Fantasy Reaction: Deshaun Watson Suspended 6 Games (Fantasy Football)

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The Cleveland Browns‘ new franchise QB, Deshaun Watson, will be suspended for the first six games of the 2022 regular season. Per Adam Schefter, the NFL now has three days to appeal the decision. Sunday night, the NFLPA issued a statement that they would “stand by” the decision and not appeal, suggesting that the NFL do the same. Fantasy gamers drafting in early August should move forward with the news as it stands now – Watson missing the first six games to open the year, but of course, this could change pending any appeal from the NFL. Let’s take a look at what a six-game suspension means for Watson and the Browns offense in fantasy this season.

Watson’s suspension immediately thrusts journeyman QB Jacoby Brissett into the starting QB role for the first month and a half of the season. The downgrade in quality of QB play from Watson to Brissett is obviously going to have a negative impact on the Cleveland pass catchers, namely Amari Cooper. Brissett’s 3.2% TD rate in his career is well below league average, and over his last 20 starts in the NFL, Jacoby Brissett has just three games of 3+ passing TD while averaging 207 passing yards per game. In the first six months of the season, it would be logical to expect the Browns to lean heavily on Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the run game while Brissett is turned into more of a game manager for Kevin Stefanski’s offense.

Per our Strength of Schedule Tool in the Ultimate Draft Kit, no offense in the NFL has an easier strength of schedule for the RB position than the Cleveland Browns. Given the Watson suspension and the schedule, this QB change could in theory be a huge benefit to Chubb and Hunt, who figure to be the focal point of the offense until Watson is back on the field in late October. Five of the Browns’ six opponents to open the year ranked in the bottom-10 against the run in 2021. With an offensive line ranked #2 by PFF to enter the season, look for Cleveland to get the ground game going early and often over the course of the first six weeks.

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As for Watson’s fantasy value, he’ll not only miss the first six games, but he’ll also miss Week 9 when the Browns are on their bye week. In total, he’ll miss seven games of the fantasy regular season, which for most leagues runs from Week 1 to Week 14. In other words, he’ll miss half of the fantasy season, making him a difficult investment in fantasy drafts, especially if league settings prevent fantasy managers from placing a suspended player on IR. Managers looking to invest in Watson will likely be able to get him in the late double-digit rounds of fantasy drafts, but in doing so, those managers will need to find a capable streaming candidate to open the year.

Looking at our Strength of Schedule Tool, the top five easiest schedules to open the year for fantasy QBs are in order: 1) the Jaguars, 2) the Bears, 3) the Eagles, 4) the Bucs, and 5) the Colts. Jalen Hurts and Tom Brady are going in the early to middle rounds of fantasy drafts, but if looking for a Watson replacement to open the year, the draft cost for Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Matt Ryan are manageable. Per our ADP resource in the UDK, all three of these QBs are going in Round 11 or later rounds as possible values:

When Watson does eventually get back on the field, he will certainly raise the ceiling for names such as Amari Cooper, David Njoku, and Donovan Peoples-Jones. To restate the obvious, they’re a tough investment in fantasy drafts given the QB play during the first six weeks of the season. The last time Brissett was a full-time starter in 2019 with the Colts, the team’s leading receiver on a per game basis was T.Y. Hilton with just 50.1 yards per game. No Colts pass catcher topped five receiving TDs on the year. Of course, these players have the ability to provide big weeks down the stretch once Watson is back under center, but for the first month and a half of the season, it’s difficult to envision anything more than WR3 numbers from Cooper or fringe TE1/2 numbers from Njoku.

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