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2017 Team Report: Houston Texans

Offensive Philosophy

The 2016 Texans were already a run-heavy franchise despite spending plenty of capital to acquire Brock Osweiler. Now that they've spent more capital to get rid of him, the team will likely turn even more to its running game to pick up the slack.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Deshaun Watson[R], Tom Savage
Backup(s): Brandon Weeden

Starting QB: Rookie quarterback and current National Champion, Deshaun Watson is the future of the Texans franchise. Houston selected him by moving up 13 spots in the first round, which included giving up their 2018 first and second round picks to Cleveland. That investment is a good indication that Houston has turned the keys over to Watson beginning this year, Week 1. Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden are serviceable backup options, but this is now Watson's team to run. Watson was blessed to have talented, capable receivers at Clemson, most recently Chargers first round pick Mike Williams. Watson's throwing accuracy thrived outside the hash marks, which fits in well with Houston's corps of receivers, namely DeAndre Hopkins, a fellow Clemson receiver himself. Watson's level of success will be related to his ability to read multiple and disguised zone coverages and execute accordingly. If he can learn the pro-style of reading defenses and utilizing the middle of the field when the defense allows it, he'll thrive in the Texans system. Watson's ability to take off and run either on a designed play or broken play adds an extra layer of reliability when forecasting his fantasy production. Young quarterbacks tend to run when a play isn't there instead of forcing a questionable throw. Watson should be no different and if anything, will improve his fantasy stock. Tom Savage is trying to avoid being the second string quarterback. He doesn't have the athletic ability that Watson possesses, however even in his limited experience of five career games, his knowledge of defenses and the Texans playbook makes him a valuable piece to the offense. In the bank of backup quaterbacks around the league, Savage is middle of the pack or lower. He has 0 career touchdown passes in 92 attempts (five games) and primarily keeps his throws in short to intermediate range. He's not one to target receivers far down field, which has a negative effect on the Texans talented receiving corps. On the positive side, he has only one interception which came in Week 15 of 2014, his second career game.

Backup QB: Brandon Weeden is currently the team's third string quarterback but he could push Savage for the backup role behind Deshaun Watson if Watson wins the job. Weeden didn't register a statistic in 2016, but his experience in the league (35 career games, over 6,400 yards passing, 31 touchdowns and 30 interceptions) far outweighs the experience that Savage brings to the table. Weeden has a career record of 6-19 but is 1-0 with the Texans.

Running Backs

Starter: Lamar Miller
Backup(s): Alfred Blue, DOnta Foreman[R], Jonathan Grimes, Akeem Hunt, Tyler Ervin, Dare Ogunbowale[R]
Fullback(s): Jay Prosch

Starting RB: Lamar Miller (age 26) is entering his sixth year in the league. He has finished in the Top 17 each of the last three years never falling below 31 receptions in in that span. Like many running backs, Miller's fantasy success hinges on his ability to consistently reach the end zone. He averaged 9.5 touchdowns in the two years prior to 2016. His total dropped to 6 last season. The Texans have struggled to find a franchise quarterback over the last few years, which has an negatively affected the ground game, especially after the departure of Arian Foster. The arrival of Deshaun Watson as the team's quarterback of the future is good news for an offense that generated only 21 offensive touchdowns in 2016. Head Coach Bill O'Brien admitted that he gave Miller too many carries early in the year (74 in the first three games, with an additional 10 receptions). The heavy usage may have been the cause for a series of injuries that plagued him throughout the year, that also caused him to miss two full games. Miller still finished with 268 carries (55 more than his average since becoming a starter in 2013). His health and utilization will be key factors on how successful he'll be as a fantasy back in 2017. He is firmly entrenched as the team's primary ball carrier and if the offense improves under Watson's guidance, Miller could see an improvement in his second year with the Texans that will have a positive effect on his fantasy outcome.

