For most NFL franchises, you can look back and find one decision made by the front office that is considered the moment where everything changed.
The Moment Everything Changed
When the Indianapolis Colts drafted Peyton Manning, everything changed for their franchise. Before that, the Colts were considered a below-average franchise; fast forward and Peyton Manning is known as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and won a SB for the Colts. In 1992, first-year GM Ron Wolf traded a first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for backup QB Brett Favre. At the time, Favre wasn't considered a great QB and had both injuries and character concerns. Favre finished his career with the Packers winning 160 regular-season games, three NFL MVPs, and the Packers' first championship -- Super Bowl XXXI -- since the Vince Lombardi era.
When it comes to the Houston Texans, there have been two decisions that changed the Houston Texans' landscape. Unfortunately, one of those isn't when the Houston Texans drafted Miami WR Andre Johnson, who still, to this day, I believe is the best player in the history of the franchise. In 2011 the Houston Texans selected Wisconsin DE JJ Watt with the 11th overall pick. I was at NRG Stadium during the pick and to say many fans were upset is a massive understatement. JJ went on to win 3 DPOY awards, led the league in sacks for 3 straight seasons, and helped win the first playoff game for the franchise in 2011 against the Cincinnati Bengals with a pick 6. This moment was pretty franchise-changing as JJ Watt put the Houston Texans on the map. JJ was the most talked-about defensive player in the league for the next 6 years. Still, ultimately in this league, if the most significant moment in your franchise history is a Defensive End, your franchise's likelihood will be successful long term is highly unlikely.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans traded with the Cleveland Browns, sending their 25th overall pick in 2017 and their 2018 1st round pick to select Clemson QB, Deshaun Watson. Now, most journalists would say "I knew Deshaun would be a generational talent at QB," or "Deshaun was a winner in college and high school and will continue that trend in the NFL," but the one thing we should all know is finding and drafting your franchise QB is never a sure thing. So many things go into that QB being successful, the franchise has to have other pieces in place for it to work, the coaching staff has to have an idea on how they will develop the QB and take advantage of their particular skill sets. Here is an example of QB's drafted in the first round from 2010-2017:
Chicago Bears Mitch Trubisky 2nd overall pick. We know where this is headed.
Kansas City Chiefs Patrick Mahomes 11th overall pick. They got this right.
Houston Texans Deshaun Watson 12th overall pick. We will get into this.
Los Angeles Rams Jared Goff 1st overall pick. This is a conversation, not the most talented but has had success.
Philadelphia Eagles Carson Wentz 2nd overall pick. I don't think you can say this was a good pick yet.
Denver Broncos Paxton Lynch 26th overall pick. Somehow still in the league, on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jameis Winston 1st overall. Now a backup in New Orleans.
Tennessee Titans Marcus Mariota 2nd overall. Now a backup in Oakland.
Jacksonville Jaguars Blake Bortles 3rd overall. Backup in Los Angeles
Cleveland Browns Johnny Manziel 22nd overall. Out of the league
Buffalo Bills EJ Manuel 16th overall. Out of the league.
Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck 1st overall. Out of the league but not due to talent.
Washington Redskins Robert Griffin Jr 2nd overall. Backup in Baltimore, not due to talent but awful coaching
Miami Dolphins Ryan Tannehill 8th overall pick. Starting QB in Tennessee Titans. Still up for debate
Cleveland Browns Brandon Weeden 22nd overall. Out of the league, but Texans legend!
Carolina Panthers Cam Newton 1st overall pick. They got this right.
Tennessee Titans Jake Locker 8th overall pick. Out of the league.
Jacksonville Jaguars Blaine Gabbert 10th overall pick. Out of the league.
Minnesota Vikings Christian Ponder 12th overall pick. Out of the league.
St Louis Rams Sam Bradford 1st overall. Out of the league, not a bust, and made a lot of money.
Denver Broncos Tim Tebow 25th overall pick. Out of the league total bust.
Out of the 22 QBs taken in the 1st round, only 4 are considered franchise QB's still to this day and had success in the league. Now a lot goes into why these QB's failed in the NFL, but that is another conversation for another day. I say this as most journalists and fans will claim they knew Deshaun Watson was going to be a transcending franchise QB in the NFL, but honestly, this can't be known until there is film that can be used to evaluate the player.
