When Deshaun Watson wasn’t the first quarterback picked in April’s NFL draft, I thought that was weird. So did every other college football fan, along with most of the media members who cover that sport every day. Watson was the best player in Clemson history, and he almost destroyed the Alabama Death Star in 2015’s national title game before he finished that job in a rematch a year later. Not only was a bad word never spoken about Watson. His teammates advocated for him relentlessly, and his head coach said that passing on him would be akin to passing on Michael Jordan.
I’m not an NFL talent evaluator. People who are smarter than me figured that Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes were worth selections before Watson’s at No. 12, where the Texans traded up to get him. There are good cases for those players. But I don’t think there’s much argument for Tom Savage being better than Watson in the short, medium, or long term for Houston. Their days on Sunday, when Watson replaced Savage for the second half of the Texans’ loss to the Jaguars, furthered that view.
Something I think I know: Watson’s gonna be good.
Is Watson really good right now? I’m not sure. The Texans made the playoffs a bunch of years with Matt Schaub, and they did it last year with Brock Osweiler, so I’m not sure “really good” is an essential bar to clear at this moment. He’s certainly got natural talent. At Clemson, he operated a complicated college offense with ease, and while he threw some picks, he was generally brilliant against a brutal schedule.
Watson is a good athlete, and he’s capable of making a few yardage pickups with his legs if he needs to. He’s not a scrambler, and Bill O’Brien’s not going to install the option to the extent Watson used it at Clemson. But he’s at least an ambulatory person back there, whereas Savage is a 27-year-old who moves like he’s about 47. Watson had 16 rushing yards on Sunday, clearing Savage’s career total of exactly 12.
NFL offenses have become a lot more like college offenses in recent years. Spread principles have taken them over, and it seems good to have a QB like Watson who is a) mobile, and b) used to making snappy option reads and then delivering strikes. His first career touchdown pass came on a sharply executed run-pass option that looked just like so many of the bullets Watson threw during his years in Death Valley:
Watson’s probably better — and a better fit — than Savage.
Their Sundays weren’t that different:
- Watson: 12/23, 102 yards, 4.4. per throw, 1 TD, 1 INT, sacked four times. QBR of 42.7, rating of 60.4
- Savage: 7/13, 62 yards, 4.8 per throw, no TDs or INTs, sacked six times. QBR of 7.8, rating of 66.8
Savage hasn’t been the worst thing in the world during his brief NFL action. He’s thrown one pick in 105 career throws, which is excellent. He’s accurate-ish, with a 60 percent completion rate. His 53 percent on Sunday was way worse than in any of his three appearances last year, though he only played a lot in two of those. He deserves to be in the NFL, and it’s not an outright embarrassment to have to start him sometimes.
But if Savage has any real upside beyond an ability not to outwardly lose you a game, he hasn’t shown it in his first couple of seasons. He was a fourth-round pick for a reason. His getting sacked six times on 20-ish drop-backs Sunday is a lousy look for the entire Houston offense, but it accentuates that it’s not good to have a QB who’s a total scarecrow. Look at how statuesque Savage looks when he’s getting pasted:
Watson is a better fit on this team, in particular. Houston’s running game was bad in 2016, when it finished 27th in rushing DVOA. Lamar Miller tied his career low with a 4-yard carry average, and he clocked in at 3.8 against the Jaguars. Things can always change, but the Texans don’t have the look of a good running team that can be effective just by having a good ball-security QB. It seems like it’d be useful to have one who can push the ball downfield, and Watson really can.
So, please, Texans, for the sake of being enjoyable: Keep playing Watson.
Maybe he’s not good yet. But Savage definitely isn’t, and Watson’s a giant ball of football fun who’s going to win you lots of games someday. Let’s start now.