So, you are interested in the Browns AND Deshaun Watson for fantasy football? May God have mercy on your soul. There’s a special place reserved for you in heaven because you must have the patience of a saint. On paper, the Browns have the making of a playoff-caliber team. They have the right tools: a top-tier running back in Nick Chubb, All-Pro Right Guard Wyatt Teller, and a speedy wide receiving corps that includes Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones.
But…there’s always a “but”…
The Browns being the Browns, could be looking to trade Teller, though probably not till next season…maybe. They restructured Deshaun Watson’s contract earlier this year to free up about $36 million. The Browns and Watson could be poised to make some moves on and off the field. The Browns owner has put all his chips in on Watson and this team.
Hopes are high, which only means one thing: if those hopes are dashed, someone’s ass is out the door. So let’s dive into the unstable mind of the Cleveland Browns and their well-massaged QB, Deshaun Watson.
Deshaun Watson 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
Watson will be the 35th different starting QB for the Browns since 2000 when he takes the field this season. He looked a little haggard when he finally saw the field in 2022 after an 11-game suspension. His output in his first game against his old team, the Texans, left little to write home about. He threw for 131 yards, one interception, and 0 TDs. In fact, the only touchdowns that occurred in that game were from either defense or special teams.
Before the suspension and before the Browns, and before the monthly massages, Deshaun Watson was a mobile QB that threw for 104 TDs and over 14,000 yards. The quick math puts that at 269 yards per game. He was ranked 4th in the coveted NFL.com 2020 QB index after carrying a dinged-up Houston Texans team on his back. He ran for 444 yards and rushed for three TDs while throwing for 33 TDs. If he could do that for a team that was close to pulling people out of the stands to play WR, what could he do for the Browns?
Well, we have yet to see the fruit of the most significant trade of 2022. While Watson was serving his suspension, the Browns called on Jacoby Brissett. Brissett played better than what his backup resume would say. He played his best, and his best was a 64% completion rate that also saw 12 TDs and 163 yards per game. Mr. Brissett was more than serviceable before Mr. Watson made his debut. Brissett actually ended up with a higher completion rate than Watson (58%).
HC Kevin Stefanski and OC Alex Van Pelt had been going with a wide-zone under-center offensive scheme. That isn’t exactly Watson’s bread and butter. Enter Bill Musgrave. Musgrave was hired as Sr. Offensive Assistant ( AKA next in line to hot seat OC Alex Van Pelt). Musgrave, while at Cal, employed a shotgun-style offense. His offensive scheme could not only help Watson get an offense that encourages his strengths, but you could also see a more explosive Nick Chubb (if that is even possible).
#Browns Nick Chubb splits in 2022:
Runs from shotgun (92 attempts) +6.31 EPA and 6.0 YPA
Runs from under center (210 attempts) -3.84 EPA and 4.7 YPA https://t.co/tzMOJoSDYG
— Cody Suek (@CodySuek) March 3, 2023
Getting Watson more time to run and pass could see the Browns slightly more potent than they were in 2022. Watson “achieved” 6.5 yards per attempt which is two yards shorter than his Houston days. You tend to see more outlet and dig route passes when you have a wide-zone, under-center offense. In shotgun formation, the QB has to only complete three steps after the snap vs five steps under center. When you have about 2-3 seconds to throw, every second counts, and you’re not going to spread the defense out if you continue to outlet it to Njoku when things get tough.
For the foreseeable future (and current depth charts), the Browns have gone all in on Watson. Joshua Dobbs is next in the lineup. Dobbs has spent the last few seasons bouncing around teams and their practice squads and competing for third-string QB positions. He brings some knowledge to the Browns but doesn’t have the athletic ability of Watson. In my opinion, it’s possible Dobbs will retire after this season to start coaching somewhere. But that’s Dobbs…waiting behind him is NCAA stand-out Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
The Browns took DTR in the 5th round of the 2023 draft, which, in this writer’s eyes, is a steal. With a new offensive scheme being built around Watson, it is highly unlikely that DTR will see any significant time in 2023. But in 2024, that could change.
On paper, DTR is quite similar to Watson. In his final season at UCLA, he rushed for 600 yards and 12 TDs while throwing for 3100 yards and completing 27 TDs. Not too shabby at all. The Browns have too much money tied up in Watson to be drooling over DTR yet…but he’s looming.
Watson has a fairly rosy outlook with an ADP of anywhere between the 6th and 8th rounds. Many outlets have him going ahead of Tua Tagovailoa, Aaron Rodgers, and Daniel Jones. If you’re looking to hold out till later rounds to grab a decent starter on your roster, Watson is your man. My only worry is that the Browns could have two coaches, Stefanski and Van Pelt, on the hot seat if they don’t see progress this season. When coaches are on the hot seat, sometimes, just sometimes, you get the ole “we’re going to mix it up” press conference, and then the next game, you get a Wildcat formation with your backup RB.
As I mention above, the Browns are all in on Watson. He has pretty decent WRs around him and a good TE in Njoku. It is up to Stefanski, Van Pelt, AND Musgrave to help him and the Browns see the fruit of their headline-stealing trade. If, for some reason, Watson doesn’t perform well, it’s the coaches that will go…not Watson.
You could see Watson in the 310-320 point range (dependent on your league scoring format). He could throw for 3600-4000 yards and provide 25-30 TDs. This would put Watson just under the 2022 Geno Smith bucket, which turned out to be pretty good for the Seahawks. Watson is certainly a viable starting QB that has pretty good talent around him, but like many other things – when your draft players, you sort of draft the coaches too. With the hot seats of the Browns’ coaches, take that for what it’s worth…
A Look Inside the Cleveland Browns
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Adam focused on Deshaun Watson in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Browns written by Ryan Weisse.
As a runner, there might not be a better RB in the NFL. In fantasy, his lack of pass-catching hurts his ceiling. With the loss of Kareem Hunt, we could see better usage in the passing game, but Chubb is a top-10 fantasy back, regardless.
With Kareem Hunt gone, Ford steps into the RB2 role after being rarely used as a rookie. In six games with Watson, Hunt averaged five touches per game. Ford is in line for about 100 touches this year and has the talent to make the most of those opportunities. Still, he’s not much more than an insurance policy for Chubb, but he would be the #1 waiver priority if Chubb were to miss time.
Cooper is still the WR1, but the WR room is much more crowded. The team traded for Elijah Moore and drafted Cedric Tillman. Tillman, specifically, could be the heir apparent to Cooper as the Browns will be in a challenging cap situation next season. For 2023, expect a dip in targets, and it will be tough for him to match his WR10 finish from a year ago.
Moore will compete with Donovan Peoples-Jones for the WR2 role. Both of their values will depend on how much more the Browns throw the football. Last year, the team was in the league’s bottom half in pass attempts but still threw the ball 540 times. It would be a surprise to see them cross 600 attempts, so Moore might be starved for targets. He is a WR4/5 in fantasy, and his upside depends on a lot of factors out of his control.
Peoples-Jones was a good WR3 in fantasy last year. He was consistent but did not have much upside. The additions to the WR corps this year will make even repeating his 2022 tough. This is a situation where the Browns might be a good football team, and DPJ will be a good player, but it might not translate to fantasy success.
Give it a year. If he takes over for Cooper next year, we could be looking at an AJ Green to Tee Higgins line of succession. In 2023, you can leave Tillman on waivers.
The Kevin Stefanski offense caters to TE success, and last year we saw 80 targets and a TE11 finish in 14 games from Njoku. If he plays an entire season, he’ll be a top-10 TE, but still Just A Guy for fantasy. He is a mid-round trap, but if you can land him late, there is some value.
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.