I was extremely high on Deshaun Watson and believed he was the best QB in the 2017 NFL Draft, when I am scouting a QB I look for production, year over year development, and winning. Deshaun Watson did all three at Clemson, he was extremely productive at Clemson, showed growth in all areas of his game, specifically throwing the deep ball and quick decision making. Which led to winning just being a given. Still, the most telling example of who Deshaun Watson was as a QB was when he tore his ACL in practice. The next week he went out to start against in-state rival South Carolina. In the previous 5 seasons, South Carolina beat Clemson handily and Deshaun wasn't going to let that continue. This was very telling for me when scouting Deshaun as it told me that he is about winning and nothing else. Let's look at his production at Clemson his last two seasons:
Completion Percentage- 67.8
Passing Yards- 4109
Average interception every 37th passing attempt
Rushing Yards- 1105
Rushing TD's- 12
Completion Percentage- 67.0
Passing Yards- 4593
Average interception every 34th passing attempt
Rushing Yards- 629
Rushing TD's- 9
Awards & Accolades:
2015 ACC Offensive Player Of The Year
2015 ACC Player Of The Year
2015 Consensus All-America
2015 Davey O'Brien Award
2015 Manning Award
2016 Davey O'Brien Award
2016 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
2016 Manning Award
Led ACC in total completions in 2015 & 2016
#2 in total completions in the NCAA
#1 in passing yards in ACC 2015 & 2016
#1 in total yards in the NCAA in 2015
Deshaun Watson was accomplished entering the 2017 NFL Draft and should have been the 1st overall pick based on what he did in college, but luckily for the Houston Texans, that didn't happen. Entering the 2017 season HC Bill O'Brien made the decision to start QB Tom Savage over Deshaun, an argument can be made that this was the right decision, and you can argue that it was the wrong decision. Still, given the state of the offensive line, I honestly believe Bill O'Brien made the right decision. After the first half of week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bill O'Brien decided to make a change at QB, considering Tom Savage was sacked 7 times in the first half, and the offense could not move the ball. Deshaun led the team to TD on his first drive, but there wasn’t much else to take away from this game as the offensive line was literally the worst in the league. Heading into week 2 Bill O'Brien announced that Deshaun would be starting moving forward and his first start would come against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Deshaun would go on to set the league on fire, being on pace to break every rookie QB record in the NFL, and was the most talked-about player in the league. There were multiple moments where fans could see that the Houston Texans had their guy, and the future of the youngest NFL franchise was bright. In week 3, we saw Deshaun go toe to toe with QB Tom Brady, and had we been able to field a competent secondary, we would have walked away with a win in Foxborough. In the game against NE I saw a throw from Deshaun that told me a lot about his arm talent, TE Ryan Griffin ran a streak up the middle of the field, Griffin takes a step outside than comes back inside, Deshaun sees there is only one place he can place the ball for this to work, he proceeds to throw the ball and places it on the inside were only Ryan Griffin can get it. This was a next-level throw.
But this has happened multiple times in the NFL, a QB comes in, has an extremely productive season and then just withers away and becomes a one-season wonder. Once the rest of the league has film the following season can easily be a drop off in production and that star QB you thought you had becomes forgotten. Now there was one game in the 2017 season for the Texans that I can point to where I knew that wouldn't be the case.
This is where everything changed for the fan base and franchise. In week 8 of the 2017 NFL season, the Houston Texans went to Seattle. To this point of the season, Deshaun hasn't faced a defense like the Seattle Seahawks (This was the final year of the Legion Of Boom) and hasn't faced an opponent that has home-field advantage like the Seattle Seahawks. This game told me everything I needed to know about Deshaun Watson. This was a battle between Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, and Deshaun stood up and let the entire league know he had arrived. Both QBs threw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. I watched as Deshaun manipulates future hall of fame safety, Earl Thomas, on the opening drive of the game hitting Will Fuller for a long TD. He continued to make throws and manipulate the defense in a way that only a 5-year veteran QBS can do. Prior to the NFL Draft, there were questions about Deshaun's arm strength. Many Draft Gurus tend to look at how far you can throw the ball to measure arm strength, but that is the wrong way to evaluate arm strength. You want to see if the QB can put enough velocity on his throws, specifically when throwing out routes. That is one of the more difficult and dangerous throws as if there isn't enough velocity the corner can jump the route. Deshaun in this game showed he had the arm strength needed to be a superstar QB in this league for a long time, shredding HOF cornerback Richard Sherman and young and upcoming cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Deshaun doesn't look like the strongest individual, but his core strength was on display in this game, specifically on a play where he has a DE grabbing his legs but can't bring down Deshaun as he proceeds to throw a TD pass to running back Lamar Miller. In the past, as a Texans fan, it was games like these where you felt you were out of the game each time the opposing offense scored, but this game was different as Deshaun answered each time he needed too. The moment was never too big for Deshaun, it felt like each time the moment got bigger Deshaun knew it and stepped up in a way we haven't seen from this franchise before. This was the game where I knew Deshaun would be one of the best QB's in the league for a long time. I recently re-watched this game the other day, which sparked this article as I remember sitting and watching it for the first time and having that same feeling. Texans fans have now grown accustom to these situations with Deshaun under center, and we have even seen it now in the playoffs.
It is also essential to discuss Deshaun Watson the leader of men, the motivator, and the person. When it comes to authenticity and being a genuine person, I am not sure there is another Quarterback in the league that has those characteristics like Deshaun does. From his initial press conference as a Texan (thank you Stephanie Stradley for reminding me), references to books written by Jon Gordon (I suggest reading The Seed), giving his first NFL check to the cafeteria workers at NRG after Hurricane Harvey, protesting systematic racism and the death of George Floyd, or writing a book regarding leadership and life. Deshaun has shown us time and time again that being a leader of men is something he takes seriously and is determined to help everyone around him reach their full potential. Dabo Swinney was right when he said, “Passing on Deshaun Watson is like passing on Michael Jordan”. Later this week a story could break regarding something Deshaun did just last week for a 90-year-old war vet. However, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this story never comes out because Deshaun doesn’t do the right thing just so the public can see it, he does the right thing because that is just who Deshaun Watson is.
There is so much talk around how this team has taken a step back since the departure of Deandre Hopkins, fans tend to get emotional and somewhat spoiled when it comes to their favorite players. Hence, it is understandable that this team is not a contender when you look at it from a fan's perspective. The issue I have with this mindset is that in the last 3 seasons, the Texans have found their franchise QB, completely rebuilt their offensive line to protect the most critical player in franchise history, and have added weapons that take advantage of Deshaun’s skill sets. Bill O’Brien is banking on Deshaun taking the next step in his development and being the key reason the team is successful. So, while we can judge some of the moves made by Bill O’Brien, drafting Deshaun had to be the easiest decision to make as we all know he is going to continue to push himself to be better. You have Deshaun Watson as your Quarterback, this means you have nothing else to worry about. Deshaun Watson will be here for a long time, and with Deshaun, you have a chance to win every Sunday for the foreseeable future.