Houston Texans: Is Deshaun Watson a Top 5 NFL quarterback?

Deshaun Watson Houston Texans (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Deshaun Watson Houston Texans (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Deshaun Watson is amazing, but is he one of the five best QBs in the league?

Houston Texans fans rejoiced when quarterback Deshaun Watson was drafted 12th overall in 2017, and he has exceeded many expectations in the two-and-a-half seasons he has played so far in his career.

Although Watson is still building his professional resumé, he has been named to multiple Pro Bowls, won a playoff game, and likely would have won Offensive Rookie of the Year if not for his torn ACL after just six games.

The real question is this, “Where does Deshaun Watson rank” in the hierarchy of elite NFL quarterbacks entering the 2020 NFL season?

The golden age of signal-callers are now reaching the twilight of their respective careers or have declined significantly in quality of play. Players like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and even Aaron Rodgers have claimed Top 5 status at various points in their careers, but are now upwards of 36 years old or older.

Of those listed players, Brady, Brees and Rodgers are still arguably playing at a Top 5 to Top 10 level even if they don’t spend three or four more years in the league. So how do you judge the newest crop of young franchise leaders as a whole when their list of accomplishments is significantly shorter?

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson and other top NFL quarterbacks for 2020

First, we’ll have to look at which quarterbacks could be designated as Top 10 players at their position using the past two years for reference. For all intents in purposes, let’s agree that the following players are “Top 10” entering the 2020 NFL season.

  • Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
  • Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Drew Brees,  New Orleans Saints
  • Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
  • Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
  • Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
  • Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

Some players are worth considering for this list, including Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford, or Matt Ryan, but this group of 10 has the best collective statistics per game over the past two years. Of this group, Mahomes and Jackson have one MVP, Rodgers has two, and Brady has three in his career.

In terms of championships, Mahomes just won his first, Wentz technically has a ring but did not play in the Super Bowl. Brees, Rodgers and Wilson each have one Super Bowl trophy, and Brady obviously has the most of all-time with six. Again, career accomplishments matter a ton but let’s look closer at their recent individual statistics.

If you’re looking at a per-game basis, Deshaun Watson has averaged 285.5 passing yards per contest which would place him outside of the Top 10 in that category. In the past two seasons, he has also thrown for 8,017 yards over 30 games, which would place eighth behind Mahomes, Rodgers, Brady, Prescott, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, and Rivers. Watson has accumulated 64 total touchdowns since 2018, 52 passing and 12 rushing, exceeded only by Mahomes, Wilson, Ryan, and tied with Brees.

One area where Deshaun Watson particularly thrives is in the fourth quarter and overtime, in which he has totaled eight comebacks and 10 game-winning drives. This includes his “Herculean performance” in the Wild Card playoff game against Buffalo, in which he evaded multiple would-be tacklers to deliver a game-saving pass and ultimately win his first postseason game in the NFL.

Watson is considered one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the game, and he leads the league in fourth quarter/overtime comebacks over the past two years.

According to Pro Football Focus, Watson is ranked as the eighth overall quarterback (minimum 600 attempts) with a total offensive grade of 82.4. Deshaun Watson is also third highest-rated rushing graded quarterback behind Jackson and Mahomes at a mark of 79.7.

For what it’s worth, Watson was also the fourth highest-graded quarterback due to his one catch for a touchdown against the Patriots. The analytics prove that Watson is elite in almost every category, but they don’t quite place him as a Top 5 player just yet.

Another aspect of his game that has heavily influenced his fast track to elite status is his deep-ball ability. NFL Next Gen Stats broke down every passer’s success rate when launching the ball more than 20 yards and Watson graded out sixth overall on that front.

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson stats and numbers

The numbers by Deshaun Watson may seem low, but he completed 41.2 percent of these passes while only 34.6 percent of them were “expected” to be completed, and his deep ball passer rating was 92.2. These numbers are likely to skyrocket with the addition of Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans, especially considering Will Fuller was his main deep threat and Kenny Stills also adds to the arsenal.

From the analysis so far, it’s apparent that the three quarterbacks who should be automatically considered as Top 5 passers are Mahomes, Jackson, and Wilson. Based on career achievements, you could make a case for Brees or Brady, but of the older guys, only Rodgers is still playing at an all-around lights-out level.

Brees did miss five games with a thumb injury and still graded out as the second highest rated quarterback in the league, although his first-round home playoff loss to Minnesota definitely put a bad taste on his season.

This season is likely to be Brees’ last, and his physical decline has been somewhat noticeable but not affecting his play too significantly. Brady moving to Tampa Bay in 2020 will take some getting used to, but will actually help his overall stats explode because of Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and reuniting with Rob Gronkowski.

In the Texans’ defeat of the Patriots last season, it was apparent that Brady is not the same player that he used to be, but he is also capable of pulling out a 400-yard performance whenever necessary.

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson and other young quarterbacks

As for the rest of the list, Wentz may turn things around and avoid major injuries, but he isn’t on Deshaun Watson’s level right now. Kirk Cousins is one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league, but the narrative of him falling flat in primetime games is often repeated for a reason.

Finally, Dak Prescott may think he deserves to be the highest-paid quarterback in the league, and he may become just that if he signs an extension this offseason, but analytics point to Deshaun Watson being the better player.

Watson is 2.2 percent more accurate with his passes, although Prescott is slightly more effective on deep throws. Prescott lead the most productive offense in the league in 2019, but his team fell short of the playoffs and each quarterback has identical 1-2 records in the postseason.

Deshaun Watson is a higher-graded passer, scores more rushing touchdowns, and averaged more yards per attempt despite passing for fewer yards total. Both quarterbacks are likely to break all-time contract records when they sign extensions, but there is a chance Prescott chooses to play on the franchise tag instead.

Watson has been the savior of the Houston Texans franchise since he was drafted and his exponential growth has been remarkable to watch first hand. From the rookie lightning rod that lit the league on fire for six games, to the player who took a 12-hour bus ride to Jacksonville, to the escape artist who can throw touchdowns even after getting kicked in the eye, he has done it all.

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In complete fairness, Deshaun Watson is one of the best overall players in the league, but calling him Top 5 at this stage of his career might be a stretch. He could place anywhere between fifth to 10th depending on who you ask, but he is absolutely on the path to superstardom.