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2020 Team Report: Houston Texans

Last updated: Wed, Jun 3

Offensive Philosophy

Bill O'Brien and the Houston Texans have all the makings of a team that wants to throw deep early and often. They parted ways with star receiver DeAndre Hopkins- first team AP All Pro in each of the past three seasons- and in his place brought in Brandin Cooks to go with incumbents Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and Kenny Stills. Other than Stills, each receiver has a lengthy list of injury concerns, but when healthy all four players can blaze downfield with the best of them. Additionally, the offensive line, until recently a tremendous weakness, has been transformed into a position of strength. Underneath all those deep routes, the Texans feature two running backs who are perhaps better known for their receiving skills in David Johnson and Duke Johnson and aging slot receiver Randall Cobb. None strike fear in defensive coordinators at this stage of their careers, so the Texans find themselves especially reliant on the threat to run by quarterback Deshaun Watson, who averages over 30 yards per game on the ground for his career.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Deshaun Watson
Backup(s): A.J. McCarron

Starting QB: The 2019 season marked the second consecutive top 5 fantasy finish for Deshaun Watson. He has anchored himself as a highly regarded fantasy commodity due to his versatility at quarterback. Watson has passed for at least 3,800 yards and rushed for 400 yards in each of the last two years. He also has surpassed 30 total touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. As long as he continues to put forth consistent rushing numbers and keep his passing numbers above average, he should continue to be a top 6 fantasy quarterback, if not higher. One strike against him heading into the 2020 season is the departure of his top target, DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals. Hopkins accounted for 150 targets, 104 receptions, 1,165 yards, and 7 touchdowns in 2019. His target share represented 45% of the entire Texans wide receiver corps and 30% of the entire team's pass attempts. Hopkins' presence will be missed and there is no one true replacement in line to fill the void. Watson will need to utilize other members of the offense to keep pace with his previous success. There is a chance that his overall production could suffer if the sum of losing Hopkins isn't outweighed by the emergence and utilization of others. The Texans did add veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks and running back David Johnson (Hopkins trade) to help fill the gaps on offense, but will their contribution fill the void enough to sustain Watson's fantasy success as a top 6 quarterback? The answer to that will give a good indication of what we can expect in 2020.

Backup QB: A.J. McCarron will enter the 2020 season as the backup to Deshaun Watson for the second year in a row. The former Alabama standout saw limited action in 2019, with the majority coming in Week 17 in a 35-14 loss that had no bearing on playoff positioning. It was his first start since 2015 with the Bengals. In five years in the league, McCarron has appeared in 15 games, starting five, amassing 1,153 yards passing on 108 completions with six touchdown passes and three interceptions. He has moderate running ability totaling 19 rushes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Luckily, Deshaun Watson has been durable with the exception of the 2017 ACL tear that ended his season. Watson has not missed a game due to injury since. McCarron is a serviceable replacement quarterback, but the offense would most likely drop off in effectiveness if he were to see extended time as the Texans starter.

Running Backs

Starter: David Johnson
Backup(s): Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Karan Higdon
Fullback(s): Cullen Gillaspia

Starting RB: Outside of Carlos Hyde's 1,070 yards rushing in 2019, the Texans haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2016. Hyde rejected the contract offer the Texans made and will test the free agent waters. With Hyde out of the picture, Houston sent shock waves across the league trading their top receiver, DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick to Arizona. In return they received veteran back, David Johnson, a second-round pick, and fourth-round pick in 2021. Johnson was on top of the fantasy world in 2017 before a freak wrist injury sidelined him for the season. He returned in 2018 but to a different coaching staff. The brains behind the offense that he thrived in with Bruce Arians left for the head coaching position with Tampa Bay. Johnson finished as the 10th ranked fantasy running back, but he was not utilized as much, or in the same way as he was with Arians. The 2019 season introduced another new coach, Kliff Kingsbury, along with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Johnson suffered an ankle injury in Week 6 which prompted the acquisition of Kenyan Drake that also coincided with the emergence of Chase Edmonds. Johnson slowly recovered but the running game was taken over by Drake and Edmonds, leaving little for Johnson. The rest of 2019 was much of the same, which ultimately led to Arizona's decision to trade him to Houston. Can Johnson regain the magic from 2015 and 2016 where he finished 8th and 1st respectively among fantasy backs? He is entering his sixth year in the league at age 28 with declining numbers weighing him down. He will get every opportunity to showcase his worth in Houston and if he rises to the occasion, he should see increased volume in the Texans offense. Johnson is a versatile back with power, speed, elusiveness, and excellent hands. He is a great addition to the Texans offense with Deshaun Watson under center. The only question is how much talent and durability is still in his tank and can he resurrect his once dominant career?

