Wednesday, October 21, 2020

OTAs: Deshaun Watson’s Road To Recovery

Deshaun Watson was on pace for 43 passing touchdowns. Deshaun Watson was on pace for 4498 total yards. Deshaun Watson would have been rookie of the year. The list goes on and on about what Deshaun Watson “could have been.” As a proud owner in the Deshaun Watson fantasy football sweepstakes, I can confidently say he would have passed all those metrics.

Watson was well on his way to an insane rookie year before a devastating ACL injury took him out of play for the season. But before we get into his season, let’s take a look back to where Watson started his miraculous run.

 

Deshaun Watson: A Clemson Tiger

You probably didn’t watch Deshaun Watson in college. Why would you? It ain’t the NFL. So let me tell you first hand, Watson was a menace in college. But don’t just take my word for it, check the stat sheet.

Despite playing in the ACC, one of the toughest conferences in college football, this didn’t stop Watson from achieving greatness. The passing numbers are off the charts. As a full-time starter, Watson had two 4000+ yard seasons. This in addition to his 76 passing TDs in his final two years had his opponents running scared. Also, note his incredibly high completion rate of 67.0%+ all 3 years.

What really sticks out is his prowess as a runner. He had a 1100+ rushing yard season as a sophomore, then had another solid year with 629 rushing yards as a junior, having less carries as he became polished more as a passer. This coupled with his 21 rushing TDs his final 2 years entrenched him as one of the, if not the best, dual-threat QB in the nation.

Watson was not a player who put up big numbers in the regular season however, Watson had a reputation to step up big, in big moments. Clemson fought all the way to the national championship game in 2015 and went up against the fearful Alabama Crimson Tide with Watson leading the charge. Watson threw for 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, and pitched in an additional 73 yards on the ground. That’s 37.5 fantasy points in case you were curious. Despite Watson putting his best foot forward, Clemson lost a heartbreaking game 45-40 to ‘Bama.

The very next year, Clemson found themselves in the national championship game once again. And you guessed it, led by the heroics of Deshaun Watson. Watson had another stellar game dropping 420 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs. He included another 43 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown as well. That’s 39.1 fantasy points per game. So yeah, you can pretty much say Watson loves the spotlight.

I know what you’re thinking. “Everyone puts up big stats in college.” While that may be true, keep in mind that ‘Bama was the #2 and #1 scoring defense in 2015 and 2016 respectively. They gave up a pint-sized 13.9 PPG in 2015 and 13.7 PPG in 2016. This was no fluff game for Watson, he worked hard for every yard and point he score.

 

Rookie Year Palooza

After Clemson’s marvelous national championship run, Watson’s draft stock skyrocketed. At 6’2” 221 lbs, Watson had prototypical size for the QB position. His athleticism, leadership, and sheer ability to win helped teams fall in love with him. Watson had the physical tools to succeed, with a fantastic arm and was very accurate. The concerns on Watson were with his vision, footwork, and mechanics which all needed to be improved. Scouts were in agreement, Watson was to be draft in the late 1st round to early 2nd round.

The Texans didn’t care what scouts said, they saw what they wanted and took it. The Texans made a serious trade giving up their 25th overall pick in 2017 and their first round pick in 2018 to the Cleveland Browns. In return, they received the 12th overall pick in 2017. The Texans took the gamble and swooped Deshaun Watson with the 12th pick in last year’s draft.

It turns out, it wasn’t a gamble.

Deshaun Watson ended up in a perfect scenario. Watson was handpicked by QB whisper Bill O’ Brien. With only sup bar QB Tom Savage in front of Watson, the path to starting QB didn’t look too tough. Bill O’ Brien cleaned up Watson’s mechanics and footwork in an effort to polish him into an NFL starting QB. However, to begin the season Deshaun Watson was deemed “not ready,” and was going to hit the bench to begin his career.

On September 10th, 2017, it happened. Tom Savage was a train wreck. In week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Savage threw for 62 yards, lost 2 fumbles (one which went for a TD), and got sacked 6 times. To make matters worse, this was only in one half. O’ Brien had enough. He quickly made the decision to insert rookie Deshaun Watson.

Watson had a solid, but unspectacular debut against the Jags. Watson started off well, leading the Texans to a TD on their first drive. It went a little downhill after that with some inaccuracy and bad decision making. Despite that, Watson was to remain the starting QB for the next week as he was a much better option than Tom Savage.

The next week against Cincy, Watson showed off his fantastic wheels on an electric 49-yard rushing TD. While still struggling as a passer, Watson showed off his upside this game. This solidified his spot as the starting QB.

New England was set to be a daunting matchup for the young QB as everyone knows what Bill Belichick does rookie QBs. Deshaun Watson had his best game of the season, looking every bit the part of the no. 12 pick the Texans drafted him at. Watson threw for over 300 yards and the Texans had this game in the bag before Tom Brady pulled off another game-winning drive. The Texans lost in heartbreaking fashion, but the future suddenly looked bright for Watson and the Texans.

October 1st, 2018 was Deshaun Watson’s coming out party. Watson dropped 300 total yards and 5 total TDs in a demolishing 55-17 win over the Tennessee Titans.

The league started to take notice as this young rookie started to put it all together. Still, the skeptics remained. Everyone wanted to see Deshaun Watson play a real defense. The next week, they got their wish. Like a perfect script, Watson torched the Chiefs for 5 total TDs and almost 300 total yards. The league really started to take notice as Watson was having a rookie season for the record books.

