Deshaun Watson has an opportunity to grow as a quarterback for the Houston Texans after heavily relying on Deandre Hopkins.
Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson has been getting some work in with receivers in the offseason. With DeAndre Hopkins gone, it’s not only time for him to find a new number one target, but get more comfortable with a new receiver corps.
The departure of Hopkins is bigger than just Watson losing a security blanket. It’s obvious that Hopkins is an elite talent that leaves an All-Pro sized pair of shoes to fill, but just how much production needs to be replaced is staggering when broken down.
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Since Watson was drafted in 2017, he and Hopkins played 38 games together. In that span, Hopkins caught 25 of the 71 touchdowns that Watson threw. Watson targeted Hopkins 384 times, with Hopkins pulling in 263 of those targets.
To put into perspective how much Hopkins was relied on, Will Fuller is the nearest receiver on the team in both targets (138 )and catches (94). Fuller has only been on the field with Watson for 22 games. But in almost a season and a half, Fuller’s total numbers with Watson would not match Hopkins’ worst production of 96 catches (2017) or 150 targets (2019).
From 2017-2019, no receiver was thrown to more than Hopkins 487 targets regardless of who was throwing him the ball (Watson only played seven games due to injury in 2017). In the past three seasons, Hopkins ranks second behind only the Saints All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas (378), with 315 catches.
So, while Hopkins certainly provided an almost unmatched amount of production, it was not a one-sided relationship. Prior to Watson entering the league, Hopkins did not reach a 60 percent catch conversion in his four seasons with other quarterbacks. In the 38 games the two paired up on the field, Hopkins caught 68.5 percent of his passes (263/384). With any other quarterback in his career, Hopkins only caught 55.6 percent of his passes (369/664).
Even a receiver of Hopkins caliber can only be as productive as his quarterback allows him to be. And Hopkins clearly benefitted from catching passes from Watson. So even with losing such a great receiver, arguably the best in franchise history, the team and the offense is in good hands going forward with Watson.
This off-season the team added Brandin Cooks in a trade and signed free agent Randall Cobb. Adding the two veterans to a team that already had Fuller and Kenny Stills presents a group that can really spread teams across and down the field.
Cobb is an interesting signing considering he has made his living out of the slot and over the middle of the field. So committing to him for the next three seasons with a very similar player in Keke Coutee is a bit curious. However, the commitment to Cobb may see an improvement in the team attacking the short, and middle of the field. It also may push Coutee as the odd man out, if he doesn’t take the next step in his development.
In 2018, Watson posted a passer rating of 112.3 over the middle between the line of scrimmage and ten yards downfield according to Next Gen Stats. 2019 saw a drop in efficiency for Watson, with a rating of 85.6 in the same are of the field, below the league average. Stills, Fuller, and Cooks are all known for their downfield speed, so adding Cobb certainly provides optimism for Watson to improve in this area of the field considering his history.
Cooks has now been traded for the third time in four seasons, but he has also participated in two Super Bowls in that span. He is coming off of his worst season since his rookie year, but the hope is that Cooks will report healthy and prepared to bounce back to his previous form. He has been relied on as a team’s “number one” in the past and performed well.
What Cooks gives the Texans after moving Hopkins is more explosiveness. Stills, Cooks, and Fuller are almost interchangeable pieces. They can all stretch the field and take short throws for big plays. This will be very beneficial considering Fuller’s injury issues in his career and that Cooks and Stills have dealt with nagging injuries themselves. Of course, the hope would be that they could all stay healthy and perform as a group.
What the Texans have now is more of a group of solid players up and down at wide receiver instead of what was viewed as Hopkins and some guys in the past. At least initially, while Watson himself naturally decides who his new best friend will be on the field, teams will not be able to key in on one receiver as they had done with Hopkins. That alone could give this explosive group the advantage of a bunch of one on one matchups.
Now Watson will have to more or less start over with the group, and that can really present him with the opportunity to show his ability. Where he may have been keying in himself on Hopkins in certain scenarios, he can afford himself the luxury of a clean slate in terms of progression or target pre-snap.
Saying that Watson will be better without Hopkins is tough to justify, but it may be a chance to show that he really is Michael Jordan on the football field. Now he gets to decide who his Scottie Pippen is.