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Deshaun Watson made his return to the football field during the 2022 season in Week 13, facing his former team, the Houston Texans. It was evident that after being away since 2020, Watson was rusty, affecting his performance during the season. In his six games, he completed 90 of 170 passing attempts for 1,102 yards, throwing seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He also contributed 175 yards and one touchdown on 36 rushing attempts.
During Weeks 13 to 18, Watson ranked as the QB16 overall and 20th in points per game, averaging 14.2 points. While these numbers raised some concerns, there were glimpses of his pre-2021 self that led the Browns to make him the highest-paid quarterback in the league. It's crucial to remember that before 2021, Watson had consistently been a top performer in fantasy football, never finishing lower than QB5. His average of over 22 fantasy points per game demonstrates his elite status as a fantasy asset.
At his current ADP of QB9, he’s one of the best values at the position and one of the only quarterbacks around that ADP that has a legitimate chance at a top-5 ceiling. Here's why Watson bounces back in 2023:
- Watson has had a full offseason with the team and coaching staff
- The Browns have added key pieces to that offense
- The Browns’ offensive scheme will be more pass-friendly in 2023
Full Offseason with the Team
During the 2022 offseason, Deshaun Watson faced significant controversy and legal issues off the field, which understandably affected his ability to focus on football. These distractions led to a decline in his performance that year. We won't delve into the allegations or criticisms; the focus here is on the impact it had on his preparation for the football season.
However, in the aftermath of the suspension, Watson has been actively participating in the league-mandated treatment and has fully engaged in the Browns' offseason programs this summer. Notably, head coach Kevin Stefanski made crucial coaching moves to support Watson's development. One such move was appointing offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt as the Browns' quarterback coach. Van Pelt, a former NFL quarterback with nine years of experience, has an impressive 18-year coaching career, including four years as the quarterback coach for the Green Bay Packers, where he worked with Aaron Rodgers.
Additionally, Stefanski brought in Bill Musgrave, an experienced offensive coach with a track record of developing quarterbacks, as a senior assistant for the offense. Musgrave has worked with several NFL teams and was notably instrumental in turning Derek Carr into an MVP candidate in 2016.
With these coaching changes and another year under Stefanski's guidance, Watson is expected to show improvement in his performance. The support from the coaching staff, combined with his experience and talent, could lead to a significant jump in Watson's play during the 2023 season.
The Browns have made significant improvements to their roster during the offseason, providing Deshaun Watson with a more consistent system and a talented group of playmakers. One of their notable acquisitions was wide receiver Elijah Moore, whom they obtained in a trade with the New York Jets by giving up their 2023 second-round pick (No. 42). Despite having just 80 catches for 984 yards and six touchdowns in his first two seasons, Moore has demonstrated flashes of his potential as a dynamic playmaker, especially evident in his exceptional hands and ability to make defenders miss after the catch. All reports out of Browns camp are that Watson and Moore have established chemistry, and we could finally see a breakout season from Moore.
Additionally, the Browns added Marquise Goodwin and veteran tight end Jordan Akins to their receiving corps. Goodwin, though recently diagnosed with blood clots, can be a valuable veteran presence in the wide receiver room if he makes a successful return. With 102 games under his belt, Goodwin has recorded 187 receptions for 3,023 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 16.2 yards per reception. Meanwhile, Akins' familiarity with Watson from their time together will benefit the offense. Throughout his career with Watson, Akins has made 90 catches for 1,046 yards. His addition provides depth behind fellow tight ends David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.
The addition of talented playmakers and the return of established receivers will further strengthen the Browns' depth chart. Leading the receiving corps is All-Pro receiver Amari Cooper, who showcased his skills after being traded to Cleveland last season. Despite facing subpar quarterback play, Cooper managed to catch 78 passes for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns. Though he and Watson initially struggled with chemistry, their impressive Week 17 performance, during which Cooper hauled in three passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns, hints at the potential they could unlock with a full offseason together.
In addition to Cooper, the Browns have the underrated Donovan Peoples-Jones, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2022. With a career-high 19% target share, Peoples-Jones set personal bests in receptions (61), targets (96), receiving yards (839), and touchdowns (3). His chemistry with Watson and the continuity they share will be a valuable asset for the Browns' passing game. Moreover, returning second-year receiver David Bell and rookie Cedric Tillman provide reliable depth options, capable of filling any gaps in the offense in case of injuries.
The combination of established veterans and emerging talents in the Browns' receiving corps gives Watson a strong array of options to target. With increased continuity and better chemistry with his receivers, Watson's overall performance is expected to improve significantly in the 2023 season.
The Browns' offensive arsenal is loaded with potential breakout candidates, and one of them is tight end David Njoku. Despite being a sixth-year veteran, Njoku possesses incredible athleticism and could be in line for a breakout season in 2023. Watson has a history of elevating his tight ends, especially in the red zone, and Njoku could become his go-to target in critical situations. Coming off one of the best seasons of his career, Njoku is entering the prime of his career, and if he can maximize his potential, he could become a pivotal factor in taking the Browns' offense to the next level.
Adding to the mix is the All-Pro running back Nick Chubb, who is poised for a career year in this high-powered offense. Chubb is widely recognized as one of the best pure rushers in the NFL, as evidenced by his impressive 1,500+ rushing yards in the previous season. Additionally, with Watson at quarterback, Chubb saw an increase in targets, including a season-high six in their last game in 2022. If Kareem Hunt remains a free agent, Chubb might see even more involvement in the passing game, which will undoubtedly boost Watson's fantasy outlook.
With an array of talented playmakers like Cooper, Peoples-Jones, Moore, Njoku, and Chubb, coupled with the positive changes in the coaching staff, Watson is well-positioned to flourish in the Browns' offense.
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