Watching other teams in the NFL play while yours is on the sideline is just depressing. We are graced with 16 weeks of football, but as Texans fans we were beginning to get used to playing at least one more. Losing can humble a franchise and its fan base. Watching our players drop like flies then watch the team drop games one after another made for a rough couple weeks.
Now being more than a week removed from the Texans 2017 season, I think it is time to reflect on the performance of our rookie players. Each Thursday I will go in-depth into the performance and growth of each of the Texans drafted and undrafted players. Their development this year and for the years to come will define the Texans franchise for a long time.
First, we have the rookie sensation that shook the nation, Deshaun Watson.
When the Kansas City Chiefs moved up in the draft to snag Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes II, it lit a fire under now former GM Rick Smith’s [Kitten] like we have never seen. The Texans chose Deshaun Watson with the 12th pick, securing the bag and potentially selecting the franchise’s second best draft pick behind J.J. Watt. When Deshaun Watson finished his brilliant performance against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7, he was on pace to throw 43 touchdowns. The rookie record for TDs in a season is 26… Watson was on a path unseen in NFL history.
It took the Texans one half of football with Tom Savage at the helm to regret four months of sunk cost decision making by naming Savage the starter. With the Texans getting mashed by the Jags (who turned out to have one of the statistically best defenses in NFL history) by halftime, they turned to rookie QB Watson to electrify the offense. In his first game (half) of NFL football, he threw for 102 yards, one TD, and one INT. Even with the Texans loss, the team was optimistic that Watson would be as good as advertised in college.
Against the Bengals, both teams were non-dimensional; neither team could move the ball well. The offense punted on its first three possessions while the offensive line continually were abused by an average pass rush. With less than a minute left in the first half, Watson pulled off one of the most stunning plays of the season.
What an introduction to the NFL. His elusiveness and ability to extend the play were unmatched by any QB to play for the Texans. Ever. What he can do to a defense is remarkable. He forces the other team to respect his mobility and always be cognizant of him scrambling for yardage. He not only ran for good yardage, but was able to grab first downs from broken plays. He captured 14 first down in his seven games. For an offense that was as transparently terrible without him, those 14 first downs means a ton of drive-saving plays that were not accessible with Savage under center.
With NextGan Stats presented by the NFL, we can break down the development of Watson.
In his first start against the Bengals, Watson was very conservative with the throws. His longest completion was for 25 yards. Whether it was a short week or that Bill O’Brien had to install an entirely new offense around him, Watson was not dynamic in the air.
If you watch the tape he very much favored throwing to his left. The five throws that he made to the right side of the field were all scrambles or play-action roll outs. A limited amount of time and reps forced the offense to be pretty stale. Watson should really have been picked off twice, but the Bengals dropped two interceptions.
Flash forward two weeks to the game against the Titans. A completion rate of 73.5% to go along with five total touchdowns was the coming-out party for Watson. He set a franchise record in points, touchdowns, and margin of victory while scoring the most points in an NFL game since Seattle put up 58 in 2012. He was 87.5% on throws of 15 yards or less. He began to spread the ball around and attack the depth of the field.
One quality that I love about Watson, and one that he had to develop as the season went on, was his ability to look off a safety when throwing down the field. He does not have the fastest ball in the league, so between the defense having to respect his feet and him deceiving the secondary with his eyes Watson is able to pick a part opposing defenses.
What he can improve on: In college and through his scouting, the biggest negative for Watson was the amount of interceptions he throws. There are plenty of videos on Youtube discussing and displaying his 17 interception his last year in college. His 19 touchdowns as a rookie does mask the eight interceptions he had thrown. His first interception came against the Jags late in the 4th quarter. He had led a good drive down the field, but as you can see, his eyes were fixed upon his first read in TE Stephen Anderson.
The next interception he threw was against the Patriots. This pick was due to pressure from inside the pocket and him not setting his feet. Even the announcer called it as it was happening.
(NOTE: please click through the video to watch on Youtube as the NFL blocked it from the site and Roger Goodell has no friends).
His game against Seattle demonstrated that he still has a lot of growing to do. In his first of three picks, Watson again stared down his favorite target in Hopkins.
You flat out cannot do that when Earl Thomas III is in the game or he will do exactly what he did: take it to the house for a pick-six.
What the future has in store: a ton. If you look at his passer rating chart, Watson has the ability to threaten teams anywhere on the field (except deep left). Through his seven games, Watson was at or better than league average. I may be a bit more critical of Watson than others, but maybe that is from a hesitance to put too much on his shoulders. I am not used to seeing a Texans player with this much natural talent. I honestly have zero idea how these professional coaches went through an entire summer with thinking that Watson is not ready to start Week 1.
What he can do on a field is semi-magical. My favorite play of his season was against the Seahawks. There were a ton of plays in that game that are deserving of high praise, but this one left me in complete awe. Down by 3 with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter, Watson had the Texans on 2nd and Goal at the two-yard line. Go to 7:10 to watch the play. Trapped by two Seahawks defensive ends, Watson spins out of a sack and finds Lamar Miller in the endzone for a touchdown. The fact that he got out of the sack was one thing, but the fact that he saw and could contort his body to deliver the ball to Miller is unbelievable.
There is something about standing on the Earth at a certain place, at a certain time while Deshaun Watson is at QB. You wonder what 10 other teams were thinking. Especially Cleveland twice. You wonder how the offseason unfolded as it did. You wonder if karma of having to endure terrible QB play is finally coming back to help us. You wonder if the knee is going to heal and if we will be able to see and experience what we were able to witness for seven weeks. You wonder if the Texans did not have one of the offensive lines in the league what he could have done - or if he would still be healthy.
Watson has a ton to look forward to with Watson at the helm. Watson’s footwork must make strides this offseason. Too many times he threw off the back leg and shorted a pass. He rarely overthrows a receiver, so it is important that he puts his full body into each throw. I hope this offseason the Texans and the new GM can form a roster around him. They may not have the draft picks, but they do have the salary cap flexibility to make moves in the offseason. If the Texans can have Fuller, Hopkins, Ellington, Miller/Foreman all on the field, they have the fire power to contend with any team.