|By Shawn Childs, Sunday, December 6, 2015|
After posting a league-worst 2-14 record in 2013, the Texans returned to respectability last year, going 9-7. Compared to 2013, they scored about 100 more points and gave up about 120 fewer. As good as that looks, Houston actually regressed in total yards gained and total yards allowed, finishing 17th and 16th in the league, respectively. They ranked 11th and seventh in those categories in 2013. Last year, the Texans ran the ball a league-high 551 times. This allowed them to keep the score close and limit the exposure to their defense.
Houston has made the playoffs only twice in the team's 13-year history. Bill O'Brien did a nice job in his first season as head coach. Romeo Crennel returns for his second seasons as the defensive coordinator. He has 14 years of experience as either a head coach or defensive coordinator with three Super Bowl titles coming with the New England Patriots. George Godsey has been moved from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.
The best player Houston lost in free agency was wide receiver Andre Johnson. He has had an elite career with the Texans, recording five 100-catch season and finishing seven years with more than 1,000 yards. His skill set will be tough to replace, but Johnson is going to be 34 in July.
The best player added was nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Just like Johnson, Wilfork is long in the tooth (34), but he will provide a nice upgrade to Houston's run defense.
Linebacker Brooks Reed moved onto the Atlanta Falcons. He was no more than league average against the run and had limited upside when it came to rushing the QB. Safety Kendrick Lewis signed with Baltimore Ravens. In his second season as a starter, Lewis played well in pass coverage. The Texans added a pair of safeties -- Rahim Moore and Stevie Brown. Moore started every game for the Denver Broncos in 2014 and had almost the same production as Lewis. Brown, who will come off the bench has no defining asset in his skill set. Safety D.J. Swearinger has moved on to the Tampa Buccaneers after struggling badly against the run.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the New York Jets. Case Keenum will compete for the backup job with the St. Louis Rams. Brian Hoyer was added to the roster to battle quarterback Ryan Mallett for the starting job. Both QBs have ties to O'Brien from their time together with the Patriots.
Starting center Chris Myers was cut at age 34. Chris Polk will add depth to the running back position. DeVier Posey never developed into a viable wideout option, and he'll now fight for playing time with the Jets in 2015. Nate Washington replaced him on the Texans' roster.
In the first round of this year's NFL Draft, Houston selected cornerback Kevin Johnson. He flashed electric quickness and athletic ability at the combine. Johnson has upside as a cover corner with some question marks in his tackling ability, which may be corrected when he adds more bulk. The Texans will have the luxury of using him off the bench this year.
Linebacker Benardrick McKinney was added in the second round. McKinney will have his most value when attacking the line of scrimmage as a run defender or blitzing the QB. He has some value in pass coverage against tight ends.
With their next two picks, the Texans focused on adding WR depth with Jaelen Strong and Keith Mumphery. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Strong has the size to replace Johnson. Although he ran a sub-4.50 time at the combine, he lacks quickness and will struggle to beat defenders deep downfield. His should do his best work in the short areas of the field as he has a strong enough release to create separation. Mumphery runs decent routes, but he lacks quickness and deep speed. Keith is a willing blocker and may have value on special teams.
In the sixth round, Houston drafted linebacker Reshard Cliett and defensive tackle Christian Covington. Cliett will add speed to the defense, but he has some tackling issues. He needs to add more strength to help him in the heat of the battle at the line of scrimmage. Covington is an attacking player who has good instincts against the run and enough quickness to create advantages as a pass rusher. He, like Cliett, needs to get stronger. Christian missed the final five games of the season at Rice University due to a knee injury.
With their last pick in the draft, the Texans gambled on RB Kenny Hilliard. He had a tough combine where he run like he was in mud (4.83 40). Hilliard has some value as a pass catcher, but he really has no future in the NFL unless he is converted to fullback.
