The NFL has not seen quarterback DeShaun Watson since October. But he has not been forgotten.
We asked listeners and readers in our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll to vote on the NFL Rookie of the Year, and, despite playing in only seven games and starting just six, Watson was the overwhelming winner.
The Texans’ quarterback received 49.6 percent of the vote to outdistance the New Orleans tandem of CB Marshon Lattimore and RB Alvin Kamara. Lattimore received 23.3 percent support and Kamara 18.6 percent. NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt was next at 6.2 percent, followed by Saints’ OT Ryan Ramczyk, Rams’ WR Cooper Kupp, Lions’ KR Jamal Agnew and Vikings C Pat Elflein.
The three Talk of Fame Network hosts – Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge – split their votes. Borges and Judge went Kamara and Gosselin Hunt.
“I love Watson,” Borges said, “but he didn’t survive the ground. Or the season. So Alvin Kamara us my choice.”
Added Judge: “The Saints aren’t all about Drew Brees anymore. They’re about running the ball and defense, and Kamara had over 1,500 yards from scrimmage — an accomplishment when you consider the Saints `other` back, Mark Ingram, also had 1,500 yards from scrimmage.”
After leading Clemson to a national championship in 2016, Watson became the 12th overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft. But he didn’t win the starting job in training camp, opening the season behind Tom Savage. And there he sat – for one half. But after Savage was sacked six times and lost two fumbles in the season opener against Jacksonville, Watson took over in the third quarter and kept the position for the next seven weeks.
But a knee injury in practice preparing for the eighth game ended his season. There wasn’t a rookie who enjoyed a six-week stretch of starts like Watson this season. He passed for 18 touchdowns and rushed for another. He threw for 402 yards against Seattle and 301 against New England. He passed for five touchdowns against Kansas City and four against Tennessee. He had TD passes of 72, 59 and 48 yards and his rushing score covered 49 yards.
The Texans were 3-3 with Watson as their starting quarterback but 1-8 without him.
Kamara, a third-round pick from Tennessee, started only three games for the Saints. But he rushed 120 times for 728 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught 81 passes for 826 yards and five more TDs, and returned 11 kickoffs for 347 yards and another score – this one a 106-yard jaunt in the season finale against Tampa Bay.
Hunt, another third-round draft pick from Toledo, rushed 272 times for 1,347 yards, becoming only the 14th rookie in NFL history to win the rushing crown. He caught 53 passes for 455 yards and scored 11 touchdowns, eight on the ground and three through the air.
“By winning the rushing title as a rookie, Hunt entered a select fraternity that includes Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson,” Gosselin said. “If you can keep that caliber of company, you’re my rookie of the year.”