The Texans Made a Major Move for a Quarterback in Round 1 of the NFL Draft

Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien push their chips in on Deshaun Watson.

By Nath Pizzolatto April 28, 2017


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Going into the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night, the Texans picked 25th overall, and the expectation was that they’d look to take a quarterback if one was still available at their selection. Then, as often happens in the draft, unexpected decisions led to a change in circumstances and need to react.

That happened Thursday night, when teams started trading up for quarterbacks. Chicago traded from the third selection to the second to take Mitch Trubisky, which was a surprise, although Trubisky was expected to be long gone by the Texans’ pick. The Texans were more likely to have interested in Patrick Mahomes (my projection for their selection in my original Houstonia mock draft) or Deshaun Watson.

Then Kansas City traded up from No. 27 to No. 10 to take Mahomes. And the Texans had to move.

After the Saints selected cornerback Marshon Lattimore at No. 11, the Texans got in touch with Cleveland at No. 12 and made a major deal, swapping next year’s first-rounder to trade up from No. 25. (This is the second time this offseason that the Texans have traded next year’s draft pick to the Browns to help out their quarterback situation, after the Brock Osweiler trade.) And they chose Watson. 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect Watson to be the Texans pick, since as a prospect and player he’s so different than the people Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith seem to prefer. Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, and Ryan Fitzpatrick were all taller guys with arms or gunslinger mentalities. Watson doesn’t have the cannon arm of the others, but what he does have is more important: The mentality under pressure to deliver big throws, and the ability to read a defense both before and after the snap to make the best decision possible. Kudos to the braintrust for realizing that their methods for finding the answer to the game’s most important question hadn’t been working, and for going in a different direction.

When the chips are down for Watson, he has a tendency to lean on his go-to receiver and give him a chance to make plays. (This was evident last year, in the frequency with which Watson trusted Mike Williams, the No. 7 overall pick to the Los Angeles Chargers, to go up and get the ball even when he was covered.) Fortunately, he goes to the ideal situation for that: DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the league at winning difficult and contested catches. For the first time in a long time, Texans fans have a situation they can believe in to bail them out of bad situations: “When in doubt, Deshaun to DeAndre.”

The biggest knocks on Watson are his arm strength and interception total. The word from the NFL Scouting Combine is that his “ball velocity” was too slow, that it tested below the threshold NFL teams use. However, the data I looked at was too small a sample to be conclusive, and excluded a lot of high draft picks at quarterback — which means the overall sample of players failed more often than not, no matter how hard they threw the ball. In games, I don’t feel that Watson’s arm is deficient; his decision-making speed and overall accuracy compensate for any concerns with arm strength.

Watch Watson on this deep ball: It may not be perfect, but it goes where it needs to go and it certainly doesn’t appear to be thrown weakly. 

Deshaun watson touchdown throw against alabama a lrgdmi

Image: The Big Lead

Watson’s interception total is not great, but it’s something I can live with given his film and my belief in his mental capacities. I think he will go through an experience similar to Jameis Winston (and, in the best case scenario, Peyton Manning) where he throws a lot of interceptions early in his career, but adjusts as he develops and learns what he can and can’t get away with in the NFL. (This may be where arm strength is an issue, as Watson might believe in his arm more than it merits, but again, this is something I trust him to figure out.) 

The trade for Deshaun Watson is a big move, and there’s a certain sense Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien’s jobs might be on the line: They’ve built a great team at nearly every position except quarterback, and their attempts to solve the game’s most important position have all proven fruitless. They’ve got one more chance to make it work-- and maybe, with a rookie quarterback, they’ll get an extra year to develop him if he starts slowly. (With the team missing first- and second-round picks in 2018, it sure seems like Smith and O’Brien have already invested that year in Watson’s success.) If two years pass and it doesn’t look like Watson is the guy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some serious organizational changes in Houston.

Personally, I believe they made the best move they could. They needed a quarterback, and they went not with the player with the most impressive physical attributes, as we might have expected but with all the traits you need to win games that you can’t see in a workout: the intelligence, the decision-making skills, the instincts, the ability to perform at his best under pressure. I believe in Deshaun Watson.

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