Backup RBs: Lamar Miller is the team's starting running back, however the Texans drafted DOnta Foreman in the third round of this year's draft for a reason. Alfred Blue was the team's backup running back in 2016. He finished with 100 carries for 420 yards (4.2 YPC) with 1 touchdown and 12 receptions for 40 yards. Blue was second behind Miller in carries, but that could change with the presence of Foreman in the rotation. Foreman has the body and size to be a strong contributor, however his ball security and pass protection skills need to improve before he is given more opportunities. Tyler Ervin performs well in open space, but he has a limited skill set. Akeem Hunt and Dare Ogunbowale will battle for a roster spot, but both are challenged running between the tackles.

Fullback: Jay Prosch is entering his fourth year with the Texans as the team's fullback. His fantasy value is minimal, never reaching more than six carries or two receptions in a single season. His role in the offense as a blocking back is vital, despite not seeing much action in the box score. Losing Prosch would be a setback to ground game. Houston is one of a handful of teams that use a fullback in their base offense. His involvement in the offense is warranted, despite little to no fantasy value.

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller
Backups: Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong, Wendall Williams, Shaq Hill[R], Justin Hardee[R], Deante′ Gray[R], Tevin Jones, Riley McCarron[R]

Starting WRs: DeAndre Hopkins is the team's leading receiver by a wide margin. Last year he finished with 151 targets (59 more than the closest receiver, Will Fuller). Hopkins has thrived in the past with average or sub-par quarterback play, but 2016 saw him drop to 37th among fantasy wide receivers. The presence of Brock Osweiler on offense was likely the main reason behind his decline from over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns to a disappointing 954 yards and 4 scores. Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson has made a career at Clemson elevating the ability and production of his wide receivers. The upgrade of Watson over Osweiler gives promise that Hopkins can rebound in 2017 and return to his place as a Top 20 or Top 10 receiver in the league. Will Fuller is capable of being a big weapon for the Texans. He won't surpass Hopkins as the team's go-to option, but he has the ability to be a big contributor on offense. Fuller began 2016 as one of the top rookie receivers, but he struggled to maintain consistency as the year went on. If he continues to develop, he could work his way into a more prominent role and the fantasy potential could follow.

Backup WRs: Outside of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, the Texans wide receiver depth has plenty of youth and niche skill players that play more of a complementary role in the offense likely out of the slot position. Both Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong struggled to play their way into a role last year, which could be the case again in 2017 if improvement isn't shown. Failure to develop could give others the chance to leap ahead of them on the depth chart. The backup receiver roles are wide open with this team. A strong camp from one or more of rookies Justin Hardee, Deante Gray or Riley McCarron could be enough to secure a role with the team, likely in the slot position. Gray, McCarron and Shaq Hill are capable return specialists who also have that quick twitch ability in open space. McCarron is an athletic, needle-moving player who proved his worth after being a walk-on player at Iowa. His speed, quickness and leaping ability was on display at his pro day. He's someone to watch as the depth chart takes form.

Tight Ends

Starters: C.J. Fiedorowicz
Backups: Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson, RaShaun Allen[R], Zach Conque[R]

Houston finished 2nd in the league in receptions to tight ends last season with 115. C.J. Fiedorowicz led the way with 54, Ryan Griffin added 50 and Stephen Anderson chimed in with 11. All three will be back in 2017. Fiedorowicz is considered the starting tight end, but Houston often plays in a two-tight end set formation with both Fiedorowicz and Griffin on the field at the same time. They benefited last season due to Brock Osweiler's short to intermediate throwing tendencies. The addition of Deshaun Watson could give the offense a spark, however Watson's strength is passing to the edges and not as much over the middle, where tight ends usually thrive. Every new change brings a different result. In this case it might be the frequency of production from the Houston tight end corps in 2017. From a fantasy perspective, neither Fiedorowicz or Griffin themselves are strong every week fantasy starts. A decrease in overall production seems possible, making each even more of a long shot to reach Top 10 status unless an injury elevates one into a more centralized role.

