|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, May 24, 2017|
Over three seasons with Bill O'Brien as the head coach, the Texans have gone 9-7 every year with the last two seasons resulting in playoff berths. Their success was a result of being the top defense in the league as far as yards allowed, which was an improvement of two spots over 2015 even with top defender J.J. Watt missing the last 13 games of the season. Houston did fade to 11th in the league points allowed (328 - 7th in 2014 and 2015). QB play has been a huge issue in three of the last four seasons for the Texans. They fell to 28th in points scored (279) and 29th in yards allowed with Brock Osweiler behind center. It was the fourth straight year of regression in offense yards and third in points scored (2014 - 372 and 2015 - 339). The offensive coordinator took the ax last season. O'Brien decided he was the best man to make the offensive calls in 2017 so Houston didn't bring in a new offensive coordinator. Mike Vrabel was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator. As a player, he helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls. The key for a deeper playoff push would be more competitive play at the quarterback position.
The only player added to the offensive side of the ball was backup T Breno Giacomini who struggled with the Jets in 2016. Houston lost CB A.J. Bouye to the Jaguars after he played at a high level in pass coverage last year. DE John Simon moved on to the Cardinals after adding rotational value before suffering a chest injury. G Oday Aboushi signed with the Seahawks. He only started four games in 2016 while providing negative value. The biggest move in the offseason was dumping QB Brock Osweiler to the Browns. They admitted their mistake, which clears a path for a new beginning at the quarterback position.
With the 12th pick in the third round, Houston addressed their weakness at the quarterback position by selecting Deshaun Watson. He led Clemson to back-to-back championship games with the second opportunity leading to a National Championship. He played most of his career out of the shotgun. His legs are a huge asset with a winnable arm, but Watson needs to improve his decision-making with tighter coverage expected in the NFL plus improve his accuracy. His first look had a much higher rate of being open in college, so reading defenses will be his biggest area of need headed into his rookie season.
LB Zach Cunningham was added in the second round. Instincts add a step to a football player's play speed. Cunningham has vision with enough speed to be a disrupter in the run game and attacking the QB, but he does need a clean run. He'll handle himself well on three downs. His biggest weakness is his strength that hurts him when trying to break free from blocks against linemen. Another playmaker on this defense just adds more upside to this defense.
There will be more competition for playing time at the RB position in 2017 with the selection of RB D'Onta Foreman in the third round. Gifted with a nice combination of size (6'0" and 233 Lbs.), speed, and power, Foreman will be an interesting player to follow this summer. He has some sleekness to his running style while carrying the hammer when needed to blast through defenders. He'll upgrade the short yardage, and goal line runs. His vision isn't elite, and he needs to improve his patience. His attacking style does lead to minimal losing plays. Tough to believe he'll have value on third downs until he cleans up his pass blocking technique and his blitz recognition. Ball security could be an issue.
In the fourth round, the Texans drafted T Julie'n Davenport. Small school prospect with the skill set to develop into a capable pass blocker with some pulling ability. His technique needs to improve in run blocking but he plays with power and length.
Houston took a swing with DT Carlos Watkins with their second pick in the fourth round. He'll bring more disruption to the point of attack with power and athleticism. His motor had a short tank, which points to him being a rotational player as a run defender. Possible situational rusher if he's used properly and Watkins has a winnable matchup.
CB Treston Decoud is a physical defender who works best in press coverage if he doesn't get beat off the line. If he does, Decoud lacks the speed and quickness to recover from his mistakes. He's slow footed changing direction in his backpedal while grading well in run support and making tackles. His skill set paints him as a safety at the next level with limitation in coverage.
In the final round, the Texans selected C Kyle Fuller. A power player with limited range. Projects as one punch blocker working on a small piece of the field. Kyle needs the rusher to come to him to increase his success level.
The Texans finished eighth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,859) thanks to sixth-most rushing attempts (456) in the league. They did struggle to punch it in at the goal line (eight rushing TDs). They had ten runs over 20 yards and 49 runs of 10 yards or longer. Houston ended up with 35 negative runs.
Houston ranked 29th in passing yards (3,176) while gaining a league low 5.9 yards per passing attempt. They threw 15 TDs with 16 Ints and 32 sacks. AS bad as it looks, the Texans was still about league average in passing attempts (36.4 per game).
LT Duane Brown allowed minimal damage in pass protection and is an elite run blocker. This will be his 10th year in the league after being drafted in the first round in 2008.
LG Xavier Su'a-Filo had a tough time in his third season in the league after the Texans drafted him in the second round in 2014. He continues to struggle in pass protection.
