Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens showcases the vertical game that the Texans matched with Deshaun Watson last year.
Velocity was the over-used analysis point of the 2017 NFL Draft for quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson was the target. Before that, Jared Goff was the target for hand size concerns in 2015’s draft despite the fact that the college football is wider and shorter than a longer and narrower pro model.
If there’s a trend in football media, it’s for media to latch onto something pseudo-analytical to appear intelligent just long enough to sell their cure-all hair tonic, pack up the tent in the middle of the night after corrupting the minister’s daughter, and leaving town for the next set of suckers.
It’s a little harsh because these analysis points can be a concern when framed in the correct context. However, context matters greatly.
Watson lacks great velocity with his throws and this will be an issue in specific areas of the field, but only if his offense required him to deliver those throws. The nice thing about the Texans staff is that they matched Watson with a mix of Bill O’Brien’s scheme and the Clemson offense so they could pair Watson with the vertical game that’s his strength.
Watson has the arm strength to deliver the ball with distance. He also has the touch for receivers to run under the ball or win the target at its highest point. Will Fuller is at his best running under the ball. DeAndre Hopkins excels at rebounding 50/50 routes.
Which routes a match for these skills? Fade routes, corner routes, deep posts off play-action, and the deep crossing route.
In contrast, here’s where defenses will try to force Watson to throw…
One way to buy Watson time to make an intermediate boundary throw with loose coverage is to use the triple option game to move the defense. Even so, Watson is throwing a corner route and throwing it with a fade-like placement.
Excuse the label of this coverage below as Cover 1; it’s actually Cover 3 and it’s why this deep post is an ideal route to beat it. Again, look at the distance of this throw and how Watson gives it enough air to allow Will Fuller to run under it.
And if defenses successfully take away the deep throws of this nature, Watson still possesses the mobility, timing, and placement to find pinpoint windows in the intermediate game. When you can move, reset, and fire, you can create windows that aren’t reliant solely on the drop-set-fire paradigm of big-bodied and howitzer-armed pocket passers.
It’s a different way of playing that can be structured to the strengths of a player while minimizing his weaknesses. It’s why you should be careful not to get too wrapped up in the latest carnival tent half-truths of player analysis that blow up on trait out of proportion.