Place Kicker

Nick Novak, Kai'mi Fairbairn: The Texans offense's loss was Nick Novak's gain last year, as Brock Osweiler's troubles led to 41 field goal attempts and only 25 extra point attempts for the kicker. He did miss three of the extra point attempts and six of the field goal attempts, but all of his field goal misses were from 40 or more yards. The team decided to bring him back on a one-year, 1.1 million dollar deal with only 250,000 guaranteed, so they are far from sold on him long term. Kai'mi Fairbairn lost a kicker battle with Novak last summer and was placed on injured reserve, so if he clearly outkicks Novak this summer, he could inherit a rich fantasy kicker situation, albeit one that could take a hit if Deshaun Watson takes over and greatly improves the team's touchdown conversion rate. Novak was a top ten kicker last year, but the uncertainty around him makes it difficult to spend a draft pick on him.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Akeem Hunt, Tyler Ervin

Houston has historically preferred to use a single return specialist. Last year, Tyler Ervin opened the year in that role, though a desire to provide their team with a bit of a spark prompted the Texans to activate Akeem Hunt over the last half of the season to challenge Ervin on kickoffs.

Punt Returners: Tyler Ervin, Will Fuller

There was some speculation in training camps that Will Fuller might get some chances on punt returns in 2016. In week 4, he had his first chance, and he returned it 67 yards for a spectacular touchdown. Despite the memorable score, Fuller was largely hit-or-miss on punt returns, and fellow rookie Tyler Ervin handled the bulk of them for the team.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Duane Brown, LG Xavier Su'a Filo, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, RT Chris Clark
Key Backups: Kendall Lamm, Greg Mancz, Kyle Fuller, Julien Davenport [R], Derek Newton (PUP)

The Texans' offensive line can depend on Duane Brown at left tackle. Brown is no longer a fixture at the Pro Bowl but few in the league have his talent in pass protection. Center should be Nick Martin's job again, after Greg Mancz started in Martin's place last year. Martin was a high draft pick and looked good before he got injured. The guards are solid in the run game. Right guard Jeff Allen is a tough veteran while Xavier Su'a Filo still has physical upside to improve. Chris Clark will likely start at right tackle again, as Derek Newton's career is in doubt. Kendall Lamm will get a chance to compete for the right tackle job as well. The team invested a fourth round pick in Julien Davenport out of Bucknell, and he is also a dark horse for that right tackle spot. Overall this line is a mid tier unit that isn't far away from the top tier. They need more consistency out of the center and right tackle positions and they have young players in place to take that next step.

Team Defense

The Texans had been producing a strong D/ST1 clip for years, but fell out of the top half of the league last year when they lost JJ Watt early in the season to a back issue. They are being drafted in the top five D/ST's once again with Watt expected back and fully healthy. The team numbers of 11 interceptions, six forced fumbles and 31 sacks were all middling to bad, but the return of Watt should get them back to their previous levels. Houston did lose top corner AJ Bouye to division rival Jacksonville and strong contributors S Quintin Demps and OLB John Simon left for greener pastures. Stalwart nose tackle Vince Wilfork is expected to retire. The team is counting on 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson and a cast of relatively unknown players at nose tackle, outside linebacker, and safety to help fill the gaps. They did use their second-round pick on inside linebacker Zach Cunningham, who should help the pass defense on passing downs right away and eventually replace Brian Cushing in the starting lineup. Watt's return is huge and he has sack artists Jadeveon Clowney (who played in 14 games last year) and Whitney Mercilus to help, but it might be asking too much for this D/ST to return to elite fantasy status with lots of new players being broken in.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt, DE Jadeveon Clowney, NT DJ Reader
Backups: DE Christian Covington, DE Joel Heath, NT Carlos Watkins [R]

