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Deshaun Watson as Consequential as any Player this Season

In a list of 10 offensive players that could define the 2023 season, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson wasn't included. Given his gravity in a brutal conference, he has to be one of the biggest stories of this coming season.
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Whether Deshaun Watson continues to struggle or he reclaims his former glory, the Cleveland Browns go as he does, making him one of the most pivotal players in the NFL. For Gilberto Manzano of SI to leave him off his list of offensive players who will define the upcoming year is preposterous.

The prevailing question regarding the Browns is the level Deshaun Watson will be able to reach this season.

The Browns have structured their team around the expectation Watson will be a franchise quarterback, capable of leading them to the Super Bowl. If he's able to get back to the level of play he showed in 2020, the Browns are immediately a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. Likewise, if the six games Watson played last year were indicative of what the Browns will get at the quarterback position, they are irrelevant and digging themselves out of a sizable hole of their own making.

Watson will almost certainly end up being somewhere in the middle with the hope he will gain confidence and improve over the course of the year reaching a crescendo in the postseason, which only serves to add to the intrigue. The AFC North looks brutal with four teams that have playoff aspirations and winning the division is the only surefire way to qualify for the postseason. The conference is loaded and there will be a no holds barred bloodbath between potentially eight contestants for the three wildcard berths.

If the Browns make the postseason, someone else can't. That becomes even more impactful if they are able to secure the division title, their first for the Browns since 1989. That could result in Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals or Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens missing out on the postseason.

The New York Jets with Aaron Rodgers and Chicago Bears with Justin Fields are the only other two teams in the NFL that have this singular focus on their season. They're both top four on this list, deservedly even as the lack of quality in the NFC lowers the stakes for Fields and the Bears. Nevertheless, it's a potential turning point for a Bears franchise that has been searching for a franchise quarterback for the last half century or once. The Browns and the Jets are teams expected to be in the playoff hunt and so much revolves around how well their respective quarterbacks perform this year. Their cursed histories at the position only adds to the level of scrutiny. 

Perhaps the self-inflicted circumstances that prompted Watson's situation make it an undesirable story, but purely from a football standpoint, it's impossible to deny the monstrous impact Watson will have not only on the Browns but the division and the AFC as a whole.