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2018 Team Report: Houston Texans

Offensive Philosophy

Head Coach Bill O'Brien revamped the Texans offense two games into the 2017 season to cater to his star quarterback pupil, Deshaun Watson. Houston started to use a number of concepts of the spread offense system. Snaps out of the shotgun became more popular with pre-snap movement in the backfield designed to confuse opposing defenses. The confusion created opportunities to run the ball and allow Watson to make easy reads and complete open throws. In addition to finding success on run-pass option plays, Watson thrived inside the pocket, especially on designed play-action throws. The Texans were trending in the right direction before tragedy struck in the form of an ACL tear of Watson's right knee during practice in early November. He was lost for the season and the offense that rose to respectability around the league followed suit. The 2018 season should feature more of the same spread-style concepts that allowed Watson to find early success. The second-year quarterback has a year of experience under his belt and will likely be more apt to learn new wrinkles in the playbook to further confuse defenses. Houston did not pursue any additional challenging running backs in the offseason or draft. This is an indication that the team is content with Lamar Miller being their primary rushing threat with Alfred Blue and DOnta Foreman as secondary options. The success of the offense revolves around Watson's ability to either reach the same levels as 2017 or adapt in such a way where success is met with an adjusted approach.

Quarterbacks

Starter: DeShaun Watson
Backup(s): Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb

Starting QB: Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson took the league by storm last season before tearing his ACL and ending his season. Prior to his exit, Watson totaled 1,699 yards passing with 19 touchdown passes and 2 rushing touchdowns - in only six starts (seven games). That's a per game average of 242 yards passing, 2.7 touchdown passes or 3,872 yards and 43 touchdowns over a 16 game season. Those numbers may not do him enough justice, because it includes Week 1 and Week 2 that only yielded 102 and 125 yards passing respectively. His name and reputation reached new levels of respectability around the league prior to his early November injury. He was on League MVP pace at the time. Watson is ahead of schedule to return and he claims he will not adjust his playing style post-injury. In a mid-April interview, he said, "My game's not changing. Whatever you [saw] last year is going to be the same, if not better. I've dealt with adversity before, had injuries before. I didn't let that slow me down. It just changed my attitude about the game. "A lot of people would think that I'd come back hesitant, but I'm going to make sure I come back more forceful and with a stronger and more intense attitude." Watson also tore his ACL in his Freshman year at Clemson. He responded with a trip to the National Championship game the following year, followed by winning the title in his Junior year. If history is any indication of his outlook following a major injury, then 2018 should be an exciting year. Fantasy wise, Watson is expected to be among the Top 6 quarterbacks off the board in redraft leagues and is worthy of being your primary quarterback starter in 2018.

Backup QB: Last season, a combination of Tom Savage and T.J. Yates filled the void for the injured Deshaun Watson. Both are no longer with the team and were replaced with Brandon Weeden and Joe Webb. The hope is that neither of these players will see much of the field in 2018, while Watson makes a bid for comeback player of the year. Weeden, a former first round pick, has a career 6-19 record. On the plus side, he has experience playing at the NFL level, which is more than some teams can say about their backup quarterback. He has not played in a game since 2015. Joe Webb, who has performed more as a special teamer than quarterback over the last few years, will battle Weeden for the backup spot. Webb's mobility and understanding of zone read systems from his days with Carolina, give the Texans an option at quarterback with similar skills to Watson.

Running Backs

Starter: Lamar Miller
Backup(s): D'Onta Foreman, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, Troymaine Pope, Lavon Coleman [R]
Fullback(s): Jay Prosch

Starting RB: Lamar Miller has quietly finished in the Top 17 in each of the last four years spanning two teams, Miami and most recently, Houston. Interestingly enough, Miller's per carry average has dropped each of the last four years dropping from 5.1 in 2014 to 3.7 in 2017. His yearly reception totals never dipped below 31 during that span, and he played in all but two games in that stretch. New rookie running back, D'Onta Foreman, came on strong last year and looked to be gaining on Miller's carry share. An unfortunate torn Achilles ended that threat, leaving Miller to handle full time rushing duties once again. Houston did not pursue a premier back in free agency nor did they focus on the position in the draft. This is an indication that they will rely on Miller to be the team's main rushing threat, at least until Foreman proves he is fully recovered from his injury. Miller's versatile skill set is a good match for Houston's spread-style offense, where he can pose as a rushing threat or bounce out for a short-ranged pass. Foreman is best used as a bruising back who can move or push the pile. He has shown flashes of mobility, but not near the standard that Miller has shown over the years. The Texans offense figures to be a dominant one with Watson under center, which will lead to more goal-line opportunities and increased fantasy value for Miller. Consider him an under the radar veteran with the potential for another Top 20 season.

