In today’s nuggets, you’ll read PFF’s Seth Galina’s take on why Deshaun Watson was the best QB in 2020. You’ll also see a Ram's blog interested in Dee Ford, a few versatile players the Niners may be interested in once free agency begins, The Athetlic’s bold prediction that includes the 49ers and another Senior Bowl connection.
For starters, he didn’t have much of a defense. The Texans finished 31st in defensive expected points added per play in 2020. Only the 2006 Indianapolis Colts defense was worse from a league ranking perspective, as they finished 32nd the year that Manning carried them to a Super Bowl win. Watson is also part of a group of 10 players who notched 90.0-plus passing grades despite their defenses finishing below 20th in the league in EPA.
That’s what happened with Watson this year. He didn’t need play action. Watson was the third-highest graded passer without play action, screens and RPOs this season, behind only Rodgers and barely behind Mahomes.
This was Watson the whole season, even if the wins and traditional box score stats didn’t come with it. He took his game to the next level, and it’s why whenever you see potential trade packages for him, the return is astronomical.
If this is who Deshaun Watson is going forward — not a one-hit wonder — there are maybe four teams in the NFL that don’t need to take a look at him. Watson was the best quarterback in the league in 2020, and he arguably had the best season from a signal-caller in the past 15 years.
It’s a time of year that sharp front offices make smart moves. So if the Rams need a center or an EDGE rusher, or both, they need look no further than the Bay area. After all, both had excellent 2019 seasons, and both suffered a sharp downturn in 2020. Are they worth kicking the tires on? We think so, yes.
OLB Dee Ford is a 6-foot-2 252-pound edge rusher who was almost a non-factor for the 49ers defense in 2020. With just one tackle, he was practically invisible. So why show any interest? The previous year, he racked up seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and earned a stellar 84.4 grade from Pro Football Focus. He is 30 years old and is in the midst of a five-year $85 million contract. If cut, he will be eager to refresh his career, and the LA Rams are the perfect spot to offer a discount for a one-year deal.
There’s more to Patterson’s game than just being a return specialist, though.
Despite turning 30 years old before the start of the 2021 season, Patterson’s speed could make for some interesting packages in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. One thoughtful example was pointed out here by Inside the 49’s Aaron Wilson, which showcases how the wide receiver would be used by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on motions from receiving spots down close to the quarterback for hand-offs against pass-defense formations.
Shanahan loves this kind of motion, and few have made that as big a part of their game as Patterson.
But the team I keep coming back to is the 49ers. If you’re Kyle Shanahan, you’ve seen two of the past three seasons go down the drain because of Jimmy Garoppolo injuries. Is your best option going forward really to pay Garoppolo $25.5 million with hopes that he stays healthy in 2021? Shanahan has to wonder what his offense would look like with a more talented, more durable quarterback like Watson. This feels like the spot to get very, very aggressive. Would other teams be able to beat an offer that included three first-round picks and Nick Bosa?
Nobody wants to give up draft picks, but if you’re the 49ers and you have Shanahan and Watson, you can figure the rest out. You’re ready to compete for the Super Bowl every year even if the defense takes a big step back. A godfather deal for Watson would make sense for a lot of teams, but the most exciting possibility is the 49ers.
Justin Melo of USA Today’s Draft Wire provided yet another intriguing nugget from last month’s Senior Bowl. He says University of Minnesota cornerback Benjamin St-Juste named the San Francisco 49ers among the teams that he felt he had a “great connection” with during meetings leading to the annual collegiate all-star game. St-Juste also mentioned the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, per Melo.