Deshaun Watson's first chapter in the NFL’s version of purgatory is over after being traded from the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns. The quarterback waived the no-trade clause in his contract, and he signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal with his new team.
While a grand jury concluded that he would not face criminal charges as a result of sexual assault and misconduct allegations, he continues to face civil charges, and punishment from the league seems likely. A suspension of six games may be on the horizon, but this has not been determined yet.
The Browns gave up three first-round picks (2022, 2023, 2024), one third-round pick (2023), and two fourth-round picks (2022, 2024) for Watson, which many would consider a king's ransom, but they finally have a quarterback who has been productive and consistent during the first four years of his career.
What does this mean for the Browns, and more specifically, what does this mean for Fantasy Football enthusiasts? Actually, the next phase of the NFL’s version of purgatory could follow.
Watson's Career So Far
As a reminder, let’s look at the last two years of his tenure in Houston. Watson completed 333-of-495 passes for 3,852 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2019 – solid but not spectacular. He stepped it up a notch in 2020 when he completed 382-of-544 passes for 4,823 yards with 33 TD passes and just 7 interceptions.
This is a quarterback who is capable of putting dynamic numbers on the board – but that doesn’t mean his team will win. Despite those brilliant numbers in 2020, the Texans were just a 4-12 team, and that’s at least part of the reason Watson wanted out of Houston, to begin with.
A Strong Supporting Cast
The Browns brought in Watson because they believe they have the surrounding talent to match what division rival Cincinnati did last year in winning the division and getting to the Super Bowl.
Watson figures to be a top-12 quarterback in most fantasy drafts because of a potential suspension – and could be top seven or better if he can escape that punishment.
Despite his paycheck, the Browns don’t expect Watson to do it alone. Amari Cooper figures to be a better and more productive receiver with Watson at quarterback than he would have been Baker Mayfield. Cooper also figures to fare better with Watson than he would have with Dak Prescott because his new quarterback is the more accurate passer.
Look for Cooper to emerge as the No. 1 receiver, and head coach Kevin Stefanski is likely to depend on him for an average of eight passes thrown his way per game. Cooper caught 68 passes for 865 yards and 8 TDs a year ago in Dallas, and he is likely to be motivated by Dallas wideout CeeDee Lamb, who usurped his position with the Cowboys. The prediction here is that Cooper will want to exceed Lamb’s production in 2022, and that will keep him motivated on an every-week basis.
Donovan Peoples-Jones should also be a beneficiary of having Watson at quarterback in Cleveland. Peoples-Jones has the size and determination at 6'2" and 204 pounds to play a key role in Stefanski’s offense. Peoples-Jones is coming off a 2021 season in which he caught 34 passes for 597 yards and three touchdowns.
A Lethal Rushing Attack
Even with a couple of strong receiving targets, the Browns should remain one of the best running teams in the league with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The presence of Watson figures to make the one-two punch of Chubb and Hunt even more dangerous in 2022.
Chubb has been over 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons, and the only season he missed that mark in his career came in his rookie year of 2018. In that season, Chubb rushed for 996 yards and 8 TDs. In fact, Chubb actually eclipsed 1,000 yards in the Week 17 game against the Ravens, but his last rush of the season resulted in negative yardage and knocked him under 1,000 rushing yards for the season.
Statistics and analytics don’t always tell the story with running backs, but Chubb has never averaged less than 5.0 yards per carry in any of his four seasons.
Hunt rushed for 386 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in eight games last season, and he is also one of the best receivers at the running back position in the league. Not only does he have the hands to be reliable for Watson, but he also makes excellent moves after the catch.
But What About Baker Mayfield?
The Browns have to make this group work well for them because they gave away first-round choices in each of the next three drafts. The selections in the later rounds can bring some depth, but the Browns' potential stars are on board, and they have to produce.
As far as Mayfield is concerned, look for the Saints and Seahawks to have the most interest. The Colts were in that group, but their acquisition of Matt Ryan earlier this week ended that scenario. There's no reason a healthy Mayfield can't bounce back with a solid 2022 after struggling with a torn labrum and fraying his left (non-throwing) shoulder last season.
Either way, Mayfield might be an interesting late-round selection. he has a lot of upside, but be warned, we are four years into Mayfield's career and he has yet to look even slightly constant.
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