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2018 Rewind Study: Deshaun Watson (Top QB in Fantasy or a Giant 'Trap Door'?)

June 19, 2018 9:31 PM
May 15, 2018 8:00 AM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

-- Our offseason 'Rewind' reports are where we look at an individual player's previous season(s) of work--analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a 'blip' performance, or signs of future greatness...or signs of a mega-bust approaching. --

I scouted DeShaun Watson as a below average QB…a likely failure at the NFL level, pre-Draft 2017.

3–4 weeks into his starting stint in 2017…Watson was being hailed as a for-sure superstar, easy Rookie of the Year, and possible MVP. And then he got hurt…which only fueled the legend of ‘what might have been’.

There was me saying before the season, before the draft – ‘Avoid him, there are issues.” There’s his NFL work…he’s quickly hailed as a superstar, and now I’m the fool. “What do you know about quarterbacks, because you didn’t like Watson…so, you’re as fallible as the next guy/scout.”

My whole life for the past near-decade has been lived this way…I should change my name to ‘What do you know anyway?’ or ‘What makes you think you know about QBs?’.

I’m speaking to my long-time CFM and FFM disciples here. Skeptics, first-time visitors…do what you want with this information. It’s going to be counterintuitive to the opium of the NFL mainstream, so the new readers here…you’ll likely will write me off as a nobody-to-pay-attention-to. It’s OK, I’ve been down this road with Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Freeman, Jameis Winston, Colin Kaepernick – I take the shrapnel for defying the NFL religion, and get called every name in the book along the way. Then, in time, when I’m proven right…crickets. No apologies. I’ve been through it too many times to count.

I have nothing to gain in the free world by going against the mainstream here on DeShaun Watson. All I do is lose first-time readers with this type of stuff. Little to win in taking a radically opposite opinion on such matters. Football is a religion in many ways.

My message here is more to my regular audience, and I know you’ll take notice here. I don’t have to explain my credentials or hope you’ll buy into them if I listed them.

Because I scouted DeShaun Watson as a ‘D’ grade NFL QB prospect…and a few weeks into 2017 he was heralded as ‘the second coming’, AND because he is either #1–2 in QB ADP for fantasy preseason 2018 – I wanted to go back and do a ‘Rewind’ study. To go back and look through his entire 2017 work and see if I ‘missed it’ or if something else is hiding. Go back through NFL scouting notes pre-Draft. I’m not above being wrong…I just want to ‘see it’, see what I missed and why.

I scout every position in football for talent – for the NFL Draft, Handicapping, and Fantasy profiteering. I have a pretty nice eye and sweet computer model system for scouting all positions. BUT, if there is one position I think I know better than anyone on this planet – it’s the quarterback position. I have near 10 years of reporting to back that up.

It’s with that lead-in that I say, after watching all of Watson’s 2017 again, I don’t see any signs of greatness. I see almost nothing but worrisome things. I think he is going to be a major disappointment ahead…that Watson is going to falter and really land flat at some point.

Something I want you to keep in mind before we proceed… The NFL does this all the time with rookies…the media and fans…

A rookie has a hot start (1-2-3-4 games or so) and, if it’s a rookie they already liked, they lose their freaking minds pushing the player as the greatest thing anyone has ever seen.

Last season, Kareem Hunt was crowned the Rookie of the Year, league MVP, and 1st-ballot Hall of Famer after five weeks of the NFL season, actually, after Weeks 1–2. After Week 5, Hunt normalized/stabilized, even ‘sucked’ for many weeks – and just a few weeks after being the league MVP for a moment, he was showing up on fantasy benches in a given week. People got sick of his dreadful output after the hot start; they couldn’t take it anymore.

I remember when Colin Kapernick was going to change the way we looked at quarterbacks.

I’ve been down all these roads before.