Backup RBs: The Texans lost Carlos Hyde to free agency, leaving them with Duke Johnson and Buddy Howell as the team's options behind the once dominant David Johnson. Duke Johnson is not built for a heavy load. He has not exceeded 83 carries in three years in the league. He is best utilized as a complementary back or third-down specialist as a receiver. From a fantasy perspective, Johnson has topped 44 receptions or more in each of his three seasons. For that reason, he has fantasy appeal, especially in leagues that award points for receptions. While Duke Johnson isn't a great fit as the team's primary running back and rushing threat, he does have value thanks to his versatility. The other running back on the depth chart, Buddy Howell, has minimal fantasy value at this time. The team is expected to sign or draft at least one or two backs to complete for an opportunity in their depleted backfield.

Fullback: Cullen Gillaspia is cited as the Texans fullback, however he has no career rushing or receiving stats in his only year in the league, 2019.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller
Backups: Kenny Stills, Randall Cobb, Keke Coutee, DeAndre Carter, Steven Mitchell Jr, Isaiah Coulter [R]

Starting WRs: Houston's wide receiver corps will have a new look in 2020 with the trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. A March trade brought Brandin Cooks to the Texans to bolster their unit. This will be Cooks' fourth team in five years. Expectations are high for him to be Deshaun Watson's top target in 2020 thanks to a career that has seen him finish inside the top 15 four times in his six years in the league. He has topped 100 targets in four of the last five years but his production on the Rams diminished in 2019 with the presence of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods stealing the majority of the thunder on offense. Cooks will have a chance to be the top dog in Houston, but he will share the limelight with Will Fuller, who enters his fifth year in the league, all with the Texans. Fuller and quarterback Deshaun Watson have established good rapport, but Fuller's durability remains a concern. Fuller has appeared in 42 games in his career while missing 22. When healthy, he is a dynamic playmaker who has a nose for the end zone. He scores a touchdown on average every 2.5 games. He also may have found success due to DeAndre Hopkins drawing the best and tightest coverage. We'll find out this season how much of a factor Hopkins' presence was to Fuller's success.

Backup WRs: In years past, the backup wide receiver roles on the Texans included young, inexperienced talent waiting to emerge. This year, they have a formidable core of veteran talent that includes Kenny Stills, as well as free agent signee, Randall Cobb who enjoyed a rebound of his career with Dallas in 2019. Stills is a seven-year mainstay in the league who has provided consistently good results in a complementary role. He has 36 touchdowns in seven years despite only topping 100 targets in a season once (2017). This year will be Cobb's 10th year in the league. Like Stills, Cobb is expected to fulfill a complementary role with the Texans. His experience and craftiness as a receiver will come in handy for Deshaun Watson who will be looking for teammates to step up in DeAndre Hopkins absence. Cobb and Stills have decent, but marginal fantasy value that could increase if an injury occurs ahead of them on the depth chart.

