Amari Cooper, Jacoby Brissett, Browns' Fantasy Outlook After Deshaun Watson Ruling

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVAugust 18, 2022

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The Cleveland Browns offense will be without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson for the first 11 games of the 2022 season after the NFL and the NFL Players Association reached a settlement on his suspension following allegations of sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions.

The agreement includes a $5 million fine that will be donated to charity and requires Watson to undergo evaluation and treatment.

Twenty-five women filed civil lawsuits against Watson, and he still faces one lawsuit after settling 23 of them, while one woman dropped her lawsuit because of privacy concerns.

The Browns acquired Watson in a March trade with the Houston Texans and signed him to a five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract extension. He is eligible to return for a Week 13 road game against the Texans.

Until then, others within the Browns offense will take on increased roles while Watson is out. Below is a position-by-position look at the fantasy football impact of his absence.

Quarterback (Jacoby Brissett)

Brissett is likely destined for the role of game manager. The Browns will want their playoff hopes alive when Watson returns for the stretch run, which means a record somewhere around .500 or better while the backup leads the offense.

The weekly game plan will center on the team's rushing attack and defense, and it's doubtful the former Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins starter will throw enough to warrant fantasy consideration aside from the best of matchups.

His numbers across 60 career appearances (37 starts)—a 36-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 13 rushing scores—are solid but don't represent the high-end production available from so many other signal-callers around the league.

Brissett may be worth rostering as a fantasy backup in deep leagues, but don't expect any consistency in his week-to-week production as Cleveland focuses on the ground game.

Running Back (Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt)

Both of the Browns' standout rushers should be valuable fantasy commodities all season, but their numbers could be well above current average draft position (ADP) during Watson's absence because of the workload they will receive.

Chubb (14.9 overall ADP, per Yahoo Sports) averaged 17.7 touches in 14 games last season. He could easily approach the mid-20s on a regular basis over the first three months.

Hunt (92.8 ADP) is a bit trickier. A calf injury limited him to eight appearances in 2021, and he requested a trade early in training camp. That said, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported Wednesday he's returned to full participation in camp and appears destined to remain with the team as it attempts to navigate Watson's suspension.

The Browns will provide more than enough touches, both in terms of rushing attempts and catches out of the backfield, for both players to earn full-time starting roles in fantasy leagues to open the season.

Hunt's value could decrease dramatically once Cleveland's starting QB returns, however, which is something to keep in mind for potential trade talks around midseason.

Wide Receiver (Amari Cooper and David Bell)

Cooper may be the toughest forecast to make within a non-Watson offense.

On one hand, he loses the team's most effective thrower and could get lost within a run-centric attack, especially in weeks where Cleveland can build a lead that way. Yet he's also the clear No. 1 option and could get enough targets to make an impact anyway.

Managers may have to make the tough decision to bench him in tough matchups early on, but he could be a league-winning asset once Watson returns and his volume becomes more dependable just in time for the fantasy playoffs.

Bell emerges as an intriguing late-round or waiver-wire sleeper if he's recovered from a foot injury in time for Week 1. Working out of the slot could make him a favorite target of Brissett, especially on third down and in the red zone.

Those opportunities could bring him into the flex conversation despite minimal draft investment (undrafted ADP on Yahoo).

Tight End (David Njoku)

In all three seasons where Brissett threw more than 200 passes—2017 and 2019 with the Colts and 2021 with the Dolphins—the tight end was a significant factor in his team's offense.

That's an encouraging sign for Njoku, whose outlook was on the rise after Cleveland released fellow tight end Austin Hooper.

It wouldn't be a shock if the 26-year-old New Jersey native leads the Browns in targets over the first 11 games. That presents the possibility for extreme value at a position with a limited number of high-end fantasy producers.

Njoku doesn't figure to lose a ton of value when Watson returns, so he's a sneaky bet to finish inside the top 10 of scoring for tight ends.


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