As I was sitting at home and heard the name TJ Yates come off the draft board to the Texans in 2011, I glanced up for a second and thought, “Why did they drop a 5th rounder on him? He’s going to be a third stringer behind Schaub and Lienart.” Analysts loved or hated the pick, but one thing was for sure at the conclusion of the Texans 2011 season, I was sure glad to be wrong about TJ Yates in what has become to be the steal of the 5th round of the much ballyhooed 2011 class.
Well TJ was a pretty decently regarded quarterback at North Carolina, but you see we are talking about the Tar Heels- a college that has never had a quarterback from its school start a game at the NFL level, and is more regarded as a powerhouse in basketball than ever in football. Yates wasn’t even technically invited to the combine. They needed a local guy who could sling the rock to the talent at the combine. It was there that TJ raised some eyebrows, making every throw and strike after strike to receiver. This got him on the radar of many scouts, as while marquee quarterbacks such as Newton, Gabbert, and Andy Dalton, did not attend or were limited in their repetitions, Yates did everything they wanted and was on target with his audition at the combine.
Yates started off quietly enough after a prolific career at North Carolina, where at the time of his graduation he held the school records for single season passing yards, and most yards passing (career) with 9,337. TJ clawed his way onto the depth chart beating out Dan Orlovsky for 3rd string, but fate had something much more in mind for Yates and the Texans in 2011. The Texans clearly were the lead dog in the division after the sudden fall of the Manning-less Colts. Guided by a rebuilt defense and a strong offense, there appeared to be no stopping the Texans and their destiny as division champs, but then that’s when injury struck the team. With the Texans easily powering by the Buccaneers in week 11, quarterback Matt Schaub took a meaningless dive to get his team out of the shadow of his own endzone. Unfortunately for him, Albert Haynesworth ‘fell’ on his leg during the play causing Matt to be lost for the season with a Lins Franc injury. Matt Leinart stepped in, and played well in the first half of the next contest against the Jags, but he too would succumb to injury, so the Texans turned to young TJ Yates- their 3rd string quarterback to lead the charge for the remainder of the season.
He’d take the reins over for the team and lead the Texans into the postseason for the first time in the team’s 10 year existence, clench the division in exciting fashion by driving the team down the field on the final drive against the Bengals to throw a last second strike to Kevin Walter, and then later help the team win its first playoff game against the Bengals again 31-10. While the Texans did lose the next contest against the Ravens in Baltimore, all things considered, the Texans and Yates were able to make the best of the season. He’d finish with 949 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 61.4% completions, and an 80.4 quarterback rating in 2011.
Going into 2012 it appears that the Texans backup job is now comfortably in Yates hands, as the team opted not to resign Leinart or make any splashes in the free agent market. I saw Yates address on Sportscollectors.net and immediately wrote him a letter, including the newspaper clipping of him beating the Bengals during that exciting contest to clinch the division on December 11th, and a card. He signed both in a bit over 30 days, and thanked me for writing him on the clipping. Class act!