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2011 Team Report: Houston Texans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Schaub
Backup(s): Matt Leinart, T.J. Yates [R]

Starting QB: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub lead the NFL in passing yards two years ago, in part due to the lack of a running game that necessitated throwing the ball. Despite the emergence of league-leading running back Arian Foster in 2010, Schaub still finished fourth in passing. The team, however, again failed to make the playoffs due to a historically bad pass defense. Entering this season, Schaub has back all of his main weapons from last year, including Owen Daniels who is now two years removed from a season ending injury. With improvements in the secondary and the addition of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the offense may see more time of possession, making Schaub is a good bet to be amongst the league leaders again.

Backup QB: Matt Leinart re-signed with Houston, providing a backup quarterback with game time experience and a year of exposure to head coach Gary Kubiak�s system. The former USC standout still has much to prove in the NFL, however, and Houston will see a drop off if they have to call on the less-accurate Leinart. Rookie T.J. Yates is a project who is competing for an active roster spot, but may find himself on the practice squad this year.

Running Backs

Starter: Arian Foster
Backup(s): Derrick Ward, Steve Slaton, Ben Tate, Chris Ogbonnaya
Fullback(s): James Casey, Lawrence Vickers

Starting RB: Arian Foster entered camp last year as the starting running back after two solid games to end the previous season. The former undrafted free agent started with a 231 yard rushing performance against the Colts and never looked back. Foster led all running backs in both rushing and receiving yards, totaling 2220 yards from scrimmage and 18 total touchdowns. The one cut and go system employed by the Texans is a perfect fit for Foster, who possesses uncommon vision. Though Foster was effective in both one- and two-back sets, he may feel the loss of All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to free agency. One thing is sure, Arian Foster will be called on again to be a workhorse, three down running back.

Backup RBs: In one season, Houston went from being a team with a glaring need at running back, to the position being one of the deepest on the team. Derrick Ward was picked up by Houston at the start of 2010 after being cut from the Buccaneers. Ward cemented the backup job after an 11 carry, 78 yard effort against Oakland in week 4, relegating Steve Slaton to kickoff returns for the rest of the season. Though Slaton starts training camp third on the depth chart, many believe the Texans will attempt to trade him and that former second round pick Ben Tate is Ward�s true competition. At 5�11�, 220 lbs., Tate is a fast, physical runner who is a good fit for the Texans running game. Ben Ogbonnaya likely needs the trade or release of Slaton and contribution on special teams to make the team.

Fullback: The departure of All-Pro FB Vonta Leach opens the door for James Casey. The third year pro is more of a running and receiving threat than Leach was, but doesn�t deliver the punishing blocks Leach was renowned for. The recent signing of Lawrence Vickers will provide competition at the position. Vickers, who blocked for Peyton Hillis in Cleveland, fits the prototypical run-blocker mold.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones
Backups: Dorin Dickerson, Terrence Toliver [R]

Starting WRs: Andre Johnson again laid his claim to the title of best receiver in the NFL by pulling in 86 receptions for 1216 yards and 8 touchdowns in only 13 games. Johnson has a rare mix of size and speed that make him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Matt Schaub�s favorite target should be in store for another big year. Johnson is complimented by the duo of Kevin Walter and recently re-signed Jacoby Jones. Walter is a sure-handed receiver with excellent run blocking skills. Jones flashes talent and physical ability, but lapses of concentration on the field and immaturity off the field have held back his development. The fifth year receiver needs to reduce his number of drops if he hopes to become one of Schaub�s preferred targets.

Backup WRs: The Texans released David Anderson, which can be seen as an endorsement of second year converted tight end Dorin Dickerson as well as undrafted LSU standout Terrence Toliver. Dickerson didn�t record a catch last year, but figures to see the field in four WR sets. Toliver is the best bet to make the team as a fifth WR though he has competition. His 6�5� frame could make him a red zone target for a team that ranked third in yards but only ninth in points.

Tight Ends

Starters: Owen Daniels
Backups: Joel Dreessen, Garrett Graham, Anthony Hill

Last year Owen Daniels may have returned too soon from the torn ACL he suffered against Buffalo in 2009. He played in 11 games but only recorded 38 receptions. Fully healed now, Daniels should regain his old form and retake his place as the number two target in Houston. Joel Dreessen showed he is a dependable target, though he never developed the same level of chemistry that QB Matt Schaub shows with Daniels. Together, they should make two-tight end sets a strength for the Texans in 2011.