The NFL media (and thus the fans) are the ‘my wife’ of climate control in the car. When she’s cold, she swings the dial to HIGH and within a few minutes we’re boiled frogs…it’s so hot it’s unbearable. To correct that, she cranks it all the way to LOW, and we’re freezing in a matter of moments. Extreme responses to temporary situations. If we just set the temperature at a normal level, in a matter of moments we would have been comfortable for the duration of the trip. Instead, we swing from one extreme to another with her trying to get comfortable but missing it with wild extremes. The NFL cranks the thermostat on a player (usually a rookie) to the extreme after a good game or two (‘good’ in their perception)…but then they are too slow to change/adapt and typically freeze or boil to death (which is fine because no one holds them accountable/folks will lap up the next thing they push).

It’s possible the NFL intelligentsia has taken the same extreme action with Watson…and generic football fans are stuck in the car with them living with the results.

I went back and watched all Watson’s snaps in 2017 this week. Note that I was pre-jaded. I recall watching this uprising unfold in 2017 in real-time and then after the game reporting that there was a lot of luck and/or garbage activity at work pushing his numbers…and that I didn’t think it was totally ‘real’. I set out this past week to try to prove my preconceived notion of his 2017 run wrong. My only interest is in being ‘right’ on a scouting call, eventually. I like to be right ‘first’, but I’ll take ‘sooner’ rather than holding onto a bad hand. I bet on fantasy, NFL games, player over/under stats, etc. I cannot afford to be wildly wrong on Watson (or anyone else). I have to know the truth, or I lose $$$...and destroy the audience working their fantasy, handicapping, etc., based on our interpretations.

I set up a grid to track all Watson’s throws as I re-watched his 2017 tape. A simple A–F school grading system. I looked at each throw and had an instant reaction grade. A–B…if I saw him reading the defense and/or making big-time throws to a receiver in traffic, in-stride. D–F…if it was a no-read, pre-planned/blind throw into coverage – things the good/great QBs rarely do. Even if the pass was completed, but if it made no sense/was thrown into danger, etc…it was graded down. ‘C’ grade were throws that I was unmoved on either way. A ‘C’ is more bad than good. I want to see a lot of A–B activity when studying QB play.

Bubble screens, dump-off passes, late game Hail Mary throws…I don’t even count those for or against a QB. I just want to see what a quarterback does on real throws past the line of scrimmage to WRs and TEs, mostly.

I do all this grading to get a sense of the QB’s passer abilities. It helps me focus on every situation and every throw…watching nothing but the QB and then rewinding to look at the coverage taking place.

Honestly, about two-thirds into his 2017, I just wanted to stop. It was the same QB all the time…the same guy from the Clemson years -- and I’m telling you it’s a problem. Most of my notes on his NFL TD passes were ‘lucky’, ‘no reading of the defense’, ‘pre-planned throw’. 67.8% of all his throws, for me, were C–F grade….and that’s not good. 2.5% of his throws I classified as ‘A’…that’s horrible. I rarely saw anything close to an ‘A’ throw from him…in part because he doesn’t have the arm talent.

Watson is the same QB every time in the pocket…two versions of him, one an issue, the other will get exposed quickly because I’ve seen every QB like this get exposed. His throws are typically (1) a pass where Watson’s head never moves dropping in the pocket. He locks on a receiver, usually DeAndre Hopkins, and he throws it whether Hopkins is open or has three defenders on him. Or it’s (2) Watson purposefully drops back and looks/stares one way (usually to the right) and then quickly comes back the other way (usually to the left) and fires a pre-planned pass to a pre-planned receiver no matter where he is or what is covering him. The initial look-off is supposed to fool DBs, and it does occasionally…but it’s so obvious. DBs and defensive coordinators will adjust and then Watson’s in trouble.

Watson was already getting into trouble…7 games played, 8 INTs…a pace for 18+ INTs in a full season. And I’d say double that potential with his risky, blind throws into coverage that were dropped picks or ‘I don’t know how that pass got in through there’ throws. The turnovers are a potential sign…and they were, to my eye watching it all back again. You can’t just say, “Well, he’s young.” Well, why should I trust his good if I can’t trust his bad as a rookie? You’re right, he is young…and I think some of the luckiness, youthful freewheeling play manifested in his elevated TD counts. He had elevated INTs playing risky in the passing game…it got him some TDs too. Over time, it’s going to lead to INTs more than TDs.