Houston Texans WR Jaelen Strong
Houston ran the ball a ton last year, and the offensive line looked great when leading the way for Arian Foster, who averaged 4.8 yards per rush on 260 carries. Unfortunately, Foster's backups averaged only 3.3 yards per rush.
Left tackle Duane Brown was the Texans' best overall lineman in 2014. He was very good in run blocking and allowed only two sacks.
Right guard Brandon Brooks was a top-five run blocker for his position last year and didn't allow a sack. He had similar success in 2013 as well.
Ben Jones is expected to take over at center after starting all 16 games at left guard in 2014. He was slightly above average in run blocking but wasn't quite as consistent in pass protection.
Houston's 2014 second-round pick, Xavier Su'a-Filo, is expected to take over the left guard position. As a part-time player last year, Xavier failed to show any upside in either run or pass blocking.
Right tackle Derek Newton was a huge liability in all areas of the game in 2013, but he did make a huge step forward in 2014 as run blocker. Newton allowed only two sacks, but he also allowed 36 QB hurries.
This line has two very good players and has been especially effective when Foster runs between his center and his right guard. On 98 such runs last season, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Houston will need better overall play at center and left guard. Without Foster in the lineup, this line has been below league average.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2014, which will work as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: This is the results for each team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
Based on last year, the Texans have the easiest schedule in terms of their opponents' rushing yards allowed. The Jets are their only tough matchup in that area. They play in a division with some poor defenses, plus the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are also weak against the run. Houston will face three AFC East teams that have solid defensive lines and are strong at defending the pass -- the Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The most favorable matchups for their passing game will most likely come against Atlanta and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Texans ran the ball 53.1 percent of the time last year, which ranked second in the league. Slightly more than 20 percent of their completed passes went to RBs but only 11.0 percent went to TEs (second-lowest rate in the league). Their quarterbacks completed 67.5 percent of their passes to WRs, who caught a total of 199 for 2,585 yards and 10 TDs.
QB Brian Hoyer - Bust (overvalued)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Hoyer had a solid game in Week 13 (308 combined yards and three TDs), but his ticket came in a week late. On the year he has one game with 300+ yards passing and three games with three TDs. The Patriots rank 9th in the league in QB Fantasy defense, with five of their last six opponents scoring fewer than 20 Fantasy points. QBs have 16 passing TDs, while gaining 6.8 yards per pass. Not ideal, but he may surprise if New England sets the tempo on offense.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/3): The one week Fantasy owners place a bet on Hoyer coming out as the top value play at QB, he comes up short due to the Saints not pressing the issue on the scoreboard. He finished with 205 yards and two TDs. He has one 300-yard passing game in seven full games played, with two games with more than two TDs. Buffalo is about league average in QB Fantasy defense, with improved success in four of their last five games (20 Fantasy points or less). QBs have 20 passing TDs, while gaining 6.8 yards per attempt. Not ideal, but maybe the Hopkins/Hoyer combo comes in a week late.
UPDATE (11/21): Hoyer actually hasn't been awful. He has an impressive TD-to-INT ratio of 13-to-4. Despite missing large chunks of multiple games due to injuries or due to being benched, he is still averaging a respectable 243.4 yards per game. All things considered, those really aren't awful Fantasy stats. With that said, he is currently injured and suffered a concussion and memory loss in Week 10. It's unclear how much time he will miss. T.J. Yates will start in his absence.
Hoyer outplayed Johnny Manziel in 2014, which led to him starting 13 games for the Browns. He went 7-6 while passing for 3,326 yards, 12 TDs and 13 INTs. He completed only 55.3 percent of his passes. His lack of success was due to a poor wide receiving corps and a disappointing year from TE Jordan Cameron. Just like Mallett, Brian spent three seasons as the backup in New England. His tenure came when O'Brien was the Pats' quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Hoyer's resume is short and his upside is limited. I expect him to start some games this season and offer value as a game manager.
