Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) is congratulated after his touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

It wasn’t so long ago that an African-American quarterback in the NFL seemed little more than a novelty.

Pioneers like Marlin Briscoe, James Harris and Joe Gilliam were viewed as great athletes who were projects and might be capable of developing into an NFL quarterback. But today, the -perception of the African-American quarterback in the NFL is much improved.

A recent story on ESPN’s The Undefeated titled “Welcome to the Year of the Black Quarterback” noted that the current highest paid player in the NFL is an African-American quarterback (Seattle’s Russell Wilson), and so is the reigning MVP (Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes) and this year No.1 overall draft pick (Arizona’s Kyler Murray). 

As we head into Week 3 of the NFL season, four of the top passers in the league are African-American with Mahomes sitting atop the list.

Texans third-year quarterback Deshaun Watson is very much a part of this movement. Labeled as a dual threat whose skills didn’t translate to pro football when the Texans drafted Watson 12thoverall in the 2017 NFL draft, he is now considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league.

Last season, Watson led the Texans to the AFC championship and now with his growth as a QB and a leader of the franchise, the goals this season seem much loftier than a division title. Watson, who has guided the Texans to a 1-1 start, ranks 21stin the league in passing with 427 yards, three touchdowns and one interception so far this season.

“We have a good football team,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “We are never out of it, even when things aren’t going so good. If we can keep things within range, we are in every game. I think that is what Deshaun Watson gives us. He is a great football player. He is competitive, calm and poised. He has all of that.”

Watson, who was one of nine African-American quarterbacks when the NFL season opened two weeks ago, helped the Texans escape Week 2 with a 13-12 win over Jacksonville.  It wasn’t the best game statistically for Watson or the Texans, but to O’Brien’s point, Watson’s intangibles gave the team a chance to win in an otherwise disappointing outing.

Watson had a tackle-breaking two-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that held up as a game-sealing play.

“He’s a dynamic player. He did a really good job making plays,” said Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly. “He sees a lot of things on the field, he’s instinctive, he plays hard.”

His leadership ability is one area that observers are watching this season. During Watson’s first two seasons, he seemed more inclined to defer to veterans. There are signs that Watson, who turned 24 on Sept. 14, is becoming more comfortable as a leader.

“Every year it grows, every week it grows, and every time you step on the field that’s another opportunity to show your teammates what you can do on the field,” Watson said. “Before you can actually be a leader and say what you need to say and for people to listen, you have to go out there and prove yourself and perform. I feel like over the years, that’s what I’ve been trying to do as much as I can, be out there, be a warrior for my team, for this city, for this organization and just taking it step by step, leading in a way that’s comfortable for me, but also comfortable for the whole team and making sure everyone is on the same page.”