This Monday’s suspension decision by arbitrator Susan Robinson greatly impacts dynasty fantasy football. After a year as a gameday inactive and nearly 18-month legal saga, Robinson’s decision marks a finality to the situation. The six-game will allow Deshaun Watson to return in Week 7 on the road against the Baltimore Ravens. Despite the suspension, Watson should be an elite option at the quarterback position.
Obviously, there are serious off-the-field issues involved here.
Our job is to predict how players will perform on the field, given their availability as determined by the league, injury, or ability. And we provide that objective information to you. And you get to decide what to do with the information and where to draft the players.
Watson’s Career in Context
For his on-the-field statistics, Watson ranks among the elite of the quarterback position. Among active players, Deshaun Watson ranks first in passing yards per attempt (8.3). Among quarterbacks in the history of the NFL with 1,500 passing attempts, Watson ranks third all-time, behind Otto Graham (9.0) and Sid Luckman (8.4).
From a fantasy football perspective, Watson has also been an elite player. Before missing 2020, Watson had finished as a top 6 quarterback in three of his four seasons. The lone season Watson missed a top 6 finish was his injury-shortened rookie season, where Watson started six games before tearing his ACL. At the time of his injury, Watson ranked as QB5 on the season, despite not starting in week 1. Overall, Watson has been an elite performer on the field.
Before 2021, Watson has been a consistent high-end fantasy producer. Two major factors complicate his fantasy football future: his trade to Cleveland and sitting out a full season.
The history of quarterbacks sitting out a season and returning to fantasy success is surprisingly good.
Andrew Luck finished as QB4 in 2016 before missing the 2017 season with shoulder surgery. Luck returned to his starting job in 2018 and finished as QB4 before retiring prior to the 2019 season.
Ryan Tannehill finished as QB26 in 2016 before he missed the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL. Tannehill returned and played 11 games in 2018. The five missed starts were from an unrelated shoulder injury. Tannehill saw a 2-point reduction in per-game scoring upon his return. He rebounded the following year after he moved onto Tennessee. Tannehill replaced Marcus Mariota during the season and finished as QB23 when he only started 10 games. The following season, Tannehill finished as QB8, the best season of his career.
Michael Vick finished as QB3 in 2006 before missing the 2007 and 2008 seasons after going to prison for dogfighting charges. Vick returned for 2009 as a role player before finishing as QB3 in 2010 and QB11 in 2011. Notably, his QB3 finish in 2010 was on only 12 games. In those 12 games, he finished with 29.2 PPG, which was 5.4 points per game better than Aaron Rodgers, who finished as QB1 overall on the season.
In a different circumstance than Watson’s, Patrick Mahomes II sat out all but one game in his rookie season in 2017 before posting a QB1 overall finish in 2018.
Perhaps the best comp for Watson is Peyton Manning. Manning finished as QB6, QB4, and QB4 from 2008 through 2010 before missing the 2011 season with a neck injury. Manning then signed with Denver after being released by the Colts in 2012. Manning finished QB4 at 36 years old in his first season with the Broncos. He followed up that season with a QB1 finish in 2013, his second season with the Broncos, and set the touchdown record.
The six-game suspension is on the shorter side of the expected range of outcomes. From a dynasty perspective, Watson will return to a first-round Superflex startup draft cost after he fell as far as the fourth round of Superflex drafts in 2021.
In dynasty Superflex formats, the suspension can be filled in multiple ways.
Over the six-week absence, there are three approaches you can take to fill the Watson void in your lineup that do not require you to spend big on the position.
First, if you have an in-house option Week 1 starter, you can avoid spending on a trade for a starter. The suspension and difference in points will not likely alter your dynasty team's course.
Second, if you do not have an in-house option, you can attempt to stream the position. This may be more possible in formats with smaller rosters than 30+ roster spots. Over the past decade, over 50 quarterbacks have started a game in the NFL each year. Attempting to play those weeks is a short-term solution as you await Watson’s return.
Third, you can trade for a low-level starting quarterback if you do not currently have a good option. Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, or Matt Ryan are fine options for your quarterback position. In the alternative, you could also use the opportunity to speculate on a potential long-term starter. Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield are two quarterbacks with the resume and pedigree to earn long-term starting jobs but do not have the current security.
Recent trades to address the position cheaply include
- Jared Goff for Michael Gallup
- Jared Goff for Tyler Badie, two 2023 3rds, and 2023 4th
- Matt Ryan for 2.09
- Carson Wentz and Alexander Mattison for Kenny Golladay, 2023 3rd, and 2024 3rd
- Jameis Winston and Darnell Mooney for Desmond Ridder, George Pickens, and 2023 3rd
- Baker Mayfield for Kadarius Toney
Not playing a quarterback in the Superflex position is an acceptable answer in a short window. Without a trade, ensure the back of your roster is optimized with backup running backs who can be spot starters in your lineup if their starter misses time. If you are going to piece together a streaming option blending it with a non-quarterback fix is a passable solution.
If you are in a tight-end premium format, you can stream a tight end in your Superflex position. In tight end leagues where tight ends get 2PPR, the tight ends from TE8-TE12 in per game scoring finished between 14 and 15 points per game. In four-point passing touchdown leagues, this can pace a lower-end QB2 replacement in the Superflex position in a short time.
If you need an upgrade at your Superflex position, consider a trade for a non-quarterback. If your goal is to win your dynasty league, adding a player like Davin Cook or Dallas Goedert in a tight end premium to enhance your lineup without Watson, and then pairing him in your lineup with Watson upon his return, increases your championship equity more than paying the same cost for a quarterback solution like Derek Carr would.
Start 1 Format
In a start 1QB dynasty, you should scour your waiver wire for a fix. In small roster start 1QB formats, with 24 or fewer man rosters, there are likely quarterbacks available on your waiver wire where you could stream.
If you do not have a streaming option, look to pivot depth options at wide receiver or tight end to a quarterback in a trade.
Recent trades to address the quarterback position in the short term include
- A.J. Dillon for Tom Brady and a 2023 1st
- Jalen Hurts for 2023 2nd
- Mike Williams for Kirk Cousins and a 2023 2nd
The loss of Watson for six games should not sink a dynasty team that was already contending. Using low-cost options to piece together your roster should hold you over until Watson returns from his suspension. If you think of Watson as a trade deadline addition you will make as the season unfolds, you can plan properly to manage the expectations of your team in the meantime.
In startup drafts for the remaining part of the offseason, you should be willing to take Deshaun Watson in the first round of Superflex drafts. The tier after Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes II, and Justin Herbert includes Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson. Watson has as good if not a better fantasy football resume than all of these players and more contractual security than Lamar Jackson.