2022 Browns Fantasy Football Preview: Deshaun Watson’s status casts a pall over everything here

The Browns took a big swing this offseason in trading for Deshaun Watson, who didn’t play last season and remains under investigation by the NFL for multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. Until we find out if he’s going to be suspended, it remains hard to know what to make of this team, but at this point, it seems more likely than not they’ll be without Watson for much if not all of the season.

2021 Review

Record: 8 – 9 (19)
PPG: 20.5 (20) 27.1 (7)
YPG: 340.6 (18)
YPG Pass: 195.3 (27)
Rush YPG: 145.4 (4)
PAPG: 30.6 (28)
RAPG: 28.5 (9)

2021 Fantasy finishes

QB: Baker Mayfield QB25
RB: Nick Chubb RB13, Kareem Hunt RB50
WR: Jarvis Landry * WR51, Donovan Peoples-Jones WR63
TE: David Njoku TE22, Austin Hooper TE24
* No longer with team

Number to know: 1

That’s how many times Nick Chubb reached double digits in Fantasy scoring last season in games where he didn’t score a touchdown. It’s not quite right to say he’s a “touchdown-or-bust” player – and it wouldn’t really be a fair critique, given how often he scores – but as long as he remains effectively a non-factor in the passing game, Chubb is going to be more reliant on finding the end zone than just about any top-tier running back in the game.

Which limits both his floor and ceiling on a weekly and season-long basis. Could he be a top-five running back in PPR scoring? Yeah, probably, but the path there is a narrow one – he would need to stay healthy for every game and probably be in the top two or three in both rushing yards and touchdowns. And even that might not be enough – he was second in rushing yards in just 14 games last season and was RB12 in per-game scoring at a relatively paltry 15.5.

Of course, Chubb is just RB11 in ADP at NFC right now, so his price is more than fair for the kind of player he is. There’s room for him to outperform that ADP, but it probably requires him to find the end zone a decent amount more than he did last season, and that’s where it gets somewhat tough for me to justify targeting him ahead of the likes of Aaron Jones, Saquon Barkley or Leonard Fournette. Any one of those players could find their way to a dozen touchdowns, arguably just as easily as Chubb – especially if Jacoby Brissett is the starting QB for much of the season – and they all might triple Chubb’s reception totals.

This matters less in non-PPR formats, though you’d still feel better about Chubb’s chances of having a big touchdown total if you felt better about the state of the Browns offense as a whole. All in all, Chubb seems like a perfectly fine pick around the end of the second round, but probably one with little upside to emerge as a significant value.

2021 Offseason

Draft Picks

3. (68) Martin Emerson, CB
3. (78) Alex Wright, DE
3. (99) David Bell, WR
4. (108) Perrion Winfrey, DT
4. (124) Cade York, K
5. (156) Jerome Ford, RB
6. (202) Michael Woods, WR
7. (223) Isaiah Thomas, DE
7. (246) Dawson Deaton, OL

Additions

QB Deshaun Watson, WR Amari Cooper, WR Jakeem Grant, OL Chris Hubbard, LB Anthony Walker, QB Jacoby Brissett, DE Chase Winovich

Key losses

WR Jarvis Landry, C JD Tretter, DE Jadeveon Clowney, TE Austin Hooper, DE Takkarist McKinley, DL Malik Jackson, CJ Uzomah

Available Opportunity

0 carries, 0 RB targets, 168 WR targets, 61 TE targets

2022 Preview

Rankings

Chris Towers’ screenings

With Deshaun Watson

QB Deshaun Watson PA: 541, YD: 4115, TD: 30, INT: 14; RUSH – ATT: 85, YD: 299, TD: 5
RB Nick Chubb CAR: 237, YD: 1187, TD: 12, TAR: 27, REC: 23, YD: 196, TD: 1
RB Kareem Hunt CAR: 142, YD: 641, TD: 7, TAR: 60, REC: 50, YD: 394, TD: 2
WR Amari Cooper TAR: 132, REC: 91, YD: 1189, TD: 8
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones TAR: 92, REC: 53, YD: 796, TD: 5
WR Anthony Schwartz TAR: 51, REC: 33, YD: 452, TD: 2
TE David Njoku TAR: 81, REC: 57, YD: 756, TD: 4

With Jacoby Brissett

QB Jacoby Brissett PA: 510, YD: 3466, TD: 20, INT: 14; RUSH – ATT: 51, YD: 180, TD: 3
RB Nick Chubb CAR: 257, YD: 1236, TD: 10, TAR: 25, REC: 21, YD: 174, TD: 1
RB Kareem Hunt CAR: 154, YD: 695, TD: 6, TAR: 56, REC: 47, YD: 356, TD: 2
WR Amari Cooper TAR: 132, REC: 81, YD: 978, TD: 7
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones TAR: 92, REC: 48, YD: 671, TD: 4
WR Anthony Schwartz TAR: 51, REC: 33, YD: 440, TD: 2
TE David Njoku TAR: 81, REC: 51, YD: 568, TD: 3

Biggest Question

Will Deshaun Watson be suspended?

I’m operating under the assumption Watson will face some sort of suspension, and this is a very different team with Watson at QB vs. Jacoby Brissett. I’m also operating under the assumption that Baker Mayfield will be traded at some point. Amari Cooper has top-10 WR upside with Watson, but you can’t draft him that high until we know how much Watson is going to play, if at all. Chubb seems like the safest bet here, though even his upside is diminished if the Browns’ offense is held back by Brissett. In all honesty, this might just be an offense I avoid until we have some clarity – and given that we’ll likely see a protracted battle over whatever suspension is eventually handed down, we very well may not have that clarity until the season starts .

One sleeper, one breakout and one bust

Peoples-Jones would be a real breakout candidate if Watson were playing a whole season, but even with Brissett, he’s someone I’m interested in taking a late-round flier on. Peoples-Jones flashed upside down as a big-play receiver last season, averaging a league-best 17.6 yards per catch, and he was showing signs of figuring things out over a stretch in the middle of the season where he averaged 60 yards on 3.3 catches per game, with three touchdowns in six games. Peoples-Jones is unlikely to ever be more than a touchdown-or-bust receiver unless this passing game takes a big step forward overall, but the 23-year-old could be a high-upside bench piece if he breaks out.

With Austin Hooper and his 61 targets out of the way, Njoku figures to step in as the team’s primary tight end. He’ll share the field with Harrison Bryant plenty, but Njoku should be one of the team’s top options in the passing game, and if he can push to something like 90 targets, there’s a chance he’s a viable starting option at tight end this season . He’s always had the size and athleticism to be a difference maker at the position, and while this figures to remain a fairly low-volume pass offense yet again, it’s not unreasonable to think Njoku could be the No. 2 receiver here, with the potential for career-best numbers.

There will almost certainly be someone in your league who is willing to take a flier on Watson unless he is suspended for the whole season, but I’ll be honest, I don’t think it makes much sense even if you want to. He didn’t play last season, he’ll be joining a new team, with players and coaches he’s never played with before and will have to do so while likely having little opportunity to practice with them much while serving the suspension. So, you’ll have to stash a guy on your bench – suspended players are not IR eligible for most Fantasy leagues and shouldn’t be – who you won’t know can actually still produce at a high level in this new environment until I try it. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.

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