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Last season, Houston Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson took the league by storm. In six starts, Watson finished as a top two fantasy quarterback four times, with just one finish outside the top 10 (QB14 against the Patriots, when Watson threw a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions). He did so with an offense that -- aside from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins -- looked lifeless in the games that Tom Savage started. Sure, it's possible that that's more of an indictment of how poorly Savage played and less about Watson himself, but the numbers don't lie. Watson's stats blow Savage's out of the water despite playing fewer games. But there's also that dreaded phrase "sophomore slump" to deal with, right? How do we know that Watson can be a top fantasy quarterback this year? Let's find out.

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Deshaun Watson Is Very Good, Duh!

Any investigation of Watson needs to begin with the quarterback himself. It's hard to dig into Watson's raw stats from last year and put them next to other top quarterbacks since he ended up starting only six games, but we can look at some metrics to get a look at how Watson performs on a per play basis.

In 2017, Watson ranked eighth in adjusted yards per attempt, first in air yards per attempt, and sixth in deep ball completion percentage. Translation: Watson has a strong arm and liked to make plays down the field last year. Part of that is due to a combination of poor offensive line play that flushed him out of the pocket and his speed, which allowed him to extend those plays once he left the pocket and give players like Will Fuller a chance to get open down the field.

Highlight videos never tell the whole story, but with limited numbers available for Watson it seems like a good idea to just look at some of what he can do:

Not every throw is the prettiest in the world, especially when under pressure, but Watson is still able to put the ball where it needs to be. Accuracy and ball placement seemed to be two of the biggest knocks against Watson heading into last year's NFL Draft, but his rookie season answered some of those questions. While having a fully healthy off-season to practice and improve would have been hugely beneficial, Watson should still be able to show improvement in that area in year two. A true completion percentage that ranked 32nd in the NFL is discouraging, but moderate improvement in that area -- especially when what did him in the most was unpressured throws, an area that seems relatively easy for him to improve on -- mixed with the things Watson already does right suggests did things for the second year quarterback.

And that speed! Watson ran a 4.66 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine last year. Here's a list of quarterbacks to run a faster 40 than that who are currently NFL starters: Tyrod Taylor (4.51). Marcus Mariota (4.52), Russell Wilson (4.55), and Cam Newton (4.59). Watson is fast, a skill that came in useful during his rookie season when he turned a combination of 36 designed runs and scrambles into 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Watson's feet make him a threat at all times, though there could be some concern about how often he'll run after recovering from an ACL tear.

 

The Supporting Cast

Watson is also surrounded by the right mix of talent to help him capitalize on his natural abilities. That starts with a pair of receivers who are perfect fits in a Deshaun Watson-led offense.

We all know by now to sing the praises when it comes to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who finished as WR1 in standard and WR2 in PPR last season. Those numbers aren't inflated by Watson either; in the eight games he played after Watson went down, Hopkins had 51 catches for 772 yards and six touchdowns. If we extrapolate that out to a full 16 game slate, we get 102 catches for 1544 and 12 scores. That would be more yardage than had over the course of the 15 games he played last season and a comparable number of touchdowns. That Hopkins could succeed with Tom Savage and T.J. Yates manning the quarterback position is impressive (and it's also worth noting that he was only unsuccessful in 2016 with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, which suggests that WOW OSWEILER WAS REALLY BAD). Hopkins isn't a burner, but he makes up for that by making tough catches and being productive in the red zone. In 2017, Hopkins was sixth in the NFL in red zone target share and third in end zone target share; his value inside the 20 yard line and the faith that Houston's quarterbacks have in his hands make him the most important piece of Houston's offensive attack.

