example, if I could draft my starting lineup outside of quarterback and pick Watson, it would have to be extremely late in the draft with a high-floor quarterback like Matt Ryan. However, I will not be taking Watson with a quarterback that I am chasing ceiling with, such as Tua Tagovailoa or Trey Lance. There are plenty of elite quarterbacks in the NFL I will be willing to go after that do not include the quarterback missing six weeks of the season.

The Browns’ pass-catching room is the focus of where the value exists when Watson comes back, and I will be looking to trade for Cooper the closer we get to that date. For games in which quarterbacks target Cooper ten times, he averages 25 points per game in PPR, and in the two full seasons with Watson, DeAndre Hopkins had 60% of his games come with ten targets. Cooper is not as much of a talent as Hopkins was in Houston, but on this current roster is the most talented in the pass-catching room.

The manager of Cooper will be looking to hold him, but if he spent the current draft capital on him, he would need to have found a way to avoid a sub .500 start with poor performances of Cooper. Whoever has emerged as the WR2 between Bell and Peoples-Jones becomes an immediate boom-bust option for the flex option for bye weeks, and Njoku becomes a middle-of-the-pack tight end because of the week-to-week touchdown upside.

Summary

I do not recommend drafting anybody on this Browns offense with current ADPs on Fantasy Pros because the first six weeks of Brissett will be hard to overcome. However, as the weeks get closer to Watson returning, try your best to trade for Cooper, as the upside presented for when he comes back will be immense. Bell, Peoples-Jones, and Njoku are fine bench spots for deeper leagues while you wait for Watson to return. Chubb and Hunt are both fine players to draft, but only Hunt’s ADP makes sense, considering the archetype I want to have is built into Hunt’s role in this offense. For the first six weeks, expect a heavy dose of this running game and reliance on the defense.