Texans Offensive Profile Under Bill O’Brien
2014-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 30th, 9th, 14th, 23rd
2014-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 1st, 5th, 6th, 11th
2014-2017 Play Volume Rank: 8th, 1st, 5th, 12th
2014-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 24th, 31st, 31st, 20th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017: 341 (29th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017: 15 (26th)
Projected Starting Lineup
QB: Deshaun Watson
RB: Lamar Miller
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
WR: Will Fuller
WR: Bruce Ellington
TE: Ryan Griffin
LT: Julien Davenport
LG: Zach Fulton
C: Nick Martin
RG: Senio Kelemete
RT: Seantrel Henderson
Editor's Note: Fantasy football season has begun. Compete in a live best ball draft! It's like season long but without in-season management. Just set it and forget it! Once you're done drafting, that’s it - no trades or waivers - you don’t even have to set your lineup. Your best players get automatically selected and you'll get the best score, every week. For a limited time, DRAFT is giving Rotoworld readers a FREE entry into a real money draft and a Money-Back Guarantee up to $100! Here's the link
Passing Game Outlook
Deshaun Watson shook off forgettable preseason and Weeks 1-2 appearances to set the league aflame across six starts, outscoring the quarterback field by an outrageous six fantasy points per game. Watson’s season devastatingly ended on a right ACL tear suffered in practice on November 2. (Watson tore his left ACL at Clemson in 2014.) All reports are positive on Watson’s rehab, but there are reasons for caution at his aggressive ADP. Watson is a dual-threat quarterback coming off his second major knee surgery. Watson’s NFL-high 9.3% touchdown rate is primed for regression; the NFL’s active leader in touchdown rate is Aaron Rodgers at a far-lower 6.4% clip, and not even Rodgers himself has ever topped a 9.0% TD rate in a singular season. Star defenders J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus return to decrease Houston’s shootout probability after they combined to miss 22 games. The Texans’ offensive line is in serious contention for worst in the league. Will Fuller is coming off less-severe knee surgery. I’m willing to value Watson’s playmaking ability among the top-six fantasy quarterbacks, but he’s regularly drafted as the overall QB2. Perhaps I’ll miss the boat, but I plan to have almost no fantasy exposure to Watson this season.
DeAndre Hopkins was a week winner during Watson’s six starts, posting overall WR1 results with a 6.3/91.8/1.0 receiving average. Yet even more impressive was Hopkins’ 6.4/91.9/0.78 average in Tom Savage and T.J. Yates’ ten combined starts. The beneficiary of his quarterbacks’ aggressive targeting and Houston’s increase in shootout games – last year’s Texans allowed a league-high 27.3 points per game -- Hopkins finished sixth in the NFL in receptions (96) and fourth in receiving yards (1,378) with a league-best 13 receiving TDs. He ranked fourth in PFF’s Yards Per Route Run (2.39), and Josh Hermsmeyer’s Game Speed showed Hopkins getting faster from 2016 to 2017. Still only 26 years old, Hopkins’ sky is the limit if he maintains the un-guard-able chemistry he showed with Watson as a rookie. Hopkins is my No. 2-ranked fantasy receiver for 2018, behind only Antonio Brown.
Will Fuller broke his collarbone on the fourth day of training camp, then beat timetable estimates for a Week 4 return. He went bananas during Watson’s torrid stretch, scoring seven TDs on only 13 catches in four games. Although that touchdown rate is painfully unsustainable, Watson and Fuller have room for same-page improvement after not so much as practicing together until the days leading up to Week 4. A third-year breakout candidate after two flash-filled seasons, Fuller is a 4.32 burner with a quarterback who led the NFL in percentage of throws delivered 20-plus yards downfield (19.6%) as a rookie. It’s not unreasonable to begin considering Fuller as early as the sixth round.