RB Alfred Blue - Fantasy Handcuff
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Blue was limited last week with a back issue, which led to him only being on the field for nine plays, compared to 30 by Polk and 27 by Grimes. This week he is listed as questionable. On the year, Blue has one 100-yard rushing game with three TDs, while gaining only 3.5 YPC. New England is 12th in the league in RB Fantasy defense, with some fade in their last three games due to injuries on the defensive side of the ball (523 combined yards, four TDs and 17 catches). Low upside with inconsistent player time.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Blue had his best game in Week 12 (81 combined yards with a TD and a catch) vs. the Saints since Week 3 (139 yards and a TD). He finished with 17 touches, but the Texans also gave Grimes (21), Polk (16), and Hunt (4) a good percentage of playing time. Over the last two games Blue has 41 touches, 173 combined yards with a TD and four catches. The Bills are league average defending RBs, with eight teams scoring over 20 Fantasy points. They allow a 4.2 YPC average and 11 TDs to RBs. Improving opportunity, but Fantasy owners could very easily get beat by the head coach giving him less playing time.
UPDATE (11/21): The Texans' backfield is a mess without Arian Foster. It appears Blue is the best option, nevertheless, that does not make him a good option. Since Foster has gone down, Blue has 26 carries for just 61 yards. He's nothing more than a desperation flex option. While he had one game in which he rushed for 139 yards on 31 carries, those games are few and far between for him. He is not a reliable option.
Update (08/06): Houston gave Blue 184 touches in his rookie season so most fantasy owners will naturally be drawn to him as the best available athlete at the RB position. His 3.1 yards per rush is a huge negative for me headed into the 2015 season, but I can't dismiss that he Alfred can show improvement in his second year in the league. Until I see him on the field or a strong message from the coaching staff endorsing him as the starter, I'm placing him in the number two position behind Polk. His success or failure with be the key to the Texans adding more running back depth.
Blue was unimpressive as a sixth-round rookie in 2014 (641 combined yards and three TDs on 184 touches). He averaged only averaged 3.1 yards per rush. In the three games he started, he accrued 310 yards from scrimmage on 69 touches. His season highlight came in Week 11 when he rushed for 156 yards on a whopping 36 totes against the Browns. Over four seasons at LSU, Alfred never was the lead back. He rushed for a total of 1,253 yards on 209 carries in college and had limited value in the passing game (16 catches, 105 yards). I think he will be passed on the depth chart before the season begins. Blue is a low-level handcuff.
Houston Texans RB Alfred Blue
WR DeAndre Hopkins - Stud (low risk)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Hopkins has seven TDs in his last seven games, but he only has one 100-yard receiving game in his last six games. His catch production has been short in each of his last four games (five catches in each game) leading to a 50 percent catch rate over this period. On the year he has five 100-yard receiving games and 10 TDs, while averaging 12.7 targets per game. The Patriots are just below league average in WR Fantasy defense, with three teams scoring over 50 Fantasy points from the WR position. WRs have 12 TDs vs. New England. CB Malcolm Butler will cover Hopkins on many plays, but he will have plenty of support. The Patriots will take Hopkins away from Hoyer. I don't expect an impact game.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): The run game and game score can crush the upside of the best WRs in the game. Last week Hopkins had under 11 targets (8) for the first time all year, leading to his lowest production in 2015 (5/36). He has five 100-yard receiving games and nine TDs, while averaging 13 targets per game. WRs have 13 TDs vs. the Bills in 2015 (six in their last seven games). Buffalo had a tough time containing WR Jeremy Maclin last week (9/160/1). If the Bills can pressure Hoyer, Hopkins may struggle to make big plays. He is a great WR with game breaking ability, but I'm not sure he offers enough upside in this matchup on the road in Week 13.
UPDATE (11/21): Hopkins has been tremendous this season. Through nine games, he has 71 receptions for 927 yards and seven touchdowns. He's only had two games in which he didn't catch over 150 yards or score a touchdown. In his only two down games he still caught at least five passes for 50 yards. In those games he was covered by top corners Josh Norman and Brent Grimes. He's developed into an elite WR1 and is well out of Andre Johnson's shadow. He's going to be a star for a long time.
