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32 in 32: Cleveland Browns

In our “32 in 32” series, we are highlighting three of the most notable fantasy football players for each team, covering all 32 teams in 32 days!


Deshaun Watson (QB – Cleveland Browns)


2022 saw a lot of rust for Watson, who was coming off a year-and-a-half away from NFL action, but many are forgetting about the QB Watson was before that hiatus. He was a QB whose career finishes were: QB5, QB4, QB4, and QB26 with just 7 games played in his rookie season (QB1 in PPG, most PPG ever for a rookie) – each year averaging over 20.5 points per game. We saw the struggles early for Watson upon his return from suspension, failing to eclipse 16+ points in three of his first four games back, but then finding a groove in the last two games of the season – posting 21.9 and 17.6 points as the QB4 in that stretch. While it is a very minuscule sample size, it looked like Watson was becoming more comfortable in the Cleveland offense and returning to his previous self. With another full offseason under his belt and a notably improved receiving corps, seeing Elijah Moore brought in via trade, Cedric Tillman drafted in the 3rd round, and rumors of the potential for DeAndre Hopkins to be reunited with his former Texans’ QB, there’s nowhere to go but up for Watson in what could be a very strong Browns’ offense. Forecasting as an 8th-round pick in fantasy drafts and the QB9/10 off the boards (per ADP, ECR), I have absolutely no objections to investing in Wastson at that price as my QB1. For that price, you don’t incur the risk with a top QB, but you definitely get the historical production and the upside of one. One shouldn’t expect it from Watson, but the potential is definitely there for him to produce top-5 numbers or even contend for the top QB spot in fantasy if all clicks in Cleveland.

 

Nick Chubb (RB – Cleveland Browns)


Chubb is coming off his best season in the NFL, both for reality and fantasy, tallying over 1750 total yards and 13 TDs en route to the highest finish in his career as the RB6 in PPR scoring. Before 2022, Chubb had always been good, but not great for fantasy – finishing inside the top-12 in points all but his rookie season (RB18), but he was never able to establish himself among the top-end RBs with just one top-10 finish (RB8). 2023 changed that narrative with career-highs in every rushing category (attempts, yards, and TDs) that saw a career-best in points and rank. Unfortunately, it was a tale of two seasons for Chubb, revolving around the QB under center. With Brissett at QB, Chubb was elite, going for nearly 1,200 yards and 12 TDs in 11 games – ranking as the RB5. With Watson at QB, Chubb struggled, especially to find redzone work, registering 573 yards and 1 TD in 6 games. The offense should improve and the workload will still be there (especially with the departure of Kareem Hunt), but the struggles with Watson under center, combined with a re-vamped receiving corps, raises major concerns for me, especially with Chubb’s heavy reliance on TDs for production (27.7%, 9th-worst). I don’t mind him as a low-end RB1, only when paired with a safe RB2, but I would certainly prefer him as an elite RB2 option in the 2nd round. If his current draft projections hold (1.07 on ADP, 2.01 on ECR), I am likely passing, but if I can get him in the mid-2nd round range, I am all for the upside with Chubb.

 

Amari Cooper (WR – Cleveland Browns)


Cooper still has it, and we saw it last season when he was a top-10 WR for fantasy and showed flashes of elite potential, even with Jacoby Brissett at QB. Through the first 12 weeks, very few WRs could compare to Amari Cooper’s production, posting 57 catches for 792 yards and 7 TDs as the WR8 in PPR scoring with Brissett under center. Then Watson came in and, as would be expected with a rusty QB, Cooper’s production took a dip to a serviceable 21-368-2 (WR27) stat line through the final 6 games. The drop-off from Brissett to Watson isn’t ideal, but it doesn’t come as a surprise with Watson missing a year and a half of NFL football before his return. He and Cooper did find some chemistry towards the end of their season with Cooper placing as the WR10 in the final two weeks of 2022 (156 yards, 2 TDs). With another full offseason to develop chemistry with Watson and a second offseason to get acclimated to the Browns’ offense, Cooper should be expected to continue his success from 2022. The additions to the WR corps (Elijah Moore, Cedric Tillman) shouldn’t significantly impact Cooper’s workload, but keeping a close eye on DeAndre Hopkins’ status (rumored to potentially have interest from Cleveland) is a must as it will dictate Cooper’s value. Unless something happens on that front, Cooper’s price as a mid-WR2 (WR18 on both ECR and ADP) in the 4th round of drafts cannot be ignored. At that price, you’re not paying a premium for a potential WR1 with top-5 upside that you get in Cooper. I would be ecstatic to land Cooper in the 4th as my WR2 given the potential for both he and the Browns’ offense in 2023.

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