News & Analysis

Fantasy Football Stock Watch: Deshaun Watson is playing better than ever

Oct 18, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball against Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (98) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Texans have two wins and six losses ahead of their Week 10 matchup against the Browns. Longtime head coach Bill O'Brien was fired after going winless against the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings to start the season. Interim head coach Romeo Crennel has since picked up a pair of wins against the Jaguars, lost in OT to the Titans and suffered a blowout loss to the Packers.

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Bill Parcells once said: “You are what your record says you are.” The Texans are an objectively bad team ranking 21st in scoring offense, 29th in scoring defense and 28th in total point differential ahead of only the Giants, Jaguars, Cowboys and Jets.

There’s just one thing: Deshaun Watson remains firmly in the top-five QB conversation in both real life and fantasy football land.

  • PFF passing grade: 83.5 (No. 6 among 34 QBs with 100-plus dropbacks in 2020)
  • Yards per attempt: 8.8 (No. 2)
  • QB rating: 108.7 (No. 7)
  • QB rating under pressure: 76.8 (No. 16)
  • QB rating when kept clean: 119 (No. 5)
  • QB rating throwing downfield: 95.8 (tied for No. 18)
  • Fantasy points: 183.7 (No. 6)
  • Fantasy points per dropback: 0.56 (tied for No. 10)

Watson is setting career-high marks in PFF passing grade, adjusted completion rate and yards per attempt alike. The gunslinger mentality hasn’t gone anywhere; Watson’s average target depth of 9.6 yards is higher than what we saw in 2019 (9.2) and 2018 (9.4). However, we’ve seen a newfound willingness from Watson to take what the defense is giving him.

  • 2017-2019 rate of throwing to first read: 64% (No. 50 among 68 qualified QBs)
  • 2020: 71% (No. 9)
  • 2017-2019 yards per attempt to first read: 8.6 (No. 7)
  • 2020: 9.3 (No. 5)

Part of what makes Watson so special is his ability to improvise off-script and create something out of nothing. Still, sometimes this distracts from the reality that he’s also simply one of the best throwers of the football in the league. Any offense would objectively be better with DeAndre Hopkins than without, but Watson’s newfound willingness to spread the ball around and more consistently work within the confines of the play structure has led to career-best results.

We can recognize that Hopkins is one of the game’s best talents at the position *and* give credit to Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks for absolutely crushing all season. The former has scored and/or gained over 100 yards in every game with at least one target this season, while the latter has ripped off 8-161-1, 9-68-1, 7-60-0 and 3-83-1 receiving lines since the organization parted ways with BOB. The likes of Randall Cobb (9.6 yards per target) as well as tight ends Darren Fells (11) and Jordan Akins (9.8) also deserve credit for largely making the most out of their opportunities all season long.

Watson is the only QB in the league without a game with a PFF passing grade under 60.0. The fourth-year QB has continued to mesmerize on a weekly basis, routinely reminding defenses that the play is never over with him under center.

Haters might point to garbage time being the straw stirring Watson’s production. Meh. Accounting for non-garbage time, Watson ranks seventh in PFF passing grade, first in yards per attempt and sixth in QB rating among 34 qualified signal-callers. Only Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have more big-time throws with the game not out of reach, while just Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Joe Flacco and Cam Newton have fewer turnover-worthy plays.

The Texans’ generally-atrocious defense deserves most of the blame here. They rank 27th in yards per play allowed and dead last in EPA per play against. It’s not like the offense is consistently putting the defense in a bad situation; only the Steelers (8 turnovers), Saints (7), Chiefs (6), Titans (4) and Packers (3) have fewer combined fumbles lost and interceptions than the Texans (9). The Jaguars have scored 14 and 25 points against Houston; their remaining opponents haven’t been held under 28 and have averaged 33.8 points per contest.

Unfortunately, Watson doesn’t have any games left against the AFC South’s cellar dweller. It’s an up and down remaining stretch ahead of Championship Sunday:

  • Week 10: Browns (No. 24)
  • Week 11: Patriots (No. 4)
  • Week 12: Lions (No. 19)
  • Week 13: Colts (No. 2)
  • Week 14: Bears (No. 1)
  • Week 15: Colts (No. 2)
  • Week 16: Bengals (No. 17)

The Patriots have looked like a shell of themselves lately, and the Colts have benefited mightily from a soft opening schedule; they’ve looked plenty beatable against the likes of Joe Burrow (25-of-39, 313 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), Matthew Stafford (24-of-42, 336 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) and Lamar Jackson (19-of-23, 170 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT) in their last three matchups.

It’s not like Watson hasn’t already faced anyone’s idea of a brutal schedule, starting off the season with four consecutive rough spots against the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers and Vikings. And yet, he’s averaging 22.3 fantasy points per game — the second-highest mark of his career. Overall, Watson is the QB6 and QB8 in overall fantasy points and per game, respectively. The Texans’ dual-threat superstar is averaging a career-low 24.6 rushing yards per game and has found the end zone just once on the ground, although it’s tough to complain too much considering he still ranks eighth at the position in total rush yards.

The Texans boast the league’s fifth-worst offense in EPA/play on runs (-0.16), but are the ninth-best (0.196) on passes. Only the Chiefs (+0.46), Packers (+0.31) and Chargers (+0.36) have a higher difference in success through the air vs. on the ground.

Watson is the franchise QB for a dysfunctional organization that doesn’t have a first or second round pick in this upcoming draft. There’s a very real chance that we’ll see yet another season of Watson wasted in 2021 unless the team’s porous defense and run game can provide any sort of high-end assistance. The fourth-year QB might resemble superman more times than not on Sundays, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get a little bit of help for a change. Either way, don’t expect Watson’s status as a borderline top-five real life and fantasy QB to go away anytime soon.

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