My short, bullet-point version of watching Watson back:

 -- Arm speed is terrible. He tested with very low arm speed (49 MPH), and you can see it on tape. He cannot be a true, good/great pocket passer with that arm. He doesn’t have the confidence to read things in traffic and then put a laser on point to a WR. It’s not his game at all.

 -- He cannot read defenses in a traditional pocket passer sense. Didn’t do it at Clemson and didn’t do it as a rookie. It’s a real problem waiting to be exposed. He normally doesn’t try…he locks in on his receiver and fires (or runs).

 -- Inaccurate as a passer. He is never going to make it as a successful pocket passer over time because when he is sitting in the pocket he sails throws and throws low way too many times. He doesn’t step into throws often because he’s hesitant in what he sees sitting in the pocket, because he’s playing in a blur (for him)…it’s not his game to sit in the pocket and go through progressions. He can’t ‘see’ IT.


Let me discuss the elevated TD counts from 2017…4-5-3-4 passing TDs his final 4 games played in 2017. A stunning output.

Week 4 Tennessee…looked solid. The Titans looked like the Keystone Cops against the spread offense. They constantly got sucked in by the initial run fake and Watson played pitch & catch…blew the Titans out and completed 73.5% of his passes. The problem is – this ‘versus Tennessee QB’ was eliminated the following few weeks by defenses not getting as sucked in as much by the spread fakes.

Week 5 vs. Kansas City…Houston got blown out most of the game and Watson looked TERRIBLE until down 19 with 7 minutes left and the Texans went on an all-pass frenzy with Watson throwing a virtual Hail Mary 34-yard TD pass to Hopkins with 3 minutes left. Watson also threw a meaningless 1-yard TD pass as time expired, down by 16 with KC barely playing defense. When this game mattered, Watson was floating passes for a less than 50% completion rate and flirting with turnovers all over…and then had a frenzied 4th quarter against a soft zone to rack numbers.

Week 6 vs. Cleveland…the lowly Browns gave him fits at times. He completed less than 60% of his passes in this game and had just 225 yards passing. One of his TD passes was a little shuffle pass. He looked hot and cold in this game…but was still throwing too many blind passes.

Week 7 vs. Seattle…Watson got into a shootout and was up and down again, throwing 3 picks to a then terrible Seattle defense. In the 4th quarter, Watson lit up a few plays, including a 72-yard TD to help push himself from a high-yards/high-turnover game to 400+ yards in the end. Watson was taking risk after risk…some paying off, some going right to Seattle.

I’m not saying Watson doesn’t deserve credit for some TD passes, but…boy…was there a lot of luck involved in some of these big plays. And what I didn’t see hiding in there – meticulous QB play/throws.

Now, there’s a lot of bad stuff I’ve laid out. I’m somewhat against Watson as it is, and I wanted to try to prove myself wrong, but I didn’t…BUT here’s where I might be wrong on his output ability…

I’m naturally biased against running QBs. I don’t believe they are long-term sustainable and likely to get you to the Super Bowl, but Cam Newton made it to a Super Bowl. You don’t have to be Tom Brady-a-like to win in the NFL…but you kinda do in my heart, so I have that bias. I have a natural bias against Watson’s style…and I don’t think he’s good at it. Russell Wilson would be awesome at it (a pure spread). Patrick Mahomes will be. Not Deshaun Watson.

The problem with that bias is…a QB can exist, even thrive at times as a runner-passer, not being all that great a passer. Defenses layoff a heavy pass rush for fear of the QB running and thus they give a bunch of time and space to the flawed passer hoping he makes a mistake. More time. More windows. More open WRs. Better output…better than what the QB would produce under more duress. Watson should get credit/an upgrade from me for his running skills creating this opportunity.

