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Texans Fantasy Preview

Brandin Cooks

Brandin Cooks

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 6,004 (13th)

Offensive Touchdowns: 43 (18th)

Offensive Plays: 940 (32nd)

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 596 (18th)

Rush Attempts: 344 (31st)

Unaccounted for Targets: 194 (7th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 254 (1st)

Coaching Staff

Bill O’Brien was fired after starting last season 0-4, finishing his seven-plus years at the helm in Houston with a 52-48 record and 2-4 postseason mark. Romeo Crennel guided the Texans to a 4-8 finish following O’Brien’s ouster in an interim role. Following the year, Houston’s first move was hiring Nick Caserio as GM, a move that’s been in the making for years it seems like. The Texans had been trying to lure Caserio away from New England for some time. He was not one of the five names the hiring firm recommended to the Texans, so it’s clear it’ll be longtime pals Caserio and EVP Jack Easterby calling the shots for the Texans. Face of the franchise Deshaun Watson reportedly wasn’t on board with the hiring of Caserio and has a fractured relationship with both Easterby and owner Cal McNair. Prior to Watson’s off-field issues, it was believed he’d be traded due to the mess Easterby has created in Houston. Watson wanted the Texans to at least interview Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy for the job, but they passed and instead landed on Ravens WRs coach David Culley as the replacement for O’Brien. Culley is a 65-year-old first-time head coach who was the Ravens’ pass-game coordinator the last two years. He’d never been anything more than a position coach prior to receiving that title. It’s an extremely underwhelming hire to say the least. Culley has kept OC Tim Kelly as a holdover from O’Brien’s staff after Kelly orchestrated an offense that saw Watson lead the league in passing in 2020. On defense, Culley has brought Lovie Smith back to the NFL as his defensive boss. Smith spent the previous five years as the head coach at the University of Illinois, where he went 17-39 before getting fired last December. Prior to that, Smith was the head coach of the Bucs.[[ad:athena]]

Passing Game

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel, Davis Mills

WR: Brandin Cooks, Chris Conley, Donte Moncrief
WR: Nico Collins, Alex Erickson, Isaiah Coulter
WR: Keke Coutee, Randall Cobb, Andre Roberts
TE: Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring, Brevin Jordan, Pharaoh Brown

Let’s start this off by chronicling Deshaun Watson’s tumultuous offseason after leading the league in passing last year. Four days after the Texans’ season came to a close, it was reported Watson was upset over the hiring process for new GM Nick Caserio, and Watson wasn’t speaking with the organization. And he also felt the team has been insensitive to social justice efforts. Nine days after his reported frustration, it was reported Watson just “wants out” of Houston” and that he’d likely played his final snap for the team. The Jets, Panthers, Broncos, and 49ers were floated as trade destinations. He formally requested a trade from the Texans prior to the hiring of David Culley, and Culley wasn’t going to change his mind. There were even reports Watson would rather sit out the season than play for the Texans. But on St. Patrick’s Day, allegations started to come out against Watson in a sexual assault case. In total, there were 22 accusers, and Watson was labeled a “serial predator.” Watson isn’t going to be traded until his off-field situation is resolved. When it is, he won’t be playing for Houston.

To “make up” for the loss of Watson, the Texans signed veterans Tyrod Taylor and Jeff Driskel, traded for Ryan Finley, and drafted Davis Mills in the third round. Finley has already been cut. Taylor opened last season as the Chargers’ Week 1 starter but suffered a chest injury and then had his lung accidentally punctured by a team doctor. Justin Herbert took over in Week 2 and never looked back on the way to Rookie of the Year honors. In his one start, Taylor went an underwhelming 16-of-30 for 208 scoreless yards and just seven rushing yards on six carries. Taylor joins his fifth team and fourth in the last five seasons. He was initially inked to be Watson’s backup, but Taylor is now the favorite to start Week 1. Taylor has been a starter in years past but has never been able to hold onto the spot thanks to poor play. He was bounced from Buffalo by Josh Allen and then again in Cleveland the next year by Baker Mayfield. Taylor’s lone feather in his cap is his connection with new Texans head coach David Culley after Culley was his QBs coach back in 2017 with the Bills. Taylor has theoretical rushing appeal and he will be playing for the league’s worst team on paper, but the Texans have also added Driskel and Mills. We will likely see multiple quarterbacks in Houston this season.

