32 for 32: Deshaun Watson and All the Upside in the World

Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.

I’ll level with you. I was one of those analysts who held off on the Deshaun Watson love prior to the 2017 NFL Draft.

Slightly worried by him once in a while missing simple throws, putting the ball behind a moving target, or not reading coverage correctly in college, the “he’s a gamer” talk didn’t have a huge effect on me.

Boy, was I wrong.

On a points per game basis, Watson was better in 2017 than every single quarterback in the last 10 years, bar Peyton Manning in his 55-touchdown 2013 season. Wow.

Early Days

Watson’s play in the preseason of 2017 didn’t exactly inspire. He completed 51.8 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and one pick. But while I was trying to make sense of Watson’s play and why he couldn’t beat out Tom Savage (Tom Savage!) for the No. 1 QB spot in Houston, the wiser analysts among us knew it was only a matter of time — and that focusing on Watson during preseason was like watching one juvenile lion with another. Put a buffalo in the cage, and it’s a whole different story.

First Taste

Watson did get his first game action — against Jaguars and Bengals, not Buffalos — and his true colors started to shine through. Savage and company were down 19-0 against Jacksonville through two and a bit quarters to start the season, but Watson opened the team’s scoring for the season with a touchdown strike to DeAndre Hopkins.

His 49-yard-run on Thursday night in Cincinnati, while not during the most exciting game, gave fantasy owners a glimpse of what he can do as a runner. With just one play, he provided a decent floor for any given fantasy week. He only completed 15-of-24 passes for 125 yards, yet his rushing production meant he finished with a solid 19.0 fantasy points, good for QB13 on the week.

The Good Streak

From week three onwards, until he was injured after Week 8, Watson tore defenses apart. His fantasy scores — 27.2, 38.6, 36.2, 25.6, and 42.8 points, according to FF Today’s PPR scoring — coincided with his team’s outstanding offensive production. The team scored 33 points, then 57, 34, 33, and 38.

Those finishes, by week?

  • Week 3: QB11
  • Week 4: QB1
  • Week 5: QB1
  • Week 6: QB8
  • Week 7: Bye
  • Week 8: QB1

Among other things, he:

  • Tied the rookie touchdown record for one game (with five against the Titans).
  • Was the first rookie to pass for four TDs and rush for one more since 1961.
  • Tied the rookie passing touchdown record for one game (five against the Chiefs).
  • Set the record for most passing touchdowns in a month by a rookie (16).
  • Was named AFC Offensive Player and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month in October.

Clearly, the 2017 season was special. We know this. But what’s next?

The Injury

His season ended in heartbreak — an ACL tear on a non-contact play in practice, so the first thing to consider moving forward is his health. So far, everything we’ve heard from the Texans and Watson is positive.

Eight months after the surgery, and gearing up for training camp, Watson told NFL Network: “I feel great. I’m getting ready for next week when we report to Greenbrier and I’m going to be full-go.” It’s a different story when it comes to contact, but as of mid-July, it was clear Watson was looking pretty good.

I’m willing to assume that if Watson is starting in Week 1, he will be capable of playing his usual game without limitations. There may be some rust, but we are drafting a player to win the season, not just Week 1.

The Weapons

Hopkins was your PPR WR1 last season — and he did that without Watson for most of the year. Will Fuller was on fire with his QB in 2017 — he managed an insane seven touchdowns on 13 catches — and has bulked up this offseason. He said he’s gained about 15-20 pounds and is up to 185 heading into the new year. There are playmakers in the passing game.

The offensive line is a bigger question. The Texans entered their OTAs with 14 offensive lineman on the roster, but only one starter from last year was projected to be in the lineup beginning this season — center Nick Martin. This is definitely something to keep a close eye on through preseason.

Regression and Competition

In six starts, Watson averaged 27.3 fantasy points per game. Is that sample size too small? While it seems logical to think he might have sprinkled in some bad games if he played the full season, it’s also unfair to say his level of play would have slipped “just because”.

That said, every season is different. Watson is no longer a first-year player, and that means two things. One: He will have more experience and a full offseason as a starter. And two: Opponents will now have more tape and an opportunity to work out how to stop him.

Another thing to consider is this: Last year, those who drafted Watson (or picked him up from waivers) were getting insane value. He cost nothing, but produced everything. This season, that is no longer the case. According to our July redraft ADP, Watson is being taken as the third quarterback in drafts. That’s after Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, but before Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees.

Is He Worth It?

The expectation is that the Texan will come right back and live up to the insane level of play in 2017. For me, that’s not going to happen — at least early in the season.

However, we know Watson’s capabilities. We know how great DeAndre Hopkins is. Together, they will be hard to stop. In one-quarterback leagues, I’ll be avoiding Watson, because high-cost quarterbacks with risks are not worth missing out on other positions.

In two-quarterback leagues, however, Watson is a perfect QB1 to pair with a consistent, reliable QB2. The upside is insane — that is indisputable. The downside is… not being as good as last season, yet he’s shown he can play at this level and it’s unlikely he completely falters.

So, yes. Draft Deshaun Watson in your two-quarterback leagues. No one can promise 27+ points per game, but he’ll give you a great shot at it. Give me all the upside.

James Simpson

I'm a patient man with a love of football. When you put those two together, dynasty football is the result. I'm a believer that great processes, habits and research lead to the best rewards. I read more than I write, listen more than I speak and always want to learn from the great minds in the fantasy biz. Let's talk football!

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