by Andrew Teuscher
Deshaun Watson: Watson has had a lot going on this offseason between a myriad of legal allegations and forcing his way out of Houston. His behavior has certainly been in question, but his NFL talent has never been. The Browns proved they agreed Deshaun is an elite talent by offering him the most guaranteed money in NFL history, even amidst major off-field concerns that could see him missing a large chunk of this season. It is impossible to predict what punishment Deshaun will face, but when Deshaun plays he is a top-5 fantasy QB. This is not a hot take! Simply go and look at Watson’s ppg fantasy finishes. Since he entered the league in 2017 he has never finished worse than 7th in ppg which he did in 2020. That season was actually one of his better ppg but 2020 was a crazy year for QBs. He is a great passer and has the solid rushing skills necessary to be a consistent top-end option in fantasy. Some worry that the Browns are a run-heavy offense, but don’t fret. Kevin Stefanski is a good offensive schemer. Last year the Browns actually adjusted, and even with a broken Baker Mayfield, threw the ball more in 2021 than they did in 2020. I cannot imagine a world where the Browns decide to let Baker throw the ball more than Watson. We’ll have to see how many games Deshaun gets suspended, but when he plays he is up there with anyone else!
Baker Mayfield: Not much can be said about Mayfield until we see what the QBs future holds. We need to see where he lands and what kind of investment that team dedicates in the trade for Baker or how much he signs for if he is released. Baker was an incredible college QB which led to him being the number one overall pick. Since entering the NFL he has seen his ups and downs. Last season was easily his worst, but he missed week 7 for a separated right shoulder (his throwing arm) and did not get surgery to repair it until the season ended. He played the majority of the rest of the season but he was clearly playing injured and his fantasy production reflects this. The former Heisman winner has flashed the talent to succeed in the NFL but his personality has led to being replaced by the Browns. It is worth noting that Mayfield has no rushing upside and has finished no higher than QB16 in any fantasy season. A quality landing spot and solid investment could make Baker a very solid QB2 like he has been before in his career, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Nick Chubb: The 5th year veteran has shown himself to be one of the best runners of the football that the NFL has to offer. He has put up 1,000 rushing yards every season but his rookie year in which he put up 996 yards. The fewest TDs he has finished a season with is 8. He is DOMINANT with the football in his hands. The already efficient runner is also getting a large improvement at the QB in his offense with the arrival of Deshaun Watson. The fear some have is that the Browns will pass far more often with Watson in town. Fret not because Watson being in CLE is only a net positive for Chubb. With Deshaun at the helm, the offense should be far more successful and yield many more TD opportunities than ever before. Additionally, Chubb was still finding success last season even though he was seeing the second most stacked box in the NFL. You can stack the box against the immobile and faltering Baker Mayfield, but you cannot do that against the elusive Deshaun Watson. Chubb’s situation is better than its ever been with the new tools around him. His lack of receiving game has never been an issue since he’s never finished worse than RB13 since he became the full-time starter after his rookie year. Get off the tracks because this freight train of a runner is fixing to be a solid RB1 yet again this season!
Kareem Hunt: Hunt is the 1b in the Cleveland Browns offense who preys off of negative game scripts in order to obtain more receiving down work. Typically this would be a death nail for a RB and would limit them to being a low-end RB2 at best. However, Hunt has been so effective with the ball in his hands that it hasn’t mattered. For instance in 2020 Kareem Hunt only received the majority of the snaps at RB in just half of the games. Despite this, he still finished as the RB10 that year. Hunt has displayed incredible efficiency in the Browns offense every season he has played in but has unfortunately only played more than half the games in a season in Cleveland 1 time out of his three years there. Hunt definitely stands to benefit from Deshaun Watson coming to Cleveland and improving the offense, but he must still be viewed as nothing more than a mid-RB2. He is going to have consistency issues because he is the 1b in the offense and he has proven to have issues staying on the field. He is still an incredible talent in what should be a much improved offense.