Backup RBs: D'Onta Foreman is expected to be the backup to Lamar Miller, but he is still recovering from a Week 11 Achilles tear that could keep him from being able to play early in the 2018 season. He is not a lock to be ready by Week 1 and may wind up on the physically unable to perform list heading into the season. If that happens, his fantasy value will fall off and even if he is able to play, it may take some time for him to return to full strength and game day functionality. Aside from Foreman, Houston has veteran Alfred Blue at their disposal. Blue has performed well in the past when called upon and is more than capable of filling the backup role to Lamar Miller if necessary. He has limited fantasy value unless injuries open up an opportunity to seize the starting role.

Fullback: Jay Prosch is entering his fourth year as the Texans fullback. He has 10 career carries and five receptions in that span, and has not found the end zone in his brief career. His usage on the Texans is mostly for specific plays on short yardage formations where he can be used as a blocker. He does not have any fantasy value at this time.

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller
Backups: Braxton Miller, Bruce Ellington, Keke Coutee [R], Chris Thompson, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton, DeAndrew White, Jester Weah[R], Montay Crockett

Starting WRs: DeAndre Hopkins is a Top 3 fantasy wide receiver who has shown the ability to produce regardless of who is under center for the Texans. Six of his 13 touchdowns came after Deshaun Watson was lost for the year after Week 8. He has cemented himself as an offensive leader and reliable receiving option for the Texans. He has proven that he can perform at a high level on multiple routes against Grade-A corners and in multiple game scripts. In short, he's one of the best wide receivers in the league. Now that he has an above average quarterback to lead the offense in Deshaun Watson, the sky is the limit on what Hopkins can do. It doesn't hurt that they both share the same Clemson alma mater. Expect Hopkins to come off the board in the mid-first or early second round in redraft leagues. Only Antonio Brown and possibly Odell Beckham Jr stand in his way as wide receivers to come off the board sooner. Will Fuller is the Texans number two receiver, and excellent complementary option to DeAndre Hopkins. Unlike Hopkins, Fuller struggled to stay afloat fantasy wise after Watson was lost for the year entering Week 9. Fuller compiled seven touchdowns in a four week span before Watson's injury and zero after Tom Savage and T.J. Yates filled the void. Call that what it is, but he clearly performed better with Watson under center. Perhaps teams put an increased focus on stopping Hopkins that Watson found a weakness and exploited it, thus benefiting Fuller? This reunion of fantasy wealth may have some fantasy owners reaching for Fuller in 2018. His overall outlook for 2018 is favorable, however it's wise to expect a regression from his eyebrow-raising performance in four games last year.

Backup WRs: Outside of DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, the Texans don't have many fantasy relevant receivers to keep on your radar. The majority of the offense flows between Hopkins, the tight ends (Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson), Lamar Miller and Will Fuller. A team isn't just four or five players, but fantasy speaking there's not enough meat on that bone for others to thrive. At least Houston hasn't found the right player to thrive in that role. Braxton Miller and Bruce Ellington currently make up the remainder of the team's receivers on the depth chart, but look out for rookie Keke Coutee, a product of Texas Tech who brought us Wes Welker, Michael Crabtree, and Danny Amendola. At 5'10 and 180 pounds, Coutee is more Amendola than Crabtree and he resembles a player that Watson utilized often in his time at Clemson, Hunter Renfrow. You may recall Renfrow was the recipient of Watson's game-winning touchdown pass to clinch the National Championship game against Alabama. Houston has struggled to find a slot receiver who can play that type of role, but Coutee fits the bill. His ceiling is Copper Kupp and if he performs well in Organized Team Activities and training camp, he could find himself climbing up the receiver depth chart.

Tight Ends

Starters: Stephen Anderson, Ryan Griffin
Backups: Jordan Akins [R], Jordan Thomas [R]