Hopkins had a breakthrough sophomore season as he caught 76 passes for 1,210 yards with six TDs on 127 targets. His defining moment last year came in Week 13 against the Titans. On that day, he caught all nine of his targets for 238 yards and two touchdowns. For the year, DeAndre finished only four games with more than nine targets. He ended three other games with more than 100 receiving yards. Hopkins also started to offer some consistency in PPR leagues; he had 10 games with at least five catches. With Johnson gone, DeAndre will have an even greater opportunity to catch the ball. The downside is that he will now see No. 1 cornerbacks on a weekly basis and more double coverage. Last year, Johnson was targeted 146 times, so Hopkins shouldn't be hurting for looks. He has yet to take part in OTAs following offseason wrist surgery, but he's expected to be ready for training camp. His 2015 value will ultimately be determined by an improvement in his career catch rate (58.7 percent) and better play from under center. At minimum, DeAndre will have a 90-catch opportunity, close to 1,400 yards and a chance at double-digit TDs.
Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins
WR Cecil Shorts - Bust (overvalued)
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WR Jaelen Strong - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
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Houston - Stud (low risk)
The Texans will face nine offenses with below-average rushing attacks. Their best matchups will come against the Buccaneers, Falcons and two against the Tennessee Titans. The Bills' ground game will be improved with LeSean McCoy. Houston faces two teams with strong rushing attacks: the Jets and Bengals. They have four games against strong aerial attacks: Atlanta, New Orleans, and the Indianapolis Colts twice. The Texans have nine games against with below-par passing attacks.
Houston finished 10th in rushing yards allowed (1,681) and gave up only six rushing touchdowns. They totaled 38 sacks, which was one fewer than the league median. They allowed the 12th-fewest passing yards (3,890) to go along with 28 TDs and 20 interceptions. Opposing offenses attempted the second-most passes per game at 38.7.
Defensive end J.J. Watt produces just insane numbers when attacking the quarterback. Last year, he had 20.5 sacks, 44 QB hits and 54 QB hurries while delivering solid value in run support. It's almost like he has twice as much value as any other NFL defensive player.
Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt
Each of the Texans' other defensive linemen delivered negative value against the run and picked up a combined total of seven sacks. Vince Wilfork will hopefully shore up the run defense. Houston has a weakness at defensive end opposite Watt. Jared Crick, who started 15 games at end last season, had only four sacks and some issues in run support.
The Texans are hoping linebacker Jadeveon Clowney will be healthy this season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee in December. The first overall pick in last year's draft was on the field for only 146 plays as a rookie. LB Whitney Mercilus played well against the run and recorded five sacks, 10 QB hits and 25 QB hurries.
Injuries have taken a toll on Brian Cushing over the past two years. The linebacker played his best ball as a rookie in 2009 after being taken 15th overall. He really has no value attacking the QB and was a liability in run support after playing well in limited action in 2013. Brian underwent surgery on his left knee, left ankle and right wrist during the offseason.
Second-round rookie Benardrick McKinney is slated to start at inside linebacker. His attacking style should play well when following the havoc created by the mighty Watt.
The last outside linebacker slot will go to either John Simon and Kourtnei Brown. Both players have no real upside.
Cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph played well in pass coverage while providing neutral support against the run. Rookie corner Kevin Johnson will add upside depth to the position.
The safety position in Houston is loaded with question marks and mediocre talent.
Overall, the Texans have the best player in the league on defense with three possible upside linebackers. They should be stronger against the run and have enough talent to defend the pass effectively as long as Watt is in the QB's face. Watt is the leader, but Clowney is the wild card. Last year, the Texans had a top-five Fantasy defense due to their six defensive scores. They should be drafted as such.