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2019 Team Report: Houston Texans

Offensive Philosophy

Head Coach Bill O'Brien will enter his third year coaching star quarterback, Deshaun Watson. After starting 0-3 last year, the Texans re-grouped and finished 11-5, winning the AFC South before falling at home to the Colts in the Wildcard round. Houston uses a number of concepts of the spread offense system. They will often utilize Watson's strengths by taking snaps out of the shotgun using pre-snap movement in the backfield designed to confuse opposing defenses. The confusion creates 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 thrives inside the pocket, especially on designed play-action throws. The 2019 season should feature more of the same spread-style concepts that allowed Watson to find success. The presence of All Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins definitely makes Watson's job easier, but the offensive line has been an area of discussion in the offseason. Last year Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times. Changes will likely be needed to keep Watson and the offense a force in the AFC South. From a growth perspective, the third-year quarterback will have another year of experience under his belt which allows him to learn new wrinkles in the playbook to further confuse defenses. Houston has been loyal to their running back corps over the last few years. This is an indication that the team is content with Lamar Miller and DOnta Foreman being their dual-threat rushing attack. The draft may introduce another piece to that equation, but for now, Miller and Foreman remain the focus of their approach.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Deshaun Watson
Backup(s): AJ McCarron, Joe Webb

Starting QB: Deshaun Watson suffered an ACL injury halfway through his rookie season of 2017, but he followed it up with 4th place finish among fantasy quarterbacks in 2018. He started all 16 games and led the Texans to a AFC South division title but an unfortunate first round exit in the playoffs. From a fantasy perspective Watson exceeded 4,000 yards passing, 500 yards rushing, and 5 rushing touchdowns in the same season. He joins Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to accomplish that feat. Watson's versatility as a rusher adds to his fantasy value making him a candidate to be selected in the Top 6 of quarterbacks in redraft leagues this year.

Backup QB: A.J. McCarron was signed in the offseason to be the backup quarterback to Deshaun Watson. He replaces Brandon Weeden in the same role and many argue that's an upgrade at the position. McCarron has seen limited action in four years in the league with steady, non-damaging results. He has a career 64.0 completion percentage and 136 pass attempts with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Some circles believe McCarron has the skills to be a starter in the league. While that may be true, his role with the Texans will be as an understudy. the oft-traveled Joe Webb holds the third-string role. Webb signed with Houston last year and is already familiar with the offense.

Running Backs

Starter: Lamar Miller
Backup(s): DOnta Foreman, Buddy Howell, Josh Ferguson, Karan Higdon [R], Damarea Crockett [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: As we stand now, the primary ball carrier for the Texans is Lamar Miller, with DOnta Foreman filling a complementary role that is subject to change. Miller has missed two games since 2013, and after four consecutive Top 20 finishes, he finished 22nd in 2018. He has been a consistent contributor for Houston averaging 238 carries, 31 receptions, and six touchdowns per year since joining the team in 2016. Miller has performed well enough to have decent fantasy value, but not enough to think he will rise into the Top 10, where he resided in 2014 and 2015.

Backup RBs: DOnta Foreman suffered a late-season Achilles tear in 2017. He began last season on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and managed only 7 carries for -1 yards in all of 2018. There is a very short list of running backs who have found fantasy relevance after an Achilles tear, but Foreman is attempting to do just that. The 2019 season will be a year and half after the injury, which hopefully is enough time for him to fully recover. There is wide expectation that the Texans will draft a replacement running back in the draft, who could supplant Miller and move Foreman further down the depth chart. Running back is a young and healthy man's position, and both incumbent backs on the Texans are facing an uphill battle to either sustain success or return to form. Alfred Blue was Lamar Miller's backup in 2018, but he has moved on to Jacksonville via free agency. Buddy Howell and Josh Ferguson occupy the reserve roles and neither have a single carry in their brief pro careers.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller
Backups: Keke Coutee, DeAndre Carter, Vyncint Smith, Jester Weah, Isaac Whitney, Steven Mitchell, Johnnie Dixon [R]

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. However, in the two years with Deshaun Watson, Hopkins has finished 1st and 2nd respectively. 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-late first round in redraft leagues. Will Fuller is coming off a torn ACL that he suffered in Week 8 last year. He had surgery in October and is expected to be ready for the season opener. Prior to the injury, Fuller ranked 21st with 32 receptions for 503 yards and 4 touchdowns. Over 16 games, that would've been 73 receptions for 1,149 yards and 9 touchdowns. Fuller has found uncanny success scoring touchdowns with Watson under center. In 11 games with Watson, Fuller has scored at least once in eight of those games. DeAndre Hopkins may be Watson's favorite target, but Fuller has made a living of getting open for the big play. Opposing defenses have to concentrate their efforts on stopping Hopkins, which has proven fruitful to Fuller. The return and recovery from the ACL injury may result in a slow start for Fuller, but there is clearly a bond that can't be ignored that accentuates fantasy production to both parties.

