Deshaun Watson, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, took the field for his first start in a tough situation: playing on the road, on a short week and with a slight ankle sprain. Surprisingly, the Texans prevailed 13-9, but the consensus reaction on football Twitter was that Watson looked out of place, with some going as far as to say that his career might already be doomed.
With all the opinions flying around on Watson, we can dig a little deeper than the box score to see what Watson’s impact was on the game. My preferred method for doing this is using expected point added (EPA).
EPA uses league-wide baselines for what a team should expect to score on every drive at that particular down, distance and field position, then nets the difference before and after each play to assign a point value gained. It isn’t a perfect formula, but it does help us compare plays as disparate as pass completions, runs, sacks, fumbles and interceptions with one metric (points) that is closely related to wins/losses.
Here are the components of Watson’s Week 2 performance.
*I obtained all data, including EPA calculations, using nflscrapR.
[table id=12 /]
Watson didn’t pass the ball well, but it wasn’t a particularly poor passing performance. Watson improved greatly from his second-half performance the prior week, where he posts a dreadful -6.3 EPA through the air. It’s probably a little early to write off Watson, but he’s going to need to learn to produce value through the air eventually to become a true franchise quarterback.
[table id=13 /]
Watson, again, did a better job of avoiding sacks, taking three in a full game versus four in one half last week. But these were higher leverage sacks, in particular two where Watson lost 10+ yards. Watson looked rushed in Week 2, but you can’t say it wasn’t justified after the Texans gave up 10 sacks in Week 1.
[table id=14 /]
Everyone who watched the game knows how Watson generated so much EPA on the ground.
Mr. @DeshaunWatson WILL DO IT HIMSELF.
— NFL (@NFL) September 15, 2017
Of Watson’s five rushes, four were scrambles and only one was a called running play. Watson can’t score a 50-yard touchdown every week, but his ability on the ground is what gave his team a chance to win last night and separates him from immobile quarterbacks like Tom Savage.
In total, Watson lost around one expected point through his performance in Week 2. That would have been roughly in the 30th percentile for weekly quarterback performances in 2016.
Watson was much improved from posting -13.7 EPA in the second half last week, but still has work to do. He can’t expect to offset passing and pocket awareness mistakes through the ground every week, at least not without suffering an eventual injury.