C Nick Martin is an attacking power player who plays well in the run game. He needs to find a balance between the attack mode and holding his ground against oncoming pass rushers. His tendency to be first off the ball can lead to some off-balance issues when leaning forward to block in the passing game. He missed his rookie season with an ankle injury after Houston selected him in the second round. Greg Mancz did an excellent job as his replacement especially in pass blocking, so Martin may need to fight for a starting job.
RG Jeff Allen had a tough 2016 leading to losing value in all areas. He signed a four-year $28 million contract in March of 2016. Allen was expected to upgrade the rushing with neutral value as a run blocker.
RT Chris Clark added to the struggles with the right side of the line with a poor 2016 season. He played through a shoulder injury that required surgery in January. Clark has experience in the NFL at left tackle so he should be able to hold his own this season.
Overall, this line has plenty of risk with possible upside from a couple of positions. Their only edge comes at left tackle. I rate the group as below the 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 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. 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.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
Houston has two strong matchups in the run game against the 49ers and the Browns and three mid-tier games against the Chiefs and two games vs. the Colts. They have seven contests vs. teams with strength against the run.
Their passing offense has four games within the division that offer upside, two against Indianapolis and two against Tennessee. The rest of their passing schedule has seven games with risk. Arizona and two games against Jacksonville will provide the toughest tests.
The Texans tend to run a lot of plays on offense, which gives some of the players in this system higher upside with improved play at quarterback. They ran the ball 43.9 percent of the time. With one of the better defenses in the league, Houston will play in many tight contests leading to upside in the run game. They need to block better in the red zone to produce more TDs.
The Texans run defense will get in their two games vs. the Titans. The 49ers had success running the ball in 2016, but part of that success came from the QB. Most of the rest of Houston's schedule looks neutral with the Ravens and Rams looking like the weak links.
They play two terrible passing offenses in San Francisco and the Rams with Cleveland and the Titans (twice) grading well below the league average throwing the ball. Houston will be tested by the Patriots, the Seahawks, the Colts twice, the Steelers, and the Cardinals.
Houston finished 12th in rushing yards allowed (1,595) and allowed 13 rushing TDs. Ball carriers gained 4.0 yards per rush with eight runs over 20 yards.
The strength of this defense came defending the pass (3,226 yards - 2nd). They allowed only 6.6 yards per pass attempt. QBs tossed 20 TDs with 11 Ints and 31 sacks.
After recording 38 sacks with 154 combined tackles over the previous two seasons, DE J.J. Watt missed 13 games due to a back injury that required surgery. He's expected to be ready for training camp. Watt is one of the best defensive players in the league with impact value rushing the QB. DT D.J. Reader and DT Carlos Watkins will battle for the nose tackle job in 2017. Reader looks like a massive run clogger with limitations due to his questionable motor. Watkins is more athletic with upside in disruption. He lacks endurance as well leading to a part-time role. DE Jadeveon Clowney improved in his third year in the league while still falling short of his expected value after Houston selected him first overall in 2014. He finished with a career-high in tackles (52) and sacks (6) while playing in 14 games. He battled a left knee injury last year that required surgery in January.
LB Whitney Mercilus has been the Texans' second best player on defense over the last two seasons. After delivering 12 sacks in 2015, that number slipped to 7.5 in 2016 with growth in his tackles for the fourth straight year. He's a former first round pick (2012) and plays well against the run. LB Benardrick McKinney led Houston in tackles (129) while chipping in with five sacks. LB Brian Cushing isn't the same player he once was, and his future replacement (Zach Cunningham) was drafted in the second round in 2017. Zach should fit in well with this crew as he'll bring speed and vision.
CB Kareem Jackson will compete with CB Kevin Johnson for one starting jobs at corner. Johnson is the better player, but he missed ten games last year due to a foot injury. CB Johnathan Joseph had a drop-off in his game in 2016 at age 32. He may end up being a rotational defender in 2017. S Andre Hal and S Corey Moore look to be neutral players at their position.
This defense will have risk vs. the pass in games against top offenses when the defensive line doesn't pressure the QB. They have talent at linebacker and on the outside of the defensive line. The Texans need someone to step up at defensive tackle. Fantasy owners will draft them as a top defense in 2017. I like the sacks, but the secondary may not get enough picks to deliver an edge. I won't overpay for them.
