By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
Missed any of our other Previews? Find them here!
When 2016 ended, the Texans had one goal: get rid of Brock Osweiler as their starting QB. I mean, I don’t know for certain that was their goal, but it was clear his 4-year contract was a gargantuan mistake. They found a taker in the Cleveland Browns, but it cost them their 2nd round pick to take on Osweiler’s remaining salary. The Texans didn’t care. During the 2017 NFL Draft, the Texans once again made a deal with the Devil, er, Browns, trading up in the draft to 12th overall — which Cleveland acquired from the Eagles in the Carson Wentz deal. The cost? The Texans’ 1st round pick in 2017 and 2018. With the selection, the Texans found their actual quarterback of the future, former Clemson Tiger and National Champion Deshaun Watson.
In an effort to ease Watson’s transition from college spread offenses to NFL spread offenses — seriously, I need people to stop thinking the NFL doesn’t run these types of offenses — the Texans inexplicably named Tom Savage as their Week 1 starter. That lasted all of two quarters. Watson came in after halftime, tossed 1 TD and 1 INT, and never looked back. His first start the following Thursday against the Bengals yielded a win, but it was anything but pretty. But over the next six weeks (5 games), Watson was in the MVP conversation. Then a torn ACL derailed his season and down went the Texans. That 1st round pick they gave to the Browns? 4th overall. Ouch. A high price to pay but it’s hard not to think the Texans are happy to pay it. Franchise QBs are hard to find. They found one.
Watson’s injury was one of many to disrupt the Texans’ season. Star DE J.J. Watt was lost to injury, as was fellow pass rusher Whitney Mercilus. WR Will Fuller V missed several weeks before returning from a preseason injury. I could go on. The biggest highlight was DeAndre Hopkins’ return to excellence, firmly re-inserting himself into the conversation of best WR in the game. Fuller went on an unprecedented run upon his return, hauling in 7 TDs from Watson on 13 receptions. I think it’s safe to say that 2018 looks bright with a healthy Watson, Hopkins, and Fuller leading the offense.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Brandon Weeden (w/ TEN)||N/A||N/A|
|QB3||Joe Webb (w/ BUF)||4.80||QB52|
|WR2||Will Fuller V||111.50||WR59|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: WR Keke Coutee, TE Jordan Akins, and TE Jordan Thomas.
You want me to talk more about Watson? Goodie. Before tearing his ACL during practice following his brilliant Week 8 performance against the Seahawks, Watson went where few QBs, let alone rookie QBs, have gone before him. From Week 3 to Week 8, he was QB1 and averaged 37.7 points a game. 37.7 points per game! He was ahead of QB2 by 23.4 points! Watson’s connection with not only DeAndre Hopkins but 2nd-year WR Will Fuller V looked like it was pulled from a Madden showdown set to easy. Defenses weren’t stopping him. He finished third in the NFL in accuracy on deep passes. 19.6% of his passes traveled 20 yards or more downfield, easily the highest percentage among QBs. Had he qualified, Watson would have finished 3rd in the NFL in Passer Rating at 103.0, better than Tom Brady. Hopkins is one of the best WRs in football and Fuller is arguably the best deep threat. Don’t hate the man for slingin’ it!
Watson has been progressing in his return from a torn ACL. Working in his favor is that he tore the ACL in the middle of the season, offering additional time to heal. He should no doubt be ready for the start of the preseason where I’m sure HC Bill O’Brien will ease him back in. A healthy Watson has MVP potential. Seriously. He was tied with Eagles QB Carson Wentz for the league lead in TD passes at the time of his injury. Imagine a full season throwing bombs to Hopkins and Fuller? Call me crazy, but Watson could be the #1 QB in fantasy by the end of 2018. I’m looking at 4,000+ passing yards, 30+ TDs, 13 INTs, and another 400 rushing yards and 3 TDs.
What has to scare not only Texans fans but coaches as well is the plan behind Watson. Or lack thereof. We saw last year how abysmal the team was in his absence. They brought in journeymen QBs Brandon Weeden and Joe Webb to back up Watson. I don’t blame you if that doesn’t inspire much confidence. Weeden hasn’t had a productive season since his days at Oklahoma State and Webb has been nothing more than a 3rd stringer who sometimes lines up at WR and contributes on special teams. The Texans right now are Watson or bust. And you know what? I don’t blame them. I’d bet on the kid too. He’s a stud.
