As a refresher, and for the record, here are how the teams who had unsettled quarterback situations, either at that moment or on the horizon, approached the draft during the 12 selections it took for Deshaun Watson to come off the board:
>>> The Browns, having wandered through the quarterback wilderness since they came into existence, used the first overall pick on Myles Garrett.
>>> The 49ers, who had signed journeyman Brian Hoyer to a two-year deal, traded the second overall pick to the Bears. They would pick defensive lineman Solomon Thomas after moving back to the third pick.
>>> The Bears wanted a quarterback even though they had signed Mike Glennon in free agency, but they took Mitchell Trubisky second.
>>> The Jaguars, with Blake Bortles coming off another lackluster season, chose running back Leonard Fournette.
>>> The Jets, picking sixth without a viable long-term quarterback on their roster, chose safety Jamal Adams.
>>> The Bengals, who had the option to get out of Andy Dalton’s contract after the 2017 season, took wide receiver John Ross with the ninth pick.
>>> The Bills, who seemed to have lukewarm feelings toward Tyrod Taylor despite signing him to a contract extension, traded the 10th pick to the Chiefs.
>>> The Chiefs, looking ahead to the end of Alex Smith’s contract, took a quarterback, but chose Patrick Mahomes.
>>> The Saints had Drew Brees, but his contract was becoming onerous as he reached his late 30s. They took cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
>>> The Browns had another shot to take Watson, but instead traded the 12th pick.
>>> The Cardinals, with Carson Palmer nearing the end and picking 13th, declined to pay the tax to move up one spot. Instead, the Texans swooped in and took Watson.
That’s ten teams in position to take Watson, with the Browns getting two cracks, before Houston nabbed him. They may not necessarily look back with regret even if Watson becomes a star. Trubisky and Mahomes, both of whom enjoyed promising preseasons, may work out for Chicago and Kansas City, respectively. The Browns ended up taking DeShone Kizer in the second round, and he’s already their starting quarterback. Fournette has been pivotal in pushing the Jaguars’ offense into adequacy. Adams might become a cornerstone for the Jets’ defense. And so on.
But then again, they may. It took one half for the Texans to hand Watson the keys to the franchise, and all he has done since is impress. In his first start, Watson led the Texans to a road win over the Bengals, keying the victory with a 49-yard touchdown run. He then validated himself as a viable NFL starter in a loss, pushing Houston to the precipice of an upset in New England.
Watson passed for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which came on a Hail Mary, and ran for another 41 yards, making him the first quarterback to go for 300 and 40 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots since 2011.** “He’s a handful,” Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler said. “Running around, people diving at him, missing him. That’s a great guy. That’s an upcoming Cam Newton.”
**Here is some delightfully bizarre trivia: Watson became the fourth quarterback to pass for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 40 against the Patriots under Bill Belichick. Amazingly, all four lost. More amazingly, the other three quarterbacks were Aaron Brooks, Vince Young on the Eagles and Chad Henne. Most amazingly, in Week 1 of the 2011 season, Henne threw for 416 yards, rushed for 59 and lost by two touchdowns! That is a weird game.
Watson’s coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney, started chastising teams for passing on Watson immediately after Watson’s college career ended. “Passing on Michael Jordan,” he said. That’s a reach, but it is possible Watson went well after he should have.
If a third of the league missed on Watson, then why did it happen? NFL teams typecast Watson as the product of a typical college spread offense, a passer who maximized performance in a system suited to the college game. But he was different. One of the best indicators of NFL success among college quarterbacks is simply games played — Watson started 38 in three years. Clemson’s offense contained many simple reads, but as Watson’s career unfolded, Swinney let him call his own plays and expanded Watson’s progressions. He could diagnose a defense pre-snap, decide on a multilayered play and then execute it. He was doing NFL stuff; the college scheme was veneer.
Watson used his legs plenty, but on pass plays he kept his eyes downfield and looked for open receivers before bolting. His accuracy sometimes wavered, but in NFL games, when he wouldn’t have as many designed runs, he would take fewer hits, which can affect a thrower’s precision.
As a bonus, Watson is as good of a representative of a franchise as a franchise could hope its quarterback could be. His backstory and advocacy for Habitat for Humanity are well-known. This week, Watson donated his first game check to Texans cafeteria workers who were wiped out by Hurricane Harvey.
It’s not as if NFL teams disregarded Watson — he went 12th, and a team traded up to get him. But he sure possessed the qualities of a top-of-the-draft quarterback, qualities that in retrospect seemed to be hidden in plain sight to teams at the top of draft.
The draft process is so long and so exhaustive, and in some ways the overload of information has made NFL teams more efficient. But it also leads to overthinking. The NFL needs desperately needs quarterbacks, and here came a player who had started three seasons, won 33 games and initiated the offense with a run or pass 77 times against Alabama, an NFL feeder defense, in the national championship game. He had smarts, poise, leadership, experience and speed to spare, with adequate arm strength and accuracy.
It has only been two games, and plenty of good players were picked before him. It is still easy to imagine Watson filling opponents with regret for what they passed up.
>>> Mark Maske and Liz Clarke have an excellent, comprehensive examination of how NFL owners decided on how to respond to President Trump’s caustic comments last weekend. Here is a key passage, regarding the deliberations of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and top executive Bruce Allen:
Snyder and Allen considered issuing a statement, deciding to do so only after roughly three-fourths of the owners had already done so. In weighing the content and tone, they gave great consideration to the fact that the Redskins were in the nation’s capital; that the team’s fan base included a significant number of servicemen and women, both active and retired; and that President Trump was a Washingtonian, too.
Neither man signed the two-paragraph statement; it was attributed simply to the “Redskins.” It was one of just two among the 31 NFL teams’ statements that were unsigned, with the Cincinnati Bengals producing the other. Because it wasn’t released until the 8:30 p.m. Eastern time kickoff, Redskins players didn’t have a chance to see it beforehand. When it was shown to one starting player after the game ended, he frowned after reading it, explaining after a long pause that it didn’t reflect the sentiments of Redskins players. “I guess money matters,” the player said.
Allen declined Tuesday to discuss the Redskins’ process in drafting their statement and linking arms on the sideline, saying through a spokesman: “We’re focused on Kansas City,” Washington’s next opponent.
The player’s reaction shows, again, that the objectives of players and owners may not be as aligned as the league is suggesting through its messaging and branding.
>>> The Titans’ Delanie Walker tells people who want to boycott the NFL to go right ahead, as Jason Wolf reports.
>>> Jeremy Kerley became the staunchest opponent of Donald Trump in the Jets’ locker room, as Darryl Slater writes. “North Korea, their army might be a little bit more powerful than the NFL,” Kerley told Slater. “He might want to worry about that.” Jets owner Woody Johnson is Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.
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