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2016 Team Report: Houston Texans

Quarterbacks

Starter: Brock Osweiler
Backup(s): Brandon Weeden, Tom Savage

Starting QB: The Texans signed free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler to a four-year contract in the offseason. Osweiler occupied the backup role in Denver behind Peyton Manning for three years until he finally was given the opportunity to start in Week 10 last season. In eight games for Denver in 2015, Osweiler averaged 245 yards passing with 1.2 touchdown passes and 0.7 interceptions per game. The Texans handpicked Osweiler to replace their committee approach of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. The 6'7" quarterback started only one year at Arizona State and has just eight games started at the pro level under his belt. The Texans however feel his strong arm, quick release and surprising mobility for his size warrants an investment for their offense that finished 18th in the league in 2015. Osweiler inherits a strong receiving corps led by standout wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins as well as a running game that will feature newly signed running back Lamar Miller. The Texans are optimistic that Osweiler, who learned the pro game under Peyton Manning, will play a key role in the success of their offense this year.

Backup QB: Brandon Weeden is currently slated to be Texans backup quarterback, despite having a 1-11 record as a starter in his last 12 starts split between Cleveland, Dallas and recently Houston. On the bright side, Weeden is 1-1 as a starter for Houston averaging a quarterback rating of 105.5 in those two starts with 3 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions. Tom Savage is entering his third year in the league and occupies the third string role for Houston. Outside of two minimal appearances in 2014, Savage has little experience at the pro level.

Running Backs

Starter: Lamar Miller
Backup(s): Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Tyler Ervin [R], Akeem Hunt, Kenny Hilliard
Fullback(s): Jay Prosch

Starting RB: Houston let go of their long time running back Arian Foster in the offseason and have replaced him with Lamar Miller, who will be entering his fifth year in the league. Miller is expected to take over Foster's role, not just as a rusher, but also as a receiver out of the backfield. The Texans finished in the bottom two in receptions to tight ends in each of the last two years. One of the reasons for this was the versatility of Arian Foster as a receiving back. Miller is expected to maintain that same role. Despite being underutilized in Miami, Miller ranked in the Top 10 among fantasy running backs in each of the last two years. His 38 and 47 receptions in 2014 and 2015 were a big reason for his Top 10 finish. Miller scored 19 touchdowns in those two years and finds himself in a great position to be the team's featured back, which could mean similar if not greater numbers in 2016.

Backup RBs: Lamar Miller is expected to handle the majority of the Texans carries in 2016, however Veterans Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes will play a role in the offense with specific skill sets that compliment Miller's overall game. Blue is more of a short-yardage specialist who also has proven that he can fill in when required and give the team over 20 carries when needed. Miller has been active for every game in the last three years, but if he is forced to miss time, Blue would take over and potentially be a decent fantasy spot starter. Blue totaled three 100-yard rushing games last season, including two in the last three games in Houston's quest for a playoff berth. He is capable of carrying the loan when called upon and can provide valuable fantasy insurance if and when his number is called. Jonathan Grimes will occupy the team's change of pace role and can be a fantasy asset especially in PPR leagues as evidenced by his 26 receptions last season in limited duty. Fourth-round pick Tyler Ervin is a sudden, dynamic player in space and the Texans should find a way to use him as a receiver out of the backfield right away. He could be an interesting upside play if Lamar Miller goes down and the Texans have to turn to an RBBC to fill the hole.

Fullback: Jay Prosch is the team's fullback. He's used mostly as a blocking back and rarely gets any carries (6 last season). He is not considered to be a strong option as a receiver out of the backfield and has zero fantasy value. The Texans had no receptions to the fullback position, which includes Prosch in 2015.

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong
Backups: Will Fuller [R], Cecil Shorts, Braxton Miller [R], Keith Mumphery, Wendall Williams

Starting WRs: The Texans receiving corps is led by All Pro DeAndre Hopkins who will be entering his fourth year as a pro. Hopkins is one of the top wide receivers in the league and is worthy of WR1 fantasy recognition. The standout receiver from Clemson had 111 receptions on 192 targets in 2015 (third in the league in both categories) with 11 touchdowns. He accounted for 46% of all targets to wide receivers and 31% of all passes attempted. Veteran Cecil Shorts was recently replaced in the lineup by second year pro Jaelen Strong. Last year's rookie campaign displayed periods of promise for Strong. He had three touchdowns to go along with 14 receptions in a quiet, but revealing rookie season. On the negative side, Strong did have a marijuana arrest this offseason that could result in a suspension. Hopkins is the showstopper, but the continued development of Strong, the presence of newcomer Will Fuller, plus the veteran play of Cecil Shorts give the Texans a good blend of talent, experience and youth.

