Will Multiple Paths to Success Be the Key to a Deshaun Watson Bounceback?
Image Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Deshaun Watson.

In 1964, Muhammad Ali seized the heavyweight throne from slugger Sonny Liston, dubbing himself “The Greatest” over a jubilant Miami crowd. Rattling off 29 consecutive victories with no defeats, Ali had already been written in antiquity’s memoir. But Vietnam loomed, and Ali rejected the war, becoming its most famed protester. Exile followed as the WBA and WBC suspended Ali’s license and stripped him of his titles, cutting him down in the prime of his career. Ali was away from the sport for nearly four years when The Supreme Court finally ruled in his favor, clearing the way for his return to boxing.

Ali won the title a second time in 1974 in “The Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman – the Liston of his day – whom Ali masterfully turned into an unwilling heel before a Kinshasa crowd on a humid 80-degree night in modern-day Congo. In 1981 the final bell tolled on Ali’s career, leaving a record of 56 victories and five losses – the last two of which fell after Father Time had issued him the TKO that comes to us all. Ali’s legacy resonated – a principled rebel, a charismatic personality, and the greatest heavyweight to lace up gloves.

Ali’s prime was drastically reduced, yet he’s often called the best ever. Dominant before and after his time away, he was thrice the heavyweight champ, avenging notable losses and partaking in historic matches. Still, it is easy to speculate on what could have been.

Rarely do athletes lose prime years like Ali. Few match his excellence post-return. Some, like Michael Jordan, regain peak form. Others, like Bjorn Borg, return but never fully reawaken.

We wait now to see which Deshaun Watson may become: Ali or Borg. It may feel strange to compare Watson to the likes of these titans of sport. But from the lens we have today, we must remember how rare a success track Watson was on. And upon his brief return, we have yet to see the player Watson was before his suspension back on the field. Still, fantasy players are left to wonder: Was Watson’s 2022 an anomaly, or is it the new normal?

Deshaun Watson’s Pre-Suspension Heroics Verge on Legend

Watson first drew national consideration with back-to-back NCAA National Championship game appearances against the Alabama dynasty in 2015 and 2016. In the second, Goliath was toppled, and Watson, who had wielded the stone, became a household name.

Selected 12th overall by the Houston Texans, he set an NFL record by scoring 19 TDs in his first seven starts. Despite an ACL injury that cut his season short, he was named to the All-Rookie Team and NFL Top 100, an honor he would gain three more times. In 2018, he collected his first Pro Bowl and postseason appearance. In 2019, he repeated each feat, winning a dramatic comeback against the Bills in the Wild Card round that cemented him as a professional. In 2020 he made his third straight Pro Bowl and led the league in yards, yards per attempt, and yards per completion.

But Watson, it turned out, had another side. His private life revealed shocking and sordid secrets. Eventually, through team-enforced benchings and a league-mandated suspension, Watson would miss 28 total games spanning 700 days. When he finally suited up again, he was nothing like the player he had been before.

There are many ways to attempt to mitigate Watson’s sluggish return with the Browns last season. First, there was the absence itself, unusual in length, and his return was mid-season rather than straight out of camp. He was learning a new system drastically different from any he had ever operated alongside teammates with whom he had never played. And he tried to do all of this in some of the most atrocious weather conditions possible. But for now, we continue to wonder if these factors explain the result or explain the result away.

What Can History Tell Us About QB Bounceback Seasons?

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Mat Irby

RotoViz contributor since 2023, fantasy player since 1991, and someone who occasionally dabbles in full-time film work when no one's looking - even on a thing or two you've seen. Atlanta is for sleeping, but Dallas will always be home.

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