The Gut Check No.456: Keke Coutee

Matt Waldman profiles Texans slot receiver Keke Coutee, a potential high-volume option with dynamic skills under the hood. 

About 12 weeks ago, this weekly feature profiled Keke Coutee as one of Five Lesser-Known Rookies You Should Monitor In Training Camp. The bottom line from this analysis: "Look for Coutee to earn [the slot role ahead of Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller] and potentially cut into Will Fuller V's big-play production. He could be a dark horse to trail only DeAndre Hopkins in receiving yards by the end of the year."

The production call was a bold statement — one that didn't look too promising when a week later, Coutee suffered a hamstring injury and missed training camp and the preseason. Based on the statements the players and staff made to the media about Coutee in June and July, the Texans had already seen enough of Coutee to know what it had.

It was enough for this writer to list Coutee and 49ers receiver Dante Pettis as the two options worth selecting during the final round of any draft with at least 20 spots — alternating between these two players in several published mock drafts throughout the summer.

Fast-forward to Week 4 and a healthy Coutee earned 11 catches for 109 yards in his NFL debut against the Colts. When a player makes an immediate impact of this nature in his first NFL game and does it without preseason or training camp, it's noteworthy and unlikely a fluke.

This week's Gut Check breaks down the way the Texans used Coutee against the Colts, why it's sustainable usage, what else the Houston offense could easily have in store for Coutee that we didn't see in Week 4, and his fantasy outlook for the rest of the season.

slot acumen

Note: See the second video in each Twitter excerpt below. The Tweets were a part of a thread and embedded threads from a video will result in display of the a pair of tweets at a time.

Coutee is an excellent route runner of patterns used in the slot. His stop-start acceleration and deceleration (it's even more important to stop fast as a route runner makes him a difficult weapon for slot defenders to contain. This pivot route below is an excellent illustration, resulting in yards after the catch and a first down.

Many slot routes feature two-way go's against a defender playing over top. The break is based on the defender's position and the slot player's job is to read the opponent, bait the opponent, and separate. Coutee has been doing this for a few years at a Texas Tech program that has generated the likes of Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. Coutee has earned coaching from Welker at Texas Tech as well as Houston.

These routes, slants, screens, and finding openings against zone coverage are the fundamental roles we expect from slot receivers and Coutee can execute them all and earn yards after the catch with his return game skill. How Coutee fits within the wrinkles of the Texans offense makes him a likely high-volume PPR option moving forward.

Extension of the ground game

The Texans like to get the defense thinking east-west and then attack deep north-south with the likes of Will Fuller V and DeAndre Hopkins. Extending the threat of the ground game to space players with short passes as well as pre- and post-snap motion across the formation also creates this horizontal stretch of the defense.

constraint player

The threat of Deshaun Watson in the option game also creates a lot of that east-west component and adds another layer of information for opponents to consider and potentially slow their reaction time, which creates bigger plays. Many of Watson's big plays come from uses of the option attack.

Watson baits the defense into playing the option assignments:

  1. The dive play of handing the ball to Lamar Miller.
  2. The quarterback keeper around the end.
  3. The pitch to the third option on the perimeter.

The Texans don't line up in the wishbone and run the triple option but the elements of it are in play when the offense motions Keke Coutee towards the backfield behind the quarterback before the snap.

The option pitch, the option pass, and jet sweeps are all types of constraint plays designed to keep opposing defenses honest about its assignments so it doesn't overplay specific stars like Hopkins and Fuller. These plays keep the defense guessing and open the entire field.

clutch target

Coutee has proven to be a clutch target when he worked with Patrick Mahomes II II at Texas Tech. Despite missing the entire month of August and most of September, Watson felt comfortable enough to target Coutee in overtime on third down. Coutee responded with a good adjustment to the ball and boundary awareness.