I’m a sucker for former Miami Hurricanes. I am. Ride or die baby! I’ve been a huge fan of Frank Gore throughout his career. Loved Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee and Edgerrin James. And I loved Lamar Miller. Notice the tense. Lamar Miller, it’s time you and I started to see other people.
Before you start with the homo-erogenous jokes, hear me out. The former Hurricane was selected in the 4th round by the Miami Dolphins. From 2012 to 2015, Miller had 638 carries for 2,930 yards (4.59/carry) and 19 TDs. Among RBs with more than 450 carries, his yards per carry average was 6th in the NFL. He also contributed 117 receptions for 887 yards and 3 TDs. Among RBs with more than 100 targets, his 77.0% catch rate ranked 13th. I think it’s fair to say he was underutilized and deserved an opportunity at a larger role in the offense. The Dolphins didn’t afford him one. But the Houston Texans did.
Since Miller joined Houston in 2016, he’s finished as RB14 and RB14. Ask anyone that owned him in either of those seasons, they’ll swear he was RB40 or worse. Miller averaged 4.0 yards per carry and 3.7 yards per carry in back to back years and never topped 300 touches a season. He’s been anything but a workhorse, but these have been the busiest years of his career and he hasn’t shown he should be an every down back. Miller will start the year as the Texans RB1, thus providing RB2/FLEX value to your lineups, but the next guy I’m going to talk about will likely be the lead back come season’s end. Don’t invest anything more than a 6th or 7th round pick for Miller. He should still approach 1,000+ total yards, but with only 30 catches and no more than 6 TDs, he shouldn’t be in your starting lineup every week.
Last year’s 3rd round pick, D’Onta Foreman, came off a 2,028 yard rushing performance for Texas and has the build (6’ 238 lbs) of a true workhorse. Foreman started working himself in the rotation towards the middle of the season, culminating in a 10 carry, 65-yard, 2 TD performance against the Cardinals, but tore his Achilles in that same game, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry to Miller’s 3.7. Foreman will likely take over the lead role by season’s end and should be primed for an RB2 finish to the season. Snag him between rounds 7 and 12 and wait for the Texans to smarten up and give the younger Foreman the ball.
Don’t forget about Alfred Blue. The Texans used him more down the stretch last season than Miller, 46 carries to 27. If Foreman goes down again, Blue will be available to pick up the slack, but you’re not investing a draft pick in him unless you play in 16-team leagues. The biggest takeaway from this unit is Watson’s effect on them. From Week 2 through 8, Miller was RB13 on a points per game basis. Imagine if a more productive RB was in the backfield with Watson? They could easily become a top 10 RB. This situation will clean itself out eventually. Unfortunately, we’re left with a committee until then.
From average running backs to stud wide receivers. Now we’re talking. DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V make a pretty solid case for the best WR duo in the NFL. With Watson as their QB, from Week 4 when Fuller returned to the lineup until Week 8 when Watson tore his ACL, Hopkins and Fuller combined to haul in 37 receptions for 681 yards and 13 TDs. 13 TDs! They ranked as WR1 and WR3 during that time frame, combining for 191 total fantasy points. The next closest duo, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the Steelers, combined for 169.
By now, you’re aware of how talented Hopkins is. The former 1st round pick has put up serious numbers with middling QB play, with one exception. In 2015, while catching passes from the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden, Hopkins finished as WR4 with 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 TDs. 2016 wasn’t as kind, as Brock Osweiler was sent to destroy all hope for a continued Hopkins ascension to stardom. Hopkins would finish as WR36 with 78 catches for 954 yards and 4 TDs. Cough, exception, cough. But with Watson and Savage, Hopkins returned to stardom, finishing as WR2 (314.8 fantasy points). A healthy Watson makes Hopkins a viable top 3 WR in 2018. Look for 100 catches for 1400+ yards and 12 TDs, easy.
Fuller is still a bit of a mystery for me. I wasn’t very high on him coming out of Notre Dame in 2016 — Cole was a bigger fan than I — because he was a speed guy with questionable hands. He had the 6th worst drop rate among qualified WRs in his rookie year. To make matter worse, he had three drops on eight catchable passes that travelled more than 20 yards downfield. For those of you who suck at math, that’s a 37.5% drop rate. Yikes. Oh, and none of them went for touchdowns. 2017 saw much better numbers. He missed the first three games while returning from a preseason shoulder injury. When he returned, he scored 7 TDs in 4 games. On 13 catches. Yes, that stat is worth repeating because it shouldn’t be sustainable going forward. He once again had only five catches on balls thrown 20 yards or more downfield, but dropped only one. And four of those catches went for touchdowns. That’s what Fuller is capable of. Watson can hammer 100 receptions to Hopkins all season, and Fuller can catch his 45-60 passes for 10 TDs. It shouldn’t happen, but do you want to be the one to bet against Watson? Because I won’t. Fuller should find himself in the WR2 conversation with a healthy Watson throwing him the football.
