We’re only halfway through a season in which the NFL has already lost arguably the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive lineman, pass rusher and safety, the league lost its brightest, youngest star of the season when Deshaun Watson suffered a torn ACL in practice Thursday and was lost for the remainder of the season.
Watson was on a record-setting pace to the start of his career, throwing for the most touchdowns (19) through a quarterback’s first seven career games played in NFL history. Watson also added 269 yards a pair of rushing scores to his season totals as he had posted the most fantasy points ever for a player through seven games of his career on top of that passing touchdown record. Sure, we expected inevitable regression to hit for Watson and his 9.3 percent touchdown rate, but didn’t want it to come like this.
Watson’s loss is a major loss for the Texans and will have a ripple effect on fantasy owners. His 19 touchdown passes were already four more than Houston had as a team in 2016. Their 23 touchdowns were tied for the most on the NFL and matched their season total in 2016, when they tied for the fewest touchdowns scored as an offense in the league.
As far as the quarterback position goes, Week 1 starter Tom Savage will step in and reclaim the job for at least the immediate future. Savage has helmed the position for 39 offensive possessions to start his career and the Houston offense has produced two offensive touchdowns on those drives. Although they’ll turn to Savage right away this weekend, it’s hard to see him as the answer for the remainder of the season. The Texans also signed Matt McGloin in the wake of Watson’s injury today. McGloin played his senior season under Bill O’Brien at Penn State, but has had a nondescript NFL career thus far. He started seven games during his four seasons in Oakland with his team posting a 1-6 record in those games and was released from the Eagles after having one of the worst preseason performances in the league, throwing just one touchdown on 109 preseason passes with three interceptions.
The best-case scenario is that either Savage or McGloin can just tread water enough for Houston to remain to competitive, but this is no longer a roster that can sustain pedestrian quarterback play and limit opponents defensively. Houston has been decimated defensively. J.J. Watt, DE Christian Covington, and OLB Whitney Mercilus have already been placed on injured reserve. Brian Cushing is on suspension, and his replacement, Dylan Cole, still isn’t practicing with a hamstring injury. Over their past five games, Houston has allowed 30 or more points in three of them after allowing opposing teams to score that many points just twice all last year. It may show up this week against the Colts, but this is a team that needs its offense to put up points.
Feeling the sting of Watson’s injury the most will be stud wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, who each had scored at least one touchdown in each of their past four games, a record for NFL teammates. Hopkins (21.1 points) and Fuller (21) ranked first and second in PPR points per game for all wide receivers in the league as they each were tied with a league-high seven touchdown receptions. In just a small sample with each quarterback, here are each of their splits with Watson and Savage.
Fuller was already living dangerously, scoring his seven times on just 13 receptions. 50.1 percent of his PPR scoring output had come from touchdowns alone. Fuller is capable of creating his own touchdowns given his speed, but with the touchdown upside of the offense compromised, Fuller reverts to a boom or bust WR3 option in fantasy leagues.
We all lived through the disappointment of Hopkins in 2016 when he was a top-12 scoring wideout in just two of 16 games and the WR37 or below in nine contests. His 35 percent target share currently leads all wide receivers and won’t be hurt too much from a raw target standpoint, but loses out in terms of efficiency and production per target going forward. He should be considered a lower-end WR1 moving forward with the position suffering from an overall production stance this year at the top, but his weekly floor is significantly lower, especial yin standard scoring formats.
The last piece of the pie is the running game. Lamar Miller is impacted from no longer being attached to an elite offense, which had his rest of the season outlook as a potential RB1 given the soft schedule Houston has him falling back to a volume-based RB2 in fantasy. Even with Watson leading the charge and Houston posting buckets of points, Miller has been an RB1 in just two games this season and has eclipsed 100-yards from scrimmage just once. His 19.6 touches per game rank 11th at his position while his 88.6 yards from scrimmage per game rank 14th. Dating back to last season, Miller has finished outside of the top-24 scoring running backs in just six of 21 games played in Houston.
Only four of Houston’s remaining nine games come against teams that currently sport a winning record, but there’s no way around that the loss of Watson is net negative for everyone involved in this offense. Fantasy owners went from owning league-winning options to rostering ones that will be volatile with few spikes weeks ahead if Houston can’t get league-average quarterback for the rest of the season.
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