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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The Rockets got a steal at No. 3 overall. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

With the Astros absorbing their worst loss of the season Thursday night at the Yankees, here's to the Rockets! Wait, what? It's only educated guess work, but in landing Jabari Smith out of Auburn the Rockets had a spectacular night. Heaven knows they have had very few of those the last two years. After having to settle for the third pick in the NBA Draft despite being the worst team in the league again, in Smith the Rockets got the best player in the Draft. Of course Smith could be an epic flop, it’s very inexact science. But Orlando taking Paolo Banchero from Duke first then Oklahoma City selecting Gonzaga beanpole Chet Holmgren second left the "surest thing" two-way player on the board. Through most of the run-up to the draft the six-foot-10 inch Banchero was most commonly projected to the Rockets. It's not as if he would have been a bad choice as a player. Banchero certainly could turn out to be the best player in this draft class. But his game is skewed toward his offensive skills, his fit in Houston would have been quite questionable. The also 6-10 Smith has shown the vastly better outside shooting ability, and is indisputably more athletic and better equipped to defend at a higher level and with more versatility. Jabari Smith is not going to be Kevin Durant or Kevin Garnett. Let's at least call it extreeeeemely unlikely given very few in the history of the planet come close to those guys, still, envisioning Smith providing some KD and KG level moments on both ends of the floor is pretty, pretty, pretty good.

The Rockets' defense was an absolute joke last season. Little to no improvement was shown as the death march of 2021-22 dragged on and on and on to its 20-62 finish. Frankly if Head Coach Stephen Silas can't demand/develop vastly improved D this coming season he'll deserve and need to be fired. The Rockets love Alperen Sengun, and his rookie season offense showed both flair and promise. Defensively he was one of many parts of the joke. Just 20 years old late next month so some improvement should come, but Sengun is slow. Quick twitch muscles, slow. Lateral movement, slow. He’s not long, not a leaper, not thick. Sengun will be hard-pressed to become an average defender. In today's game he's the kind of big who quality small-ball opponents play off the court. Banchero would have been a lousy defensive pairing with Sengun. Smith-Sengun has a chance. Smith as a small-ball center has potential. Christian Wood was a dog, not in a good way. Smith’s character grades are very high.

The seven-foot 194 pound Holmgren has a fascinating array of skills. He could be Rudy Gobert defensively with way better offense, or a skinny guy who can’t hack it physically. Had the Thunder taken Smith at two, Holmgren to the Rockets would have been interesting. Getting Smith to pair with Jalen Green as the tent poles of the Rockets’ still long way to go reconstruction is more encouraging. With due respect to all the other first round picks added in 2021 and 2022, what Green and Smith become individually and as a tandem is what will foremost determine how long the Rockets remain horrible. It could go pretty well for the duo and the Rockets could still be awful for multiple more years. A third consecutive losing season is virtual certainty. By the end of it though at least a few meaningful rays of light at the end of the tunnel need to be peeking through.

As for the other two first rounders added Thursday night, both are interesting darts at the board. Tari Eason out of LSU brings defensive chops and size (six-foot-eight) for his position, a combo that exactly zero returning Rockets have. Jae’Sean Tate plays really hard, but he’s a six-four forward. All their Josh Christophers, Garrison Matthewses, Kenyon Martin Jrs., and David Nwabas add up to very little.

No one smart really believes in Kevin Porter Jr. as a long term winning point guard growth stock. TyTy Washington should get some rookie run at the point. He’s the only non-worthless to the team ex-Kentucky point guard on the Rockets’ roster. Yes, John Wall and his 47.3 million dollar salary are still on the roster.

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