We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
All Deshaun Watson has done since getting drafted with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2017 draft is look a lot like one of the NFL's best QBs. Sure, the 1-2 playoff record isn't ideal, and there have been critics to his off-script style.
Whatever. Watson is literally functioning as one of the most-efficient signal callers the league has ever seen:
- Completion rate: 66.8% (No. 4 among all QBs to ever start at least 16 games)
- Yards per attempt: 8.07 (No. 8)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 8.17 (No. 6)
- Touchdown rate: 5.9% (No. 31)
- Interception rate: 2.41 (No. 34)
- Passer rating: 101 (No. 5)
He's also one of the position's most lethal rushing threats. Overall, only Lamar Jackson (61), Mike Vick (43), Josh Allen (41), Cam Newton (38), Kyler Murray (34), Robert Griffin (34) and Colin Kaepernick (33) have averaged more rush yards per game than Watson (32) among all QBs ever.
And yet, head coach/GM Bill O'Brien essentially replaced DeAndre Hopkins with Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb and David Johnson. The offensive line remains meh, and the defense is one injury to J.J. Watt away from again sitting among the league's worst-overall units.
Add it all up and it's looking like the decks are stacked against Watson entering 2020. What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from the Texans' QB1 in his fourth season.
Watson has a type
Adjusted yards per attempt rewards pass attempts that result in scores, but is negatively impacted by interceptions. Watson averaged a perfectly fine 9.17 adjusted yards when targeting Hopkins over the past three seasons ... but both Will Fuller (10.92) and Kenny Stills (10.84) were actually far more efficient.
Nuk handled such a large workload that it's tough to expect top-level efficiency stats. We've never seen what happens to Watson without his trusty No. 1 WR, but losing the offense's ace field-stretching threat has typically sunk the passing game:
- Watson with Fuller (22 games): 28.1 PPR, 2.27 TD, 0.91 INT, 276.5 yards, 8.72 YPA
- Without (16 games): 23.3 PPR, 1.31 TD, 0.56 INT, 227.1 yards, 7.26 YPA
Watson has been one of the league's most-prolific deep-ball passers over the past three seasons. His 48% catchable deep-ball rate and average of 14.3 yards per attempt on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield rank No. 6 and No. 7 among 42 QBs to throw at least 50 deep passes over the past three seasons (PFF).
Not having Hopkins around is obviously bad news. Still, Watson is used to having to overcome porous efforts by his surrounding cast. He's usually emerged as the winner.
The Texans no longer have one of the league's top-five WRs, but to say their offense is devoid of talent would be false.
This is still a solid group of skill-position talent
We already know that Fuller has been great news for Watson over the years thanks to his blistering field-stretching ability.
The rest of the group is unproven in Houston, but there's plenty of talent all around:
- Brandin Cooks just might be able to beat Fuller in a race. The former 2014 first-round pick averaged more than 15 yards per reception with each of the Saints, Patriots and Rams from 2016-2018 before falling off in 2019. This was largely due to uneven play from Jared Goff and a lack of opportunity; Cooks had just 72 targets in 14 games. Each of Tom Brady (7.96 YPA with Cooks; 7.46 without), Drew Brees (7.59 vs. 7.49) and Goff (7.95 vs. 7.33) were more efficient with Cooks than without.
- Randall Cobb put together his best season in half a decade with Dak Prescott and company, averaging a robust 10 yards per target on his way to posting a season-long 55-828-3 receiving line. The performance was enough to earn $18 million guaranteed from the Texans. He provides a reliable underneath threat that has been devoid from this offense for most of Watson's career. While Cobb was one of just four WRs to drop at least nine passes last season, he's undoubtedly an upgrade over Keke Coutee.
- Darren Fells scored seven TDs last season, but split snaps with Jordan Akins pretty much the entire time. The latter player ultimately finished with more receptions and yards. The Texans TE position is a fantasy-friendly role, although it's tough to expect much consistent production as long as the job continues to be split by two players.
- Duke Johnson was a top-15 RB in 2019 among 51 backs with 100-plus touches in: yards per carry (No. 9), yards per target (No. 15), yards per touch (No. 3) and yards after contact per attempt (No. 4). Miscast as a scat back by Hue Jackson and Bill O'Brien for years, the all-time leading rusher from the Miami Hurricanes has consistently picked up positive yards on the ground and in the pass game throughout his career.
- David Johnson played between 60-87% of the Cardinals' offensive snaps in Weeks 1-6 last season, ultimately posting 76-298-2 rushing and 30-315-3 receiving lines. He truly looked like a legit receiving threat before suffering back and ankle injuries.
Add it all up and ...
Watson needs to continue to be treated as a top-5 fantasy QB
Drafting Watson as a clear-cut top-two option at the position doesn't seem particularly wise this season. Lamar Jackson is posting RB1-level production purely on the ground, Patrick Mahomes is engineering perhaps the most-explosive version of the Chiefs Offense yet, Dak Prescott has weapons everywhere to complement an again-great offensive line, and Kyler Murray's ceiling is a slightly poorer man's version of Jackson's.
Watson slides in as the QB5 for me. Perhaps this is even too low: only Mahomes (23) has averaged more fantasy points per game than Watson (21.6) among every signal caller in NFL history.
The 2020 Texans don't look all that great on paper. Their head coach has depleted the team's chest of future draft picks and seems to actively lower the offense's ceiling.
And yet, Watson is still surrounded by talented receivers on a team that figures to be in shootouts and/or comeback mode more often than not. Don't be afraid to fire up one of the league's brightest-young stars just because of one change on the roster.