One of the biggest hurdles to fantasy success is are our preconceived notions and biases regarding certain teams or players. If you don’t actually watch specific players actually play it becomes easy to get lazy and subscribe to the available narratives. In this exercise of reviewing each team, I am learning as much about myself as a fantasy player, as I am the actual teams and players themselves. I’ve caught myself several times, where watching the tape or crunching the numbers changes my mind. Such is the case with Deshaun Watson.
I went into Watson with a skeptical, contrarian approach. The market seemed to be a little too much in love with him, ranking him as high as QB2 with an ADP of 57.9 (using Play Draft). For dynasty purposes the euphoria was much the same as owners salivated over the 22-year old. Fair enough, his 21 touchdowns and almost 2,000 total yards were incredible. The fact that he amassed that total only over a seven-game span was jaw dropping. These were superstar numbers, that projected over a full season were all time greats. How could he possibly produce at that pace over a full season?
A chorus of voices has been asking this same question this offseason. Despite the growing ranks of the “reversion to the mean” camp, Watson has remained a favorite in all formats. I became a little anti-Watson, avoiding him completely. My initial concerns with Watson bulls was that I had seen this movie before, and I knew how it ended. It was not very long ago, after all that we watched players Like Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick explode onto the scene. Both of those players enjoyed great early success and accolades, only to have the league catchup with them, one way or another. Was history repeating itself?
But this time it might be different. Watson it turns out, is really freaking good. Yes, he’s an athletic quarterback who runs, but unlike Kaepernick and RGIII, he looks the part of quarterback. What I mean by that is when I watch him he appears to have an innate pocket presence, can see the field the entire field and has a willingness to make the smart, sometimes boring play. Where Griffin and Kaepernick could sometimes see oblivious to pressure, or panicked to absent, imagined pressure, Watson seems to navigate the pocket with eyes in the back of his head. He feels the pocket, escapes pressure, extends plays and delivers. What’s more, while those two former star-in-the-making quarterbacks seemed to be stuck in easy-read paint-by-numbers offenses, Watson seemed capable of much more, much earlier. So the tape gave me a definite newfound respect for Watson.
The tape was also a friendly reminder that DeAndre Hopkins is amazing. I suppose no reminder was necessary but it certainly was fun to watch. Watching the film, I was reminded how he seems attack the ball when he catches it. That he dominates coverage and straight up catches everything. I was also surprised by how often I’d see him coming back aggressively to Watson’s throws. It was a combination of chemistry, along with his incredible talent, that acted as training wheels for the rookie QB. He’ll undoubtedly continue to help the kid keep his numbers afloat.
I was also impressed with Fuller. There are plenty of Fuller doubters this offseason, pointing to the fact that he was the beneficiary of Watson’s skewed 2017 numbers and that he appeared to havea fragile frame. I was ready to buy this narrative, but again I was wowed. His speed paired with Watson’s pocket allusiveness were a deadly combination. Given the time to find open space he should remain a big contributor. The Fuller/Hopkins combo would be a nightmare with a pocket passer, Watson makes them exponentially more difficult to cover.
Tape aside, what makes Watson’s monster debut even more impressive is that fact that it happened at all. The Houston Texans did plan to start him and therefore did not prepare him with first teams reps. He did not receive the benefit of a full offseason for the most complicated and demanding position in the game. You’ll recall excuses were regularly made for Sammy Watkins, who, joining the Rams late in the pre-season never caught on to the play book or established chemistry with his quarterback. That’s a valid excuse and makes perfect sense. But it makes what Watson managed all the more impressive. He put together all of those scores and yards without the advantage of a full pre-season as the focal point of the offense. Simply put his coaching staff didn’t properly prepare him, yet he was completely prepared for the opportunity. What is he capable of doing with a full offseason under his belt.
Needless to say, I arrived at a few conclusions: (1) Watson is probably not a mirage. He won’t match his 2017 but he’s really good. (2) Hopkins is still amazing. (3) Fuller is much better than I thought and (4) I don’t watch nearly enough Texans games.
All of those positives aside, several questions remain for the season ahead:
1 – Watson’s injury: Yes, knee tears are very recoverable, but Watson is someone who depends on his legs. If he’s not running the ball, which they may certainly limit early in the season, he does require that mobility to manage the pocket and extend plays. Any loss of quickness could be a problematic in the near-term.
2 –Offensive line: Watson will need to make time in the pocket as he has what many consider the worst offensive line in the league. Four new starters will take time to earn their places and create line chemistry. This is a process and will not happen over-night. Even if his athleticism is on par with last year, he’ll need it.
3 – The running game: Lamar Miller stands atop the depth chart. Donta Foreman is recovering from a very serious injury and may not contribute early or at all. The depth chart is thin beyond uninspiring Alfred Blue. Miller is capable but any injury to him and this team is in serious trouble, placing a greater burden on Watson.
NOTE: I fully expect the Texans to make one or more picks ups at running back between now and week 1 as team make cuts. I anticipate that is what they are waiting for and would suggest you are careful in drafting Miller for that reason and Foreman for injury concerns. A nice fit might be Ameer Abdullah should Detroit let him go.
4 – League catches up: The week 1 matchup with New England will be telling. We’ll have some answers on the questions above as well as how the league might adjust to Watson. He won’t be the surprise he was last year and if anyone will make adjustments for the Texans new strength, it will be the taker of strengths, Bill Belichick. The Pats narrowly escaped a home loss to Watson and company last season, and it would seem fair to reckon they remember that well going into the season opener.
2018 may include some hiccups for the Texans. For that reason, drafting Watson as the QB2 is a little lofty. His injury may linger and his stock may slump ever so slightly. After all, old quarterbacks on new teams and a new crop of rookie quarterbacks have their own stories to write. In the face of that recency bias the shiny new toys may eclipse a slightly struggling Watson.
Prior to re-watching Watson’s games, I would have suggested he was an optimal sell-high candidate, just as hind-sight proved Kaepernick and RGIII to be, but having watched him play again, I am convinced that any slip in value we may see this season should be embraced, aggressively as a dynasty opportunity. And while he may not play at his ungodly pace of 2017, I doubt this 22-year old will make you regret it.
Best ball note: While I love Watson for dynasty, QB2 is far too rich for me for best ball. I prefer taking quarterbacks in the later rounds so Watson would never enter the picture for me at his current ADP. With that said, were I too go QB early, after Rodgers, I’d much prefer the 2018 prospects of Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and even Drew Brees.
Final note: Fingers crossed that Ameer Abdullah does become a Texan. A fresh start for a talent deserving a second chance on a team sorely missing healthy talent at the position.