Two weeks later, it was set to be a showdown. The hottest player in the NFL was traveling to play in Seattle, the toughest place to play in the NFL. Like I said before, Deshaun Watson shows up big, in big moments. Watson dropped 400 passing yards and 4 TDs in one of the best games of the NFL season. Watson was the first player in NFL history to have at least 400 passing yards, 55 rushing yards, and 4 TDs in a game. What’s most impressive he did it on the road in Seattle.

There seemed to be nothing to stop Deshaun Watson. Well…there was one thing.

Four days after the Seattle game, devastation occurred. The news that Deshaun Watson had torn his ACL in practice spread like wildfire. Everyone was in disbelief. Truly stunning news for one of the best, young players in the NFL. Sufficeth to say, the Texans season came crashing to the ground.

 

Impact On Texans

ACL injuries usually take 9 months until full recovery. This would squarely place Deshaun Watson ready to go at the beginning of July. The Texans need Watson back healthy, as Brandon Weeden has no business starting an NFL game. Although unfair, this seems to be Bill O’Brien’s last chance as the Texans head coach who has been hampered by bad QB play during his entire head coaching tenure.

Deshaun Watson’s return is fabulous news for the whole offense. One of the biggest issues with Savage was his lack of mobility. Mobility is debatably Watson’s biggest strength. Watson’s mobility boosted what was the worst offensive line in the NFL. As per PFF, the Texans held the 32nd best offensive line, no surprise considering star LT Duane Brown did not anchor what was an average line, to begin with. Brown was traded away after contract disputes could not be resolved. While this year’s offensive line can only be better, Watson’s ability to escape pass rushers and extend plays will only benefit this offensive line.

Superstar wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, will be a large beneficiary of Watson’s return. Hopkins has dealt with terrible QB play his first few years in the league and has still succeeded. While Hopkins will be Hopkins no matter who is throwing, Watson’s return raises the ceiling ten folds for the athletic freak. After 7 games with Watson, Hopkins was on pace for 16 TDs, an absolute elite mark. Hopkins dropped a ridiculous 8-244-1 line on the Seahawks, one of the best defenses in the league. Hopkins is waiting patiently for the Texans’ franchise QB to return so he can truly break out.

Without a doubt, the biggest beneficiary of Watson’s return is Will Fuller. Fuller is an absolute speed demon who is elite at getting open down the field simply outrunning defenders. Noodle armed Tom Savage could not get the ball down the field to Fuller even when Fuller beat his defender by 10 yards.

In 4 games with Deshaun Watson, you could see Fuller’s productivity spike to unworldly heights. Fuller had 14 receptions, 279 yards and 7 touchdowns in those 4 games with Watson. This included a 5-125-2 outburst in Seattle on October 29th. Taking a look at Fuller’s pace over the course of the season he would have had a 52-1116-28 line. Obviously, the 6’0” 185 lbs Will Fuller was not going to come close to 28 touchdowns, but you could see how well Fuller was scoring TDs with Deshaun Watson. Fuller’s 21.5 YPC was Desean Jackson-esque production. Will Fuller was well on his way to a breakout sophomore year campaign before Watson goes down to injury, leaving fans thinking, “what if?”

The Texans current backfield stands to complement Deshaun Watson very nicely. Lamar Miller is not a bell cow and likely never will be. What he is, is a very good low volume back, an excellent receiver, blocker, and runner. Miller is best suited as a 3RB/COP back. He has shown off pristine running ability averaging 4.5+ YPC when placed around the 150-200 carry mark. Some running backs do not have the ability to be a bell cow but that doesn’t mean they cannot be effective players.

The other half of this potential committee is D’Onta Foreman. The 3rd round pick last year had a solid rookie season averaging 4.2 YPC, flashing serious potential. At 6’0” 235 lbs, Foreman very much looks like the tough, physical runner the Texans need to be their lead back. Unfortunately, Foreman’s season was cut short by an Achilles tear week 11 in the midst of a breakout game with a 10-65-2 line.

While Foreman is not completely healthy yet, the Texans have assured fans Foreman will be ready for week 1. A 1-2 punch of Foreman and Miller should play off of Watson beautifully. Watson’s deep ball prowess and dual-threat nature will keep defenses on their toes opening more holes for the running backs. The strong run game should allow Watson to feed off of the play action and get easier throws.

One of the most overlooked aspects of Watson’s rookie year was coach Bill O’ Brien. People do not give enough credit to O’ Brien for the work he put in making Watson look like an absolute stud. O’ Brien has done a tremendous job his entire career with improving QBs production in his offense. Watson had no lack of talent or physical ability. However, a lack of mechanics and footwork was set to have him struggle as a rookie. O’ Brien knew exactly how to improve Watson’s game and cleaned up those faults. Deshaun Watson must be gleaming that he can enter the season with O’ Brien as his coach once again. O’ Brien is on the hot seat, to no fault of his own, but it will be Watson who needs to take him off it.

The Texans season (4-12) was bad, to say the least. The caveat, of course, is the promise this offense gleams from their young core This team has built a very good roster over the years, but has always been missing that franchise QB to lead them. Deshaun Watson is that guy. When Watson gets healthy again, watch out NFL, he’s coming for you.

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