Mills was a five-star recruit who only started 11 games at Stanford because of a lingering knee injury and K.J. Costello’s presence. He only had 18 passing touchdowns to his name, and he didn’t look like he fully trusted his knee, which led to sloppy mechanics and overthrown passes. Mills is a total project based on theoretical in-pocket ability and quality arm strength, and it’s unclear if his medicals were cleared by all teams. Some teams believed Mills would have been a first-round pick if he’d had another year in college. Mills will open training camp behind Taylor and Driskel, but he could find his way into starts. He’s just an unknown with little college tape.

Even after suiting up for his fourth team in five seasons, Cooks tallied a team-high 119 targets last season in Houston and registered the 16th-most fantasy points per game among wide receivers. Cooks led the team with a 27.7% target share and 7.2 catches per game in the four starts he made without Will Fuller to close out last season. With Fuller now gone to Miami as a free agent, Cooks should have a stranglehold on targets in Houston. The problem is those targets will be much lower quality after catching passes from Deshaun Watson last season. The downgrade at quarterback leaves Cooks in the WR4 territory.

Bill O’Brien never seemed to like Keke Coutee, and when he was given chances, Coutee either produced or got injured. But in the final five games last season when Will Fuller was serving a suspension, Coutee was thrust into starter snaps and produced a 27-362-2 line on 31 targets. He’s had big games in the past and can put up numbers when in the lineup. With Fuller gone and Randall Cobb no lock to make the final roster with his bloated salary, Coutee could be next in line for targets behind Cooks. But with Watson not throwing the passes in Houston, Coutee’s numbers will likely suffer with Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel, and Davis Mills under center.

Akins, a former third-rounder for the Texans, spent last season in a committee with Darren Fells. While Fells was primarily a blocker, his usage in the red zone limited Akins to another forgettable fantasy season. Fells left for Detroit in free agency, and the Texans’ biggest effort to replenish their tight end room was made in the fourth round of the draft with Brevin Jordan. Akins could push for an every-down role with Fells gone, but that gig is far less valuable without Watson under center. He could produce meaningful fantasy weeks based on volume and easy throws but a wait-and-see approach is best. Kahale Warring is also coming back from injury.

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Running Game

RB: David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead

OL (L-R): Laremy Tunsil, Max Scharping, Justin Britt, Tytus Howard, Marcus Cannon

Acquired from the Cardinals as the main piece of the DeAndre Hopkins trade, Johnson had a big Week 1 in his Texans debut but averaged just 66 total yards and 3.6 yards per carry over his next seven appearances before being placed on I.R. with a concussion. He returned for one game before landing on the COVID list. Johnson then finally found some end-of-season juice, piling up 392 yards and three touchdowns over his final three contests. Headed into his age-30 campaign, Johnson saved his roster spot by agreeing to a restructured deal in March. He is still bringing home $4.25 million guaranteed. The Texans let Duke Johnson walk in free agency, but Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay were soon welcomed aboard as depth. It is Lindsay’s presence that hints at a full-blown committee approach for what is certain to be one of the NFL’s worst offenses. Ingram looked cooked last season in Baltimore and is unlikely to be much of a threat despite his connection to new coach David Culley. Old and playing for the league’s worst team, Johnson is best treated as an RB3/FLEX.

2020 was a season of career lows for Lindsay, playing in just 11 games and catching only seven passes. Melvin Gordon wasn’t great in his first season with the Broncos but was just slightly better than Lindsay and was making far more money. Lindsay has never been efficient as a receiver, but after clearing 1,000 yards rushing each of his first two seasons and scoring 17 touchdowns between 2018-19, Lindsay was non-tendered as a restricted free agent and replaced by Mike Boone in Denver. Johnson remains the leader for carries in Houston, but Lindsay should have a leg up on Ingram for No. 2 duties. Coming off a hip issue last season, Lindsay is nothing more than a late-round flier in this pitiful offense.

Win Total

The Texans’ win total is set at an NFL-worst four, and rightfully so. No team has undergone as much roster churning as the Texans, and they’re already looking like the overwhelming favorite for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 Draft. Houston’s strength of schedule is a middling 15th based on 2020’s win-loss record. With the AFC South improved, Houston will struggle to win four games.