Place Kicker

Neil Rackers : Veteran punter Matt Turk is gone via free agency to the Jaguars. Competing to fill that role are veteran fee agent Brad Maynard from the Bears and undrafted rookie Brett Hartman from Central Michigan. Whoever wins the job will work as the holder with kicker Neil Rackers and long snapper Jon Weeks. Rackers is working on welcoming the newcomers with food as he had been taught by Doug Pelfrey, "Doug took me out to eat a lot. We did things together. He was a stellar guy, just phenomenal. If you make someone feel comfortable, it will be easier for him to do his job, so that's what I'm trying to do." The Texans have ranked 13th, 6th, and 13th in attempted kicking points the last three years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Danieal Manning, Trindon Holliday, Derrick Townsel, Quintin Demps

Punt Returners: Jacoby Jones, Trindon Holliday, Derrick Townsel

WR Trindon Holliday will again try to make the final roster as a return specialist. It didn�t work out last year when he landed on IR during the preseason. This year he�s dealing with a hamstring injury. If he doesn�t make it this year, a strong tandem will step in. Kickoff returns would be handled by FA acquisition safety Danieal Manning, who was good enough to return kickoffs ahead of Devin Hester for the Bears. Punt returns would again be handled by WR Jacoby Jones. WR Derrick Townsel is listed third on the depth chart for both kickoffs and punts and is competing for the final WR spot on the roster. Safety Quintin Demps had several kickoff returns in the preseason opener.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Mike Briesel, RT Eric Winston
Key Backups: Rashad Butler, Shelley Smith, Antoine Caldwell

Team Defense

The Texans were dead last against defending the pass last season as they surrendered by than 267 yards passing per game and an average of more than 2 touchdowns per game. Two solid, veteran off-season acquisitions, Danieal Manning and Jonathan Joseph, should ensure that the Texans don't give up those type of atrocious stats again this season. Perhaps in their biggest off-season move, the Texans brought in a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips. For his failures as a head coach, Williams is still one of the best defensive coordinators in the league and will bring his 3-4, one gap style of defense to Houston. Rookie J.J. Watt will help anchor the new look defensive line. However, the Texans lack serious depth at this position and the line is likely to wear down over the course of the season leading to problems for the linebacking crew playing behind them. The Texans were in the bottom ten for sacks generated as a team last season. Phillips will look to utilize speed over strength from the outside linebackers in an attempt to better reach the quarterback. Mario Williams, Connor Barwin, and Brooks Reed are good fits for a 3-4 and, depending how quickly they adapt, should provide a significant improvement in the pass rush. The Texans have two solid inside linebackers in DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing. Both were banged up last year, but seem to be recovering well. Houston will look to funnel the ballcarrier towards Ryan the majority of plays. Cushing has put on 10 pounds over the off-season as he will likely slide to SOLB in 3rd-down passing situations. All in all, the Texans team defense will be improved this year. However, they are still too young and inexperienced in this new system to draft in fantasy leagues.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt [R], NT Shaun Cody, DE Antonio Smith
Backups: NT Earl Mitchell, DE Tim Jamison, DE Damione Lewis

Starting DL: The Texans selected J.J. Watt in the 1st round of this years draft as he fit well into their newly installed 3-4, one gap scheme. Defensive linemen don't typically hold much value at all in this type of defensive system and that's likely to be the case in this specific situation. It's fairly safe to ignore these linemen for fantasy purposes.

