If the 2020 NFL season happened in a Madden video game, or just ‘on paper’, it would be easy to predict Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson as the passing champion, NFL MVP, and the holder of a new single season passing record setter (the record is currently 5,477, set by Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos in 2013).
In a video game, one of the most accurate deep passers in recent memory, armed with two of the best passing catching running backs, a solid set of tight ends, and arguably the fastest group of wide receivers any team has seen in a very long time, Madden-style blowouts would be a thing, a regular thing.
In fact, this version of the Houston Texans might even break the most points scored in a single season record (589, set by the 2007 New England Patriots). With Kenny Stills, Will Fuller V and Brandin Cooks, any video gamer would drool at the chance to drop back and unleash bomb after bomb, broken up by the occasional swing pass to Duke Johnson Jr. or David Johnson. If the defense dropped back to prevent the long ball, surely Randall Cobb, Darren Fells, Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas would feast in the middle of the field as the speedy receivers took the defenders with them to the house.
The very idea of seeing this on the field in NRG Stadium is enough to get the pulse racing. Especially in the AFC South, where there are no defenders who can keep up with Stills, Fuller, or Cooks. Not to mention, if they try, Deshaun Watson is always a threat to run one to the house if his receivers are covered.
With all this in mind, here are some predictions for the upcoming season.
1. Deshaun Watson will set the Texans’ single season passing yard record and maybe more.
Matt Schaub set the existing franchise passing record with 4,770 in 2009, with a 67.9% completion rating on 583 passes and 396 completions, with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Deshaun Watson’s best season so far was 2018, where he threw for 4,165 yards on 505 passes, connecting on 345 of them for a 68.3% completion rate, 26 touchdowns, and only 9 picks.
IF you believe Stills and Cooks can fill the huge void left behind by the DeAndre Hopkins trade and Watson can keep that completion rate up, increase his yards per completion to 14.0 (a conservative number based on what Kurt Warner was able to do with one of the greatest speedster wide receiver corps of all time) and throw the same number of passes as Schaub in 2009, Watson would complete 398 passes for 5.572 yards - not only good enough to set the Texans’ single season record, but good enough to topple Peyton Manning from the record book as well. Odds are the reality will be less than that, but we can dream.
2. Watson will accomplish this without Will Fuller V.
Houston head coach Bill O’Brien has proven he loves trading assets and loses no love for players who lack the most important skill: availability. Expect Will Fuller V to get traded during or just before the 2020 NFL Draft, coming up on April 23, 2020.
From the sample size we have so far, Fuller V will get traded for less than his fair market value, probably a 4th or 5th round pick, that O’Brien might then try to package with another pick to trade up for a speedster wideout. Chase Claypool of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame or Quez Watkins of Southern Mississippi might fit this scenario.
Or O’Brien could take the assets from the Fuller V trade and go after a player like Marquise Goodwin of Texas fame. John Ross III from Cincinnati or Phillip Dorsett could also find themselves on O’Brien’s radar.
3. The Houston Texans won’t improve on their 2019 record in spite of Watson’s heroics.
At the end of the day, whether Bill O’Brien is calling plays in Madden or managing the game at NRG Stadium, he still has negative tendencies he won’t overcome. Old dog, new tricks, and all that. The Texans will still lose games they should have won. O’Brien will still make shockingly bad in-game decisions with clock management. During momentum changing moments, O’Brien still won’t have a play ready on a crucial 4th and short, or he’ll sign off on a prevent defense when the lead is on the line, or he’ll call a fake punt on their own 31-yard line. Leopards don’t change their spots. O’Brien won’t give up total control, allowing him to continue to make bad decisions at the most inopportune times.
Thankfully, with the expansion of the NFL Playoffs in the new CBA, the Texans might still get in to the postseason even if they don’t win the division. With the Colts and Titans in equal position of landing the AFC South crown in 2020, it’s no given that Houston will repeat - especially after the offseason they’ve had thus far. Along the way, Deshaun Watson and his stable of fleet feet should put up some fireworks. Thankfully, DW4 and Houston’s receiving corps will give us all a distraction from the overarching, migraine-inducing decisions the head coach and general manager make.
How do you see Watson’s record setting year breaking down? Who will get the most yards thrown their way, Kenny Stills or Brandon Cooks? Which of the Johnson brothers gets the most yards through the air? Who gets the most on the ground? Will Darren Fells continue as the tight end receiving leader or will one of the Jordan twins finally rise to Pro Bowl level?