The Browns took a big swing with the Deshaun Watson trade, but they failed to live up to expectations in his first season, going 7-10 while the offense averaged just 16.3 points per game in Watson's six games. They're a solid bet to take a step forward, but Browns' history tells us to expect disappointment.
Record: 7-10 (20)
PPG: 21.2 (18)
YPG: 349.1 (14)
Pass YPG: 202.6 (22)
Rush YPG: 146.5 (6)
PAPG: 31.8 (21)
RAPG: 31.3 (5)
2022 Fantasy finishes
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Number to know: 79.1
That was Watson's passer rating last season; he had never been below 98.0 before that in his first four seasons. The key question is, were his struggles indicative of what we should expect moving forward, or just natural rust after Watson went more than a season-and-a-half without playing a snap in the NFL, first due to his holdout in Houston and then as a result of a suspension.
Prior to 2022, Watson had been one of the most consistently productive Fantasy QBs around, marrying strong passing production with a solid rushing floor. However, he just never really looked up to speed last season. Many are writing it off as rust, and the Browns have put a solid group of pass-catchers around him for the 2023 season. But it's at least possible that Watson just isn't the same player after so much time away from action. If that's the case, not much else about this offense is going to matter; Nick Chubb will get his, but everyone else will disappoint. That's not necessarily the most likely outcome, but it's on the table.
123 RB carries, 44 RB targets, 0 WR targets, 11 TE targets
Rankings and projections
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Deshaun Watson||PA: 551, YD: 3854, TD: 26, INT: 14; RUSH -- ATT: 91, YD: 362, TD: 4|
|RB||Nick Chubb||CAR: 272, YD: 1358, TD: 12; TAR: 39, REC: 29, YD: 217, TD: 1|
|RB||Jerome Ford||CAR: 91, YD: 380, TD: 4; TAR: 22, REC: 17, YD: 116, TD: 1|
|WR||Amari Cooper||TAR: 138, REC: 84, YD: 1091, TD: 6|
|WR||Elijah Moore||TAR: 99, REC: 60, YD: 725, TD: 5|
|WR||Donovan Peoples-Jones||TAR: 88, REC: 51, YD: 690, TD: 4|
|TE||David Njoku||TAR: 94, REC: 61, YD: 730, TD: 5|
Can Deshaun Watson bounce back?
Watson was once one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but going nearly two years without playing left him understandably rusty. He'll still be just 28 for most of this season, so it's not unreasonable to expect a bounce-back performance, especially with what looks like a pretty talented receiving corps. But the ceiling for this team will be tied directly to how much of his pre-suspension form Watson can recover; there's considerable upside in buying in at a discount if you believe.
One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
The general assumption at this point is that the Browns are going to add somebody to their backfield, but as of this writing, we're two weeks from the start of training camp and Ford looks like the primary backup to Chubb, though you could sub in Demetric Felton if you think he's likely to supplant Ford. The point is, this is an offense that is going to run the ball a bunch and should run the ball very well. Chubb is a big part of both how well and how often they'll run, to be sure, but there's a 15-carry-per-game opportunity here for someone if Chubb gets hurt. There's also the question of whether Ford or Felton will take on a third-down role, or if Chubb is going to be used more as a pass-catcher. Watson isn't likely to throw to the running backs too often -- he had Duke Johnson and David Johnson in 2020 and threw just 81 passes to them total -- but there could be a path for either Chubb to unlock top-five upside or for one of the backups to have some relevance even when Chubb is healthy. This is a position battle to keep an eye on in training camp if they don't make an addition.
Moore was one of the most popular breakout candidates at the wide receiver position, but he simply never got going in his second season in New York. There were clearly behind-the-scenes issues going on that came out into the open eventually, and the fit with the coaching staff never seemed right. But Moore is still a super-talented player, with plus speed and high-end college production, plus flashes in the NFL -- remember, he had a six-game stretch before injuries ended his rookie season where he averaged 77 yards and 18.9 PPR points per game. Cooper will still be the top option in this passing game, in all likelihood, but Moore could be a very strong No. 2, with a chance to overtake the veteran at the high end of his range of outcomes.
I don't feel particularly strongly about Watson one way or the other for Fantasy this season. I think his price is as QB9 is fine, more or less, and on the whole I tend to lean towards him being worth the gamble, because he does have that 25-plus PPG upside we're looking for at the position. But I think he probably carries the most bust risk on this offense simply because of how bad he was last season. We're mostly giving him a mulligan for that, but the Kevin Stefanski/Alex Van Pelt head coach/offensive coordinator combo has not yet proven they can put together an elite offense, and Watson looked about as uncomfortable as his numbers would suggest last year. If he doesn't bounce back, this entire offense is going to struggle, and those of you reaching into the first 75 picks to take him are bound to be disappointed.