Backup WRs: The Texans have adequate depth in their receiving corps and are expecting big things from their first round draft pick from Notre Dame, Will Fuller. Fuller was drafted to be groomed into the starting receiver opposite DeAndre Hopkins. He has excellent top end speed and figures to make a splash in year one as a deep threat for quarterback Brock Osweiler. Houston is hoping that his overall game will evolve and develop giving the Texans a dual threat at receiver for years to come. Cecil Shorts played a complimentary role in 2015 that saw him reach double-digit targets three times with two touchdowns. Health has been a concern in the past, which has diminished his role in the offense. His veteran experience and leadership will make it hard for Houston to keep him off the field in key moments, but the Texans have a made an effort to bring in young talent via the draft with intentions of moving up the depth chart. Luxury rookie draft pick, Braxton Miller, the former quarterback from Ohio State, was drafted as a wide receiver who could potentially provide a versatile weapon to the Texans offense. Some envision Miller as a "slash" role similar to what Kordell Stewart brought the Steelers in the 90's. Gimmick plays and players who succeed in them are difficult to predict, but Houston has a versatile, multi-dimensional talent in Miller who is capable of being more than just a wide receiver option.

Tight Ends

Starters: Ryan Griffin
Backups: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Anthony Denham, Eric Tomlinson, Stephen Anderson [R]

Since the Bill O'Brien era began in 2014, the Texans have had the fewest or second fewest receptions by a tight end in each of the last two years. Targets have been dominated by DeAndre Hopkins and short-ranged passes have mostly gone to running backs, namely Arian Foster, Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk. The tight end position has fallen victim to other areas or simply occupied by a corps of running backs with receiving skills. Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz are the team's 1a and 1b tight end options. The fantasy value of each is diminished due to the presence of the other player. The position as a whole collected 41 receptions and 4 touchdowns in 2015. The collective sum of the parts is barely a fantasy option. Until Bill O'Brien decides to orchestrate his offense any differently, the individual tight ends have minimal fantasy appeal. One player to watch to break this trend long-term is UDFA Stephen Anderson, a "move TE" type who was one of Jared Goff's favorite targets at Cal.

Place Kicker

Nick Novak, Ka'imi Fairbairn [R]: Novak became the starter last year during the season after the Texans tired of Randy Bullock's misses. He went 18-for-21 and did not miss a field goal attempt under 50 yards. The problem with Novak from a fantasy perspective was that those 21 attempts in 13 games represent a paltry scoring opportunity. Houston did give Bullock 35 attempts in each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, so there could be a slight bounceback in 2016. Ka'imi Fairbairn was brought in as an undrafted free agent to push Novak, but his leg strength and accuracy are marginal by NFL standards.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Tyler Ervin, Wendall Williams, Keith Mumphery

In 2015, rookie 5th-round pick Keith Mumphery emerged as Houston's primary return specialist. With a year under his belt in 2016, he looks to reprise his role, but early returns suggest he has fallen behind Tyler Ervin and Wendall Williams for the job.

Punt Returners: Tyler Ervin, Wendall Williams, Keith Mumphery

In 2015, rookie 5th-round pick Keith Mumphery emerged as Houston's primary return specialist. With a year under his belt in 2016, he looks to reprise his role, but early returns suggest he has fallen behind Tyler Ervin and Wendall Williams for the job.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su'a-Filo, C Nick Martin [R], RG Jeff Allen, RT Derek Newton
Key Backups: Tony Bergstrom, Oday Aboushi, Jeff Adams

The Texans offensive line have very good steady tackles but are experiencing significant turn over at the interior positions. Left tackle Duane Brown and right tackle Derek Newton provide solid, sometimes excellent production as bookends. Brown is coming back from a serious torn quad tendon injury, so his recovery is worth tracking. The Texans traded up into the second round for their projected starting center, Nick Martin from Notre Dame. The younger brother of Dallas Cowboys' All-Pro Zack, Nick Martin is expected to replace Ben Jones, who departed via free agency. The team signed Jeff Allen from the Chiefs to start in place of Brandon Brooks. While Allen is a good player, that is a slight downgrade from Brooks, who was excellent. At left guard, the team will have an open competition between former second round draft pick Xavier Su'a-Filo, last year's fill-in Oday Aboushi, and former undrafted tackle from Columbia, Jeff Adams. Adams actually won the job last season but ended up on injured reserve before October. Aboushi has experience but the team wants the more athletic Su'a-Filo to win the job. Su'a-Filo has had trouble hanging on to this job, despite being given multiple chances. Backup center Tony Bergstrom could also factor into this conversation, if neither of the youth options can be trusted. Overall, the Texans can be a good offensive line, if they find stability inside. Tier Ranking: Mid Tier.

