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Fantasy fallout: Impact of Deshaun Watson’s season-ending shoulder injury

We go over the fantasy football implications of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson needing season-ending shoulder surgery.

Deshaun Watson #4 of the Cleveland Browns runs the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 12, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns announced on Wednesday morning that quarterback Deshaun Watson will need season-ending shoulder surgery. The Browns are gearing up to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Week 11, and they are expected to do so with Dorian Thompson-Robinson under center, with PJ Walker serving as the backup.

Injuries derailed most of Watson’s season, and he only suited up for six games. Walker was the main quarterback under center from Weeks 6-8, and the rookie Robinson started in Week 4. Cleveland has said eventually, they will bring in a third quarterback, but the focus remains on Walker and DTR. What does this mean for the team’s fantasy football-relevant players?

How Watson injury impacts Amari Cooper, Jerome Ford, Kareem Hunt and David Njoku, Browns D/ST

Amari Cooper

Cooper heads into this week as the overall WR19 in half-PPR scoring formats. With Walker under center, he finished as the WR34 from Week 6-8 against the San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks.

Fantasy managers who roster Cooper might want Cleveland to switch to Walker. With Robinson under center, Cooper finished as the WR93 in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. Sure, that’s a tough matchup, but still with the fantasy football playoffs looming, you have to be hoping for Walker. For now, Cooper drops to a WR3 in half-PPR leagues the rest of the way, offering flex appeal with upside.

Jerome Ford

Ford was the starting running back when Walker took over the offense coming out of the Week 5 bye. He finished as the RB22 in half-PPR scoring formats from Week 6 to Week 8 and as the RB30 in the small sample size of Week 4. Ford could see more stacked boxes with Walker under center, but he is a fringe RB2 for the rest of the season, and that could improve if he gets some of the goal-line carries that are going Hunt’s way currently.

Kareem Hunt

Hunt has been on a tear, scoring a touchdown in five straight games. This helped him finish as the RB8 in half-PPR leagues from Weeks 6 to 8. He has become touchdown-dependent, with Ford getting the bulk of the work in the run game. Hunt is a reliable flex play in 12-team leagues or larger, but I’d be hesitant this week with Thompson-Robinson under center. If Walker takes back over, Hunt can still be counted on.

David Njoku

It feels like Njoku is having a poor season as the overall TE15 in half-PPR scoring formats. This change at quarterback may actually benefit him. Njoku finished as the TE9 from Weeks 6 to 8, meaning a change to Walker would give him more upside. He finished as the TE17 in the one game Thompson-Robinson has played, bringing in six of his seven targets for 46 yards. Still, if you are in a tight end bind, you could do worse than Njoku with his target share.

Cleveland Browns D/ST

The D/ST’s value largely depends on the opponent, but there is something to be said about having a quarterback under center who can extend drives and help put up points. For now, you are still going to start this defense against Pittsburgh in Week 11, but if Thompson-Robinson struggles to get going, and the team doesn’t change to Walker going forward, I’d lower the Browns D/ST in rankings.