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DeShaun Watson is a Fantasy Value

There have been plenty of criticisms of DeShaun Watson over the past few months, particularly here at RotoViz, but I’m here to put a stop to the hate.

Despite the fact that he was a high first round draft pick and one of the winningest quarterbacks in the history of college football, there is virtually no hype surrounding Watson for the upcoming season. He’s currently going as QB27 in MFL10s, behind some pretty pedestrian signal callers:

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 4.38.51 PM

Despite what you may think of Watson as a prospect, that just screams value for the upcoming season.

Recent Rookie Quarterbacks

From a fantasy perspective, rookie quarterbacks have presented solid value at the position over the past five seasons:

 QB ADP QB Finish Games
Dak Prescott 21 7 16
Carson Wentz 32 24 16
Jameis Winston 17 13 16
Marcus Mariota 18 24 12
Blake Bortles 24 24 13
Teddy Bridgewater 23 22 14
Derek Carr 27 20 16
Geno Smith 30 20 16
Mike Glennon 36+ 26 13
EJ Manuel 26 27 10
Russell Wilson 23 11 16
Andrew Luck 16 10 16
Robert Griffin III 12 7 15
Ryan Tannehill 31 24 16

Some key takeaways:

  • Rookie quarterbacks over the past five seasons have an average ADP of QB241 and have an average finish of QB18.5.2
  • If we look only at quarterbacks who have started a minimum of 14 games as rookies, the average finish increases to QB16 and the ADP only increases slightly to QB23. For the most part, rookie quarterbacks who have been given the keys from week one have presented not just solid value, but solid production overall.
  • Four QBs have finished inside the top 12 at the position, with Jameis Winston just missing the cut as QB13. The elite names who have been drafted over that time period – Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, etc. – have been virtually elite since the day they entered the league.

It should be noted that the all-time great 2012 quarterback class definitely elevates this group as a whole, but it’s not like they’re the only QBs to have been successful as rookies. Even Geno Smith, who no one will confuse with a top quarterback, managed to post a QB20 season when given the chance to start 16 games as a rookie.

Competition

Despite some recent praise from head coach Bill O’Brien, Watson has yet to be named the starting quarterback for the Texans. Many believe veteran Tom Savage actually has the inside track to start Week 1, and while that may be true at the moment, there’s still ample time for Watson to win the job between now and then. Here’s how both quarterbacks stack up as prospects:

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 5.02.13 PM

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 5.02.33 PM

Even the harshest Watson critic would have to admit that he ranks superior to Savage in virtually every category. His athleticism, in particular, shouldn’t be overlooked from a fantasy perspective. There have been 10 rookies to start at least eight games and rush for at least 250 yards as a rookie. All 10 have turned in seasons of at least QB24, with six of the 10 finishing inside the top 12. Further, Watson’s top comparable is Tyrod Taylor, who has turned in QB15 and QB17 seasons as a dual threat quarterback in Buffalo despite playing in one of the most run-oriented offenses in the league.

Regardless of his competition, it would also be historically unlikely for Watson to not see the field early as a rookie given how much the Texans have invested in him. Houston traded up to draft Watson at pick 13 of the first round, and there have been 13 quarterbacks drafted as high or higher since 2010. Eight of them – Carson Wentz, Winston, Marcus Mariota, Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, and Sam Bradford – were eventually named week one starters for their respective teams. Blaine Gabbert was given the reign to the Jaguars offense in Week 2 of his rookie season, while Blake Bortles only had to wait until Week 3. Overall, 10 of the 13 quarterbacks were given the opportunity to start a minimum of 14 games as rookies, which according to the earlier chart has resulted in a significant return on investment. Two of the three quarterbacks who couldn’t get on the field early are already out of the league (Jake Locker, Christian Ponder), and the other is well on his way towards being a massive bust (Jared Goff). If Watson can’t get on the field within the first month of his rookie season, it likely means he just doesn’t belong in the NFL.

Situation

Houston has been one of the best defensive teams in the league for the past three seasons, and as a result, O’Brien has leaned heavily on his running game. They’ve ranked 26th, 21st, and 32nd in pass play percentage over the past three seasons, however, it should be noted that their leading passers in those seasons have been Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Even if O’Brien wanted to call more pass plays over that time period, it was likely in the teams best interest not to. Despite the relatively poor volume, their pace of play has been way above expectation since O’Brien became the head coach, somewhat offsetting the run-heavy nature of the offense:

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 5.48.21 PM

For the upcoming season, the brain trust at RotoViz is projecting the Texans to pass on 58 percent of their offensive plays. That would have ranked approximately 22nd last year, and it would represent an increase of roughly 1.5 percent. Ideally that number would be higher, however, it doesn’t necessarily represent a death knell for Watson’s fantasy stock. Dak Prescott was the QB7 for fantasy last season despite Dallas ranking last in pass percentage, and Taylor has had ample success despite the Bills ranking 31st and 32nd in pass percentage over the past two seasons.

When he is asked to throw, Watson should find plenty of weapons to his liking. DeAndre Hopkins has established himself as one of the best receivers in the league, posting back-to-back seasons of at least 1200 yards before the Brock Osweiler debacle in 2016. Will Fuller also showed plenty of promise as a field stretcher last season; his average of 13.5 yards per catch ranked second among rookies with at least 20 receptions. Lamar Miller has also been a solid receiving back throughout his career, averaging 0.04 fantasy points above expectation on pass plays since 2012.

Conclusions

Regardless of what you may think of Watson as a dynasty prospect, he seems like a strong value at QB27 in MFL10s. Quarterbacks drafted as high as Watson have historically seen the field early in their rookie seasons, and rookie QBs as a whole have been solid bets at their ADP over the past five years. The Texans may not be a pass centric offense, however, that hasn’t stopped other dual threat QBs like Wilson, Prescott, and Taylor from finding fantasy success. Typically available well into the 15th round, Watson is the perfect QB3 for teams choosing to wait at the position.

  1. Courtesy of My Fantasy League.  (back)
  2. Courtesy of FFToday.  (back)
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