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Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson has become a better quarterback without DeAndre Hopkins

Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrate after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card NFL Playoff game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Deshaun Watson got better when the Houston Texans traded away star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins; it’s just unfortunate that the team overall did not.

Thanksgiving Day football has come and gone, and the single biggest takeaway from the two games on Thursday was the continuation of Deshaun Watson’s career year in terms of overall PFF grade, even as the team around him remains, for the most part, mired in mediocrity.

Parts of the broadcast were dedicated to pointing out that, should the Texans win out, they could put themselves into the playoff picture — as if the booth needed to legitimize the football we were watching — but the real story wasn’t one of Houston’s success in 2020, but the team’s prospects if their quarterback has indeed transcended to a higher plane of play without his receiving crutch for the first time.

Watson was already an excellent quarterback. He was in the top 10 in PFF grades in 2018, and he was just outside of it last season. Still, he would occasionally be trapped in ugly performances when teams came prepared to take away his primary weapons on offense and force him to adapt on the fly. The Clemson product had three games with a PFF grade in the 40s in 2019; the season before that, he had two in the 30s, with three more graded in the 50s. This year, his lowest single-game PFF grade is 66.9 in a game in which he still passed for 300 yards at 9.1 yards per attempt to go along with a passer rating of 110.7.

So, where has Watson been better this season than in his previous years? The short answer is, “everywhere but the win column,” but can we find evidence that it is linked to the departure of Hopkins?

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