QB Deshaun Watson - Sleeper (undervalued)
Nobody is talking about DeShaun Watson. From a winning perspective and overall dynamics added to the offense, the Houston Texans must be ecstatic with the selection of QB Deshaun Watson. He instantly upgrades WR DeAndre Hopkins while adding another dimension to the offense with his ability to run. I don't see any way Tom Savage beats him out for the starting job over the long haul. Watson comes from a winning program, and he's played in high-pressure games. Over the last two seasons at Clemson, Watson passed for 8,702 yards with an exceptional completion rate (67.4). He finished with 86 TDs and 30 Ints over that span. When you add his value in the run game (372/1734/21) in 2015 and 2016, a Fantasy owner can see the excitement in this skill set. It won't take much to see this summer that Watson is the quarterback that gives the Texans the best chances to win in 2017. He has a great wide receiver with a deep threat in Will Fuller. Deshaun's legs will help those two players shine in the deep passing game. Houston will throw the ball 550 to 600 times so a full season of games for Watson should lead to over 4,000 yards passing with 30+ combined TDs and over 600 yards rushing. Complete steal as a QB2 while I fully expect him to be a top 10 Fantasy QB in 2017.
QB Tom Savage - Dynasty Only
Savage has a nice arm, but he is slow footed. His lack of mobility can't extend the passing window, which is needed with Houston's explosive WRs on the outside. In his two starts for the Texans in 2016, Tom went 1-1 while failing to throw a TD and Int. He completed 63.0 percent of his passes and gaining only 6.3 yards per pass attempt. Over three seasons in college, Savage threw for 5,690 yards with 37 TDs and 19 Ints. His plodding style will struggle to make plays downfield behind this offensive line. He's done nothing in his career at any level to prove he's a more talented option than Watson. If he wins the job, he'll offer no Fantasy value over the long haul.
RB Lamar Miller - Stud (low risk)
The Texans gave Miller 299 touches in 2016 over 14 games, but he still underperformed based on his draft value. Miller ended up with 1,261 combined yards, six TDs, and 31 catches. He gained only 4.0 yards per rush and 6.1 yards per catch, which were career lows. He missed the last two games of the season with an ankle injury. Earlier in the season, he played through shoulder, ankle, and rib injuries. Miller now has two seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing in his career and some explosiveness in his game when he breaks free at the second level of the defense. This didn't happen in 2016 due to a poor offensive line and weak QB play. With Watson expected to start (my opinion), defenses will have to defend a bigger part of the field creating more openings to make plays. The addition of D'Onta Foreman is going to change the balance at the RB position in 2017. Lamar will still be the lead dog, but he will lose goal line and short-yard chances. Overall, his touches will slide closer to 250 while seeing almost all the action on third downs. I'll downgrade him to about 1,200 combined yards and 50 catches with only a handful of TDs.
RB D'Onta Foreman - Fantasy Handcuff
The Longhorns rode Foreman hard in his junior year. He carried the ball 323 times for 2,028 yards and 15 TDs. His game had minimal value in the passing game (7/75). Before 2016, he only had 114 touches for 819 yards with five TDs and six catches. Houston would love to add thump to their rushing attack, and D'Onta appears to be the answer. I expect him to get 150+ touches for 650+ yards with a chance at double digit TDs. The goal-line opportunities will be interesting with Watson being a factor as well. At the very least, Foreman will be the top handcuff for Miller. However, he still has plenty of work to do in his pass protection skills to earn playing time on passing downs.
WR DeAndre Hopkins - Stud (low risk)
It's downright embarrassing to see the final stats (78/954/4 on 151 targets) of Hopkins in 2016. Teams doubled and triple team him all year leading to a decline in his catch rate (51.7 - 57.8 in 2015) with fade in his opportunity (21.4 percent) and his big play ability (10 catches for 20 yards - 20 in 2014 and 19 in 2015). Hopkins only had two games with over 100 yards receiving (Week 2 - 7/113/1 and Week 17 - 7/123). He had double-digit targets in seven games compared to 13 games in 2015. One of the great lines from Good Will Hunting sums it up best here, 'It's not your fault… It's not your fault'. Hopkins is an explosive talent, and Watson will make him shine again. His high-volume opportunity and big play ability will return in 2017. He's yet to miss a game in his 64-game career. Just based on durability, I would rather own him than Julio Jones this year. Excellent value with another 100+ catch season expected, 1400+ yards and double-digit TDs. This adds up to a 300-point WR in PPR leagues.
