What is Cleveland wide receiver Amari Cooper expecting when the Browns play on Sunday for the first time with the quarterback that cost the NFL team six draft picks in March?
“Just the huge spark that comes with Deshaun Watson,” Cooper said. “He’s a great player. You’ve been able to see it over the years. One of the big things he does well is when a play breaks down, he’s able to kind of make something out of nothing.”
On March 18, Cleveland traded first- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft, first- and third-round picks in the 2023 draft and first- and fourth-round picks in the 2024 draft to the Houston Texans for Watson and sixth-round selection in the 2024 draft.
But Watson hasn’t been eligible to play for the Browns until Sunday, when they face his former team at noon CST at NRG Stadium in Houston.
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The quarterback has completed an 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Code. Watson was accused by 30 women of sexual assault during massage therapy sessions. But two grand juries in Texas declined to indict him on criminal charges, and Watson reached settlements in 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him (although another was filed on Oct. 14 after he had been suspended and fined $5 million).
Watson will get his first game action on Sunday since Jan. 3, 2021, when he concluded his third consecutive Pro Bowl season. Watson told the Texans to trade him before the 2021 season, a request complicated by the accusations against him. Houston didn’t discount Watson in a trade even though he did not play at all during the 2021 campaign.
Cooper said Watson has looked ready to play since returning to practice on Nov. 16.
“He’s real accurate,” Cooper said. “That’s just one of the traits of a good quarterback – the accuracy, putting it on the money right there in your chest. That definitely is something that stands out for sure. …
“He has great anticipation. But you attribute that to his hard work. Like he’s real good at ‘OK, this is my receiver. I’m going to look at film of him to see how he runs routes,’ so that he can know how to anticipate throwing you certain routes.”
The Cleveland offense will be different with Watson than it was with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, Cooper said. Brissett has started every 2022 game under center for the Browns and completed 236-of-368 passes for 2,608 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I can kind of see already in the game plan, without, obviously, giving anything away, that there are some changes that are suitable for what Deshaun Watson does,” Cooper said. “Like I said, you guys will just have to wait and see.”
Cleveland carries a 4-7 record into Sunday’s game. The Texans have NFL’s worst record at 1-9-1.
Cooper enters Sunday’s game needing 8 receiving yards to become the 24th player in NFL history with at least seven seasons of 800 receiving yards in his first eight years in the league.
The former Alabama All-American has 57 receptions for 792 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022.
In his most productive game this season, Cooper caught five passes for 131 yards and one touchdown in a 32-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 31. Another game like that would move Cooper into second place on the list of NFL receiving yards by Alabama alumni.
In his 119 NFL regular-season games, Cooper has 574 receptions for 7,868 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Julio Jones is at the top of the Alabama list with 893 receptions for 13,548 yards and 63 touchdowns since entering the NFL in 2011.
Cooper is 112 receiving yards behind third-place Ozzie Newsome and 123 yards behind second-place Don Hutson.
Newsome had 662 receptions for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns for the Browns from 1978 through 1990.
Hutson had 488 receptions for 7,991 yards and 99 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers from 1935 through 1945.
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.