Amari Cooper: Cooper is coming off one the worst fantasy years of his career and he finished as the WR27. Cooper, who was typically a model of consistency at the WR position, saw major difficulties in being relevant on a weekly basis in 2021. This is likely due to the emergence of Ceedee Lamb for target competition and the Cowboys inability to be a consistent offense as a whole. Now that Cooper is the unquestionable WR1 in Cleveland where he will be catching passes from Deshaun Watson, his situation is much improved. The former 4th overall pick who was widely considered the same level of talent as Jamar Chase when he was taken in 2015. Now has his steady role back. Watson helped Deandre Hopkins finish no worse than WR5 when he was catching passes from Watson and when Hopkins was traded in, Brandin Cooks became the WR1 leading him to finish as the WR16. Cooper’s fantasy production should very easily slot in somewhere between Cooks and Hopkins which means Cooper should be seen as a high-end WR2 with all the opportunity in the world to finish higher. Now, managers must see how many, if any games Watson will miss. Assuming Watson still plays half the season, Cooper should still be ready to bounce back in a big way.
Donovan Peoples-Jones: As a former 6th round pick in 2020, Peoples-Jones was able to carve out an every-down role in Cleveland this past season. He did this by becoming the team's effective downfield threat. His ADOT last year was the 4th highest in the league (14.7 yds). The big bodied receiver has enough speed to be a Mike Williams type in the NFL. The last deep threat we saw play with Watson was Will Fuller in 2020. Fuller was able to be the WR6 on a ppg basis with Deshaun throwing him the ball. Don’t hear what I’m not saying! A WR1 season is not really in the books for People’s Jones, but several receivers in the NFL have seen fantasy success in the NFL being a big downfield threat when attached to a good QB (Courtland Sutton, Mike Williams, Chase Claypool). There is a chance that the Browns just reunite Fuller and Watson but, if Cleveland does not add any other WRs in free agency, then the third-year wideout should be considered a WR3-4 with some upside in a crowded receiving corps.
David Bell: As a rookie surrounded by a decent pool of talent around him, David Bell has some hurdles to jump in order to be a fantasy contributor. The path is certainly there, however! The only pass catcher on the Browns who has eclipsed 700 yards in a season is Amari Cooper. There are some other talented pass catchers who may breakout for the first time in Cleveland but very few established pieces. This cracks the door open for Bell to capture a reasonable target share. The young receiver profiles very similarly to other successful slot receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Keenal Allen, and Jarvis Landry who was on the team last year. Bell is not quick (like the other WRs mentioned) but was very productive in college. It is definitely a longshot, but if the Purdue product can produce and carve out a role in this offense, he really does have the chance to be this year's St. Brown.
David Njoku: The former first round pick is likely one of the biggest offseason winners in the NFL. Njoku has the draft capital and athletic scores necessary to prove that he is a great talent. The issue is that he has yet to produce. The question all fantasy managers are asking is why hasn’t he produced yet? It is assumed that this is because Njoku was stuck behind Austin Hooper since 2020 and he has been sharing targets that are coming from Baker Mayfield. We saw what being separated from Baker Mayfield did for OBJ. Hooper is gone, Baker has been thrown to the wayside and replaced by a much better passer, and now fantasy managers see the upside. The Browns like using their TE. So, if Njoku can command targets, he has the talent to do big things with those opportunities.
Harrison Bryant: Bryant is a 3rd year TE who was drafted out of Florida Atlantic. He received the John Mackey Award for being the best TE in college football his senior year after having a massive season with 1,004 yds and 7 TDs receiving. After this he declared for the draft and was taken in the 4th round where he sat behind David Njoku and Austin Hooper. Hooper is now no longer with the club and Njoku was given the franchise tag. Bryant is a deep sleeper to breakout behind Njoku, but he flashed his receiving upside in college and will now be catching passes from Deshaun Watson. With few other established receiving options to compete with, if the former Mackey Award winner can impress, he could become a streaming-option in fantasy in 2022. If Njoku does not return in 2023, we could see this role go way up.
Andrew Teuscher is a fantasy-football enthusiast and certified fantasy try hard.