Deshaun Watson had a performance to remember in just his third career start.
Four touchdowns through the air and four passing touchdowns and another rushing score. His five touchdowns tied the league rookie scoring record and led the team to their highest-scoring game in franchise history.
The Texans have never seen anything like it.
Houston traded a pair of first-round picks to the Browns for the chance to pick the Heisman Trophy finalist and national champion from Clemson in the first round of this year’s draft.
But just four games into his rookie campaign, where does Watson rank in the long list of current NFL quarterbacks? Which teams would trade their current starter for Watson, given both his age and prospective ceiling?
Looking at the other 31 guys that started in Week 4, the list is separated into three groups.
Not a chance: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees
These are the guys that no matter their age or contract situation, they can take over a game on their own. Brady did it against Houston in Week 3 and he almost did again on Sunday had it not been for Newton.
The group has combined to win eight Super Bowls, six NFL MVP awards, and combined for 38 Pro Bowl selections.
Both Brees and Brady are getting up there in age and it’s unclear how much longer they’ll be in the league. But that doesn’t matter. What they’ve done and what they’re still doing is more than Watson probably will in his career.
I like to look a Newton as a larger and more physical quarterback than Watson. They both can use their legs to avoid trouble but have the arm strength and accuracy to evolve into a stereotypical pocket quarterback.
Newton even had a big game during his rookie season, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another on in a 48-16 win against the Buccaneers.
Absolutely: Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, Jacoby Brissett, Case Keenum, DeShone Kizer, Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler, Trevor Siemian, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Blake Bortles
There’s always a carousel of quarterbacks in the NFL. That’s why team trade so much for top picks when the best quarterback in any given draft isn’t nearly as good as the best player that could affect a team.
It’s a crapshoot. Of the players in the previous category, five of the six are still with the teams that drafted them. Of the 11 in this group, four are with their original teams, but only Manning has signed a second contract.
Manning is probably the most head-turning name on this list. He’s won a pair of Super Bowls with the Giants and arguably could have his number retired by the team. But both of his titles had a different part of the team as the strength and he’s always been an average player.
Drop Watson onto the Giants roster tomorrow and I’m almost positive they’re not winless and certainly still eyeing a playoff berth.
Siemian and Kizer are both young, but what are their ceilings? Sure, Watson has had just a couple big games and it’s a small sample size, but surely both the Browns and Broncos would give up what they have for him in a heartbeat.
Glennon can’t even keep his job on his own team. Rookie Mitchell Trubisky will start for the Bears against the Vikings in Week 5.
Despite their wide range of experience, players like Brissett, McCown, Keenum, and Hoyer are nothing more than stopgap players either filling in for the injured starter or on a team going nowhere this season.
Let’s talk about it: Derek Carr, Joe Flacco, Jared Goff, Jamies Winston, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Marcus Mariota, Dak Prescott, Matt Stafford, Tyrod Taylor
The largest selection on my list could be broken down into two even smaller factions.
There are some guys that have been around for some time and have proven that they can play with the big boys in the NFL. They’re not reaching the elite level status, but they’re inching closer to that threshold.
For the guys like this is comes down to a lot of things, including contract, age, and the rest of the team.
Roethlisberger almost retired after last season, but he has so much goodwill in Pittsburgh and he’s so ingrained in that offensive system that I think adding a player like Watson at this point would do more harm than good.
Rivers and Stafford have put up the numbers, but the results haven’t been there for the most part despite the relative talent they constantly have around them. Flacco, Cousins, and Dalton have just been wildly inconsistent for the most part.
Then there are others that are too young and have done just enough to warrant inclusion but haven’t made enough mistakes to completely rule out whether a switch would be a good thing.
Prescott had a great year for Dallas last year. No doubt about it. But was that just a flash in the pan? This season, he’s on pace to eclipse his passing yard total, but also throw nearly three times the number of interceptions.
For me it’s an easy decision. Give me Watson over Prescott every day of the week. I don’t mean to sound like Skip Bayless, but the difference for me is how good I think Watson can be. Prescott won’t even come close.
Watson even admits he’s still learning kind of on the fly.
“I have a long way to go, and it’s still early in my career and just hope to build on it,” he said after the game on Sunday.
At the end of the day, there’s no telling what Watson’s career will hold or whether or not he’s the next Brady or Rodgers. But I think there’s a chance.