Starting DL: After being shut down after a back injury early in the season, JJ Watt is ready to play again. Watt indicated that he will be careful to pace himself going forward when he stated, "I think they'll probably put some sort of plan in place just to limit overall reps throughout the season. Obviously there's a ton of reps during the season, the game reps being the most important ones, the ones that affect the result. But it mostly comes down to my workouts and making sure that I'm very smart in my workouts ...creating a plan where I don't put myself at risk." Jadeveon Clowney will continue to alternate snaps with his hand on the ground and standing upright, but has officially been designated a defensive end. After injuries hampered the first two years of his career, Clowney stepped up in the absence of Watt to provide plenty of disruption for the Texans defense. Vince Wilfork retired, leaving second year player DJ Reader to fill his large shoes in the middle of the unit. Reader appeared to be more than equal to the task when called upon to play as a rookie and even got extensive snaps in the Texans playoff game.

Backup DL: This group is youthful, but full of promising talent. Christian Covington enters his third NFL season having had more playing time with Watt's injury last year. Though he's relegated to backup duty with Watt and Clowney healthy, he still should see time in this rotation. The Texans continued the trend of dipping into Clemson's talent in the Draft by selecting Carlos Watkins. Watkins contributed positively in Clemson's defensive line rotation that ultimately won a College Football Championship and the Texans hope to develop him into an active interior lineman at the pro level. He has a motor that runs hot at times and cold at others, which Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver will endeavor to correct. Joel Heath has had limited opportunity in his career so far, but did have a nice two-sack showing in the Texans week seventeen game against the Titans.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Brian Cushing, ILB Benardrick McKinney, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Brennan Scarlett
Backups: ILB Zach Cunningham [R], ILB Brian Peters, ILB Sio Moore, OLB Tony Washington

Starting LBs: The tandem of Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney will continue to man the middle and do what they do best, which is to stuff the run. The team would like to lock up pass rusher Whitney Mercilus to a long-term deal, but it will be challenging to pay Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, and DeAndre Hopkins. An undrafted free agent out of Stanford, Brennan Scarlett was impressive in limited playing time last year and has earned the right to additional opportunity in 2017. With John Simon now in Indianapolis, Scarlett will get a chance to win a starting job in camp this year.

Backup LBs: There's not very much to see behind the starting linebacking unit beyond Zach Cunningham. Taken in the second round this year, Cunningham is the heir apparent to Brian Cushing. Cunningham looks to be better equipped to drop into coverage than his predecessor. Brian Peters continues to play impactfully as a special teamer. Tony Washington and Sio Moore are serviceable reserves. Moore has been a productive player at times, but failed to stick on a roster for long after the Raiders took him in the third round in 2013.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Kareem Jackson, SS KJ Dillon/Corey Moore, FS Andre Hal
Backups: CB Kevin Johnson, CB Treston Decoud [R], SS Eddie Pleasant

Starting DBs: Though long in the tooth, Jonathan Joseph continues to hold down a starting spot on this unit. He has one more year left on his deal and then presumably, Kevin Johnson will take over. Opposite of Joseph, Kareem Jackson moves up to replace AJ Bouye, who left to join the Jacksonville Jaguars. There were rumors in the offseason that Jackson would be moved to safety due to a decline in his play, but for now he will occupy the opposite corner position. A rookie no more, KJ Dillon will take the place of the departed Quentin Demps. Dillon spent much of last year on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in overtime while filling in for an inactive Demps. His play was impressive enough for the team to give him a chance to start. Corey Moore will also get a crack at this job. He managed to play one game at starting free safety late in the year. He missed a high percentage of tackles and will have to clean up that part of his game if he ever hopes to be more than a backup. Former seventh-round selection Andre Hal did well with his first season starting and will serve in the same capacity in 2017.

Backup DBs: Kevin Johnson returns after a season ending foot injury in October 2016 that cut his rookie season short. He will be worked into the rotation on passing downs. Trenton Decoud is an interesting prospect that the Texans took in the fifth round. The cousin of former NFL safety Thomas Decoud, his size and physicality make him ideal to convert to strong safety if he cannot improve his playing speed. Eddie Pleasant will once again play a role on special teams in addition to being the primary backup at strong safety.

Last modified: 2017-06-05 15:06:21