Tight Ends

Starters: Darren Fells
Backups: Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Kahale Warring

The Texans have struggled to find a fantasy starter at tight end since Owen Daniels back in 2012. Coincidentally, Daniels was the last Texans tight end to exceed 60 catches in a season. The tight end position has been a difficult area for Houston under Bill O'Brien's watch, however, last year, Darren Fells finished 13th thanks to his seven touchdowns. His fantasy success was mostly due to touchdowns because he only caught 34 passes all season. He had two receptions or less in 11 of the 15 games he played in. This will be his seventh year in the league. He is coming off career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns but his success materialized due to injuries of young talent on the depth chart. Fells will battle for playing time with Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins, and newcomer Kahale Warring. Thomas was projected to be the team's starting tight end in 2019, but a rib injury forced him to injured reserve and derailed those plans. Warring suffered a concussion and also was placed on injured reserve ending his season before it started. The 2020 season could see Jordan Thomas rise up as the primary tight end option, but a development period is likely with minimal fantasy expectations.

Place Kicker

Kai'imi Fairburn: Fairbairn's 2019 is a reminder of the somewhat arbitrary nature of top kicker scoring carrying over from year to year. His field goal attempts and makes dropped by 17 each, leaving him with a meager 20 field goals last year, with no corresponding rise in extra point makes (only one more than 2018). The Texans signed Fairbairn to a four-year extension with nine million dollars guaranteed this offseason, so he's not going anywhere. Fantasy players are still taking him in the top 12 kickers, but after last year's poor showing, that's probably not wise.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: DeAndre Carter, Randall Cobb

Last year DeAndre Carter accomplished one of the rarer feats in the NFL today, fielding 100% of his team's kickoff and punt return attempts. Carter could repeat the accomplishment in 2020, but the Texans also brought in veteran receiver Randall Cobb, who is an experienced hand on special teams.

Punt Returners: DeAndre Carter, Randall Cobb

Last year DeAndre Carter accomplished one of the rarer feats in the NFL today, fielding 100% of his team's kickoff and punt return attempts. Carter could repeat the accomplishment in 2020, but the Texans also brought in veteran receiver Randall Cobb, who is an experienced hand on special teams.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Max Scharping, C Nick Martin, RG Zach Fulton, RT Tytus Howard
Key Backups: OT Roderick Johnson, OG Senio Kelemete, G/C Greg Mancz, OL Charlie Heck [R]

Left tackle Laremy Tunsil leads this unit, making Pro Bowl starter last season. He and right tackle Tytus Howard (returning from an injury-shortened rookie season) should form a well-above-average set of tackle bookends. The interior, with left guard Max Scharping and center Nick Martin, is mobile and can push the pile during the inside zone plays favored by the coaching staff.

Team Defense

The Texans traded away Jadeveon Clowney and lost JJ Watt to injury less than halfway into the season again, but still mustered 22 takeaways and two defensive touchdowns despite collecting only 31 sacks. They were 28th in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed to pull them down further in that scoring system. The offseason saw Bradley Roby return and the team used their first pick (#40) on Ross Blacklock, who should improve the defensive line play, but they still have one of the weakest cornerback groups in the league and there's a big hole at safety next to Justin Reid. Watt should be back to help but this is not a preferred target in drafts and their ADP in the 20s reflects it. Taking them as a third defense in best ball if you think Watt can stay healthy and return to form isn't a terrible idea.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE J.J. Watt, NT Brandon Dunn, DT Angelo Blackson
Backups: DE Charles Omenihu, DE Carlos Watkins, DT Ross Blacklock [R]

Starting DL: Nosetackle DJ Reader left for the Bengals in free agency, meaning that the team will presently have to rely on Brandon Dunn, a player that has seen starter duty in recent years. At 31 years old, J.J. Watt is showing signs of wear and tear. He experienced a torn pectoral muscle in October and it was thought to be the third season-ending injury of his career. He was able to return and play in a limited fashion in the team's postseason. Angelo Blackson remains underwhelming, offering little both as a pass rusher or a run stuffer.

