Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be , according to several reports Tuesday morning. The decision offers some clarity on Watson's availability following a series of disciplinary hearings stemming from accusations of sexual misconduct by 24 women.
That isn't necessarily the final word, as the NFL could still choose to appeal the decision, but as of now, it appears Watson will be available for Week 7 against the Ravens and beyond.
The provides some clarity on the Fantasy outlook for Watson and the rest of the Browns, with Jacoby Brissett set to open the season as the starting quarterback for what looks like a relatively soft schedule: at the Panthers, vs. the Jets and Steelers, at the Falcons, and then home vs. the Chargers and Patriots. There are a few tough matchups in there, obviously, but the Chargers and Patriots are the only of the team's first six matchups who ranked in the top 10 in the league in scoring last year.
Which means it's unlikely Nick Chubb is going to get game-scripted out of any of these matchups. And, while the Browns may opt for a more pass-heavy approach when Watson is cleared to play, they figure to lean very heavily on Chubb and Kareem Hunt with Brissett at QB. Chubb has high-end RB2 appeal with a high weekly floor, while Hunt is a flex option. I don't expect the Browns to put up huge offensive numbers in the time Brissett starts, even with a soft schedule, but the running game figures to carry them in that time. Chubb , and the only reason he isn't higher is because he just doesn't catch many passes. But you'll likely never be upset that you have him on your team.
Because, while Brissett is a fine backup, there's a reason he's been a career backup. He has averaged 6.4 yards per attempt for his career, including just 5.7 on 225 attempts with the Dolphins last season, when he started five games. All in all, he played 88% of the snaps or more in five games for Dolphins, and in those five games, he averaged 220 yards on 40.2 attempts per game with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Which is to say, expectations should be pretty low for the Browns passing game with Brissett at QB -- Jaylen Waddle back – Waddle had 253 yards in those five games, with no touchdowns.. They figure to be very conservative, and we saw last season how Brissett held
Amari Cooper is a different kind of player than Waddle, obviously, and this is a different offense than Miami's, but my expectations for Cooper are pretty muted with Brissett as his QB – he'll be a WR3 for Fantasy in my rankings for those first six weeks.
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After that, however, Cooper's upside is considerably higher. Will Fuller averaged 71 yards with eight touchdowns in 11 games with Watson in 2020, and that kind of production is well within reach for a player with Cooper's skill set. Cooper has top-12 upside when Watson is cleared to play.
Donovan Peoples-Jones is probably the closer comparison to Fuller in terms of play style – his 17.6 yards per catch last season was one of the highest marks in the league. He'll be the clear No. 2 receiver behind Cooper but has some serious sleeper appeal with a clear path to starting-caliber Fantasy production with Watson. I'll be stashing Peoples-Jones on the end of my bench with a late-round pick – if I can stay patient enough to wait through what will likely be six pretty mediocre weeks with Brissett at QB.
As for Watson's value in Fantasy, obviously, you're going to take a zero from him for the first six weeks, and then there's the question of whether he'll be rusty after not playing at all since the 2020 season – and remember that while he's taking part in training camp right now, he also didn't practice last season with the Texans.
So, some rustiness isn't unexpected, and he gets a tough landing spot at Baltimore in his first game back. I'm not sure I'd feel super great about the prospects of starting him in that one without having seen him play. He gets the Bengals the following week and then a bye in Week 9, so realistically, you may not feel confident starting him until Week 10, though even a best-case scenario means you're leaving him on your bench for seven of the first nine weeks of the season.
Of course, then you might have an impact quarterback for the stretch run, which is something you need in Fantasy these days. Whether you're willing to deal with what is effectively a dead roster spot for most of the first two months of the season – a time when you should be churning through roster spots looking for difference-makers on the wire – is up to you. If you can pair Watson with someone like Derek Carr or Kirk Cousins – a high-floor Fantasy QB with some intriguing upside of his own – then spending a couple of picks around 100th overall might be worth considering.
I'm slotting Watson in as my QB19 in the rankings, in a tier behind Justin Fields, Jameis Winston, and Tua Tagovailoa, all three of whom have pretty intriguing upside with availability for 17 games. Watson should be better than any of those guys when he plays, but the missed time puts him behind them for me.
Chances are, someone will take Watson before then, but it won't be me. I'm more likely to try to snag Cooper (WR20 for me), Peoples-Jones (WR61), or David Njoku (TE14) if I want a piece of what should be a much-improved Browns offense in the second half. Speaking of Njoku, he has definite late-round tight end upside coming off a season where he posted a career-best efficiency, sporting the fifth-largest contract for a tight end, and with Austin Hooper out of the picture. And I'll be looking to buy-low on all three after the first month if they get off to slow starts, too. That's where I think the best value will come from in this offense in 2022.