QB PRIMER

Houston Texans positional preview: Quarterback

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

Over the next few weeks, we'll break down all the positions and hopefuls for the final 53-man roster. We begin with the team's most important position — quarterback.

It seemed like yesterday former general manager Rick Smith completed the most compelling trade in Houston Texans' history.

Three years later, Smith's risky decision has paid off. Not only has Deshaun Watson established himself as the best quarterback in franchise history, but one of the finest the league has to offer at his position. For a team coming into the 2020 season with a plethora of fresh faces, Watson's return as Houston's unheralded starting quarterback appears to be the only familiarity in what will be an abnormal year for the Texans.

Deshaun Watson: Starter

On the cusp of his fourth season, Deshaun Watson will be just as good as he was during his first three years in the league. Sure, the loss of DeAndre Hopkins will have its effect at the start of the year. However, Watson's supporting cast is too talented for him to regress.

In 2019, the 24-year-old quarterback finished the season with 3,852 passing yards and 26 touchdowns in 15 regular-season games. If Watson had played in the Texans' final regular-season game, he would have notched over 4,000 passing yards for the second straight year — averaging 256.8 yards per game. As one of the league's best dual-threat quarterbacks, Watson recorded seven rushing touchdowns to go along with 413 yards on 82 carries.

He nearly cut his 2018 sack numbers in half thanks to an improved offensive line (62), but 44 hits from behind the line of scrimmage are far from ideal for a franchise quarterback. Although nicknamed "The Houston Houdini," it may be beneficial for Watson to give up the ball sooner to avoid various unnecessary hits in 2020.

However, regardless of the number of times he hit the ground, Watson will be the starting quarterback in Houston. And there isn't anything anyone can do to dispute his case.

A.J. McCarron: Backup

A.J. McCarron appeared in two games for 69 snaps in 2019. Even though he does not see the field too much playing behind Watson, Houston has a reliable substitute should something happen to their franchise quarterback. The Alabama prodigy showcased his talents for a full 45 minutes during the Texans' Week 17 loss to the Titans. He threw for 225 yards to go along with 39 rushing yards and a touchdown — in what was his first start since 2015.

Although it was one game as the starter. McCarron's performance was enough for the Texans to re-sign the veteran quarterback to a one-year deal worth $4 million with $3.75 million guaranteed. In 15 career games, McCarron has thrown for 1,153 passing yards and six touchdowns — while completing 62.4% of his attempts.

Alex McGough: Third String

Drafted in the seventh round (No. 220 overall) by the Seattle Seahawks in 2018, Alex McGough has yet to make an appearance in a regular-season NFL game. After the Jaguars waived him last January, McGough spent the 2019 season as a member on the Texans' practice squad.

McGough played four years at Florida International University, where he ended his collegiate career with 9,091 passing yards and 65 touchdowns for the Golden Panthers. In January of this year, the Texans signed the 24-year-old quarterback to a reserve-future deal.

Nick Tiano: Depth

Nick Tiano is one of nine undrafted rookies who signed with the Texans in April. The 6-foot-5 quarterback played his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga — where Tiano recorded 744 yards and 10 touchdowns in 28 career games.

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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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