As if things couldn’t get any worse on the 2017 NFL injury front, news came down Thursday that the football (and fantasy) world has Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson, a fantasy revelation and arguably the most exciting player of the 2017 season, for the rest of the year due to a torn ACL suffered in practice.
Watson currently leads all quarterbacks in both fantasy points per game (25.0) and fantasy points per dropback (0.73, a whopping 19.5 percent higher than the next closest quarterback). Not only was Watson best in the league, but his 168.9 fantasy points was the most ever by any quarterback through the first seven career games of a career. This was also the 10th-most fantasy points through seven games by any quarterback at any level of their career. Watson also helped elevate his supporting cast, with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller (ridiculously) ranking first (21.1) and second (21.0), respectively, among all wide receivers in fantasy points per game.
The immediate reaction is the obvious one: This is a crushing blow to the value of any fantasy-relevant player on the Houston Texans. Barring the signing of someone like Colin Kaepernick, Hopkins and Fuller will be forced to catch passes from a below-average backup quarterback (even by backup quarterback standards) in Tom Savage. The highest-graded game of Savage’s career came in Week 1 of this season, when he completed only one more pass (seven) than times he was sacked (six).
Watson was targeting Hopkins on an absurd 38.5 percent of his attempts (the highest rate in the league) and that might not decline too much, considering Savage has targeted Hopkins at an equally ludicrous 34.3 percent of his passes. Still, we should expect Savage to attempt fewer passes and be far less efficient than Watson on his attempts. Hopkins saw 17 and six targets in the two games Savage has started and finished in his career, but totaled 14 receptions, 130 yards, and zero touchdowns. Fuller, meanwhile, saw 14 targets, catching seven, for 81 yards, and zero touchdowns.
We saw Hopkins take a major hit in fantasy production in 2016 (33rd in fantasy points per game, 14th in targets per game) thanks to poor quarterback-play from Brock Osweiler. As it stands, I’m penciling in Hopkins in as a mid-to-high-range volume-dependent WR2 the rest of the way. Fuller takes the biggest hit (due to his nature of being hyper-efficient despite minimal volume) falling to the mid-WR4-range. Ryan Griffin is no longer fantasy viable, and Lamar Miller also takes a hit, because we expect the offense to suffer as a whole, scoring opportunities will be scarce.
I’m still high on Watson long-term for dynasty leagues, but there should be legitimate concern he’ll be rusty or not fully healthy heading into the 2018 season. Like Carolina head coach Ron Rivera aimed to do this season with Cam Newton, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien could also cap Watson’s rushing workload (he led all quarterbacks in rushing fantasy points per dropback) in future seasons.