Houston ranked ninth in tight end fantasy production in 2016 thanks to nearly equal contributions from C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin. The 2017 season saw Houston change their offensive system to cater to Deshaun Watson's strengths in a spread style offense. As a result, the tight end corps dropped to 30th in the league in fantasy production. Losing Watson after Week 8 was a major factor in that drop-off, but even with Watson, the tight ends managed only 21 receptions out of 52 for the year with only one of their two total touchdowns. A concussion-scarred career forced C.J. Fiedorowicz into early retirement, leaving Stephen Anderson and Ryan Griffin as the Texans top options at tight end. There is no clear-cut starter or preferred fantasy option at this time. Neither one projects to a Top 15 fantasy threat. Griffin has dealt with concussion issues himself and is best suited as a complementary role rather than a premier receiving threat for the position. Stephen Anderson has shown periods of success. He's the more athletic option for the Texans, but he's not expected to be their main focus at the position beyond this year when his contract ends. Houston did not enter the ring for a free agent tight end in the offseason, but they did address the position in the draft. They were hampered with no first or second round picks due to trades they made the year prior. Fortunately, one of those trades was used to draft Deshaun Watson, but their investment in 2017 left them with fewer draft capital in 2018. They were lucky to earn a third-round compensatory pick from the loss of A.J. Bouye to Jacksonville in 2017 free agency. Without it, they would've been in deeper water than they already were. Houston drafted Jordan Akins in the third round. He's a converted minor league baseball player turned tight end who enters his rookie season at age 26. Akins had 32 catches for 515 yards and four touchdowns for undefeated Central Florida last year. At 6'3, 249 pounds, Akins brings an athletic element to the team as a move tight end. The Texans coaching staff were impressed with his Senior Bowl performance and decided that he would be a good fit for their offense. Opposing safeties will be keeping tabs on DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, which will leave an opportunity for an athletic tight end to find an open seam in the defense. While it's uncertain who that player will be in 2018, there is a role waiting to be filled.

Place Kicker

Ka'imi Fairbairn: Ka'imi Fairbairn is cheap going into his second year as the Texans kicker, but that's about all he has going for him coming off of a season when he made only 80 percent of his field goal attempts and missed three extra point attempts. He did have his two best scoring games with Deshaun Watson at quarterback and could be a sleeper kicker pick for deep leagues or at least a kicker to have on your waiver wire watch list if your draft pick falters. He might be just as likely to not make it through the season as the starter if his second-half of the season accuracy slump carries over.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Chris Thompson, Tyler Ervin

Wide receiver Chris Thompson, (not to be confused with the running back of the same name), was one of the few undrafted free agents able to make an impact on special teams in 2017, leading the Texans in kickoff returns. At the same time, the team never fully committed to him, so while he should be viewed as the early favorite for the job in 2018, his lead is hardly commanding.

Punt Returners: Will Fuller, Chris Thompson

The Texans gave multiple punt return opportunities to an astounding six different players in 2017, hallmark of a team desperately searching for someone who will grab the job with both hands. Speed demon Will Fuller came the closest, but the team was shy about using him on special teams after a midseason injury.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Julien Davenport, LG Zach Fulton, C Nick Martin, RG Jeff Allen, RT Seantrel Henderson
Key Backups: Senio Kelemete, Martinas Rankin, Kendall Lamm, Greg Mancz, Kyle Fuller

Second year player Julien Davenport started three games as a rookie and is expected to start the season as the starting left tackle. Left guard Zach Fulton is a strong veteran who arrived from Kansas City and should be able to assist Davenport or whoever wins the left tackle job. Right guard Jeff Allen is a similar player to Fulton, strong and veteran but both can be compromised by speed moves. Nick Martin is one of the leagues better young centers when healthy. Seantrel Henderson arrived from Buffalo and should start at right tackle if he can avoid suspension. Senio Kelemete is another free agency arrival who can start at multiple positions if needed. Overall this Texans' offensive line enters the season as a low-tier option.

Team Defense

The Texans defense lost JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus early in the season, but no loss on the defensive side of the ball was more crippling than Deshaun Watson going down with a knee injury in practice. They had only five more takeaways after Watson was lost after notching 11 in his six starts. They had three games with three or more sacks in his six starts and two without him. Watt, Mercilus and Watson will all return this year. Jadeveon Clowney finally started to play like a #1 overall pick in their absence and the team also added Tyrann Mathieu in free agency and Justin Reid in the third round of the draft to help a safety unit that has been looking for answers for a while. Corner is still a question mark, but the team did sign a solid slot corner away from Jacksonville in Aaron Colvin, even though he replaces a fraction of what they lost when AJ Bouye went in the opposite direction in free agency last year. Fantasy drafters are projecting the Texans defense to return to fantasy prominence and often taking them in the Top 5-8 once again.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt, DE Jadeveon Clowney, NT DJ Reader
Backups: DE Christian Covington, DE Joel Heath, DE Brandon Dunn, NT Carlos Watkins

Starting DL: After a second season-ending injury in as many years, JJ Watt once again is rehabbed and ready to play. In a recent soccer partnership video made by the NFL, Watt is seen diving, planting, and kicking, indicating that his broken leg is no longer an issue. Playing under the fifth year option in 2018, Jadeveon Clowney will likely be getting an extension very soon. He had a minor knee procedure in January, but was given the green light for the offseason program that began for the Texans in April. DJ Reader has become the player that the Texans envisioned when they took him to learn behind Vince Wilfork just three years ago. Though he was shut down late in the lost Texans season with a sprained knee, Reader had an impressive 47 tackles and one sack on the year. In a recent interview, Reader described how his goal is self-improvement. "I'm trying to get better every day and try to stay consistent and become a better person, a better player and a better teammate," Reader said. "It's a super big deal. You've got to stay in shape. It's very important to me. It's important to everybody. I just want to improve. That's my biggest goal."

