Can Deshaun Watson, Texans WRs repeat torrid pace of 2017?

DeAndre Hopkins, right, thrived with Deshaun Watson under center, catching seven touchdowns in their seven games together. Bob Levey/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- The numbers show a stark difference in the Houston Texans' offense last season with and without quarterback Deshaun Watson.

In six starts as a rookie, Watson led the Texans to an average of 34.7 points, and Houston went 3-3. Without Watson, the team scored an average of 13 points per game, going 1-9 in those contests.

Before he tore his right ACL in early November, Watson was having a historic season and was on pace to shatter the NFL rookie record for passing touchdowns. In seven games -- six starts, because he replaced Tom Savage at halftime of the Texans' 2017 season opener -- Watson threw for 1,699 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions.

The record for TD passes by a rookie is 26, set by Peyton Manning with Indianapolis in 1998 and tied by Russell Wilson with Seattle in 2012. Both played in all 16 games their rookie seasons.

Watson's success led to big numbers for two of his receivers in the six starts. DeAndre Hopkins came close to eclipsing his breakout season of 2015, and he likely would have done so had Watson stayed healthy. After a down season with Brock Osweiler under center, Hopkins returned to his All-Pro form with the rookie.

The pair of former Clemson stars played seven games together. Taking Hopkins' stats and extrapolating them over 16 games, he was on pace for 106 catches for 1,452 yards and 17 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, only two players in NFL history have hit those three benchmarks in the same season, and they're both Hall of Famers: Cris Carter in 1995 (122 receptions, 1,371 yards and 17 touchdowns) and Randy Moss in 2003 (111 receptions, 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

As it was, Hopkins nearly hit those markers with Savage, T.J. Yates and rookie Taylor Heinicke throwing to him in the second half of the season, so it's likely he could have surpassed those projected numbers if he'd continued playing with Watson. Hopkins finished with 96 catches for 1,378 yards in 15 games, setting a career high with 13 touchdowns. Seven of his touchdowns came from Watson.

"We can be the best in this league," Hopkins said. "He can be the best quarterback. I know I can be the best wide receiver, and that's our mindset coming into the season."

Watson's rookie season also led to big results from second-year receiver Will Fuller. He broke his collarbone in training camp, so his first game of the season came in Week 5 against Tennessee, a 57-14 Texans victory. In four games with Watson, Fuller caught seven touchdown passes. He did not have a touchdown reception in the six games played without Watson.

"Will Fuller [is] very versatile,” Watson said. "He can go deep, short. He's a guy [that] once you get the ball in his hands, he's deadly. For him to be able to play all 16 games and myself to play all 16 games and to keep everyone healthy ... it's very scary.

"We can do so many great things. We saw it last year in the short amount of time we had, but we just have to continue to be consistent, and we have to start now and do it while no one is watching so when we step on the field on Sundays, we can do it also."

If the trio of Watson, Hopkins and Fuller can stay healthy next season, it's clear the Texans could have one of the best passing games in the NFL.

"[Our] potential [is] through the roof," Watson said. "We're as good as we think and the work that we put in.

"We have a long way to go, but at the same time we have that mindset that we want to break records together ... and try to get that ultimate goal. But that ultimate goal is so far from us, we want to make sure that we focus on now and taking it one day at a time so we can get to where we want to go."