The Browns made a controversial move before the 2022 season, signing franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson despite looming legal issues. They signed him to a five-year deal, but Watson’s cap hit in 2024-2026 is an astronomical $63.977 million per year. It’s a massive investment that now must manifest into wins on the field.
The offense scored 21.2 points a game, the 18th most in the league, buoyed by a top-ten rushing offense. Scoring went down after Watson came off suspension, and the quarterback looked rusty. It feels like the Browns are set up to win now with a top-five offensive line, Watson, Nick Chubb, and plenty of receiving options. Unfortunately, the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals all stand in the way, and all have improved. The Browns could easily finish last despite all the improvements.
What does the entire offense look like for fantasy in 2023? And can Watson resurrect his career and regain how effective he once was?
From 2018 until 2020, Watson was on a trajectory to be one of the top three quarterbacks in the league. Houston didn’t surround him with immense talent, yet he elevated his team. He led the league in passing yards, with 4,823, in 2020 and threw for 33 TDs with only 7 INTs. He also had a 70.2% completion rate with those numbers. Watson is also a threat to run, albeit it nobody is confusing him with Justin Fields or Jalen Hurts.
Cleveland took a massive risk by offering him such an immense contract, taking a massive PR hit in the process. But sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, especially when you are looking for your first franchise quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar.
The last time Cleveland had a QB throw 4000+ pass yards in a season was 1980.— Nick Karns (@karnsies817) July 20, 2023
The last time Deshaun Watson played a full season, he threw for 4823 yards.
If by "Same old Browns" you mean something that hasn't happened in 33 years,
SIGN ME UP pic.twitter.com/hcinvUo6Ng
Watson gives the offense this, but he’s going to need to shake the rust off quickly. The contract is an albatross, and if Watson doesn’t work, the Browns are absolutely screwed. That’s putting it mildly. The entire organizational flow chart may get fired.
Enough of all that. I have Watson projected somewhere in the middle. I don’t think he gets back to the level he was before, but I do believe he takes a massive step forward in 2023.
Projections: 340-520, 4,100 yards, 27 TDs, 11 INTS passing, 55 rushes for 340 yards and 3 TDs
Joshua Dobbs is now the primary backup, and he’s a solid backup at best. The Browns would flounder if put in a situation where they needed to start him. He was pressed into action for Tennessee last season and went 40 of 68 for 411 yards and a pair of TDs and INTs.
The more interesting option is rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He improved every year at UCLA. He’s got a strong arm and throws a pretty spiral, plus can read defenses and use his progressions. Thompson-Robinson is mobile and could be a perfect option as a long-term backup for Cleveland.
Entering his sixth season with the Browns, Chubb will turn 28 in December and is likely in his final season or two as a starter. He’s been productive and reliable, about as consistent as it comes as a running back. Chubb is at the age-27 cliff that typically drops running backs.
With that said, Chubb is not contending with Kareem Hunt anymore and still is running behind that top-five offensive line. If the passing offense comes around, as it should, Chubb will have opportunities to find space in better situations. He’s averaged 5.2 YPC over his career, never finishing under that 5.0 number, and I see him being even more efficient.
My projections for 2023 are slightly fewer carries with continued efficiency, and Chubb will be a top-five back again.
Projections: 260 carries for 1,390 yards and 10 TDs, 25 catches for 205 yards and 2 TDs receiving
With Hunt gone, Jerome Ford moves into the primary backup role. He’s got perfect size and athletic tools but didn’t show much ability to create on his own in college, and his vision was suspect. The pedigree was there, and it would be interesting to see how he runs behind a great offensive line in the NFL.
I wrote up Demetric Felton as a deep stash, and he could have a role as a pass-catching third-down option. I was not sold on Ford as a runner coming out of college, and if he doesn’t prove effective, Felton could see more playing time.
John Kelly Jr., Nate McCrary, and Hassan Hall fill out the depth chart. It would behoove the Browns to try to acquire a veteran back inexpensively, possibly even Hunt, to add stability to the room. If Chubb goes down, I wouldn’t want to rely on any of these backups.
It feels like Cooper has been in the NFL for ten years, yet is still one of the least respected talents for as consistent as he has been. Do you need 1,000 yards and seven TDs from your WR1? Cooper is your man.
Amari Cooper.— Moody (@EricNMoody) July 18, 2023
Was the go-to receiver for the Browns in 2022, leading the team with 132 targets.
Cooper's 25.6% target share ranked 12th in the league. He also had the 6th highest air yard share at 38.4%.
Solid WR2 with upside in fantasy:pic.twitter.com/rGM1F4VFHJ
He’s got a good quarterback throwing to him, and he’s the unquestioned WR1 in this offense. A career year is not out of the question, but I, at the very least, expect his normal production. I’m projecting a career year, and Cooper is going to be as reliable and consistent as you want for fantasy.
Projection: 97 catches for 1,205 yards and 10 TDs
DPJ is the WR2 for the Browns, and I’ve been seeing him go incredibly late in drafts. Even in redrafts, like the Scott Fish Bowl, he’s routinely the 50th receiver taken or later.
What gives me a reason to extrapolate better production is that he’s improved every season, and now he’s playing with the best quarterback he’s had. The offense is going to be better, especially as far as passing, and DPJ should be in line for a better 2023.
Projection: 65 catches for 925 yards and 6 TDs
A former second-round pick of the New York Jets, the Browns acquired Moore, and he’s the starting slot receiver. Moore never found his footing with the Jets and had asked to be traded multiple times.
He’s an immensely talented receiver with a skill set perfect for being in the slot. He’s got short-area quickness and the ability to make tough catches in traffic. Moore has great hands and understands where he needs to be in coverage to gain separation and space. He was one of my favorite receivers in the 2021 Draft, and the arrow is pointing up for him in Cleveland.
Projection: 70 catches for 795 yards and 4 TDs
And if one of these options has to miss time or just plain isn’t performing, the Browns have at least one really nice option lying in waiting. Cedric Tillman, the rookie from Tennessee, is a phenomenal option to be a WR2 in the NFL. He’s got the size, hands, and play style to be a possession receiver and will be NFL-ready in a hurry. Tillman is my favorite to take over when either Cooper or, preferably, DPJ moves on.
David Bell, a 2022 third-rounder, is a solid option but isn’t going to be a difference-maker. Marquise Goodwin is now 33 (!) and can still stretch the field if needed. Jakeem Grant and Anthony Schwartz give the Browns a few other options to fill roles if wide receiver production is needed. Make no mistake; if Cooper or DPJ misses time, the Browns’ receiver corps will struggle.
In his sixth season with Cleveland, Njoku finally emerged as the tight end option the Browns have been missing. He nearly replicated the 2018 season that had us all amped up with expectations. Njoku saw 80 targets, turning them into 58 catches for 628 yards and four TDs.
His production saw a tiny dip when Jacoby Brissett was replaced by Watson, but not enough to give me hesitation in drafting Njoku. I do forecast a slight dip, but Njoku is playing on a new, well-deserved contract, and I foresee another solid season from the veteran.
Projection: 51 catches for 595 yards and 4 TDs
Jordan Akins enjoyed a few decent seasons with Watson with Houston and is now the backup to Njoku. By decent, it was only 36-37 catches for just over 400 yards and a TD or two over a few seasons. Nothing to rush and roster by any means, but it shows some history with Watson, and he’s a depth tight end.
Harrison Bryant is in his fourth season and hovered around 235 yards receiving each of his first three seasons. Again, not someone I am in a rush to roster, but either Akins or Bryant will see some catches if Njoku misses time.
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