Backup WRs: Demaryius Thomas was a half-season rental for Houston, and after a Week 16 Achilles tear, his time with the Texans was over. He signed with New England in the offseason. The next in line for the Texans wide receiver depth chart is the emerging Keke Coutee. The expectations were climbing for Coutee in his rookie season, however a hamstring injury that lingered for most of the year held him in check. He missed the first three games of the season due to the injury before striking it big in Week 4 with 11 receptions on 15 targets and 109 yards in his debut. The following week he added 6 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. He re-injured his hamstring in Week 7 and missed the next three games. After two more decent outings, he injured his hamstring once again and was shut down for the rest of the year. When active, Coutee is a key contributor on offense and is often the hot read for Deshaun Watson. If he remains healthy he can develop into a fantasy relevant wide receiver on a team loaded with offensive weapons. Other wide receivers in the mix for a reserve role include DeAndre Carter, Vyncint Smith, and Jester Weah. Carter showed flashes late in the season. His mild success could lead to an increase in involvement in 2019, but the chances of him reaching fantasy value are slim, especially with three talented and capable options ahead of him on the depth chart. Johnnie Dixon was signed after the draft and given a $50,000 guarantee. The Ohio State speedster will have a chance to make the roster.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins
Backups: Darren Fells, Jerell Adams, Kahale Warring [R]

The last two seasons, both with Deshaun Watson under center, the Texans have totaled only 52 and 61 receptions to tight ends ranking them 23rd and 27th respectively among all teams. They used three different tight ends in 2018 led by Ryan Griffin's 24 receptions. The other two (both rookies), Jordan Thomas (20 receptions) and Jordan Akins (17 receptions) occupied the remainder. Thomas was the only one of the three to score a touchdown in 2018, reaching the end zone four times. At age 22, he is the younger investment that may wind up with an increased role as he continues to develop and gain confidence. Akins is not out of the picture, but he will be 27 years old entering his second season. Perhaps another year of learning the position at the next level will result in a new role for Akins, but it appears as if the future at the position will be Thomas or 2019 third-rounder Kahale Warring, who is maybe the most impressive athlete of the three, although probably the most raw as a football player, which means he has the most room to grow.

Place Kicker

Ka'imi Fairbairn: Ka'imi Fairbairn was the breakout kicker of 2018. He was the clear #1 kicker in scoring and fantasy scoring, no matter the system. His field goal attempts (42) and makes (37) both led the league. This coming off of a ho-hum 2017 that was deflated by the mid-season loss of Deshaun Watson, when Fairbairn and the Texans only mustered 25 field goal attempts and he missed five, including three from 39 yards or less. It's hard to imagine a dropoff for him or the Texans offense if Watson stays healthy. Fairbairn will cost a top three pick at kicker and might not be worth taking over Justin Tucker and Greg Zuerlein on length of track record disparity.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee

Unlike most teams, the Texans have historically preferred to have a single return specialist who handles all punt and kickoff return duties. Heading into 2018, that specialist was Tyler Ervin. When DeAndre Carter was waived by the Eagles, however, the Texans cut ties with Ervin and gave the job to Carter. While there's no guarantee that Carter makes the final 53-man roster, if he does he should be a solid bet to finish among the league leaders in total returns.

Punt Returners: DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee, Will Fuller

Unlike most teams, the Texans have historically preferred to have a single return specialist who handles all punt and kickoff return duties. Heading into 2018, that specialist was Tyler Ervin. When DeAndre Carter was waived by the Eagles, however, the Texans cut ties with Ervin and gave the job to Carter. While there's no guarantee that Carter makes the final 53-man roster, if he does he should be a solid bet to finish among the league leaders in total returns.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Julie'n Davenport, Senio Kelemete, Nick Martin, Zach Fulton, Tytus Howard [R]
Key Backups: Matt Kalil, Greg Mancz, Martinas Rankin, Seantrel Henderson

Center Nick Martin is the stalwart of this unit, and the line at least has a chance when he's in the lineup. The guards Senio Kelemete and Zach Fulton are decent players but lack upside. The team brought in Matt Kalil from free agency from Carolina to challenge Julien Davenport for the left tackle job. Davenport should win this battle based on youth and athleticism but he committed 16 penalties last season and the coaches could go with another option. At right tackle the team drafted Tytus Howard out of Alabama State in the first round, and Howard should win the job over Seantrel Henderson, who has only started two games in two seasons. Martinas Rankin has been working more as a guard and that is also where the team will likely work second round selection Max Scharping from Northern Illinois. Overall, this is a low-tier line due to uncertainty at several positions, but they have reloaded in the draft. If the right tackle pans out as they hope, this unit should rise in the rankings.