Team Defense

The Texans have JJ Watt, and in 2014, that was almost enough on its own to fuel them to a top three finish in D/ST scoring. Houston was still fifth in sacks and third in total yards allowed, but middle of the road results in takeaways kept them around D/ST15 at the end of the season in most scoring systems. It ends up that Watt was playing with five torn muscles, so his offseason hernia/groin surgery to repair those injuries should raise his level of play. If 2014 and 2015 first-round picks DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney and CB Kevin Johnson can hit their stride in 2016 and new QB Brock Osweiler is better than Brian Hoyer, the Texans can return to the top tier of D/ST ranks. The Texans have been going in the top 5-7 D/ST in early drafts, and they have the personnel to deliver on that ADP.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, DE Christian Covington, NT Vince Wilfork
Backups: DE Devon Still, DE Brandon Dunn, DE Gerald Rivers, DE Dan Pettinato, NT DJ Reeder[R]

Starting DL: Though his numbers came just short of his 2014 campaign, J.J. Watt remained the top defensive lineman in football in 2015. He took home his third Defensive Player of the Year honor after notching 17.5 sacks and 56 solo tackles. Watt recently underwent back surgery that will sideline him 10 or more weeks, which puts his availability to start the season into question. Players who have had the procedure that Watt had have taken some time to regain their peak form when returning to the field. Vince Wilfork returns to anchor the middle for his second (and what looks to be his final) season with the team. Wilfork is set to become a free agent in 2017. Jared Crick departed in free agency to play for the Broncos, leaving the starting spot opposite of Watt wide open for competition. Either Christian Covington or Jeoffrey Pagan would be the likely choice to fill that void, but Devon Still and Brandon Dunn might figure into the training camp/preseason position battle and rotation on game day. The team may also explore signing a veteran to start or provide depth to the overall unit.

Backup DL: The backup unit is somewhat weakened due to departures and is being addressed only minimally in the Draft. The oft-injured Louis Nix III moved on to the Giants. In January the Texans added former Bengals second-round pick Devon Still, who seems to be refocused on football after his daughter's successful cancer treatment. Clemson's DJ Reeder was selected by the Texans in the fifth round. He will benefit from the tutelage of Wilfork and be groomed to become his possible replacement. Dunn, Rivers, and Pettinato remain developmental options.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Brian Cushing, ILB Benardrick McKinney,OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Jadeveon Clowney
Backups: ILB Akeem Dent, ILB Brian Peters, OLB John Simon, OLB Carlos Thompson, OLB Tony Washington

Starting LBs: The starting unit remains almost completely intact, with only Justin Tuggle leaving in free agency to play for the Browns. Brian Cushing bucked a trend, finally staying healthy for a full sixteen games, and remains the lynchpin of this defense. Having shown very well as a rookie last year, Benardrick McKinney will start at one of the inside linebacker spots. He started 11 contests last year and tallied 58 total tackles. Jadeveon Clowney ended last year with another injury and disappointing sack production, but did play well against the run. The former first-round pick will be locked in to start at the weak side linebacker spot. After being paid big money last year, Whitney Mercilus responded by posting his first double-digit sack season and was able to provide ample pressure to opposing quarterbacks.

Backup LBs: Although Akeem Dent saw little playing time last year, the former Falcon remains a solid depth linebacker for the Texans. Brian Peters was picked up from the Vikings practice squad in September 2015 and played an impactful role for the Texans on special teams. John Simon signed his restricted free agent tender and remained with the team. He appeared rotationally in all sixteen games last year and excelled in his role as an edge setter. Carlos Thompson and Tony Washington will battle it out with the undrafted free agent crop for the third outside linebacker spot on the depth chart.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Quentin Demps, FS Andre Hal, CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Kareem Jackson, CB Kevin Johnson
Backups: SS Eddie Pleasant, SS Kurtis Drummond, SS KJ Dillon [R], FS Antonio Allen, FS Lonnie Ballentine, FS Corey Moore, CB AJ Bouye

Starting DBs: The Texans' defensive back situation remains very volatile following big shakeups last year. After poor play, Rahim Moore was replaced in season by Quentin Demps. The Texans re-signed Demps this offseason, making it likely he will be the opening day starter at strong safety. Vanderbilt product Andre Hal played well in his first season as the starter, snagging four interceptions. Jonathan Joseph surprised by signing an extension that should keep him with the Texans through the end of his career. Kareem Jackson is healthy after dealing with a persistent ankle injury for a large portion of 2015. Despite playing through a broken wrist, Kevin Johnson led rookies in passes defensed last year. His role should increase this season as he continues to learn behind Joseph and Jackson.

Backup DBs: Eddie Pleasant remains with the team after signing a two-year extension in April. Pleasant was valuable to the special teams unit, but his playing time at safety also continued to increase last season. Fifth-round rookie pick KJ Dillon has an interesting mix of coverage and in-the-box striking skills that make him an intriguing project player. Though former Jets safety Antonio Allen missed the 2015 season with a torn achilles, he should be ready to play a reserve role in 2016. Lonnie Ballentine was lost for the season in October of 2015 after suffering a very significant knee injury. He's expected to be ready for the 2016 season, but will be fighting for one of the final safety spots on the roster with Kurtis Drummond and Corey Moore. A.J Bouye entertained offers free agency, but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Texans. Despite a decline in per-game snaps last year, Bouye did earn playing time in a career high 15 games.

Last modified: 2016-08-17 10:47:46