|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, June 10, 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 Ryan Mallett - Low Potential
After riding the bench for basically the first nine games, Mallett finally got his chance to prove his worth in Week 10, facing the Cleveland Browns on the road. Ryan completed 20 of his 30 passes for 211 yards, two TDs and one interception. The Cincinnati Bengals shut down the Texans' passing game the following week as Mallett completing only 46.7 percent of his passes for 189 yards, no TDs and one INT. His season ended that week because of a torn right pectoral muscle. Last season Houston threw the ball only 485 times for a total of 3,460 yards, 22 TDs and 13 INTs. That doesn't provide much of an opportunity for the QBs here, plus the WR corps takes a hit with Andre Johnson no longer on the roster. Ryan was expected to have high upside coming out of college in 2011 and he has three years of experience holding the clipboard for one of the best QBs in the game, Tom Brady. Even if he wins the Texans' quarterback competition this summer, his lack of a resume will lead to him having possible job-loss risk. Mallett is a low-rate backup QB flier with no impact Fantasy value on the horizon.
Houston Texans QB Ryan Mallett
QB Brian Hoyer - Bust (overvalued)
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 Arian Foster - Gamble (high risk)
Foster continues to be an injury risk, and that tag won't go away with him turning 29 in late August. After being discounted in 2014 drafts, Arian delivered a top-five Fantasy RB season despite missing three games and carrying the ball 13 times combined in two other games. He battled hamstring, knee, groin and hip issues. He had seven 100-yard rushing games and nine outings with 15 or more Fantasy points in FFWC scoring. Compared to previous seasons, Foster wasn't used as much in the passing game, but his skill set remains very good in this area as he caught 38 passes for 327 yards and five scores. In four of his past five seasons, Arian has touched the ball at least 298 times. His success last year couldn't be defined better than by comparing his yards per carry average (4.8) to the rest of Houston's RB options (3.2). In his 11 full games, Foster averaged 25.3 touches per game. He is one of the most productive players in the sport when he's on the field. His draft stock really depends on how people weigh his risk versus his reward. Foster's handcuff will be cheap, but as stated above, those players failed to have much of any impact value last year. As much as I like Foster as a player, I can't see him being on the field when I need him during the Fantasy playoffs. My advice would be to avoid the risk and find another impact RB who actually has age on his side.
RB Alfred Blue - Fantasy Handcuff
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
RB Chris Polk - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Through three NFL seasons, Polk has only 57 carries, 270 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He's caught just six passes for just 77 yards in his career. Chris was given goal-line carries a couple of times last year while with the Philadelphia Eagles and he responded with four TDs in limited action. Overall, Polk took 46 rushes for 172 yards, a 3.7 average. He has the power-running style to replace Foster. However, his NFL resume is short and he's been nagged by injuries throughout his time in the pros. Chris was a three-year starter at the University of Washington, where he rushed for 4,049 yards on 799 carries with 26 TDs. He even caught 79 passes for 683 yards and four scores. I like his overall skill set more than Blue's, and Polk may emerge as the best handcuff to Foster this season.
WR DeAndre Hopkins - Stud (low risk)
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)
Shorts has been on a negative decline over the past two years due to his struggles with injuries. Cecil battled a hamstring issue and a shoulder injury in 2014, which were preceded by a couple of concussions in 2013. He has missed at least two games in each of his first four seasons. He has offered some big-play ability throughout his career while catching barely 50 percent of his targets. Last year, he hauled in only 53 of 110 targets (48.2 percent) and posted a career-low 10.5 yards per catch. He produced two 100-yard performances and saw at least 10 targets in five contests. Cecil has scored just four times over the past two seasons. In a way, he'll assume the Hopkins role in the Texans' offense as DeAndre becomes their No. 1 WR. He's a WR4 for 2015 with some upside if he can improve his YPC average and touchdown production. Shorts is a boom-or-bust player, but one who should see more opportunity this year if he stays healthy. I see 65 catches for 800 yards with a maximum of five TDs.
WR Nate Washington - Low Potential
Nate, who is entering his 11th season, was brought in to provide veteran WR depth. His skill set and opportunity have been on the decline over the past three years. Washington's only Fantasy-relevant season came in 2011 as he caught 74 of 121 targets for 1,023 yards and seven TDs. Last year with the Titans, Nate recorded at least 10 Fantasy points in only five games. This year, he'll compete for the No. 3 WR gig in Houston and has no real Fantasy value.
WR Jaelen Strong - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
In his two seasons with Arizona State, Strong caught 157 passes for 2,287 yards and 17 TDs. His physical stature has a lot in common with Johnson, but he'll have a tough time filling his shoes. Jaelen ran a solid 4.44 40-yard dash at the 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 Larry Fitzgerald's. Houston would love for him to hit the ground running, but his skill set may struggle out of the gate. Strong has upside, so we need to track his progress during the preseason. For now, he's a back-end WR flier in Fantasy and is expected to be the Texans' No. 4 wide receiver once training camp opens.
TE Garrett Graham - Bye Week Fill-in
After showing upside in 2012 as the No. 2 TE for the Texans, Graham has struggled to stay healthy over the last two years. He entered 2014 with a back issue and then fought an ankle issue in December. Over a four-game stretch following the midpoint of the 2013 campaign, Garrett caught 23 of 47 targets for 277 yards and two TDs. It was an exciting and enticing opportunity, but a hamstring ended his season in early December. Last year, he caught only 18 passes for 197 yards and one score on 28 targets. Houston completed only 11.9 percent of their passes to the TE position. That resulted in just 35 receptions, 320 yards and six TDs for the position as a whole. Graham is coming off a poor season, but he did flash plus upside over the second half of 2013. It wouldn't surprise me to see him become the third option in this passing game. He has a shot to post a 60-catch, 700-yard season with a handful of TDs if he plays in all 16 games. His targets should increase with Johnson out of the picture. Garrett should be a solid flier as a TE2 in 12-team leagues.
PK Randy Bullock - Bye Week Fill-in
Bullock battled confidence issues in 2013, which led to nine misses and a weak field goal conversion rate of 74.3. His game was much improved last year as he hit 85.7 percent of his attempts. He made four of his five kicks from 50 yards or more after making only one such kick in five chances the previous season. Over the past two years, Randy has had 70 field goal tries. Houston scored 40 TDs and 30 FGs on their 194 possessions in 2014. His ultimate upside will be determined by the growth of Houston's offense and QB play. I like his opportunity, but I fear there will be weeks when the Texans will struggle to score points. Randy will have value as a matchup-based kicker.
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.