Backup DL: Now entering his fourth year in the NFL, Christian Covington once again got significant snaps when Watt was injured last year. His two years of starting experience is enough that the team feels he can be rotational depth for now, but a dependable starter if injuries happen again. Joel Heath continues to be a solid, if not spectacular rotational lineman for the Texans. Brandon Dunn, like Heath, was also called into action last season, called up from the practice squad as the Texans battled through a nightmare slew of injuries. Dunn made progress and showed versatility in that he was capable of both being a space-eating defensive tackle or playing over the center. He seems to have impressed coaches enough to earn a backup role this year. Though Carlos Watkins wasn't originally slated to see much time in his rookie year, injuries also forced him onto the field for significant snaps for the last three weeks of the season. He showed flashes of promise in his performances, shedding blocks and stuffing a few runs that could have gone for big gains had he not made the early stop.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Zach Cunningham, ILB Benardrick McKinney, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Brennan Scarlett
Backups: ILB Dylan Cole, ILB Ben Heeney, OLB Duke Ejiofor [R], OLB Ufomba Kamlau

Starting LBs: Brian Cushing was cut earlier in the offseason, signaling that the Texans are going to trust Zach Cunningham with duties on the inside next to Benardrick McKinney. Cunningham is fine defending the run, but is also a talented coverage linebacker, something in which Cushing was rather limited. Paired with McKinney, who excels at playing against the run, it gives this group more versatility. Whitney Mercilus is seeking an extension and the Texans are reportedly working behind the scenes to make it happen. Scarlett was not a very exciting watch last year and struggled to defend the run on the edge. It will be interesting to see if Scarlett can improve and hold his spot on the unit.

Backup LBs: The Texans may have hit on an interesting player in Dylan Cole. The undrafted free agent created some camp buzz last year and impressed in his playing time with 32 total tackles, two interceptions, and a defensive touchdown. Heeney and Kamlau were both re-signed to the roster in March and the Texans expect they will continue to make their mark on their special teams unit. Duke Ejiofor was a nice grab by the Texans in the sixth round of the draft. Though not considered athletic, Ejiofor uses his strength and hand technique to win against blockers and find his way to the quarterback. He will be a nice developmental project for this coaching staff that excels at bringing out the best in defenders.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Kareem Jackson, SS Tyrann Mathieu, FS Andre Hal (inj), FS Justin Reid [R]
Backups: CB Kevin Johnson, CB Aaron Colvin, SS Ibraheim Campbell

Starting DBs: Though long in the tooth, Jonathan Joseph continues to hold down a starting spot on this unit. He signed a two-year deal with the Texans this offseason that should take him through the end of his career. The Texans will continue to roll with Kareem Jackson playing opposite Joseph. If Jackson or Joseph do not play well, they can always give Kevin Johnson, who has been waiting in the wings for two years, the opportunity to be a starter. Tyrann Mathieu was a prized addition to this group in the offseason, being recruited to the team by JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson. "I just want to prove my point that I'm one of the best safeties in this league," Mathieu said in a recent interview. "Obviously I had some setbacks, I had some challenges and I tried to take those challenges head-on." Andre Hal continued to show growth as a player in his second year, despite being on a team that struggled. He was slated to take on the deep responsibilities opposite Mathieu, but he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The team got what many consider to be the steal of the Draft when they took Justin Reid in the third round. The brother of former 49ers safety Eric Reid, Justin has similar traits in that he is versatile and can play some man coverages, but also has the requisite skills to be a ball-hawking safety. He'll be pushed into action in place of Hal.

Backup DBs: Kevin Johnson hasn't yet cracked the starting lineup yet, and for good reason. Injuries and poor play continue to be issues for the young corner. The team will hope that he can begin to put things together before Joseph and Jackson's time runs out. Meanwhile, the Texans have additional insurance in former Jaguar Aaron Colvin, who excels particularly at covering the slot. Former Brown Ibraheim Campbell spent time in the lineup after being cut by Cleveland last season and nabbed by the Texans. He will continue to serve as depth and a special teams contributor.

Last modified: 2018-06-08 15:09:18