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Just How Good Is Deshaun Watson?

When the competition gets tough, DW4 gets tougher.

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Wild Card Round - Buffalo Bills v Houston Texans Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you’re a fan of the Houston Texans and a Pro Football Focus follower, today is your lucky day. The stats analysis site has not only given Watson an 81 overall rating, but dropped this bomb on the entire NFL the other day:

Better still, Watson is the top dog in PFF’s “All-Clutch” team. Not too shabby for a humble guy from Georgia.



Second Team: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

Watson didn’t skate by on one or two plays here. He was dragged through the fire during the 2019 season, playing more snaps than any quarterback in the NFL in this subset across the regular season and postseason (214) and coming away with the league’s best grade on those plays (88.6). His stat line simply conveys dominance — 66 for 88, 909 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception. There’s a sense when watching Watson play quarterback that he is going to find a way to pull it out down the stretch, and the numbers bore that out last season.

The praise doesn’t stop there. PFF placed Watson in the Top 10 on their ”Top 25 under 25” list.


Age at kickoff: 24 years, 11 months, 27 days

Watson isn’t without his faults — namely his penchant for holding on to the ball too long and inviting pressure upon himself — but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that he has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks over the last two seasons, ranking seventh in PFF grade among qualifiers over that period. He’s been particularly adept pushing the ball down the field, with top-five marks in passing grade and yards per attempt (14.6) on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield over the last two years. With the speed Houston now has in its wide receiver room, that figures to be something they could feature heavily in 2020.

Watson also made PFF’s “Top 10 Quarterbacks in the 2019 NFL Playoffs,” though just barely.


Watson continues to light up the highlight reels, but the week-to-week consistency still needs work. For the second straight year, Watson had six games that earned an 80.0-plus grade, and those are the games in which he looks like an MVP candidate capable of carrying a team. However, he also had three games that graded under 50.0, and those games usually involve poor ball security and taking too many sacks. Watson ranked among the league’s best in big-time throws once again, but in order to take the next step as a true MVP candidate, he must cut down on the faults that have plagued him to low game grades in the past. It’s a difficult balance, as Watson’s high-risk, high-reward style pays off more often than not, but it’s still leading to too many games in which his poor play is too much for Houston to overcome.

Key Stat from QB Annual: Watson averaged 0.17 EPA per play on scramble-drill passes, well above the league average of 0.02.

The only unfortunate highlight of all these Watson stats mixers is his playoff versus regular season numbers; Watson’s stats go down when the postseason begins. Over his career in the regular season, Watson has a completion percentage of 66.8%, a touchdown rate of 5.9%, and a yards per pass average of 8.1. When the playoffs roll around, those numbers slip to a 63.5% completion rate, a 3.2% TD rate and a 6.9 yards per pass average.

Maybe those numbers are indicative of a gameplan / coaching / playcalling philosophy that changes when the postseason starts. In three playoff appearances, DW4 has attempted 77 passes, a 25.66 pass per game average. In the 37 regular season games he’s started, Watson has thrown 1,204 passes, or 32.54 passes per game. 6.88 less pass attempts per game than in the regular season. That’s a pretty big departure from the norm.

Does that mean Watson, obviously strong when punching up and a guy who clearly elevates his game when the lights are brightest, withers when the season is on the line? Doubtful.

Does it mean Bill O’Brien’s game management is weaker in the postseason? Probably. In 96 regular season games, O’Brien is a respectable 52-44 in the win-loss world - that’s a W/L rate of 54.16%. In six playoff games, O’Brien is 2-4, a 33.33% success rate. The age of Tim Kelly can’t come fast enough.

With not much else to discuss these days, where do you think DW4 ranks in the current NFL QB crop, both in and out of the playoffs? How will his stats change when he’s throwing to Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and Kenny Stills instead of DeAndre Hopkins, DeAndre Hopkins and DeAndre Hopkins? Will Watson shine brighter under Tim Kelly or will the O’Brien acolyte make us yearn for his master? Mull that over and give us your thoughts in the comments below.