When teams feature a rookie in pivotal moments, it's a strong indicator that the team trusts him as a playmaker. Based on Texan's use of Coutee in the option game, slot patterns, shorter routes to stretch the field horizontally, and clutch situations, Coutee's 11-reception debut is not a fluke but a sign of things to come — especially with what else the Texans could (and should) have in store for him now that they've confirmed he can perform well on an NFL stage without losing focus.

untapped vertical threat

A significant component of Coutee's game that we didn't see during his debut was his skill in the vertical game. Coutee has excellent first-step quickness and enough speed to beat cornerbacks on seam routes, posts, fades, and corner routes. These are all strengths of Watson's game.

The Texans will likely feature Coutee as the inside slot receiver and work route combinations where he can run the fade to the sideline like this Red Raiders play below.

When the Texans can identify a coverage that matches Coutee with a safety or linebacker, we'll also see him stretch the seam and track the ball like a top vertical option.

Both of these plays are common in the NFL, play to Coutee and Watson's strengths, and leverage the attention that Hopkins and Fuller earn when on the same side of the field as a third option like Coutee. Big plays are coming as long as Coutee's hamstring is healthy enough to play with the explosion he demonstrated at Texas Tech. If he returned early and isn't at top speed, it might be a few more weeks before they open the throttle of his game.

comfort in traffic and tight coverage

When the Texans decide to open the throttle, Coutee will reward them with a tough, focused receiver who doesn't need a pinpoint target in the middle of the field to come down with the ball. This skill is a good pairing with Watson because one of Watson's weaknesses is occasional inaccuracies throwing in the short and intermediate zones over the middle.

Watson's ability to extend plays also makes it important for the Texans to have a third receiver who can work open and adjust to the ball in tight windows. Coutee demonstrated this skill and the rapport with Patrick Mahomes II' scrambles to generate big plays in this respect.

He's also a talent who can win one-on-one like a perimeter receiver. It's an area of his game that should grow over the next 2-3 seasons.

Short-term and long-term fantasy outlook

Coutee may not earn 11-catch games weekly but expect him to earn a lot of that Jarvis Landry-Miami volume in this offense based on similar usage as an extension of the ground game. Landry often averaged 5-7 catches per game and averaged 8.8-12.1 yards per reception during that span.

Based on the design of this offense and Coutee's fit within it, expecting 4-6 catches per game isn't unrealistic, which projects to at least 72 catches for the year. That's strong PPR volume with about 680-720 yards receiving if assigning an average of 10 yards per catch, which is realistic.

If Coutee's hamstring is healthy enough and the Texans open that throttle, we may begin seeing performances punctuated with big plays. If this happens, Coutee's average per catch could climb closer to 12-14 yards and his yardage for the year will be closer to 900-1,000 yards and 6-8 touchdowns.

Considering that use of Coutee in the option game, drag routes, and another horizontal plays that will also occur in the red zone, Coutee could earn 4-6 touchdowns this year. None of these figures are sky-high expectations.

When putting it together, here's a projection profile for Coutee:

  • Floor: 59 receptions, 590 yards, 3 touchdowns — the No.47 PPR receiver last year.
  • Middle Ground: 72 receptions, 720 yards, 5 touchdowns — the No.29 PPR receiver last year.
  • Ceiling: 72 receptions, 940 yards, 7 touchdowns — the No. 16 PPR receiver last year.

At worst, Coutee projects as a bye-week, flex-option in three-receiver PPR lineups. If he performs to expectation, he's a solid third receiver in weekly PPR lineups. At best, he delivers Tyreek Hill-like first-year production.

His volume makes him a worthwhile risk to acquire in fantasy leagues where you're seeking a consistent weekly producer and have enough big-play options to drop a less consistent producer. Here are the type of receivers and running backs who might be worth dropping while considering Coutee.

Receivers

Running Backs

If you have the luxury to add Coutee in lieu of a second tight end, second kicker, or second defense, that's the best way to acquire him for a few weeks and then you can choose one of these options to dump to the curb as everything comes into clearer focus for you.