After a grand jury rejected criminal charges against Deshaun Watson surrounding the over two dozen accusations of sexual harrasment and misconduct filed against him, everyone across the NFL knew that Watson would be on the move out of Houston as soon as possible.
While Watson not being criminally charged doesn’t do anything to prove guilt of the civil suits against him, it did clear the path (strictly legally speaking) for the Texans to get the trade they’ve been seeking for a while now. And Cleveland paid a ton to get their QB of the future.
The Browns ended up sending the Texans a whopping five picks – 2022, 2023, and 2024 first-rounders, a 2023 third, and a 2024 fourth – in exchange for Watson. Along with the trade, Cleveland also gave Watson a new contract: five-years and $230 million fully guaranteed.
The NFL has a mostly terrible history of dealing with their players who are violent or abuse women and I’m by no means expunging that record, but once Watson wasn’t charged by the Houston grand jury, there was little commissioner Roger Goodell could do to stop Watson from being traded since he is no longer facing potential felony charges.
The league is doing their own investigation on Watson and will likely hand him a lengthy suspension, despite a lack of criminal charges. Kareem Hunt got an 8-game suspension for a physical altercation at a hotel with a woman in 2019 and Ezekiel Elliott got a 6-game suspension for a domestic violence complaint filed by an ex-girlfriend in 2017 and neither of them had criminal charges against them.
I have no clue when Watson will step on the field next, but the impact of this move across the fantasy landscape looms large.
The Browns were the fourth-most run-heavy team in 2020 and ranked seventh in run rate in 2021, which will surely change when Watson does take the field. HC Kevin Stefanski had to dramatically condense the playbook last season because of Baker Mayfield’s limitations, which won’t be the case with Deshaun Watson. I expect the Browns to completely flip their tendencies and become one of the most pass-heavy offenses in the NFL.
Any way you slice it, Watson is a top-5 quarterback.
Since his rookie season in 2017, Watson ranks 3rd in fantasy points per game (22.0), 3rd in completion rate (67.8%), 2nd in YPA (8.3), 4th in passer rating (104.5), 5th in rushing yards per start (31.1), and 5th in passing touchdown rate (5.9%) among 40 qualifying QBs.
Digging a bit deeper, Watson should fit in perfectly in Cleveland’s offense and elevate this offense to new heights. Taking shots down field off of play-action is a core concept of Stefanski’s passing game and it was one of the lone things that worked for Mayfield last year. Per PFF, Mayfield averaged 10.1 yards per attempt and owned a 102.1 passer rating off of play-action but was significantly less efficient when the Browns didn’t use it (6.3 YPA; 76.8 rating).
Back in 2020, Watson was one of the best quarterbacks off of play-action, ranking second in YPA (10.4) and passer rating (131.2).
Watson has obviously played with some supremely talented receivers in his career and has elevated all of them to top-20 fantasy seasons. Amari Cooper should be up next:
Watson’s history of elevating his receivers is stellar
|2018||DeAndre Hopkins||WR3 (21.1 FPG)|
|2018||Will Fuller||WR20 (15.2 FPG)|
|2019||Hopkins||WR6 (17.6 FPG)|
|2019||Fuller||WR38 (12.2 FPG)|
|2020||Fuller||WR8 (17.2 FPG)|
|2020||Brandin Cooks||WR17 (15.5 FPG)|
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how Watson and Cooper’s rapport develops because Watson might not start Week 1. I think we’ll see Cooper’s ADP remain fairly tame in the likely event that Case Keenum and Nick Mullens have to make starts.
After adding Cooper and moving on from veteran Jarvis Landry, the Browns WR room is going to look a lot different. Stefanksi went out of his way to hype up Anthony Schwartz at the NFL Combine and Donovan Peoples-Jones flashed at times last year, but they likely aren’t done adding. Bringing in Will Fuller (on a one-year deal) makes a ton of sense.
Along with rising the tide of this passing offense, Watson’s mobility will also help in the Browns run game. Athletic, mobile quarterbacks often help create lanes for the run because it adds an additional element opponents have to defend and, back in 2017 when Watson missed 9 games because of a knee injury, the Texans run game fell off. In Watson’s starts that season, Houston’s RBs averaged 4.5 YPC but dipped to a sub-par 3.8 YPC when Watson was out.
Nick Chubb is already among the league’s best and most efficient runners and his life is about to get a whole better, too. Not only will Watson help spike his efficiency, their offense just being better in general will help create more scoring opportunities for Chubb. Don’t forget to give Chubb a pretty nice bump in your mental fantasy model too.