The Runner Sports

NFL Position Battles – The Houston Texans QB Room

Was that a football or a beach ball?

Look around. All you will see are Instagram posts about vacations on the beach. Virtually nothing is happening in the NFL as teams squeeze in those last-minute trips and take advantage of the waning free time. As such, these are the times that are mostly used for predicting roster spots and examining camp battles. All 32 teams have quite a bit of intrigue heading into Training Camp, especially as veterans try to hold off the high-profile rookies.

The Houston Texans have been mildly successful under Bill O’Brien’s coaching, winning the AFC South twice and somehow making the playoffs with roughly 35 quarterbacks under center. The battles between Ryan Mallett, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, etc. have made Houston more of a laughing stock, but O’Brien is looking to change that in 2017. One of his options is a fourth-year quarterback from Pitt named Tom Savage. The other option is a first-round draft pick from Clemson named Deshaun Watson. Both players have positive attributes and a few concerns, but who will take control of this battle and lead the Texans into the season?

Examining the Case of Tom Savage

Yet to throw a touchdown in his career, Tom Savage starts his fourth season under Bill O’Brien as the supposed “starter.” Of course, this status doesn’t mean much considering the Texans’ recent history. Savage came into 2016 recovering from a shoulder injury but still holding a clear path to the starting job. Houston responded by signing Brock Osweiler and sending the former Pitt quarterback to the bench. However, Osweiler’s play left much to be desired and resulted in a trade that sent the millionaire to Cleveland. Another chance for Savage! Well, old Tommy had the starting job locked up until GM Rick Smith traded up for Deshaun Watson and created another battle.

Technically, Savage still has the starting job, but should he stay atop the depth chart?

Four years in Bill O’Brien’s system is a huge advantage considering the depth of NFL playbooks, and Savage demonstrated his comfort last season with some solid snaps. He also possesses an NFL-caliber arm and can make throws 60 yards down the field. Savage’s decision making has been slow in the past, but he should be working through those issues with the extra practice reps as a starter. Despite being only two inches taller than Watson, Savage is the polar opposite in that he is a true “pocket quarterback.” There won’t be any designed runs with Savage under center, but he will make every throw and will take a beating if required.

Of course, Savage does present a constant worry given his injury history. He lost the majority of a season in college due to a hand injury and suffered a concussion at Pitt. As a pro, Savage finished his rookie season on injured reserve with a bum knee, missed his entire sophomore season with a shoulder injury, and missed out on half of Week 17’s action and the entirety of the playoffs with a concussion. Back in April, Savage commented on his injuries by explaining how each could have been avoided with smarter plays on his part.

Examining the Case of Deshaun Watson

A proven winner, Watson took Clemson on a journey culminating in back-to-back National Championship appearances. While the Tigers only won one of the titles, Watson showcased his dual-threat skills in both battles against Alabama. He also showed off impressive leadership while bringing Clemson back late in the game.

There is no denying that Watson brings something to the table that Savage doesn’t –he can make defenses pay with some designed runs. In 2016 alone, Watson rushed for 9 touchdowns and 629 yards. This rushing ability could make the Texans’ offense a little frisky, provided O’Brien breaks out of his comfort zone, and should make Watson extremely dangerous near the goal line. Savage may have a stronger arm at this point in the game, but Watson’s strength and accuracy can both be improved with the proper coaching.

At this point, the issue with Watson is whether or not he is truly ready to lead an NFL team from the season’s kickoff. Draft guru Mike Mayock mentioned multiple times during the Combine that none of the quarterbacks were actually ready to go from day one. Will the Texans be willing to throw Watson out too early and potentially ruin him like the Vikings did with Tarvaris Jackson? Not that Jackson is anything like Watson; he is just worth mentioning when discussing playing quarterbacks too early. Jackson had a lot of potential as a second-round draft pick, but he needed some work before becoming the starter. Minnesota didn’t give Jackson this time to learn, and he struggled throughout his entire career in the purple and gold.

The Verdict

Honestly, Tom Savage is the logical choice to hold the starting gig in 2017. He has the system experience, a better-than-average arm, and he actually targets DeAndre Hopkins. Savage has even shown an ability to get Jaelen Strong involved in the offense, something that hasn’t been done beyond one Thursday Night Football game against the Colts.

Unfortunately, logic doesn’t tend to matter in the NFL when a first-round draft choice is involved. Watson’s pedigree pretty much guarantees that he will see meaningful snaps throughout the season. Sure, Savage will probably start the season leading O’Brien’s offense, but he will be back on the bench by mid-November, especially if the Texans are struggling in the division race. All it will take is one bad interception by Savage against the Titans or Colts, and O’Brien will make a switch to the kid. Given his tenuous footing heading into the 2017 offseason, O’Brien’s decision could either boost his standing with owner Bob McNair or completely end his career in Houston. 

To quote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “you must choose, but choose wisely.”

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John Newby

A Minnesota Vikings fan from Oregon who writes about the Houston Texans and discusses nerdy topics.
Quite fond of my wife, video games, and Blue Heelers.
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