THE Z REPORT

Lance Zierlein: What would this year's draft look like if the Texans had not traded up for Deshaun Watson in 2017?

Lance Zierlein: What would this year's draft look like if the Texans had not traded up for Deshaun Watson in 2017?
What if the Texans had not traded up for Deshaun Watson? Tim Warner/Getty Images

Deshaun Watson was electrifying in a very short sample size. Deshaun Watson threw for 19 touchdowns  in seven games and 18 in his six starts. The Texans offense never scored less than 33 points in any of Watson’s final five starts before he was felled by a season-ending knee injury. Deshaun Watson’s six game run as a starter was the most productive of any quarterback in the league during that time. Deshaun Watson is our quarterback!

But what if he wasn’t?

What if Rick Smith never pulled the trigger on the trade that sent the Texans 2018 first round draft pick to Cleveland in exchange for the pick that eventually became Deshaun Watson? Let’s roll back the clock and take peek into what might have been if the Texans hadn’t taken Watson and still had a first round pick this year.

The Texans draft a tackle

I poured through my old notes on Texans needs in 2017 and which players were potential fits for them at pick #25. With the right tackle spot in flux and with Duane Brown’s contract an issue, I believe the Texans would have drafted Ryan Ramczyk from the Wisconsin.

Ramczyk could have projected as an early right tackle starter with the potential to move the left tackle. Or, the Texans may have seen him as a future guard if things didn’t work well at tackle. In any case, he would have likely been a starter all season long just as he was for the Saints.

But what would they have done at quarterback? It would have been Tom Savage. Duh. Sure, they may have added another quarterback to complete for the starting position, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered. The defense would have had the same issues, there would have been the same Duane Brown issue and the offensive line wouldn’t have been good enough. In other words, they still would have been drafting about fourth.

The mythical 2018 debates

In this scenario, the Texans would still be in Quarterback Purgatory and this entire draft run-up would have been a sh*t-show of sports talk, message boards and Twitter arguments about this draft pick:.

Trade up: There would be a contingent of Texans fans/media who would have demanded that the Texans do everything in their power to move to the #1 spot and draft Sam Darnold. The Texans don’t have a second round pick so it would have likely cost them next year’s first rounder and maybe one other 3rd round pick.

Best available: While everyone would clearly be in full panic mode regarding the quarterbacks, there would definitely be a group of fans who would argue vehemently that sitting tight and taking Saquon Barkley (if he’s there) would make life so much easier on whoever was at quarterback. If it wasn’t Barkley, fans would also argue that J.J. Watt’s best days may be behind him and taking Bradley Chubb to pair with Mercilus and Clowney means the Texans would potentially rival Jacksonville for most killer defensive front in the league.

To Josh or not to Josh: We all know that UCLA’s Josh Rosen is being hit for lack of coachability and lack of leadership skills. The football talent is clear. If the Texans had the fourth pick of the draft, there is no doubting that. Josh Allen has a monster arm, great size and good mobility, but his college production never matched all that raw talent. There is no doubt in my mind that debating “the Joshes” would be something that would happen on a daily basis with talk show hosts, writers, and social media.

Lamar Jackson hive: The most explosive player in this draft might be Lamar Jackson. In. This. Draft. There is no doubt in my mind that Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson would be the fan’s choice of who the pick should be. However, have you heard Lamar Jackson mentioned at #4 or anywhere inside the top ten for that matter? No. There are some viable reasons involving accuracy and concerns over his size considering how often he runs. I still believe that wouldn’t change the argument points regarding doing whatever the Texans had to in order to get Lamar Jackson.

Free agency run: The Texans obviously could have been in the running for Kirk Cousins. Could they have made a run at trading for Nick Foles? Absolutely.

When it is all said and done, the draft would look like:

  1. Cleveland: Sam Darnold

  2. NY Giants: Bradley Chub

  3. NY Jets: Baker Mayfield

  4. Houston: Josh Allen

Josh Allen or Deshaun Watson, Houston? Who ya got?

 

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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