What separates Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes? One huge stat

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If not Mahomes or Watson, who goes first in 2017 re-draft? (1:41)

The NFL Live crew reveals whom each would take with the No. 1 pick in a 2017 NFL re-draft, aside from Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. (1:41)

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was asked this week to give a scouting report of Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback who was drafted two spots before him in 2017 (No. 10 overall).

"He’s a winner, he’s a ballplayer and leader," Watson said of Mahomes, whom he will face for the first time Sunday afternoon. "Makes a lot of great plays outside of the pocket, a lot of plays inside of the pocket.

"He has a strong arm, elusive, make a lot of plays with his legs, make great decisions and he’s very accurate."

Sounds like you, the reporter replied.

"Very similar," Watson said.

Do you see any differences between y'all?

"No, not really, honestly," Watson said.

Both quarterbacks had a lot of success in their first seasons as starters: Watson in 2017, before he tore an ACL, and Mahomes with an MVP season in 2018. Texans coach Bill O'Brien said both “have excellent ability in the pocket and they can scramble” and “they can make plays on their own."

“I think that these guys are great players, and I think the way that they play the game and the way they understand the game, and their instincts for the game, they're both tough to defend," O’Brien said.

But perhaps the biggest difference between the two -- and the success they have had -- is how they have been protected through their young career.

Throughout Watson’s career, he has taken hit after hit; last season, the Texans were worst in the NFL with 62 sacks allowed. Although Watson did not miss a game, he had to play through several injuries, including to his lungs and ribs so severe that he had to take a bus to Jacksonville to play in a game. And through four games, 2019 looked similar, as he was sacked 18 times in the first four games.

In comparison, Mahomes was sacked 26 times last season, which was the fourth-best protection in the NFL. In his first four games of 2019, he had been sacked only three times.

In his NFL career, Mahomes has been sacked 35 times in 22 regular-season starts. Watson? Ninety-nine in 27 starts.

But the reverse occurred in Week 4, and the results showed the importance of that protection. Against the Indianapolis Colts, Mahomes was sacked four times, the second most in a game in his career and more than he was in the first four games of the season combined. In the loss, Mahomes was pressured on a season-high 38% of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

In a victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Watson delivered perhaps the best game of his young NFL career, setting a career high with 426 passing yards and tying a career high with five passing touchdowns. Not so coincidentally, Watson was hit only once and wasn’t sacked. It marked only the second time in Watson’s career that he wasn’t sacked.

While the Texans' offensive line did play better, Watson also helped by getting the ball out quicker. Against the Falcons, Watson’s average time to throw was just 2.43 seconds, nearly a half-second faster than he averaged in the first four games. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the 2.92 seconds he averaged through Week 4 was the fourth-longest average in the NFL.

This season, Watson is completing an NFL-high 87% of his passes when throwing the ball within 2.5 seconds; his completion percentage goes down to 51% when taking more than 2.5 seconds to throw, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Watson said the game plan about how quickly he wants to get rid of the ball varies week to week, and “it just depends on how the defense is playing that week and how we want to play on offense.”

“Just like any quarterback that’s any good, when you give them time to throw, they can see the field [and] they know what the coverage is,” O’Brien said. “And he’s an excellent quarterback. So, when he has time to throw -- I would say that about any good quarterback, though.

“If he’s sitting back there and he has time to throw, he’s probably going to find the open guy.”