In many ways, Will Fuller represents the opposite of what Hopkins does. He's fast -- he was in the 99th percentile on his 40 yard dash time -- and also was relatively useless when Watson was out of the lineup. Part of this is that he's had a history of drop issues, while the other part is that Fuller's most effective as a downfield threat. He ranked 20th in air yards last season despite playing in just 10 games. Watson's ability to scramble and give his receivers time to get open plays to Fuller's strengths and allows him to make big plays. With Savage and Yates under center, the issues with Houston's pass blocking were exposed and Fuller was rarely able to get to the positions that he needs to get into in order to make things happen.

Houston's run game and how it correlates to Watson is interesting. Lamar Miller is an effective back, D'Onta Foreman is coming off an Achilles injury, and Alfred Blue is just going to occasionally plod along for a few yards. Miller needs to be involved in the passing game more this season, but he also needs to make plays on the ground. He averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per carry last season and found the end zone just three times on the ground. In spite of this, Miller's presence helped keep defenses honest, something that allowed Watson to lead the NFL with 11 touchdown passes off play action passes. If defenses don't have to worry about stopping the run, those play action plays will be less effective this year. If Miller -- or Foreman or, as way too many Texans fans seem to be saying right now, undrafted rookie Terry Swanson -- can average over four yards per carry as Houston's lead back, it will open up more chances for Watson.

 

Hey, the Offensive Line Is...Maybe Better

Pro Football Focus ranked the Texans 2017 offensive line as the worst in the NFL last season. No line allowed more total pressures and no quarterbacks were under pressure a higher percentage of the time than Watson and Savage. Watson's ability to extend plays with his legs helped him negate some of these offensive line woes, and that skill set should allow him to continue to escape pressure behind a line this season that won't be great, but it's worth noting that the Texans have done some things to create a more solid line, something that will allow Watson to make more plays from the pocket.

Houston brought in three free agent offensive lineman to compete for spots on the line. Zach Fulton, a former Kansas City Chiefs, rated poorly in run blocking last year, but PFF has him as their second highest graded center in terms of pass blocking. Nick Martin has the center position locked up for the Texans, but Fulton should start at guard and provide better protection for Watson than last year's left guard, Xavier Su'a-Filo, who ranked poorly in both run and pass blocking last season. Fulton can be a big part of an improved line.

Jeff Allen (concussion/ankle) is on the PUP list, but the newly acquired Senio Kelemete should be able to fill in at right guard and produce better than Allen. Allen was among the worst starting guards in the league last season; Kelemete, who started eight games last season and was useful all along the line in New Orleans, isn't much better in terms of run blocking, but he can provide at least league-average pass blocking ability for Houston, a big leap from what Allen was giving.

At right tackle, Breno Giacomini was also rated poorly last season (SEEMS LIKE A TREND, HUH?) and is gone, with former Bill Seantrel Henderson competing for the spot with rookie Martinas Rankin and Kendall Lamm. Henderson is a bit of a mystery. Battle Red Blog's Matt Weston wrote a long, detailed piece breaking down why Texans fans should be worried about Henderson, who hasn't played extended snaps since 2015. Lamm, meanwhile, was a disaster last season and should definitely, definitely not see the field unless there's an emergency. That might leave Houston hoping that Rankin, a third round pick this year, is ready to fill that starting role. He could be -- Rankin seemed to show good run and pass blocking skills in college, but it's also hard to know how he'll adapt to the professional level.

That leaves us with the most important position on the line. Jeff Allen ended up starting some games at left tackle after a combination of injuries and the Duane Brown trade. This year, Julie'n Davenport looks to be in line to start at the position. He wasn't great last year as a rookie and trusting him to improve enough to man that important left tackle spot is...well, it's putting a lot of faith in an unproven player. The tackle spots are the biggest argument against Watson's ability to perform behind this offensive line, though I think the improvements at the guard spots will help balance some of that out. Expect an offensive line that still ranks in the bottom half of the league, but also expect at least moderate improvement, which spells good news for Deshaun Watson's fantasy prospects.

While it's improbable that Watson maintains the torrid pace he was on during that historic stretch of his rookie season, he should have little trouble maintaining top-10 QB production in all fantasy football leagues.

 

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