Behind these two, we have a who’s who of young bucks. Braxton Miller is still around, trying to learn how to be a wide receiver; Bruce Ellington couldn’t make it in San Francisco and produced only 330 yards and 2 TDs a season ago; Sammie Coates has been jettisoned by both the Steelers and the Browns; and then there’s rookie Keke Coutee. I think it’s safe to say Hopkins and Fuller have no worries about playing time, am I right?
This group of tight ends is simply uninspiring. With C.J. Fiedorowicz missing most of last year following a concussion and being forced to retire as a result, the Texans are in no man’s land at the position. They have a couple of backups in Ryan Griffin (TE53) and Stephen Anderson (TE32), both of whom shouldn’t sniff your fantasy lineups. To muddle the situation even more, the Texans spent two draft picks at the position, selecting Jordan Akins (UCF) and Jordan Thomas (Mississippi St). Thomas is a project, someone who may even switch off TE and play something like DE (he’s 6’8” 280 and runs a 4.74 40). Akins has the speed to separate at the line and stretch the middle of the field, ranking 3rd among incoming TEs in receptions over 20 yards. In his Junior and Senior seasons, he averaged over 15 yards a reception. Watson had Jordan Leggett at Clemson, now he’ll have Akins in Houston. In 12-team leagues and under, I’m not drafting a Texans TE. But in Dynasty leagues, I’m looking to stash Akins as someone with serious potential as he grows in the offense.
Rookie to Watch
Justin Reid is a very underappreciated talent. He can be a ball-hawking cover man and can play in the box like a linebacker. Reid also is paired up with the infamous Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. So while teams focus on Mathieu, Reid will quietly take away options and help improve the Texans secondary. – Chris Tyler
D’Onta Foreman had his rookie season derailed by an Achilles injury that forced him to leave Houston’s matchup against Arizona. Don’t let that scare you off from taking him as a late round RB this year. He averaged 4.2 YPC last season and caught 75% of his targets. Foreman is number two on the depth chart behind Lamar Miller, who is coming off of an underwhelming season. Look for Foreman to take a bulk of the goal line carries and be more of a viable fantasy option in 2018. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
Everyone in the AFC South seems to be getting better while Houston went backwards. Jacksonville has built a power house defense and was one quarter away from a Super Bowl berth; the Titans brought in a new coach and offensive coordinator to unleash the potential in QB Marcus Mariota; and Indianapolis brought in a new coach as well, Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator Frank Reich, to get the team on track with a hopefully healthy Andrew Luck. Houston finally has their QB, one himself coming back from an injury, but still with much work to do. Their offensive line was ranked as the worst in football last season by Pro Football Focus. Their defense was mediocre after the losses of A.J. Bouye to the Jags and the injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. I would leave the Houston D/ST on waivers until I know Watt is healthy. He and Jadeveon Clowney can vault this unit into the top 10 by themselves. Watson should be a top 5 option at QB. Hopkins should be a top 3 option at WR. Fuller will have every opportunity to put up WR2 numbers (if not better) if he can sustain his TD rate from his brief time with Watson. Miller and Foreman should be nothing more than FLEX options who have stretches in the RB2 range. And if history tells us anything, no Texans TE will help you in 2018. Here are some interesting stats I found while doing research:
- Lamar Miller had three weeks where he was a top 10 RB. In Week 11, both he and Foreman were top 10 backs.
- From Week 4 through 8 when Will Fuller was WR3, he had only one week where he finished outside the top 11. From Weeks 9-16, he never finished higher than WR41.
- Deshaun Watson averaged 30.55 fantasy points a game in 2017. If you average that out over a full season, he would have scored 488.8 fantasy points (15 games). In the last three years, the next highest points total was Cam Newton’s 2015 campaign where he produced 426.36 points.
- The highest scoring Texans TE in 2015 finished as TE41 (Ryan Griffin). The highest scoring Texans TE in 2016 finished as TE17 (C.J. Fiedorowicz). The highest scoring Texans TE in 2017 finished as TE32 (Stephen Anderson).
|8||10/25 (Thurs)||vs MIA|
|10||** BYE WEEK **|
|12||11/26 (Mon)||vs TEN|
|15||12/15 (Sat)||@ NYJ|