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2012 Team Report: Houston Texans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Schaub
Backup(s): T.J. Yates, John Beck

Starting QB: The Texans have one of the most potent passing attacks in the league with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster leading the way. Houston has rarely had difficulty moving the ball when all of its starters are healthy. That said, each of the three players mentioned previously dealt with injuries in 2012, making it a minor miracle that the team was able to advance to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. After yet another injury filled season, Schaub is being treated with kid gloves as 2012 approaches. Schaub appeared in only 10 games but had a stellar 8.5 yards per attempt to go with 15 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Schaub's injuries are a valid concern as he has missed at least five games in three of his five seasons as the Texans' starting quarterback. When healthy, however, he is as good of a passer as there is in the league and plays in an offense ideally suited for his talents. Schaub will be 31 in 2012, so his age is not a concern nor is his ability. As long as he stays healthy, he should help the Texans passing game be one of the best in the league once again.

Backup QB: Matt Leinart lasted just one half as the Texans backup quarterback before getting injured. He signed with the Raiders in the offseason, leaving T.J. Yates as Houston's backup. Yates was respectable as a starter in place of Leinart, completing 61% of his passes for 7.1 yards per attempt. Yates' education as a starting quarterback continued in to the playoffs where he was substantially worse under center in games against Cincinnati and Baltimore. That said, as a first time rookie starter he showed the Texans enough in his performance that they appear to have no hesitation in entering 2012 with him as the primary backup to the oft-injured Schaub. Journeyman John Beck was signed to compete for the third quarterback position, which he has secured.

Running Backs

Starter: Arian Foster
Backup(s): Ben Tate, Justin Forsett
Fullback(s): James Casey, Derrell Smith

Starting RB: Arian Foster returned from early-season injury last season to be the most dominant running back in the NFL. The Texans earned their first playoff berth on the back of Foster's nearly 100-rush-yards-per-game average. Foster's ball-control issues continue to abound, however, as he had six fumbles in 13 games. That said, his production when he hangs on to the ball remains sensational. He averaged 142 total yards per game last season and appears to have improved as an outside runner in the Texans' zone-blocking scheme. Despite being a larger back with an upright running style, Foster avoids a great deal of contact and gets stronger as the game progresses. While he was spelled at times by Derrick Ward in 2010, Foster gave even more carries away to Ben Tate in 2011. Pessimists may point to Foster excelling when the Texans passing game was suffering, but history shows that both components of the offense can perform well without negatively impacting the other. Similarly, it appears that even with Tate carrying a large part of the workload (175 carries in 2011), Foster can perform at a high level even with fewer touches than players like Adrian Peterson and Maurice Jones-Drew. While Foster had fewer yards rushing per game and per attempt in 2011 as he had in 2010, his role and production as a receiver increased as he was utilized on more routes downfield instead of short screen passes. If Foster enters the season healthy, there is no reason to believe he won't be one of the most dominant running backs in football yet again this season. He will be the first player off the board in the vast majority of fantasy leagues.

Backup RBs: Ben Tate played as well as any backup running back in the league in 2011. His performance led to speculation that he might be traded when his value was highest. That was likely idle speculation as Tate will be the Texans primary backup running back again in 2012. His performance last season was stellar as he carried 175 times for 5.4 yards per attempt. While not the receiver that Foster is, but Tate is excellent at reading the Texans' zone-blocking scheme and seems to get stronger as the game wears on. After suffering a horrific ankle injury in 2010, Tate has emerged as the perfect complement to Foster. Tate and Foster should combine to be the league's most prolific rushing tandem again in 2012. The Texans also added free agent Justin Forsett to their Running Back corps in June. Forsett isn't expected to see a lot of playing time with both Foster and Tate ahead of him, but he is an exceptional pass-catching back who fits into Houston's rushing style. He is a reliable and durable running back option who can provide adequate production in the event of an injury to Foster or Tate.

