Spotlight: Owen Daniels

posted by Mike Brown on Jul 3rd


Mike Brown's thoughts

Owen Daniels has been one of the most unsung stalwarts of the fantasy community pretty much since he's been in the league. The fourth round pick from Wisconsin enjoyed a solid rookie year in 2006, and followed that up with two top-ten fantasy finishes at his position in the two subsequent seasons.

In 2009, the Texans offense was poised to explode. They had shown steady improvement under the leadership of QB Matt Schaub, and with dangerous weapons like Steve Slaton and Andre Johnson manning the skill positions, it was a perfect storm for a previously-unheralded tight end to make his mark.

Daniels wasted no time, coming out of the gates quickly with fifteen receptions through his first three games. More importantly, he matched his entire 2008 touchdown total by the third week of the season. It appeared Daniels was well on his way to a career year. A two-touchdown performance in Week 6 put him just one shy of his career high, which he reached a week later (when he also hauled in seven passes for 123 yards). Over a three game span from Week 5 to Week 7, Daniels snagged 22 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. He was playing the best football of his life, and the team's offense was cruising. Other than a Week 1 hiccup against the Jets, Houston had put up 34, 24, 29, 21, 28, & 24 points. In Week 8, however, disaster struck.

Daniels was seriously injured and tore his ACL, ending his season prematurely. It was probably no coincidence that over the next four games, the Texans went 0-4 while averaging just 19.75 points per game. The team regrouped over the final four games to make a playoff push, but ultimately came up short. Daniels' midseason injury was a watershed moment for the team, and his loss was profound. This past offseason, as Daniels rehabilitated his knee, the team spent a fourth round pick on Garrett Graham to pair him with very athletic second-year man James Casey in backing up Daniels. The fact that there are so many horses in the barn at that position for Houston can either be seen as A) The team being smart by protecting itself, or B) A direct indictment of the team's feeling about Daniels' likelihood of a full recovery.

Positives

  • Daniels was on his way towards a fourth consecutive statistical improvement in 2009 and was the league's top fantasy tight end before his knee gave out.
  • Daniels has the complete trust of his quarterback, Matt Schaub. The QB will not hesitate to look the big tight end's way in just about any scenario, resulting in both long gains down the seam and a bevy of red zone looks for scores. There's also this other guy you may have heard of, WR Andre Johnson, who does a pretty good job of commanding the defense's attention and leaving others to roam free.
  • Not that torn ACLs are ever a good thing, but Daniels missed half the season and still finished as a TE2. Now that he's had the injury, a lot of owners will probably think twice about drafting him. So if you're a believer in him, he could present an excellent value.

Negatives

  • Coming off major knee surgery after tearing his ACL midway through last season. We won't really know how healthy Daniels is when we are drafting in August.
  • Daniels was never a prolific touchdown scorer until this past season, and his career high is just five.
  • Daniels didn't receive a contract extension from Houston, so they aren't tied to him long-term. While it is a good thing that he'll be playing with the added motivation of a new deal, it could be a bad thing if he gets off to a poor start. The team would have no reason not to look at some other options in the offense to plan ahead for the future.

Final thoughts

While a torn ACL has got to be at least something to keep in the back of your mind, there have been nothing but positive reports about the work Daniels has done and his recovery timetable the entire offseason. It's not like he's a running back or a defensive back, where the quick cutting and constant pounding will be much of an issue. Additionally, Daniels is much more of a receiving tight end than a blocker so he won't be exposed to quite as many hits to the legs.

Of course, Daniels might be a bit slower out of the gates as he tries to get in rhythm, but it's also important to remember that the initial injury was during the middle part of last season. Had it occurred in December or January, there would be more reason to worry. But since it happened when it did, he's had those extra months to get healthy. Judging by the time frame of the initial injury, Daniels could start to hit his stride sometime around midseason. And from the initial reports, there is very little reason to think he won't at least be very close to the player he was prior to the injury.

The fact is, Daniels wanted a new contract prior to the 2009 season. When he didn't get it, he went out and had an outstanding first half before getting hurt. He again wants a new contract, a long-term deal with Houston. They are concerned about his long-term durability and will need to see him remain fully healthy all season before giving him a new deal. That should provide him with enough motivation enough to ensure that he's ready to roll by the opening week. And even if it does take him a bit to get going, he'll likely be at full strength by the time fantasy playoffs roll around. In the two prior seasons to 2009, Daniels didn't miss a single game. Last year's freak injury was just that - a freak injury. Don't let that deter you from grabbing great value on a guy with top-5 upside at his position.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

FBG Senior Writer Jason Wood said:

Daniels has proven himself to be a true fantasy asset, particularly in PPR leagues, and I shudder to think what kind of trajectory he might have been on had he stayed healthy for the full 16 game schedule last year as Matt Schaub finally ascended into the elite tier. What's fascinating is that people may look at last year (TE17) and see 5 TDs and think to themselves, "Daniels never grabs a lot of scores." Yet, as we all know, that was 5 TDs in 8 games. He was finally on pace for a monster TD season to go along with his usual prodigious reception totals.

The key to Daniels this year is, of course, his health. The guy has never been explosive, but was certainly not a plodder either (witness his 12.1 career yards per reception average). If he is back on the field for training camp and looking good, I could see his justifying his current ADP (TE8). But we have to remember that the NFL is a fickle, what have you done for me lately league, and he really needs to produce and stay healthy.

*** He's playing on a one-year deal
*** James Casey (a Cec and Bloom favorite) is skilled enough to take a big leap forward with the right opportunity
*** Garrett Graham (a 4th rounder this year) is pretty much a Daniels clone in many ways

sholditch said:

Daniels won't be unseated unless he fails spectacularly. He's elite at his position and there are only a few I would take ahead of him in redraft (Gates, Davis, Clark, maybe Finley)

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Houston is a passing machine and Owen Daniels is trusted by his QB. The only concern for Daniels of course is lasting the 16 game season, which certainly didn't happen last year. Still, it's a new season and he runs decent routes and hangs on to the ball.


Owen Daniels projections

RECRECYDRECTDRSHYDRSHTD
Mike Brown60690500
Message board consensus63800600