Team Defense

The Texans team defense returned to fantasy form along with JJ Watt last year. The unit had a strong first half stretch with big games against the Colts, Bills and Jaguars, and then came roaring out of their bye with big games against Washington (when Alex Smith's season ended), Tennessee, and Cleveland, with few true duds for fantasy otherwise. The campaign was good enough to put them in the top five in most scoring formats. That's about the cost they will carry in drafts this year. Bradley Roby has given them a hopeful upgrade at corner, and Tashaun Gipson was signed to ease the pain of losing Tyrann Mathieu. Houston opens at New Orleans, but should be a good play in Week 2 when the Jaguars come to town. Not all of the teams they piled up the fantasy stats against were weak offenses, but the early schedule doesn't offer many gimmes.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt, NT Brandon Dunn, DT D.J. Reader
Backups: DE Charles Omenihu [R], DE Joel Heath, DT Angelo Blackson, NT Carlos Watkins

Starting DL: J.J. Watt was able to bounce back after two years of injury to have a year reminiscent of some of his better campaigns, logging 16 sacks and 61 combined tackles. He was second in sacks only behind Aaron Donald. Brandon Dunn rose all the way from backup status to become an established starter and helped this line become one of the top run stopping units in the league in 2018. Reader also has become a staple player, one that reminds many of his former mentor Vince Wilfork. The team is reportedly negotiating with him for a possible extension.

Backup DL: With Christian Covington off the roster, there will be some competition for his backup spot. Consider the massive and long-armed Charles Omenihu a likely candidate to be his replacement. Omenihu was drafted in the fifth round of this year's Draft and the Texans will hope they stole a developing pass rusher in the later rounds. He has promise to eventually be more, unlike Joel Heath and Angelo Blackson, both of whom seem to be no more than a rotational option year in and year out. Carlos Watkins didn't get a chance to crack the lineup because of injuries as he did in 2017, but he continues to develop on the back end of this roster and remains under contract through 2020.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Zach Cunningham, ILB Benardrick McKinney, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Jadeveon Clowney
Backups: ILB Brennan Scarlett, ILB Dylan Cole, OLB Duke Ejiofor, OLB Davin Belamy

Starting LBs: Despite Jadeveon Clowney trade rumors abounding during the NFL Draft, this unit will return all its starting options from last year. Clowney's contract extension has not been completed and he remains a risk to sit out training camp as he and his agent push for a long-term deal. Whitney Mercilus had one of his worst years, registering only four sacks and failing to register quarterback pressures more often than not. Thankfully, the inside of the unit was solid. Benardrick McKinney earned his first Pro Bowl bid and Zach Cunningham had 107 combined tackles, a career high for the young player.

Backup LBs: Brennan Scarlett isn't particularly exciting, but he has been a long-term backup with this regime and can play competently in limited duty. The Texans saw flashes with former undrafted free agent Dylan Cole last year and continue to develop him on the bench. The team gave last year's rookie Duke Ejiofor a chance to play limited snaps after he shone in the 2018 preseason. Ejiofor registered just one sack and looked out of his depth before suffering a shoulder injury late in the year. The Texans will hope he can develop a little more this year. Davin Bellamy is an unknown commodity, having signed with the team as an undrafted free agent last year, but having never played a snap. He is back with the team this year to compete in camp and see if he can stick on the active 53-man roster.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Bradley Roby, SS Tashaun Gipson, FS Justin Reid
Backups: CB Aaron Colvin, CB Lonnie Johnson [R], SS Mike Tyson, FS A.J. Moore

Starting DBs: This is likely 35-year-old Jonathan Joseph's last year with the Texans. His play continues to decline and this is his last year under contract with the team. Bradley Roby, formerly with the Broncos, signed with the Texans and last year's starter Kareem Jackson went to the Broncos in turn. The Texans feel confident Roby can fill the shoes that Kevin King ultimately could not. The Texans will roll out a whole new starting safety tandem with the departures of Tyrann Mathieu and Andre Hal. Gipson is a long-time NFL starter who most recently played with the division rival Jaguars. In an interview, Gipson exuded excitement about working with Justin Reid. "Just being able to pair with a guy like him, obviously the athleticism is there, the talent is there," Gipson said. "I think that he had one of the more underrated seasons last year. You combine that with the mental skillset, I think that him and I will mesh well. Our skillset is similar and I'm excited to pair up with him." Reid was a bright spot for this group last year when he made 70 solo stops as a rookie.

Backup DBs: Aaron Colvin will man the slot corner position again for this team and remains one of the better corner options in the league in that role. Lonnie Johnson is an interesting addition to the group. The long, rangy corner has the size and athleticism to hang with most receivers, but did not excel at providing run support to the rest of his college unit. Depth is sorely lacking at the backup safety spots. Mike Tyson, who was used as a cornerback last season, will continue special teams contributions and move into a defensive back role for the team. A former Patriot claimed off their practice squad, Moore led the team with 11 special teams tackles last year. The team will hope he continues to be a special teams ace and is not called upon to do more due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:29:39