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 suspension will allow Deshaun Watson to return in Week 7 on the road against the Ravens. Watson remains a high-end player, but his functionality is a question during the season.
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-six quarterback in three of his four seasons. The lone season Watson missed that threshold 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.
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.
While the history of the quarterbacks missing a year and returning has been good long-term, the situation here is complicated by Watson’s in-season suspension coming off a trade to a new team and offensive system.
Our redraft projections have Watson playing 9.5 games with a QB11 in PPG scoring. His projected total of 23.2 points per game falls between Dak Prescott and Matthew Stafford at the end of our top-12 quarterback projections.
Missing six games before a return in Week 7 creates an issue of when you will trust Watson in your lineup. Off a year plus without playing football, playing him in his first week back from the suspension is difficult. If his first week is inconclusive, how confident will you be in the second week? This could be a rolling issue.
In start-1 quarterback leagues, Watson has been QB19 over the past two weeks in redraft leagues. Watson falls in the 12th round of redraft leagues. This suspension being on the lower end of his projected range of suspensions will likely make Watson more expensive.
Watson is difficult to pair in this format. If you spend high on a quarterback, selecting Watson to hold a roster spot you cannot use on other positions when he may not be a better option than the higher-end quarterback you selected is suboptimal.
Watson may pair better with a younger, less proven quarterback like Jalen Hurts, Trey Lance, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Fields, or Trevor Lawrence, who are all going ahead of Deshaun Watson but less proven. The six weeks of suspension time for Watson will allow you to see how the younger quarterback develops with Watson as a backstop if they struggle during his absence.
The fallout should also help David Njoku and Amari Cooper, who figure to be leading options in the passing game in the new Cleveland offense. David Njoku is certain to rise from his TE20 cost over the past month and should fit in closer to the top-15 options at the position. Amari Cooper's cost of WR26 is harder to increase with the depth at the wide receiver position. His cost may rise slightly, but allow you to feel more confident waiting on his tier at the receiver position.