Dynasty Football Factory

The case For and Against drafting DeShaun Watson

DeShaun Watson is undoubtedly a talented QB, and his 2017 season was cut tragically short. In the time he did play, he was arguably the best QB in the NFL, specifically Weeks 3 through 8 when he assumed the starting role and began to thrive.

But with such a small sample size, can you trust him enough to draft him at his current ADP (37-45th overall across multiple sites)?

I’ve been trying to hash that out for myself. So come along with me as I break down my massive Pros, and Cons list on DeShaun Watson and make my case For, and my case Against, drafting him that early.

The Case FOR Drafting Watson

There are more than a few reasons to consider taking Watson as your QB1 in the first four rounds:

  • Averaged 23.6 Fantasy Points Per Game in 2018
  • Averaged an unbelievable 30+ Fantasy Points Per Game over his last five games before the injury
  • He gets a full season with DeAndre Hopkins to work with
  • He recovered from his ACL tear.
  • Healthy Texans team that should compete all year long
  • He rushed for 38.43 Yards Per Game (Better than Russell Wilson)

Those are just for starters. But let’s dive a little deeper into why drafting Watson is such a smart move.

2017 Overview

First, I want to take a look at how he succeeded in throwing so many touchdowns and putting up so many fantasy points.

In 2017, Watson threw 19 TDs. Of those 19 TDs:

  • Only 3 of them (15.7%) were Touch Passes/Dumpoffs/Screen Passes.
  • 11 TD throws (57.9%) traveled at least 10 yards in the air before being caught.
  • 11 TD throws (57.9%) were in play action, 6 (31.6%) were shotgun passes.

It’s clear that DeShaun Watson is a versatile QB. The fact that only 3 of his TDs came on Touch Passes, Dumpoffs and Screen Passes suggests, that Watson is earning these TDs. He’s not simply dumping it off to Lamar Miller or screen passing to Hopkins or Fuller and having them do all the work. That’s also illustrated in the fact that over half of his TD passes traveled 10 yards through the air before finding their receiver. He is making things happen with his arm, his talent, and his awareness, not just the skills of those around him.

His mix of play-action passes also helps cement his status as a versatile player. Watson is a threat to run the ball every time he takes a snap. This makes defenses play things a little more loose than they may want to. It’s a formula that Russell Wilson, Michael Vick, and others worked to perfection.

For his passing stats, here is a spray chart courtesy of NFL’s Next Gen stats:

His performance was outstanding. He exceeded the league average in 9 out of the 12 areas on the field that were charted. He did put up a big fat zero when throwing deep down the left side of the field, but considering he only attempted six passes in this area, it’s not a deal breaker in my opinion.

Compare his numbers to Russell Wilson (The top scoring Fantasy QB in 2017):

Watson outshines Wilson in 7 of the 12 areas of the field in terms of QBR (though it should be noted that Wilson exceeds league average in 10 of the 12 areas). That is echoed in the point that if Watson had played all year, he was on pace to far exceed Wilson as the top fantasy QB.

Let’s talk for a second about “on pace for.” I know that critics are going to point out that his projected points are skewed by those final four games that he played where he scored 23 or more fantasy points in each game. That’s true, but take a look at this interesting bit of history:

This table below, courtesy of Pro Football Reference’s streak finder, shows all the QBs that have put up 23 or more fantasy points in 4 consecutive games since the 1970 merger:

That is an incredible group to be a part of. This is a list of Hall of Famers, Future Hall of Famers, Should-be Hall of Famers (Randall Cunningham. You’re welcome Eagles fans), and another young QB trying to make his mark on the game in Blake Bortles. I wouldn’t be so quick to toss aside those four games as a fluke.

By the way, there was another Quarterback on this chart who only played in 7 total games in 2017: Aaron Rodgers.

How did he fare last year?

  • 1,675 yards (Watson had 1,699)
  • 16 TDs and 6 INTs (Watson had 19 and 8)
  • 129.6 Fantasy Points (Watson had 164)

Hey, that’s a small sample size too, and Rodgers is coming off an injury to his throwing shoulder. Are you really questioning his ability?

2018 Situation

As far as aerial weapons go, Watson is spoiled. DeAndre Hopkins is a young QB’s dream, and Will Fuller is a talented receiver who should take another step forward this season. Spelling this elite receiver duo is Bruce Ellington, who the Texans decided to bring back for one more season. The Texans also drafted TWO Tight Ends in this year’s draft, although I think it’s likely that they are eased into any sort of role they could have. So, the current pairing of Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson might be the one weak spot in this passing attack.

Upgraded O-Line? Hard to say that. But it hasn’t gotten markedly worse, and DeShaun Watson succeeded last year with a line of a similar build. So that, coupled with the additions they made to the defense, plus the potential return of J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus all equal a positive outlook for Watson’s 2018 season.

Conclusion

All in all, there’s plenty of reason for optimism heading into the 2018 season. Why wouldn’t you want to pay a QB2-QB5 price for a guy who was the QB1 when he was on the field?

His weapons will be the same, the running game should be the same, and the offensive coaches are the same. At his ridiculous pace of around 30 Fantasy Points Per Game over his last five games of the season, it’s more than fair to hope he can maintain a season-long average of 23 FPPG that would make him worthy of an elite QB1 level pick. For those keeping track at home, that means if Watson performs to even 70% of the level he did over his last five games, then he’s the QB1, period.

If you want to take a Quarterback early and would rather play it “safe” and take:

  • Tom Brady – Turning 41. Current WR1 is a now-suspended 31-year old coming off a serious knee injury.
  • Aaron Rodgers – Coming off a major shoulder injury in his throwing shoulder.
  • Russell Wilson – Lost more decent weapons than any other NFL QB. Entire team downgraded in offseason.