Fullback: James Casey is more of an H-back or tight end than a traditional fullback. The Houston offense rarely utilizes a fullback, however, so the versatile Casey is a great fit for the Texans. They plan to use him "everywhere" according to head coach Gary Kubiak. Casey has the physical talent to excel in space. This increased role (and the loss of Joel Dreessen to Denver) means Casey will certainly see a massive uptick in production in 2012.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter
Backups: Lestar Jean, Keshawn Martin [R], DeVier Posey [R], Dwight Jones [R], Trindon Holliday

Starting WRs: Andre Johnson was injured for much of 2011 causing many fans to forget exactly how dominant he can be - he averaged nearly 15 yards per reception and was averaging seven catches per game when he and Matt Schaub were on the field together. Johnson had only 33 catches playing in all or part of only seven games and battled a hamstring injury for much of the year. He also recently had a "routine knee scope" to ease swelling. Johnson said he is "making sure everything is right" before he returns to the practice field. He claims the knee will not keep him out of training camp. With Johnson healthy in 2012, the Texans will have one of the most unstoppable receivers as part of their potent passing attack. Detractors will point to Johnson age (31) as evidence of his decline beginning. He has had very few injury concerns throughout his career, however, and should be able to perform at a high level for at least a few more seasons. At the moment, Kevin Walter is slated to start next to Johnson. Walter is a useful fourth option in the passing game behind Johnson, Adrian Foster, and tight end Owen Daniels. Walter excels in short to medium timing routes and has excellent feet at the sideline. The Texans let third receiver Jacoby Jones go, apparently leaving the second spot to Walter.

Backup WRs: The Texans are admittedly thin at receiver after Johnson and Walter. Lestar Jean was impressive in training camp as an undrafted free agent last season, but a preseason shoulder injury landed him on injured reserve. Jean has the speed, size, and play-making ability to be a big-play threat from the WR3 spot in this offense. Keyshawn Martin and Devier Posey were both drafted in the mid-rounds of the 2012 draft to help solve the Texans never-ending problem with wide receiver depth. Posey is a tall receiver that uses his body well while Martin is a smaller player more suited to the slot or fourth receiver position.

Tight Ends

Starters: Owen Daniels
Backups: James Casey, Garrett Graham

After an injury in 2009 that carried over in to his performance in 2010, Owen Daniels came back in a big way in 2011. He played in 15 games and caught 54 passes to help lead the Texans to their first playoff birth. With tight end Joel Dreessen leaving in free agency and the team's depth at receiver lacking, Daniels should be expected to catch an even greater number of balls in 2012. Detractors will point to the team's reliance on the running game near the goal line, which is a valid concern. That said, Daniels is on field in most goalline packages, and the return of Matt Schaub to the lineup should make for more short-range passing touchdowns. Prior to injury, Daniels was seen as one of the up-and-coming tight ends in the league. While he is not likely to ever post numbers like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, Daniels can certainly perform in the next tier below them. With Joel Dreessen leaving in free agency, the Texans addressed their hole at backup tight end in-house with James Casey. While Casey is listed as the team's starting fullback, he will be the team's backup tight end and see the field often in two-TE sets. Third-year player Garrett Graham has only one career reception and is better suited as an in-line blocker than receiver. Graham is stocky, strong player and his familiarity with the Texans offense should allow him to contribute some right away.

Place Kicker

Shayne Graham, Randy Bullock [IR] : Jonathan Weeks is definitely the long snapper, but the other two specialist roles are less certain. After he serves a three game suspension, holder/punter Brett Hartman, who missed the end of 2011 with a knee injury, will compete with free agent acquisition Donnie Jones. At kicker, the Texans didn't show Neil Rackers the money and he went to Washington. The likely replacement was initially Groza Award winning Randy Bullock, whom the Texans made the first kicker selected in this year's draft. They subsequently signed competition in veteran Shayne Graham, who looked good in camp and won the job by default when Bullock landed on IR with a torn groin. The Texans have ranked 5th, 13th, 6th, and 13th in attempted kicking points the last four years.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Danieal Manning, Sherrick McManis, Quintin Demps, Keshawn Martin [R]

A mixture of players is possible at kick returner, with free safety Danieal Manning the most talented of the bunch. Cornerback Sherrick McManis had a poor season in 2011, while free safety Quintin Demps showed flashes and may land the backup position this year if he can make the team.

