BALDY'S BREAKDOWN

Brian Baldinger: The evolution of Deshaun Watson starts with this new key offensive element

Image via: NFL YouTube/Screenshot. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Houston Texans are going to play a season without DeAndre Hopkins for the first time since 2012. Hopkins, considered by many to the best wide receiver in the league, was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in a deal that still enrages Texans fans and will continue to do so for a long time. How will life without DeAndre Hopkins impact the production of quarterback Deshaun Watson as the young signal-caller enters his fourth season in the league? NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger recently watched game film with Watson and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner for season three of Game Film which airs every Saturday at 7:00 on the NFL Network and Baldinger believes that Watson will be able to adapt his game without Hopkins.

"Look - DeAndre was his go-to guy," Brian Baldinger said on The Jake Asman Show on Gow Media's SB Nation Radio. "He had 150 targets last year, third down, fourth down if you need a play, the ball was going to DeAndre, but he's going to have a lot more speed on the field this year. If you look at Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Will Fuller, and even a slot receiver like Randall Cobb that he's never really had before. Speed is going to be the thing."

Can the potential speed that general manager and head coach Bill O'Brien added help make up for the production that Hopkins would account for?

"When teams really tried to take DeAndre Hopkins out it was really easy for Deshaun to decipher that and know where to go with the ball," Baldinger said. "Speed can open up things, it can take the top off defenses, it can keep the safeties deep. It is going to be a different way and I think he will adjust. At first yes, he will miss that safety blanket that DeAndre was but I think as he gets to build some timing with Cooks and with all three receivers together provided that they can stay healthy, I think you'll see a guy that is going to be able to adjust and still play at a high level."

When Baldinger got to sit down with Watson and breakdown film with him, he knew right away what makes Watson such a dynamic young quarterback: his brain.

"When Deshaun Watson came in the room to do the film session with Kurt Warner and me, he changed the room, he just has a presence about him," Baldinger said. "You can feel it. He really explains what he sees. He really sees the field well. He really knows how teams are trying to play him because they play him differently than they do other quarterbacks in that division. He sees it pretty quickly. He's a very difficult guy to trick or disguise things against. He sees what you are doing and knows how to beat it."

You can listen to The Jake Asman Show weekdays from 8 AM-10 AM Central on SB Nation Radio.

You can listen to the full interview with Brian Baldinger below:

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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