Backup DL: More will be expected of Charles Omenihu, last year's fifth-round pick. He showed some ability to rush the passer in college and the Texans will hope that can translate to his professional career. After DJ Reader's free agency exit, the team has a large void. They were prepared to sign veteran Timmy Jernigan Jr. to bolster the depth of the group, but the deal fell through. This is Carlos Watkins' last year with Houston barring an extension. Watkins has not played extensive snaps since 2017 and it is clear the Texans view him merely as depth at this point. Texas Christian defensive tackle Ross Blacklock shows promise as a gap penetrator, but needs to improve at stopping the run.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Zach Cunningham, ILB Benardrick McKinney, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Brennan Scarlett
Backups: ILB Duke Ejiofor, ILB Jacob Martin, OLB Dylan Cole, OLB Davin Bellamy, OLB Jonathan Greenard [R]

Starting LBs: The unit returns all of its starters from 2019 and is one of the few groups on this defense that does not have major holes. Benardrick McKinney is recovering from arthroscopic ankle surgery performed over this offseason. McKinney and Zach Cunningham finished second and first on the team in tackles respectively and they both logged over 100 total tackles last year. The Texans are reportedly negotiating with Cunningham's agent to sign a long-term deal. Whitney Mercilus and Brennan Scarlett paired up for 11 total sacks and six forced fumbles in 2019, numbers that somewhat made up for Clowney's departure via trade last offseason. The pair will do its best to replicate that impact as they move forward.

Backup LBs: In addition to seeing limited time on the field, this group has been very banged up. Duke Ejiofor tore his Achilles tendon in 2019 offseason workouts. The coaching staff remains complimentary of the third-year edge linebacker and have praised his versatility when speaking with the media. Jacob Martin was sent over as part of the team's trade of Jadaveon Clowney with Seattle. It will be tough for his snap count to expand meaningfully unless Watt or Mercilus are hurt, but he has the versatility to play either outside linebacker or defensive end. Dylan Cole tore his ACL last season and is hoping to get back to his role as a special teams contributor this season. Davin Bellamy has not played a snap during the regular season for the Texans, but the team liked his potential enough to ink him to a future contract this offseason. Rookie pick Jonathan Greenard is getting over a right wrist injury suffered in 2018 and does not seem as willing to engage that hand when working to beat blockers. However, if he can clear that mental hurdle, he has the physical capabilities to develop into both a competent run defender and pass rusher.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Lonnie Johnson, CB Bradley Roby, SS Eric Murray, FS Justin Reid
Backups: CB Gareon Conley, CB John Reid [R], CB Vernon Hargreaves, FS A.J. Moore

Starting DBs: This position group remains in disarray and the Texans will hope they can find a combination that will be more effective than it has been in the past several years. Lonnie Johnson was able to find playing time last year as a rookie and put together a decent first campaign. He even managed to score a defensive touchdown in the playoff game against the Chiefs. Bradley Roby is back for his second year with the Texans after signing a three-year, 36 million dollar deal this offseason. Justin Reid will have to play better if the Texans hope to stay on top of the AFC South. Reid was among the lead leaders in missed tackles last year. The Texans signed Eric Murray to a rather expensive deal that will pay $10 million this year. He will start after the team released Tashaun Gipson during the offseason. Murray is coming off a knee injury that ended his year with the Browns. He has the ability to play slot corner in a pinch, but is better suited for safety duties.

Backup DBs: The Buccaneers cut Vernon Hargreaves last year and the Texans, who had cut Aaron Colvin, immediately picked him up. Gareon Conley came to the team through a trade in October. Both acquisitions were an attempt to get a handle on the struggling position, but neither seemed able to help Houston. The Texans will hope that they can contribute better now that they have had more time in their system. Short on premium capital to draft a much-needed corner, Houston instead drafted John Reid in the fourth round of this years' Draft. The hope is that the undersized option can develop into a corner that can at least hang with smaller, shiftier receivers. A.J. Moore continues to be primarily a special teams contributor who will see only limited snaps per game.