Punt Returners: Keshawn Martin [R], Shiloh Keo, Trindon Holiday

The Texans have a void to fill at punt returner after releasing wide receiver Jacoby Jones who had handled over 90 percent of the teams punt returns the last three years. wide receiver Trindon Holiday is undersized and landing the punt return role may be his last chance to make the team. The odds on favorite though will be fourth round draft pick wide receiver Keshawn Martin, who has more potential to contribute as a slot receiver in addition to special teams play.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Antoine Caldwell, RT Derek Newton
Key Backups: T Ryan Harris, G Brandon Brooks, C Ben Jones

PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Duane Brown is an accomplished pass protector and was named an All Pro in 2011. Brown is the cornerstone of the Texans line and has started every game at the left tackle position since he was drafted. Another highlight of the Texans line is center Chris Myers, who made the Pro Bowl in 2011. Myers is a versatile player and has experience starting at guard. This experience could be tapped as current left guard Wade Smith is a replacement level starter at best. The Texans drafted Georgia center Ben Jones in the fourth round, and it's a possibility that Jones could snap while Myers moves over to left guard. Antoine Caldwell also has center experience but currently is slated to start at right guard. Caldwell also could be challenged by a rookie, specifically third-round pick Brandon Brooks from Miami of Ohio. Brooks is a rare athlete, running a 5.0-second 40-yard dash at almost 350 pounds. Brooks also factors into the conversation at left guard and possibly right tackle in the future. Right tackle Rashad Butler actually replaced Eric Winston when they both were at Miami, and Butler will be asked to do it again with Houston. Butler should be fine at the position, but he's probably a downgrade from Winston. Derek Newton is an interesting swing tackle with athletic upside. Line coach John Benton emphasizes pass blocking and has taught his charges well in the time he has been with Houston. Overall, this line is a solid unit but faces questions with cohesion. It's not immediately clear how exactly the draft picks fit in, but the Texans will start the best five players they have, regardless of position.

Team Defense

It's time to realize that the Texans Def/ST is one of the top units on the board. Yes, they lost free agent Mario Williams to the Bills, but they added OLB Whitney Mercilus and DE Jared Crick via the draft. Both are capable of providing a boost to an already dominant front seven. Crick was an absolute steal in the late fourth round and Mercilus was selected to provide depth to a very strong group of edge rushers in the Texans base 3-4 defense. Don't forget, Mario Williams only played five games last year, before a torn pectoral ended his season. Without their main pass rushing weapon, Houston combined for 44 sacks and 27 takeaways. Rising stars Connor Barwin and JJ Watt were monumental in the team's defensive success that allowed only 8 rushing TDs and 18 passing TDs - both among the league's best. The two rookie additions to the line will strengthen an already good defense, plus their special teams gets a lift from rookie WR Keshawn Martin, who will definitely return punts and possibly kickoffs. It's possible people may not realize the strength of this defense/ST unit, but they are capable of putting up a Top 5 ranking at the end of the season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Antonio Smith, DE J.J. Watt, NT Shaun Cody
Backups: DE/DT Jared Crick [R], DE Tim Jamison, DT Earl Mitchell

Starting DL: The Texans defensive line will revolve around veteran DE Antonio Smith. Smith made his first Pro Bowl appearance last year and his six sacks were the most he had since 2007. While his 19-5 tackles are not overly impressive numbers, his overall play within the team's 3-4 defense was outstanding. his fantasy value, though, is minimal at best. Across from Smith is second year player J.J. Watt. Watt was the 11th overall player in last year's draft, and played like one. He had 49-7 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He even added four passes defended. His numbers were all the more impressive considering he's in a 3-4 DE and just turned 23 years old. We're not sure how much better Watts numbers might be in his second season, but he should be strongly considered as a DE2. NT Shaun Cody returns for his fourth year as a Texan. With only 16-7 tackles and one sack, he is unlikely to register much of a blip in fantasy circles but he remains a solid player.

