As the Houston Texans settle into a week of practice with quarterback Brian Hoyer and new/old back-up TJ Yates, and hopefully the final roster changes to the QB position for the 2015 (barring, of course, any injury that has been seen in 3 of the last 4 seasons), the everpresent buzz of ‘will we get a franchise quarterback’ has turned into a roar from both fanbase and local sports media. Texans beat writers all but have slotted out the first Texans draft pick to go to a quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft. Most fans agree. No word from the organization.
Granted, the total disaster in QB shuffling was rather hard to ignore. One would ask if O’Brien was perhaps having some college coaching flashbacks when creating this QB competition, and then switching starters in this season a total of 3 times in 6 games. That was becoming tantamount to a circus act, and frustrated the fan base that wants a franchise QB. What we all forget, though, in getting all mixed up in the unfolding drama of the QB controversy in Houston that, frankly, garnered too much attention and took entirely too much attention away from some of the real problems of this team, is that we drafted a QB in 2014.
Quick note: difference in average points per game scored from last year is 1.3 points. 2015 average points per game: 22. 2014 average points per game: 23.3. This year’s average is the same with or without the Atlanta/Miami games.
It’s easy to forget that we drafted QB Tom Savage in 2014, as a 4th round pick, 7th QB picked overall. Tom Savage is the 1st drafted QB in the Bill O’Brien era, picked at a time where the Texans needed an upgrade at the position. However, if a QB was one of the top concerns going into the 2014 draft, why did we allow 6 QBs to pass us, and pick in the 4th round? Obviously, we knew our #1 pick was going to be Jadeveon Clowney (top prospect, once in a lifetime talent, versus no QB that was ranked as a #1 overall pick), but why did we wait until our 5th pick to get the most obvious need for the team?
Hindsight (which should never be used in evaluating draft picks, because draft stock hinges purely on potential) would tell us that all of our picks before Savage have not played up to their potential, as of yet. But remember, draft stock evaluates potential, and drafts are always a gamble. The Texans chose the safer bet in each pick that a QB was not chosen. There is a far higher risk when drafting a QB as a higher draft pick (contract, cap considerations, etc.,) than virtually any other player on the team, period. Then the Texans chose Savage. But why?
There was virtually no discussion of Savage and what he would bring to the NFL during the 2014 draft. That’s mainly because Savage did not have much of a college football career. He was named starting QB at Rutgers University 2 games into his freshman season, and led the team to 9 wins and 4 losses. His freshman stats were more impressive; he threw for 2211 yards, with a 52.3 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns, only 7 interceptions, and a 128.7 rating. His second year at Rutgers started off similarly, but was sidelined with a hand injury after going 2-2, and subsequently replaced as starter.
In that season he was credited with 2 of the 4 total wins that season. Perhaps Rutgers made a mistake benching him after injury?
With his being replaced as starter, Savage announced he’d be transferring to Arizona State for the 2011 season, but wouldn’t be eligible to play until 2012, due to NCAA transfer rules. After a Head Coach change (and an offensive scheme change that he would not fit in), Savage announced a transfer to Pittsburgh for 2012. He was redshirted in 2012, and was awarded the starting position for the Pittsburgh Panthers 2013 season. That season, Savage had another impressive year, throwing for almost 3000 yards, with a 61.2 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and a 138.2 rating.
In 2013, Savage also started getting glances from scouts around the country.
In his 2013 and before the 2014 draft, Savage went from unknown QB to a definite draft pick (albeit in the 6th or 7th round, officially). However, many scouts felt his potential just in that single year could take him up to a 2nd or 3rd round pick. His arm was arguably the strongest of the 2014 draft class, and had an accuracy, intelligence, and build comparable to Troy Aikmen. In fact, up to 24 NFL teams met with Savage individually (New England had a very unofficial interest in him as Brady’s back-up and eventual replacement), and worked him out.
Savage’s lack of playtime in college (relegated to barely over 2 years) combined with his throwing strength, size, accuracty, and mobility put him in a risky pick category. He could eventually be one of the greatest picks coming out of the draft, and he has all the potential in the world, but he’s got a lot to learn. The Texans decided to take this risk in the 4th round and develop that potential. A 4th round QB isn’t going to start in his rookie year – nor should he be expected to. He spends that year in development. In conjunction with that move, the Texans opted for a journeyman QB that’s smart enough to manage a game, and brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Additionally, Ryan Mallett, whose story has already been overtold, was brought in as a back-up and eventually a potential starter for the time necessary to develop Savage. That would likely be a role in 2014, and possibly 2015. When 2015 came around and it was apparent that Savage needed a little more time to develop (or maybe he didn’t, as O’Brien is beginning to show that he’s quite conservative with his younger players – maybe too conservative), it was apparent that the “interim” role of starting QB needed to be expanded.
So, O’Brien brought in Hoyer and cut Fitzpatrick for some reason that has yet to make any sense in the world, let Mallett and Hoyer compete for the starting job, and likely was poised to introduce Savage as the eventual starter for the 2015 season. Savage performed better in the preseason than both Mallett and Hoyer, with a higher completion percentage and overall rating. Why he was not included in the competion for starter has me baffled but, again, O’Brien seems to take a very conservative approach when introducing newer players to the field.
Whether Savage should have been in the fight or not, it all became moot when he was inured with a shoulder sprain, expected to miss 4-6 weeks, and inexplicably placed on season-ending IR. Honestly, if a QB controversy case can be made, this one is it. With Savage arguably performing better than the 2 battling it out for starting position (albeit with mainly 2nd and 3rd string players), the question to end his season, given the 2013 and 2014 season of utilizing every QB on the roster and then some, this will be the one that comes back to haunt O’Brien.
Not only did that same fate come to pass this year, with neither Hoyer or Mallett performing up to snuff, but O’Brien foolishly put off his first QB draft pick’s starter debut another year. Which means we have to wait another year to see if this potentially good-to-great QB can actually cut it in the pros as a starter. We’ve also got a fan base that has completely forgotten that we even drafted a QB, and is demanding a top QB draft in 2016. O’Brien placed himself in a rather sticky situation with these moves, and it will be interesting to see how he plays it out.
My hope would be that, since Savage did show some potential in the preseason, the Houston Texans PR machine will start kicking out reports on Savage’s progress in injury, as well as reminding fans of why he was drafted in the first place. I’d like to see the Houston sporting press begin to do the same. This would simply be a foolish, foolish mistake to ignore Savage’s potential and look to a QB as the top pick in the 2016 draft. Foolish would not be to draft another QB in the 2016 draft overall, but that should not be the top focus.
We already have one that is chomping at the bit, and this year has made it obvious that we’re going to need to plug in A LOT of holes in the upcoming season. So, let’s start hyping up Tom Savage, and give him the shot he deserves. That means starting him straight out of the gate in 2016. No more conservative action for new players, O’Brien. That sends the message that you don’t have confidence in them. Experience on the field is what makes or breaks a player, and it’s better to learn if they’ve got what it takes sooner, rather than later.