When looking at electrifying, exciting, and future – maybe even current – superstars, none are decidedly more interesting than Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson. Watson is a dual-threat quarterback who proved he belonged in the NFL the instant his feet hit the field. Watson is the type of player who simply “has it”. The intangibles are there, but so are the physical talents and skills. When the bullets start flying so-to-speak, Watson’s game simply elevates to a level that is on par with the best quarterbacks in the league.
In 2018, Watson had a breakout season as a first-time full-season starter. In 16 games, Watson managed 4,165 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, only nine interceptions, as well as another 551 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. Watson had a very strong 8.2 yards per attempt, and a 6.87 adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A). ANY/A is a statistic that assigns values for all important facets to quarterback play into a formula and spits out a number. Here’s the formula: (pass yards + 20*(pass TD) - 45*(interceptions thrown) - sack yards)/(passing attempts + sacks). His ANY/A isn’t great, though a lot of that can be attributed to his downright struggling offensive line. For what seemed like a theme, Watson was regularly running for his life, and yet was still sacked a whopping 62 times in only 16 games.
Fast forward to the offseason, the Texans set out to improve the offensive line with additions LT Matt Kalil and rookies Tytus Howard and Max Scharping. The line still hasn’t improved to the point of being considered average, though any slight improvement can be considered a major one, particularly if either rookie can impact the offensive line positively.
With the offensive line improving ever so slightly, we can take a look at the weapons the gunslinger has to work with. The trio of receivers in superstar DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Keke Coutee is a highly intriguing one that has yet to truly reach the potential they ooze. Hopkins is well noted as one of the best players in the entire league as his 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018 were among the leagues best. The lesser-known Fuller is the player who possesses the power to change the offense. In only seven games in 2018, Fuller and Watson connected 32 times for 503 yards and four touchdowns, averaging a strong 15.7 yards per catch. Fuller’s deep speed and big play ability completely stretches the field, particularly with Watson’s penchant to find him deep and create massive plays. Looking at weeks 2-8 (when Fuller was healthy), Watson threw for 2000 yards, 14 touchdowns, six interceptions, and chipped in another 190 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. Fuller was lost to a torn ACL in week eight, though Watson’s productivity continued throughout the remainder of the season.
Watson’s ability to scramble and create yardage with his feet is another factor in potentially winning the MVP award. Since the year 2000, the MVP award was won 16/20 times by quarterbacks, with the four remaining winners coming from the running back position. It’s evident the quarterback position is favored as it pertains to the MVP award, and it should be. Arguably the most comparable quarterback to Watson to win an MVP award in recent seasons is Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. Newton won the MVP award in 2015, totaling 3,837 passing yards, 35 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, as well as another 636 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. The amount of productivity Newton was able to create with his feet in 2015 is in the upper echelon of quarterback seasons, proving to be a positive as Watson’s ability rivals Newton’s.
The pieces that surround Watson probably don’t inspire or rival other MVP-winning quarterbacks’ supporting casts, namely the offensive line being subpar and the lack of a true noted threat at the tight end position, meaning a lot of it will fall on the shoulders of Deshaun Watson, though that could force Watson to make up ground and elevate his game to another level. Looking at the betting odds for the MVP award, Watson falls just outside of the top-10, landing at #11 on the list. Stepping back and taking a look at why Watson could win the MVP award begins to make sense with the offensive line potentially improving (even if only a minor improvement), Watson having a fresh start with all three of his top receivers healthy, the award being won by a dual-threat quarterback not being unprecedented, as well as the faith in Watson taking another step in his development towards superstardom.
They say the time to effectively gauge what a player has developed into is his third professional season. As Deshaun Watson nears the beginning of his third season, it’s time to begin talking about him as a potential MVP favorite.