Might we introduce you to Will Fuller? Watson really enjoyed going deep in 2019, so much that he attempted a deep pass on 14 percent of his throws in 2019 (fifth-highest in the NFL). With Fuller on the field, he has attempted a deep pass on 17 percent of his throws since 2017 (as opposed to 11 percent with Fuller off of it). He’s also completed 43.2 percent of deep passes with Fuller on the field since 2017 (as opposed to 34.3 percent with Fuller off it). Watson enjoyed playing with DeAndre Hopkins, but he really needed Fuller to blow the top off the defense. Unfortunately, he only had Fuller for 11 games in 2019, meaning his tendency to air it out had to be directed toward someone else. That didn’t limit Watson, who still let it fly with more ambition than any other passer on this list, dropping seven DIMES while finishing as the only quarterback in this group to break the average air yards mark of 30 (30.4). It will be interesting to see how Hopkins’ departure affects this output in 2020.
It’s easy to imagine what 2019 with a fully healthy Will Fuller V would have looked like, But now that Texans Czar Bill O’Brien has gone out and snatched up Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, it appears Houston might very well have the latest incarnation of Air Coryell or The Greatest Show on Turf, depending on your age and fondest deep ball memories.
Cooks, often considered one of the best deep ball receivers in the game, has a history of excelling when paired with one of the best deep ball arms in the game.
Cooks led all wide receivers [in 2017] with 16 catches on throws that traveled 20-plus yards in the air, while he added a big-play element the Patriots’ offense hasn’t had since the days of Randy Moss. Cooks’ presence brought a noticeable difference, as Tom Brady saw his intended air yards average rise to 9.4 last season after finishing at 8.6 in 2016.
Cooks had a great 2017, ranking as one of only three players to catch more than 10 deep passes without a drop. If he and Will Fuller can overlap just enough to ensure Watson has one or both on the field in every passing situation in 2020, watch out.
In the event that Cooks and Fuller are both injured, let’s not forget Kenny Stills, who finished the 2018 season in fourth place on the yards per catch list with 16.0. Having Stills, Cooks, and Fuller all healthy at once is going to present more deep threat options for Watson than any other team in the league. Hopefully, it’s also more than any set of opposing cornerbacks can hope to contain.
Yet there are some who are clamoring for the Texans to ditch Stills in some trade scenario, calling him expendable. Based on the injury histories of Cooks and Fuller, nothing could be further from the truth. Getting rid of Stills is almost a sign of giving up on the season, as it’s not a matter of IF Cooks and Fuller get injured; it’s a matter of when.
To that end, we fully agree with Texans Wire when they write the Texans have to keep Kenny Stills. Citing data from Pro Football Focus, Stills ranked #6 in the NFL in passer rating when targeted and 5th in catch rate. While Stills only started five games for the Texans last season, due to a combination of just joining the team and sitting third on the depth chart behind the now departed DeAndre Hopkins and oft-injured Fuller, he still wrangled 40 catches for 561 yards, a 14.0 yards per catch average, and 4 touchdowns. If Stills is more comfortable and more featured in Houston’s offense, only good things can happen.
2019 Houston Texans Passing Stats
Brandin Cooks: 42 catches for 583 yards, 13.0 yard average
Will Fuller V: 49 catches for 670 yards, 13.7 yard average
Kenny Stills: 40 catches for 561 yards, 14.0 yards average
Deshaun Watson: 333 completions for 3852 yards, 7.8 yards average
Taking those numbers and extrapolating on them for 2020 paints a pretty exciting picture. On paper, at least.
If new Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly can install a game plan every week to capitalize on mismatches, highlighting the combination of track star wide receivers who work best against opposing secondaries, this passing attack could be the best your Houston Texans have ever seen.
All-Time Houston Texans Passing Benchmark
Matt Schaub (2009): 396 completions for 4,770 yards, 8.2 yards average
Deshaun Watson (best year, 2018): 345 completions for 4,165 yards, 8.2 yards average
No quarterback in 2009, 2018 or any other year in franchise history has had a set of weapons like Cooks, Fuller and Stills. Not to mention two of the best pass catching running backs in the NFL in Duke Johnson and David Johnson. Add accomplished tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins, who combined for 70 catches, 759 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2019, and opposing defenses better show up with their sprinting shoes on in 2020.
What do you think? Will Houston finally embrace the modern pass-happy NFL way of doing things? Or will Bill O’Brien continue his eternal commitment to hammering the A-gap in 2020?