Then all the power to you. But it’s hard to see how picking one of these guys would be any “safer” than taking Watson.

Get on the Watson-wagon and ride it to victory in 2018.

The Case AGAINST Drafting Watson

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Pump the brakes!

DeShaun Watson was absolute dynamite in 2017 games, but can he be trusted to put up those kinds of numbers again in 2018?

We’re talking about spending a Round 3 or Round 4 draft pick on a guy that has started six games in the NFL? Those type of picks have to be a sure thing, no-doubt, elite-barring-injury type pick. I’m not sure that DeShaun Watson fits that description.

Here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t draft Watson that high:

  • Super small sample size
  • Coming off a major knee injury
  • Unsustainable TD/G rate (4 TDs per game) over his last four games
  • Easy schedule. Played only three games against Top 10 defenses (and was terrible against 2 of them), played three games against Bottom 8 defenses, one decent game against a mediocre Browns D
  • Only threw for 300 yards twice (Barely. One game he had 301)
  • Ranked 16th in Passing Yards Per Game
  • Was on pace to finish second in the league in interceptions
  • Defenses now have time to prepare for him.

This is plenty of just cause not to draft Watson as high as he’s going. Let’s dive a little deeper:

Sample Size Matters

While Watson’s work is impressive, it’s not necessarily a promise of superstardom in 2018. Drafting one of the first 5 Quarterbacks off the boards is a massive commitment due to the volatility of the position as well as its depth. You need to spend those picks on guys who are essentially little-to-no risk.

Watson’s 2017 is reminiscent of other quarterbacks who have had fantastic seasons only to turn into busts before long. Check out this list: Matt Flynn, RGIII, Vince Young… Even Nick Foles before his Cinderella run this past postseason! Derek Anderson for the Browns, Don Majkowski for the Packers, Steve Buerlein for the Panthers, an argument could be made for all sorts of examples. But most of the guys listed here actually had full seasons as a starter. Watson had five great games, then suffered a brutal knee injury. Not the easiest setup for his sophomore year…

Sustainability

It is very hard to sustain such a high level of play. Look no further than Cam Newton’s rookie season. Since his rookie season, Newton has never matched his total Passing Yards. He has only once matched his rookie Completion Percentage, and he has never rushed for 14 TDs again.

Sustaining the ridiculous levels of production that Watson had in 2017 is a tall order. A 9.3 TD% (Tom Brady’s career best was an 8.7%) is legendary, and defenses aren’t likely to allow that to happen.

That is, of course, why Watson was able to put up so many fantasy points; his touchdowns. The fact that he only had two games of over 300 yards means that if the TDs aren’t also there, then Watson will likely struggle.

The Texans put up only 6 Rushing TDs last year that didn’t come from Watson, that’s a tiny number that should progress closer to the mean. D’onta Foreman will push Lamar Miller to be better, or else will flat out replace him. Meaning that, regardless, the Texans should be able to progress forward with their ground unit.

On the O-Line, The Texans lost Breno Giacomini and Xavier Su’a-Filo off their O-Line this offseason. heading into they signed Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete, and Seantrel Henderson. This is hard to see as an upgrade, and Mike Devlin has his work cut out for him trying to turn the unit into a top-flight front guard.

Defenses will be wise to the act and should hone in on the Watson-Hopkins combination with double coverages and be more focused on bottling up their playbook. Hell, Watson was actually on pace for the second-most interceptions this season had he played all 16 games!

Overall, this will be a whole new ball game for Watson and the Texans. They’ve lost the element of surprise, and Watson will have an uphill battle to come close to what he accomplished in 2017.

Fantasy Strategy

Finally,  I’m not alone in saying it’s a bad strategy to draft a QB in the first four rounds. Doing so leaves you markedly thinner on RB or WR, and also increases the volatility of your scoring.

There is so much depth at QB that you can sit back and wait until the 9th or 10th round and end up with consistent fantasy producers like Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, and Phillip Rivers. Which gives you a team that would be fairly loaded up on WR, RB, and TE, with a QB1 to boot!

Conclusion

There is simply no good strategy behind taking a QB like Watson this early in Redraft. He’s often the SECOND QB off the board in drafts. That’s a huge leap to make to get him. The position is volatile, he’ll have a much steeper hill to climb, and there’s no reasonable way that he can replicate that seven-game span over a full 16 game season.

He’s being drafted as if he’s an established perennial Pro Bowler, but the pure fact of the matter is that Watson is a sophomore in a tough division coming off a knee injury that threatens to hamper one of the key elements of his game.

Final Thoughts

This is a tough one for me. I love the upside that Watson has, but to pay a Top 3 price to get him? That’s a stretch. I think he can be a QB1, and he has a great shot at being an elite QB. But it’s all about the price.

In fantasy, you win by finding players at a value through drafts and trades. Every player you draft should be a contributor, but they should do so at a good value. So if you draft Watson as the QB2 or 3, and he ends up the QB7, that’s a fail.

If Watson were going as the 5th or 6th QB off the board, I’d be right there with you hammering that “DRAFT” button, because I do think he could be a Top 3 QB this year. All the facts that I pointed out in my FOR side help to illustrate that. But the main thing I focus on is good strategy. Drafting Watson in the third round is NOT good strategy.

Understand me here: It breaks my goddamned heart to have to say this. But Watson isn’t worth drafting at his inflated ADP.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read. Follow me on twitter @DFF_MitchLawson for more in-depth analysis as well as more future FOR and AGAINST articles.

mlawson

@DFF_MitchLawson / Writer, Editor & Analyst for @DFF_Redraft & @DFF_Dynasty. #DFFArmy #FantasyFootball. Canadian. Occasionally witty, stay tuned

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