Why I Have Deshaun Watson as My #1 Overall QB this Year
If you had Deshaun Watson on your fantasy team to start the year last season, you enjoyed one of the most historic rides of any fantasy QB in history. Before going down with a season ending ACL injury, no quarterback scored more fantasy points than Watson, despite him being a rookie and not starting until week two. He set an NFL record, passing Kurt Warner for most touchdown passes through a quarterback’s first seven career NFL games (19). He also had three passing touchdowns or more in four consecutive games last season, something no rookie has ever done in the history of the game.
His 0.78 points per drop back (ppdb) topped the league by a wide margin compared to guys like Tom Brady who averaged 0.53 ppdb and Carson Wentz at 0.58 ppdb. Here is a full breakdown of how his numbers compared to the rest of the league through weeks 1-8.
Last year, Watson's passing TD% was 9.3% - meaning 9.3% of the time he threw the ball it resulted in a TD. Everyone and their mother is screaming from the roof tops right now about how this is unsustainable and SURELY Watson is going to regress....And you know what? They are right. However, after crunching the numbers I've determined that even factoring in the expected regression, Watson has a good chance to still finish as the #1 overall fantasy QB in 2018.
When considering passing TD%, let's have a look at how some of the best at the QB position have faired throughout their careers. Aaron Rodgers' best season for this metric was 2011 when he had a passing TD% of 9.0%. Brady's best year was 8.7%. Roethlisberger's was 7.9% in 2007.
In terms of career rates, Rodgers stands as the leader amongst active players with a TD every 6.4% of his passing attempts. Russell Wilson's career TD rate is 5.7%. Brady's is 5.5%. Brees is 5.3%. So we can safely assume that Watson is not going to be throwing TDs at the insane rate of 9.3% per pass attempt like he did in 2017.
Let me ask you though, is Watson as good as Russell Wilson? Can he match Wilson's career TD% of 5.7%? I would argue yes on both fronts. For the sake of projections, let's say he is able to match Russell's career average TD% of 5.7%. Before we can figure out how many TDs that could equate to, we need to figure out how many passes Watson will throw this year.
Once Watson established himself as the starter and someone the coaching staff could trust, he averaged 31.4 passing attempts per game in weeks 3-8. In year two, with another off-season under his belt and the offense centered around Watson, I think it is safe to assume he will throw more often this year. Let's say he averages 34 attempts per game in 2018. That means if he starts 16 games he would wind up with 544 passing attempts. If we dial that back a little and project a bit more conservatively, maybe Watson sticks to that 31.4 attempts per game and ends up with 502 passes in 2018. I doubt he will pass the ball less this year.
In 2017, Watson averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and had he qualified for the NFL leaderboard (minimum of 224 passes needed; Watson had 204) he would have led the league in this category. Again, pundits are shouting like crazed cat-ladies that this is not repeatable!! And again, they could be right. But, Watson has a big arm and a propensity for connecting on deep balls to DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, so perhaps there will not be much of a drop off in year two. For our projection, let's go with Russell Wilson's career average again and say Watson averages 7.8 yards per attempt. This rate would have placed him as the 9th highest QB for that statistic in 2017.
As good as Watson was throwing TDs last year, he was almost as good at throwing interceptions by throwing one on 3.92% of his passes. Only Deshone Kizer and Trevor Semian boasted a higher INT% last year. Yikes.
He had issues with picks in college and this likely will continue, however I do believe it will come down to a more reasonable level now that Watson has more experience and had a whole off-season to study film. For this reason, let's knock that number down to 3.25% which is what Cam Newton had last year.
At this point we have enough information to make a reasonable projection for Watson. Let's recap the metrics we are going to use to build this projection:
TD% = 5.7% (Russell Wilson's career average - down from Watson's 9.3%) and 5% (Andrew Luck's career rate - Andy Dalton's is 4.7% for reference)
Passing Attemps = 502-544 (Based on last year's pace and potential for more in year 2)
Yards per attempt = 7.8 (Russel Wilson's career average - down from Watson's 8.3 y/att) and 7.5 (12th best in 2017)
INT% = 3.25% (Same as Cam Newton in 2017 - down from Watson's 3.92%)
Here is the low and high end projections based on these assumptions:
In addition to his passing prowess, Watson provides rushing yards and last season he averaged 36 yards per game in the 8 games he played and totaled 2 rushing TDs. For the sake of simplicity, let's say these numbers stay the same this year and in 16 games he ends up with 576 rushing yards and 4 rushing TDs. Here is the projection now:
If the top line comes true this year, which I believe is very do-able for Watson, he will total 385 fantasy points which would have made him the #2 overall QB last year to Russel Wilson's 392 points (Based on Yahoo leagues where pass TD=5 and rush TD=6). The low end puts him 1.48 points behind where Cam Newton finished last season (#2 overall) and 0.12 points ahead of Tom Brady who finished third.
We can crunch all the numbers in the world to prove a point, but sometimes it's best to let your eyes do the talking....
We based our projections largely on Russell Wilson's career numbers, but who is to say that Deshaun can't be better? What if he is better? I argue that this is a distinct possibility when considering the way he dominated defenses with ease during his rookie season behind a poor offensive line.
Oh yes, the offensive line. The other reason haters are so quick to dismiss Deshaun Watson this year. In 2018, PFF has them ranked 32nd overall, which is no change from last years ranking. However, the Texans have made a few moves to address this area of weakness by signing free agent guards Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton, as well as using a third round selection in the draft on Martinas Rankin, a versatile tackle/center out of Mississippi.
Kelemete has spent the last four seasons as a jack of all trades on the New Orleans Saints offensive line and has been described as a strong leader in training camp. Fulton started 12 games for the Chiefs last year and should also add leadership and consistency. Rankin is incredibly intelligent and was was one of the best offensive lineman in the SEC last season. He was also a finalist for the Campbell Trophy which is awarded to the college football player with the best combination of academics, community service, and on-field performance. Currently, Rankin is recovering from foot surgery, but is expected to be back for the start of the regular season.
What about the injury you say?
By the time the season starts, he will be almost 11 months removed from his clean ACL tear (6-9 month recovery time) Watson also played in the pre-season this week and showed no signs of limited mobility. After researching this situation, I've decided to move Watson up to my #1 overall QB for 2018. I see Watson having a massive year and quieting his doubters like he has been doing his entire career. If DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Deshaun Watson can stay healthy, the sky is the limit.