Earlier in the season, I wrote an article called “The Tall Tale of Tom Savage” that covered everything from his recruitment out of high school to how he became the starting QB for the Texans. I will do the same for new staring QB T.J. Yates as he prepares to lead the 4-9 Texans against the 9-4 Jacksonville Jaguars.
T.J. Yates was recruited out of Alan C. Pope High School to play at the University of North Carolina. He was ranked 92nd in a class that featured Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow, and Sam Bradford. He was rated very low in the class despite having positive praise from ESPN’s recruiting report that year.
“Yates is a pocket passer with excellent size and deceptive arm strength. He is raw at this stage, but has some tools to become a very efficient passer. He has good height and surveys the field very well. He throws with good rhythm and timing and is very accurate...”
From the time he stepped on campus, Yates was given the starting role of the Tar Heel offense and rarely let go. In Butch Davis’ first year coaching North Carolina, Yates led the team to a 4-8 record. His production, consistency, and accuracy allowed him to succeed early in his college career. It had been five straight seasons without a winning record before Yates stepped in and brought the university back to relevancy in the ACC. After his first season as the starter, Yates led the team to three straight years of 8-4. His production dipped during sophomore year despite having both Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks at wide receiver. But after that, he increased his production in attempts, completions, touchdowns, and completion percentage. After winning the Music City Bowl against the Tennessee Volunteers in double overtime, he was ready to make the leap into the NFL.
The 2011 NFL Draft would change the Houston Texans franchise forever. This is the draft the Texans, at the time, reached for a an underrated J.J. Watt. In the same draft, the Texans were looking to add depth behind Matt Schaub. They had Matt Leinart and Dan Orlovsky on the roster, but neither of them seemed to provide confidence if Matt Schaub went down.
As the ninth quarterback selected in 2011, T.J. Yates landed safely with the Texans in the fifth round. It was a good home for Yates. He supposedly would have time to develop, learn the playbook, and maybe develop into a starter later into his career.
Well, if you know your Texans history, the 2011 season was a wild one, especially at the quarterback position.
Matt Schaub had the Texans rolling at 7-3 when he went down with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot after a quarterback sneak. After Matt Leinart broke his collarbone, Yates had to step in for the next five games at QB and led the team to a 3-2 record in those games. The rookie threw 3 TDs and 3 INTs.
Fast forward to Week 17. Yates injured his shoulder and misses the final game of the season. Jake Delhomme stepped in but still couldn’t lead the Texans to their eleventh victory of the campaign, but the three straight losses by the Texans to end the season couldn’t disqualify them from their first playoff game (and division title) in franchise history. As the three seed, Houston was set to host the Cincinnatti Bengals in the wild card round.
Somehow for the start of that game, my dad got sideline passes for the two of us; that has always been a great memory of mine. With a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, Yates was tasked with purely managing the offense that night. He went 11-20 for 159 yards and one touchdown. His biggest moment came late in the third quarter on a 40 yard bomb to Andre Johnson that stretched the lead to 24-10. With Yates at the helm and J.J. Watt making the most miraculous play in Texans history, the Texans won their first playoff game. A well executed game by Yates instantly made him a hero in the eyes of all Texans fans.
Then came the Baltimore Ravens in a matchup where both team’s defenses were considered the team’s strength. For T.J. Yates, however, this would be the worst game of his career. Lardarius Webb and Ed Reed combined to pick Yates off three times. He had no touchdowns in a winnable game that featured four Texans turnovers.
The 2012 season, which stands out as the best in Texans history from a total wins standpoint, was one that only featured one QB. Matt Schaub, surrounded by amazing talent and a crushing defense, tledook the team to a 12-4 record. Yates was the QB2 and appeared in four games at random times.
Now in his third season in the NFL in 2013, Yates still held the backup role behind Schaub to start the season. In a draft that basically only featured DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans struggled mightily after the first couple games. It all came crashing down Week 6 against the Rams. Matt Schaub injured his ankle on a sack and Gary Kubiak sent in T.J. Yates to pick up the pieces. Once it was his time to shine, Yates immediately underthrew DeAndre Hopkins on a potential touchdown, threw a red-zone pick-six and add then another end-zone interception in his first 11 attempts.
With that performance, Case Keenum was given the Texans’ starting job the next week. The Texans would lose that game too. Keenum and a brief return by Schaub would be the story that season as Yates’ performances just were not holding up to NFL standards.
The following offseason, the Texans supposedly released Yates but actually ended up trading the supposedly failed project to the Atlanta Falcons for Akeem Dent. Dent played on the Texans for several years and was a consistent backup or spot starter depending on injuries. Yates found himself backing up a new Matt, Matt Ryan.
Throughout the 2014 season, Yates only appeared in one game - and threw an interception on one of his only four throws in a blowout game. This disappointing performance did not bode well for him, as he was released that offseason when the Falcons were making their roster cuts.
He signed back on with the Texans in 2015, another year where the QB injury carousel took a turn for the crazy. After several injuries, he was signed before Week 8 of the regular season. When both Bryan Hoyer and Ryan Mallett went down, Yates stepped in Week 10 for Monday Night Football against the then-undefeated Bengals and pulled out a victory. He helped lead the team to a 9-7 record (after a 2-5 start) that ended with the Texans winning their second division title and a playoff berth. However, in a fashion Texans fans know far too well, Yates tore his ACL in a win over the Colts. The Texans would turn to Brandon Weeden for the end of the regular season before embarking upon the most miserable Texans game I have ever witnessed, a 30-0 loss at NRG Stadium in the wild card round of the playoffs to the Chiefs.
Once again, Yates was let go in the offseason by the Texans and found his way onto the 2016 edition of the Miami Dolphins. He was the third string QB behind Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore. He saw zero action. 2016 was a blank score card for the first time in Yates’ career.
Another offseason, another team. This time, before the 2017 season began, Yates was signed by the Bills to be a third string quarterback again. In the second week of the preseason, Tyrod Taylor went out early with a concussion, and Yates followed suit by suffering a concussion as well.
He was subsequently released by the Bills and found himself without a team again.
As luck has it for Yates’ sake, the Texans again suffered more injuries at the quarterback position this season. With Watson’s ACL tear and Savage’s horrendous concussion, Yates has resumed his role as the starting quarterback for your Houston Texans.
Bill O’Brien once said, Where would we (the franchise) be without T.J. Yates?”. This praise validates Yates’ contribution to the history of this franchise. Now in his seventh season, Yates finds himself on a team without much hope for the remaining games and little to play for. His mobility will be crucial if he wants to stay alive behind this porous offensive line, especially against the Jaguars. Last week against the 49ers, Yates played well under center, going 14-26 for 175 yards and 2 TDs with a passer rating of 100.6.
Yates’ career has been defined by injuries and unforeseen opportunities. Now with the starting role presumably in hand for the last three games of the regular season, Yates can potentially extend his career and tenure with the Texans yet again. Yates needs to put on several great performances to knock off Jacksonville and Pittsburgh over the next two weeks.
I cannot see the Texans keeping Savage this offseason with how everything has gone down. Deshaun Watson is the future of the franchise, but an experienced veteran like Yates can be a helpful hand in the development of the young gun. T.J. could very well find himself a home in Houston for 2018.