Then, there’s the ‘spread’ aspect of all this…which I maintain is a HUGE part of all this. Watson is very comfortable running a pure college spread. And all the credit in the world to Bill O’Brien – he gave Watson that long leash. NFL defenses looked like fools trying to stop the spread at times…like they’ve never seen it (because most in the NFL really haven’t had to plan against it). The Tennessee Titans outright embarrassed themselves against Watson getting sucked in by the run-fakes and then Watson would hit crossers all over the field as the defenders were flatfooted. NFL defenses weren’t ready for the pure college spread in 2017, but they are going to get ready for it when they play Houston in 2018. After the Texans embarrassed the Titans Week 4 with the spread, the Chiefs made Watson look like a fool for three+ quarters the following week (until a late frenzy of prevent defense passing). The NFL does adapt to the obvious quickly, and if the QB/coach doesn’t have another trick up their sleeve…trouble ahead.

It sounds crazy to say Watson looked like a fool versus Kansas City when the stats show 5 TDs and no INTs, but let me tell you – the 51.6% completion rate in that game wasn’t lying. Watson hit some Hail Mary-like pops that drove all his numbers. When the game was kind of a game…Watson was squashed, but the numbers showed ‘a god’.

Really, the whole debate on Watson sits in that Kansas City game…5 TDs passes, no interceptions makes fans pee their pants a little, and the makes the media pee them a lot – and it sends the ‘performance analytics’ crazy. However, if you watch that game…Watson was terrible for most of it. Lucky late. Some see this game as evidence of his greatness, I see it as the best example of his issues…in a 5 TD/0 INT game, I see a problem. I challenge you to watch him all the way through and see what you think – A++ or ‘cause for concern’?

What’s all this mean for fantasy…or the NFL – do we respect him or dismiss him?

I’ve been asking myself this for weeks/months.

I know, in my heart of hearts, Watson is not a very good traditional QB. All my experience. All the tape I watch of draft prospects and the NFL preseason and regular season. I know I’m not wrong…Watson has serious flaws as a passer, and during this 2017 spike of great output, there was more luck than Watson dominance…by a long distance. Same guy at Clemson. However, does the scrambling ability and running for FF-scoring potential neutralize all that?

My feeling is – Watson will have moments a la RG3. I thought RG3 was a better QB than Watson…if that tells you anything. But there are probably going to be a lot of parallels with Watson and RG3. Runner-passers. Thinner frames. Poor short-to-medium passers. Injury-prone. RG3, like Watson, started with sound and fury and the media went wild…and then he came undone just as fast and became a joke, a punchline.

Long story short…I don’t think Watson is going to make it, not as big as the general mood is right now. He’ll be better for fantasy for a bit because of the running tallies. He’s a QB1 all day long to start 2018 because of the running tallies.

I’ve watched all this tape on Watson and I just do not see enough to get excited about…nothing that tells me he’s sustainable as a passer or not going to be an injury waiting to happen. Watson’s arm is weaker than RG3’s was. Watson is nowhere near the electrifying runner RG3 was. Watson isn’t a good pocket passer, period. I don’t see how this is going to pay off big in the end unless Watson stays healthy and the pure spread offense confuses everyone eternally.

I like Watson, the person. I hope I am wrong and he goes on to success…just on ‘good guys’ winning in life, because Watson is a great person. But if you made me bet my life savings on career outcome – I say the RG3 story arc is coming and Watson will fluster the coach and GM on what to do with him over the next few years, as the fans turn on him like they did with RG3. If I’m right…Watson is sitting as the #1–2 ADP QB summer of 2018, and by this time 2019 or 2020 he’ll have falling QB2–3 value…or maybe by mid-2018, the decline begins.

If I own Watson in fantasy, I’m trading him at his peak value.

If I don’t own Watson…I’m not spending a top 36 redraft or top 20 dynasty pick on this risk…not with so many other great young QBs surfacing.

I’ve watched my fill of Watson’s 2017 three times – live as it happened, the following week's review of the tape to see what I was missing, and this last week in 2018. I have had the same conclusion each time.

You know who’s a better-armed, better passer, and a bigger, faster runner than Watson? Marcus Mariota. Where are you at with him these days? I’m just sayin’…things/sentiment can change fast with the spread QBs as more games/time plays out.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>