Falcon Points

Houston has another player in the MVP conversation, and while it is a long shot, let's take a look at how Deshaun Watson stacks up

Texans Deshaun Watson
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Houston fans are obsessed with MVP awards. Maybe it is because the teams themselves rarely bring home the ultimate hardware. Maybe it is because all three major teams have had legitimate MVP candidates over the past several years. James Harden and Jose Altuve have won MVPs recently. J.J. Watt made a case a few years ago, and Alex Bregman will likely be runner up this season.

So it is no surprise that as Deshaun Watson's name starts to come up, Houston fan is excited again. The Texans quarterback is a legitimate candidate through nine games, but there is a lot of football left. The next three games will be huge for both the Texans and Watson. It's not just homerism; Vegas has him as the third favorite in the wagering at +600. So let's look at the other top four contenders:

1) Russell Wilson, +175, favorite

Russell WilsonGetty Images

Wilson has the Seahawks in the mix for a West Division title after Monday's win over the 49ers. Wilson is completing 68.5 percent of his passes, has a 114.9 rating and 23 TDs to just 2 interceptions with 2,737 passing yards in 10 games.

The Seahawks are 8-2, a game behind the 49ers and Wilson is a big part. The deserving favorite so far.

2) Lamar Jackson, +250 second favorite

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals

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You could make the case that Jackson should be the favorite. His passing numbers don't measure up to Watson and Wilson, with just 2,036 yards, but he has completed 65.3 percent with 15 TDs and just 5 interceptions and a rating of 101.7. But Jackson's excellence is in the running game; he has 702 yards and averages 6.6 per carry. Combined with efficient passing and explosive plays, he has been a human highlight reel. And oh yes, the Ravens are 7-2 and have a win over the Patriots. A head to head victory and outperforming Watson this week could put him on top, although Wilson is going to be hard to catch if he keeps playing this well.

3) Aaron Rodgers +900 fourth choice

Aaron RodgersAndy Lyons

Rodgers will always get a lot of support if he stays healthy. A media darling, if the Packers continue to win games, he will climb the list. Green Bay is 8-2, thanks in part to an improved defense. But Rodgers has been excellent with 2,718 yards passing, a 64.5 percent completion rate, 17 TDs and just two interceptions and a 107.2 rating, so his numbers are legitimate.

4) Christian McCaffrey +900 co-fourth choice

It's hard for a running back to win this award, but McCaffrey was superb early in the season to get a lot of run. However he has tailed off of late. Still, he is the Panthers offense, with 983 rushing yards, a 5.3 average and 11 TDs on the ground. Be he also has 48 receptions for 396 yards and another three TDs. A strong finish keeps him in the mix.

Other contenders

Patrick MahomesPhoto via Kansas City Chiefs/Facebook

Patrick Mahomes missed some time but is still +1400 and still has almost half a season and his numbers are outstanding. Tom Brady (+2000), Drew Brees (+2500), Jimmy Garroppolo (+2500), Dak Prescott (+3300) and Kirk Cousins (+3300) are next in the wagering, but they all seem unlikely at this point. Dalvin Cook of the Vikings might still be able to make a run. Realistically, it's hard to see anyone outside of the top five other than perhaps Mahomes, but again, a lot of football is left to be played.

The case for Watson

Realistically, Watson is a deserving top four candidate. In my current rankings, he would slot in behind Wilson, Jackson and Rodgers, but the next three weeks could move him way up or take him out of the race entirely. Still, he has completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 2,432 yards, 18 touchdowns, five interceptions and a rating of 107.1. He also has rushed for 279 yards on 52 carries and five TDs. His numbers put him right there, but team record will be a big factor here. He is unlikely to have significantly better numbers than Jackson, Wilson or Rodgers, so his best hope is to keep winning games and continue to play at a high level. And like all of them, stay healthy.

There is a long way to go, but for now, at least another Houston athlete is in the MVP conversation. We will see how long it lasts.

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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

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