WR Will Fuller - Not Draft Worthy
The Texans took advantage of all the double teams with Hopkins in Week 1 and Week 2 by beating them with Fuller, who delivered two impact games (5/107/1 on 11 targets and 4/104 on seven targets). The Patriots shut him down the next week (3/31 on seven targets) while Will exploded again in Week 4 (7/81/2). He suffered a hamstring injury leading to a missed game the next week, and a knee issue cost him Week 10. Fuller failed to score a TD over his last ten games while never gaining over 60 yards. Teams figured out the Texans' offense, and Houston didn't have the QB or counter punch to have success throwing the ball. In the end, he had 47 catches for 635 yards and two TDs on 92 targets. His catch rate (51.1) needs work. Over his last two seasons at Notre Dame, Fuller caught 138 passes for 2,352 yards and 29 TDs. Fuller offers upside in his route running while owning impact speed (4.32 forty). His lack of size (6'0' and 186 Lbs.) and strength (10 reps at the NFL combine in the bench press in 2016) will limit his opportunity in the middle of the field. Fuller doesn't look like a pure hands catcher, which may lead to some drops when faced with tighter coverage and bigger hits in the NFL. Next step: 65+ catches for 1000+ yards with five to seven TDs. I'd draft him as a flash WR4 in 12-team PPR leagues.Injury Status: Out - Collarbone
WR Jaelen Strong - Low Potential
In his two seasons with Arizona State, Strong caught 157 passes for 2,287 yards with 17 TDs. His build (6'2' and 217 lbs.) has a lot in common with WR Andre Johnson, but he'll have a tough time filling his shoes. Jaelen ran a solid 4.4 forty at the 2015 NFL combine, but he lacks quickness and acceleration. On the plus side, he has a solid release. Strong has a basketball background, which will help his pass catching ability. One scout compared his style to WR Larry Fitzgerald. In his first seasons in the league, Strong had 28 receptions for 292 yards and three TDs on 48 targets. In 2016, his year ended in Week 8 due to an ankle injury. Strong will compete for the WR3 job in 2017.
WR Braxton Miller - Dynasty Only
Miller only had 24 catches for 340 yards and three TDs on his college resume because he played QB in three different seasons at Ohio State (5,295 yards and 52 passing TDs). Braxton displayed plus value as a runner (600/3315/33) setting up the move to WR. He has the athletic ability and quickness to excel in the NFL, but Miller needs to learn the nuances and route running of a WR in the NFL. He finished with 15 catches for 99 yards and a TD on 28 targets over ten games in his rookie season. This year, he may add value in the return game while developing his receiving skills in practice. His goal should be to earn the Texans' slot WR spot down the road with the hope of developing into an impact WR in the realm of Welker and Edelman. Right now, he lies in the rough on Par 5 with 350 yards to go after his drive, so he has plenty of work to do.
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz - Sleeper (undervalued)
Defenses gave the Texans' tight ends plenty of open field in 2016 to take away Hopkins and Fuller. After TEs caught only 48 passes for 448 yards and four TDs on 74 targets in 2015, Houston turned into one of the best TE opportunities in the league last season (113/1079/7 on 172 targets). C.J. had minimal action over the first three games (2/7 on four targets). Over the last 12 games (missed one game due to a concussion), he caught 52 passes for 552 yards and four TDs on 85 targets. He only scored one TD over the last seven games while delivering fewer than 45 yards in each of his last eight contests. Overall, he had about 50 percent of the TE opportunity in this offense. This season, the wide receiver position will attract more looks while Fiedorowicz will see a bigger share of the TE targets. Let's set his bar at about 65 catches for 750 yards with five TDs. Again, I have more faith than most in the QB here.
TE Ryan Griffin - Low Potential
Despite catching 50 passes for 442 yards and two TDs on 74 targets, Griffin had starting snaps in only three games. His best success came in Week 3 (8/52 on ten targets) and Week 15 (8/85 on eight targets). Griffin was on the field for 507 plays in 2016 compared to 678 by Fiedorowicz. He gained only 8.8 yards per catch. This year, he should be on the field for 30 to 40 percent of the offensive plays leading to shorter production. Only a bye week fill in if Fiedorowicz suffers an injury.
PK Nick Novak - Bye Week Fill-in
Over the last five years in the NFL, Novak has made over 85.0 percent of his field goal attempts each year. In his career, he's made 82.8 percent of his FGs with decent value from 50 yards or longer (16-for-29). Nick did miss five extra points on 56 chances. Houston didn't run the ball well in the red zone in 2016, and their QB could struggle to throw TDs in close. A defensive team should keep game score competitive leading to Novak having multiple games of value in 2017. More of a matchup play until we see improvement in the offense via the QB.