Backup DL: Wade Phillips' system relies on depth of the defensive line position, something that the Texans are lacking. There's no fantasy value at all among these backup defensive linemen.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB DeMeco Ryans, ILB Brian Cushing, OLB Mario Williams, OLB Connor Barwin
Backups: OLB Brooks Reed [R], ILB Darryl Sharpton, ILB Tim Dobbins, ILB Xavier Adibi, OLB Stanford Keglar, OLB Jesse Nading, OLB Cheta Ozougwu [R], OLB Bryan Braman

Starting LBs: DeMeco Ryans will man the weak inside linebacker position in the Texans' new 3-4 defensive scheme. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a good track record of making IDP studs out of WILBs in his system (e.g. Donnie Edwards, Keith Brooking). Ryans still seems to be bothered by his ankle injury and has slipped a bit in some fantasy drafts as a result. He still has top 10 potential if he can start playing more aggressively, however. Brian Cushing gets a bump down the rankings as he is no longer the main playmaker he was in Houston's previous 4-3 under base defense. SILB is not typically the most productive linebacker position, however players in certain situations who possess the necessary skills have had good value. Cushing should be drafted as an LB2/LB3+. Mario Williams is the latest in the string of fantasy defensive linemen casualties. In almost all league management systems, Williams will no longer be classified as a defensive lineman and owners will have to roster him as a linebacker. His value will take an obvious hit with this position change. Williams has some experience from a three-point stance, but will need time to adjust to his new position. For this season, Williams should warrant LB3+ consideration in big-play/sack heavy leagues, and LB5 consideration in balanced leagues. Connor Barwin, a converted college tight end, will man the SOLB position for Houston this year. Barwin has the raw athleticism and strength needed to be an impactful edge rusher. However, he is going to have to refine his technique a bit before making that leap. Injuries have set his progress back and his probably won't start hitting his stride until next season assuming he can hold off rookie Brooks Reed.

Backup LBs: Brooks Reed was a solid pick for the Texans in this years draft as he figures to be a good fit for their 3-4 system. Reed had an incredible 10-yard split in his 40, falling a few hundredths of a second short of Clay Matthews. He will start out playing behind Connor Barwin, but keep a close eye on Reed in dynasty leagues as he could find himself in the starting lineup sooner rather than later knowing Barwin's injury history. Phillips' has done a good job in grooming young rush linebackers and Reed will definitely benefit playing opposite star Mario Williams. On the inside, Daryl Sharpton will get first crack at playing time if Cushing or Ryans goes down with an injury. Tim Dobbins played for Wade Phillips as rookie in San Diego and is an excellent run defender. With this said, he has a good chance to climb up the linebacker ranks quickly.

Defensive Backs

Starters: Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Danieal Manning, Glover Quin,
Backups: Troy Nolan, Jason Allen, Quintin Demps, Dominique Barber, Shilo Keo [R], Torri Williams, Brice McCain, Brandon Harris [R], Rashad Carmichael [R], Sherrick McManis, Antwaun Molden

Starting DBs: The Texans received a quality, shutdown cornerback when they signed former Bengal Jonathan Joseph this off-season. The problem with being a shutdown corner is teams rarely throw at you. This means less point scoring opportunities, which is bad for fantasy purposes. For this reason, Joseph is best left on the waiver wire. Kareem Jackson struggled a bit last year in his rookie season and needs to improve his technique in order to be a contributor on defense. For right now, he doesn't hold much fantasy value. Danieal Manning finished No. 5 overall in Pro Football Focus' 2010 cover safety rankings, and he plays the run well also. He'll start at free safety for the Texans and provide a much needed boost to their secondary. Teams are likely to throw on the Texans a ton this season and Manning could consequently receiving an above average amount of tackle opportunity making him a decent DB3 option. Glover Quin is currently penciled in as the starting strong safety. Bernard Pollard put up monster numbers at this position in his time in Houston. However, this is a different scheme and Quin is a different type of player. It's best to watch this situation closely in Houston's preseason games to get a good feel free how Quin (a converted cornerback) is being utilized.

Backup DBs: Jason Allen is one of the taller corners in the league at 6'1" and, being a converted safety, is a solid run defender. If Kareem Jackson struggles or sustains an injury, Allen could be a good waiver wire selection in CB-required leagues as he has shown flashes of good tackle production. Additionally, opposing offenses will throw his way often in an attempt to avoid Jonathan Joseph's side of the field. 7th round pick Troy Nolan has decent ball skills and isn't half-bad in coverage either. He will likely start the season behind Glover Quin, but is a dark horse candidate to takeover the starting strong safety position eventually. It might not be a bad idea to stash Nolan somewhere on your roster if you play in a deep, deep dynasty league.

Last modified: 2011-09-01 15:18:08

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