Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire
Whenever a college player is tabbed as franchise-altering, there comes with it a mountain of pressure from both fans and the media. When that player is a quarterback…well, that’s a whole different beast – Cleveland can vouch for this. Fresh off a NCAA Championship in 2016, Deshaun Watson was one of these players – projected to bring hope and, more importantly, victories for whoever drafted him. Fast-forward to the 2017 season, head coach Bill O’Brien decided to bring Watson along slowly, starting Tom Savage in the first game. Unsurprisingly to most, Savage did not survive the first half and in came the rookie. Watson finished 12-23 for just over 100 yards, a touchdown and a pick – not bad for a guy who wasn’t expecting to play.
Watson was an immediate hit in both reality and fantasy, helping the team avoid a complete disaster for the next six weeks, as he compiled 19 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. As many of us know, his season was cut short due to an ACL injury while playing against Seattle in week 7, missing the rest of the season. Yes, this injury is a devastating one and always casts some shadow of doubt no matter the player. However, the potential and what Watson has already shown us in his short career should be enough to eclipse that seed of uncertainty. He clearly has a good rapport with his receivers, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, and Braxton Miller. He will have to develop chemistry with Sammie Coates, Jr., whom I have lots of confidence in. Lamar Miller will be the “bell-cow” in his third stint with the Texans, looking to improve upon a pretty average season (888 yards rushing, 3 TDs, 3.7 YPC) Hopefully the tight end position can avoid the unfortunate luck regarding concussions (ultimately ending CJ Fedorowicz’s career). Ryan Griffin slides into the starting role and should be an important aspect to this offense.
Not too long ago this division was fairly noncompetitive. This year, the Jaguars will be the team to beat in the AFC South. The Colts are looking to get back on track with Andrew Luck returning to action. Houston and Tennessee have lots of work to do if they want to compete for the division crown or, more realistically, a Wild Card spot. If the Texans’ defense can retain a healthy defensive line that can help out the back end, which now includes All-Pro safety, Tyrann Mathieu, I think this offense can be dynamic enough to put the heat on Jacksonville throughout the season. Let’s take a look at the players who they’ll need to step up in order for them to do so.
(QB1) Deshaun Watson
Reports out of camp are that Deshaun looks great and had a successful rehab. Earlier, I gave you some statistics that surely matter when it comes to his 2018 forecast in fantasy, but look at the way he plays, too. He clearly progressed from his first game to the last. Of course, mistakes were made, but he was willing to give his playmakers a chance to, you guessed it, make plays on the ball. Here, you can see what special abilities he possesses. He makes timely throws, can avoid the rush and run if need be (needs to learn how to slide more). At times, he probably held onto the ball too long, which could result in sacks or ill-advised throws. Ultimately, he has the instincts to read and react to defensive alignments that most young quarterbacks cannot. He is not afraid to ignore the easy outlet and challenge a defense. In my opinion, he is a top 5 quarterback to draft in fantasy, seeing as this will be his second year in an offense he commanded handily in 2017.
(WR1) DeAndre Hopkins
There really is not much to say about the all-world receiver from Clemson. He has, maybe the best hands in the league, speed to burn, “smart” feet and rare physicality for his frame that allows him to create all sorts of separation. If Antonio Brown did not exist, would be the unanimous #1 pick in any fantasy draft. He’s Deshaun Watson’s first read, security blanket and a go-to target in the red zone. There’s a reason he was ranked the 13th best player in the league, as last year he was the only player with 1,000+ yards receiving and 10+ touchdowns. Yes, Watson is a fine quarterback, but Hopkins makes him look even better with the eye-popping plays he makes along the sideline, in the flats and in the end zone. Teams try to double-team him – it simply doesn’t matter. This surely needs not repeating, but: DO NOT PASS HIM UP – your fantasy year depends on it.
(WR2) Will Fuller V
I’m much more intrigued about how there are FOUR previous Will Fullers than any level of doubt I have in Fuller’s ability to be a force in this league. He is listed as the #2 receiver of this fairly deep group. He is the deep threat of the group, along with Coates, Jr. He may not catch the ball a lot, but he converts on most of his opportunities, which warrants his high value. He averaged 5 targets in the 10 games he played last year. He runs both the very high and very low percentage plays – short screens and deep go-routes. With a full season, he could be a real threat to join Hopkins in reaching the double-digit mark for touchdowns.
(WR4) Sammie Coates, Jr.
Braxton Miller is the probably the next obvious option in this offense, but I think Sammie Coates, Jr. has more upside. He’s another big 6’1″ target for Watson to use down the field. He is capable of running most routes, but is built for the home run plays. He has not scored all that much, just two career touchdowns, but he averaged 20 YPC while in Pittsburgh for his first two years. He’s young and should be involved in this offense if he shows initiative during the preseason. Braxton Miller fits the slot role due to size, but he is slower than Coates (ran a 4.43 – 40), who has longer strides. I’d hope the coaching staff recognizes the talent and uses that size/speed to clear out space for both Fuller and Hopkins, while creating opportunities for himself.
(RB2) Lamar Miller
This ranking is almost by default, seeing as he doesn’t really have a threatening handicap (backup RB). Miller, as I mentioned in the open, should be able to bounce back from a lackluster 2017. He has a “revamped offensive line” which can do more harm then help sometimes. It is not an ideal situation, obviously, but last year’s results gave them no choice. The running back crop is pretty deep this year, especially with the growing number of pass-catching backs and offenses leaning heavily on the pass. Nonetheless, Miller could be an important piece to your roster, given that he has been fairly consistent – eclipsing 800 yards from scrimmage every year, excluding his rookie campaign.
If Deshaun Watson can stay upright for most of the season, this team has the potential to torch teams each and every week. The roster deploys enough players that should be part of your draft plans. AND DO NOT PASS ON HOPKINS.