Backup DL: Fourth-round draft pick Jared Crick has plenty of talent, but a torn pectoral muscle caused to miss his last seven games in college. He'll back up Smith and Watt at DE, and maybe move inside on passing downs. He deserves some long term consideration. Houston's top back-up at defensive end is Tim Jamison. Entering his fourth year, Jamison had 14-5 tackles, a pair of sacks, one forced fumble, and one recovered fumble. While not exactly an up and comer, Jamison at least provides some support. At DT, Earl Mitchell rotated behind Shaun Cody and had 14-13 tackles and a sack. Mitchell will continue to play a large and valuable role on the line in 2012.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Brian Cushing, ILB Bradie James, OLB Connor Barwin, OLB Brooks Reed
Backups: OLB Whitney Mercilus, ILB Darryl Sharpton, ILB Mister Alexander, OLB Bryan Braman, OLB Jesse Nading, ILB Tim Dobbins

Starting LBs: Losing Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans will hurt, no doubt about that, but that does not mean the Texans will not look at this position as a strength for team. ILB Brian Cushing made a seamless transition to the inside spot in the 3-4, and finished the year with 76-38 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. He was voted the team's MVP. At 25 years old, Cushing is still improving and should be considered a solid LB2 in fantasy circles. Stepping into the role previously occupied by DeMeco Ryans will likely be new acquisition Bradie James. The 31 year old James played his previous nine seasons with Dallas and his veteran play and leadership helps the team. he has the potential to be a low end LB3 or higher LB4. OLB Connor Barwin came on strong after Williams went down. Barwin is a converted DE who stepped into the weakside role in week 7. During the second half of the season, Barwin had 9.5 sacks (11.5 overall) and constantly applied pressure to opposing QBs. In a full season on the weakside, Barwin should be a strong candidate for an LB2. The Texans used their second round pick in last year's draft on OLB Brooks Reed. Reed, out of Arizona, entered the starting lineup after Williams got hurt and immediately had six sacks in the team's next five games. Reed finished the year with 31-14 tackles to go with his six sacks and will play an integral role in how the team plays without Williams and Ryans for a full season.

Backup LBs: OLB Whitney Mercilus was the team's first round draft pick and basically drafted to replace Mario Williams long term. While he could have an immediate impact, his first role will be in support of Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. He's very raw with only one year of college experience, but he has tremendous upside and will certainly play in passing situations. Daryl Sharpton, a 2010 fourth round draft pick out of Miami (Fla), split reps with Ryans in the first half of 2011 before suffering a season-ending quadriceps injury. With only 12-0 tackles in eight games, though, he does not represent much value and will support Bradie James. None of the other back-ups, ILB Mister Alexander (great name), OLB Bryan Braman, ILB Tim Dobbins and Jesse Nading saw any significant action in 2011. They will need to step up in 2012.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Johnathan Joseph , S Daniel Manning, CB Kareem Jackson, S Glover Quin
Backups: CB Brice McCain, S Troy Nolan, CB Brandon Harris, CB Sherrick McMannis, S Alan Ball

Starting DBs: Johnathan Joseph is a shut down corner. At 28 years old and entering his eighth year in the league, the Pro Bowl corner remains a stalwart in the Houston secondary. As a shut down corner, opposing teams won't throw at him much, thereby lessening his fantasy impact, but Joseph still had 40-4 tackles and four interceptions. The fact that he'll be the starter as long as he's healthy makes him a consideration as a CB3 with decent upside. The other corner is Kareem Jackson. Jackson rotated in 2011 with Jason Allen, but Allen is gone and the job is Jackson's now. The former first round pick hasn't quite lived up to expectations yet, but the team is hopeful he steps up in his third year in the league. He had 37-5 tackles and an interception last year. Daniel Manning will be the free safety again this year. Manning came over from the Bears last season and played well, finishing with 44-15 tackles. He's not a starting safety for your fantasy team, but he completes a roster. The strong safety will be Glover Quin. Quin was converted from a cornerback and had a solid, if unspectacular season at his new position. The three year veteran had 59-18 tackles and a year at the position can only help. He might have some legitimate upside in IDP leagues.

Backup DBs: Safety Troy Nolan provides adequate support. He also has some upside. In 14 games last year, the 25 year old had 29-6 tackles and a sack. He started a few games last year and is capable of succeeding in a longer stint as a starter if necessary. CB Brice McCain made dramatic improvement in his third year and could have the lead on the nickel spot. McCain should face competition from last year's second round draft pick CB Brandon Harris. CB Sherrick McManis was limited last year by injuries but hopes to make an impact this year.

Last modified: 2012-09-03 12:03:53

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