As Hopkins runs 94% of his routes outside and Fuller did so 75% of the time last year, slot work is wide open to ex-Ohio State QB Braxton Miller, incumbent Bruce Ellington, and fourth-round rookie Keke Coutee. Miller has been ineffective and injury plagued through two seasons, notably battling concussions. Ellington managed 5.8 yards per target as the Texans’ 2017 slot receiver, then hit I.R. with a torn hamstring for the second straight year. Coutee’s college tape fell on the Taylor Gabriel-T.Y. Hilton spectrum as a 4.43 flyer who won in the vertical game at Texas Tech, gaining 38% of his 2017 receiving yards on targets delivered 20-plus yards downfield. This is a camp battle to monitor in a potentially high-octane offense that lacks production at tight end. Coutee has the highest ceiling in the group and is a prime Dynasty league sleeper.
The Texans’ tight end job is even less clear after C.J. Fiedorowicz retired due to concussions, Ryan Griffin was concussed twice last year, Stephen Anderson has been a liability in the running game, and Houston drafted two tight ends (No. 98 Jordan Akins, No. 211 Jordan Thomas). For fantasy purposes, the two most intriguing are Anderson and Akins. Anderson is an 80th-percentile SPARQ athlete who ran a pass route on 73% of his snaps last year. Akins is a 26-year-old failed baseball player with NFL-caliber athleticism. In an aggressive passing game, snap winners will be candidates for sporadic spiked weeks.
Running Game Outlook
Lamar Miller disappointed for the second straight season in Houston, averaging a career-low 3.73 yards per carry with a concerning drop in Game Speed from 2016. Miller looked in danger of losing significant work to rookie D’Onta Foreman before Foreman tore his Achilles’ in Week 11, then got out-carried by Alfred Blue 46 to 27 in Weeks 15-17. Miller did top 1,200 yards from scrimmage for the fourth straight season and finished a respectable 21st among 47 qualified backs in Football Outsiders’ rushing Success Rate (45%). Blue returns on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, but Foreman’s Week 1 availability is questionable at best, and Houston made no notable offseason running back additions. This year’s Texans face the NFL’s softest schedule, which should translate to more run-friendly game scripts in combination with Watt and Mercilus’ returns. Last year, Miller averaged nearly five more PPR points per game in Watson’s six starts. Miller remains at risk of falling into a committee, but his situation is favorable enough to make Miller a potential value pick at his fifth-/sixth-round ADP. The Texans have finished top 12 in both rushing attempts and offensive plays all four years under Bill O’Brien.
2017 third-round pick D’Onta Foreman turned in his season-best game with 80 yards and two TDs on 13 touches last Week 11 against Arizona, only to rip his Achilles’ tendon at the end of a 34-yard second-half score. The injury cost Foreman all of OTAs and minicamp, and the Houston Chronicle has called his Week 1 availability “up in the air,” at one point even suggesting Foreman could begin 2018 on reserve/PUP, which would cost him the first six games. NFL running backs have no known history of successful returns from Achilles’ tears, which recently all-but ended the careers of Beanie Wells, Mikel Leshoure, Vick Ballard, Arian Foster, LenDale White, Andre Brown, Kendall Hunter, Branden Oliver, and Ryan Williams. Foreman’s injury makes early-down plodder Alfred Blue the tentative favorite for Houston’s No. 2 back role behind Miller. UDFA rookies Lavon Coleman (Washington) and Terry Swanson (Toledo) are deep sleepers in an unsettled backfield.
2018 Vegas Win Total
The Texans’ Win Total opened at 8.5 with -120 odds toward the over. O’Brien’s teams have won nine games in three of his four seasons as Texans head coach. Strongly working in Houston’s favor are the healthy returns of Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus, plus a strength of schedule Warren Sharp rated No. 1 softest in the league. The 2015 Jets (10-6), 2016 Cowboys (13-3), and 2017 Jaguars (10-6) had the NFL's easiest schedules over the past three years. Outside of an AFC South that has fast become one of the NFL’s toughest divisions, the Texans draw the beatable AFC East and NFC East, plus Cleveland (home) and Denver (away). Houston is also statistically bound for positive regression after last year’s team went an unfortunate 1-5 in one-score games. The Texans’ offensive line and secondary remain major concerns, but I’m chasing the positive data points and siding with the over on Houston winning 8.5 games.