Fantasy Football: Deshaun Watson suspension leads to further downgrade for Browns offense, Amari Cooper

Deshaun Watson’s suspension has been extended to 11 games as part of a settlement agreement with the NFL regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct against him, the league announced Thursday. Watson’s original suspension was six games, but the NFL appealed and was pushing for a full season, ultimately settling for 11 games and a fine of $5 million.

That means Watson will miss most of the regular season, with his return set for Week 13 against the Texans – the week before most Fantasy Football regular seasons come to an end. That makes Watson effectively undraftable in standard Fantasy leagues, where you would have to stash him on your bench until early December, which is impossible to justify.

It’s a bit of a different story in 2QB or SuperFlex leagues, where high-end backups are often rostered. Depending on the depth of your league and bench, there might be some value in keeping Watson around, although even in those leagues, there’s no guarantee you wouldn’t drop him if the need arose before Week 13, so Watson would be no better than a late-round flier – the same goes for BestBall formats, although the high upside of a late-season difference maker joining your roster could make that a bit better of a bet to make.

But the thing to keep in mind here is that Watson will have gone almost two full calendar years since the last time he played by Week 13. Watson has been taking part in training camp – he went 1-for-5 for 7 yards in the team’s preseason opener against the Jaguars last week – but won’t be able to practice during the regular season and will have limited access to team facilities while suspended. The chances he struggles upon his return from the suspension seem pretty reasonable, which makes it even harder to justify trying to stash him for some postseason upside.

This also means Jacoby Brissett will likely start the first 11 games for the Browns. Brissett is viewed as one of the more dependable backups in the league, and the Browns have expressed confidence in him throughout the process, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise if they tried to swing a trade for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo to get them through the first three months of the season – this is a team with playoff hopes, and Brissett is just 14 and 23 as a starter in his career.

He has also averaged just 6.4 yards per attempt on 1,208 career attempts with a 3.0% touchdown rate, numbers that were even worse in 225 attempts with the Dolphins last season. Brissett might be viewed as a viable, dependable backup for NFL teams, but there’s very little in his track record that suggests Fantasy players should trust him. Which makes this bad news for Amari Cooper and the rest of the Browns pass catchers.

Cooper is, of course, the only one of those pass catchers who will be drafted in most leagues, and this pushes him into the low-end WR3/4 range. There will probably still be some pretty big weeks for him because he’s talented, but this figures to be one of the lowest pass volume teams in the league, and Brissett’s limitations will hold him back from producing consistently. For context, Jaylen Waddle averaged just 6.0 yards per target on passes from Brissett last season, compared to 7.8 from Tua Tagovailoa.

This also takes Donovan Peoples-Jones mostly out of the sleeper conversation at WR and makes it harder to trust David Njoku as a sleeper at tight end. However, I wouldn’t take him off your draft list entirely – Mike Gesicki was Brissett’s most-targeted receiver last season and Jack Doyle was his second-most targeted player in 2019. Njoku would have more upside with a better QB, but he can still be a safety blanket across the middle of the field.

Brissett’s presence means less for the Browns running backs, who should actually see more opportunities now. There will be fewer scoring opportunities, which makes it tougher for Nick Chubb to hit his ultimate ceiling and renders him more of a solid RB2 than an RB1. Chubb should be worth starting every week, but fewer scoring opportunities would be a real problem for him, seeing as he had double-digit Fantasy points in a game without scoring a touchdown just once last season; Kareem Hunt remains an RB3 with top-10 upside if something happens to Chubb.

All in all, more games from Brissett is a bad thing for the Browns offense, which will likely take a step back even from Baker Mayfield’s disappointing 2021. It’ll be interesting to see if they pursue an upgrade, though even that would just be temporary, given the long-term extension they gave Watson. You should downgrade everyone in the Browns offense, specifically the pass catchers, although there is the potential for late-season breakouts from Cooper, Peoples-Jones, and Njoku if Watson hits the ground running upon his return.

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