Question #1 – Will Deshaun Watson improve without DeAndre Hopkins?
When Watson was first drafted, you immediately knew that he and Hopkins would have the great chemistry as they were college teammates at Clemson University. From the start, that chemistry was shown as it seemed like some of Watson’s best throws were given to Hopkins. As the years went on, it became apparent that Watson was spreading out the ball more to other receivers. Yet, the way we looked at it, if Watson was in trouble, break the glass and have Hopkins do his thing.
So when Bill O’Brien pulled the trigger on the trade for Hopkins, we were shocked and stunned. None of us thought that this would be a possibility. We all believed that Hopkins would be a Texan for life. When he was traded, we were ready to riot. We wanted O’Brien gone. Instead, it’s taken a few months for us to realize what it was BOB was trying to achieve.
Last season, Watson threw for 26 touchdown passes. You would think that Hopkins would have half of them or so. In actuality, Hopkins caught seven touchdown passes, which was tied for the team lead along with tight end Darren Fells. What does that say? Watson is spreading the ball out more to his receivers for scoring chances. The defensive backs keyed their target on Hopkins that it allowed Watson to fire elsewhere.
This season, Watson doesn’t have a primary receiver. He has four targets, who while they will be observed under a microscope for injury concerns, can make the big plays when healthy. In retrospect, Watson has a chance to be a great quarterback without a great primary receiver. Sure, Joe Montana and Steve Young both had Jerry Rice, who’s in the hall of fame. Troy Aikman had Michael Irvin, who’s in the hall-of-fame. Jim Kelly had Andre Reed, who’s in the hall-of-fame.
But some of the best quarterbacks never had a hall-of-fame wide receiver. Tom Brady had Troy Brown, who won three Super Bowls with Brady. Dan Marino had Mark Clayton, who made five pro bowls and competed in a losing effort to the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX. John Elway had one tight end in the hall of fame in Shannon Sharpe, who is now the co-host of Fox Sports’ flagship debate show titled Undisputed. Yet, he also had Rod Smith, who probably will get into the Hall of Fame, but caught over 11,000 yards and was a key part of Denver’s back-to-back Super Bowl runs.
In retrospect, none of these receivers Watson is dealing with are hall-of-fame potential just yet. However, what it does show is that Watson can make the players around him better than what they actually are. So for Watson, he has a chance to elevate himself to Mahomes status and beyond for this season. If Watson is in the MVP conversation, then that’s only the first step to a career of a great legacy.