After a shockingly poor season, notable for injuries and endless pick-sixes, regime change has come to Houston. Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub played his way out of town, and veteran head coach Gary Kubiak couldn't cling to his job during a two-win campaign. This season, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be at the controls of Bill O'Brien's offense. The Texans aren't likely to light up scoreboards in 2014, but the team might just be good enough on defense to reach eight wins regardless.
Of course we don't actually care about real-life winning and losing around here. In this space, we're primarily concerned with individual fantasy potential. Houston has a pair of consensus top-50 players — the usual suspects, Arian and Andre — but no one else on this roster projects as a must-own fantasy asset, aside from the D/ST.
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Foster is returning from back surgery to address a herniated disc, plus he's dealt with a minor hamstring tweaking early in camp. But he's believed to be fully functional at the moment, prepared for a full workload in 2014. The man has been hyping himself during the offseason...
"I can tell you the surgery wasn't as major as it sounded," said Foster. "That's why I rebounded so quickly. I also worked my ass off. I'm expecting to do bigger things and bounce back."
...so he really doesn't need an additional boost from fantasy experts.
Foster was running well last season before he hit IR (4.5 YPC), and his receiving PPR credentials are well established (159 REC, 2010-12). If all goes according to plan, he's in line for a significant workload under O'Brien, and he'll own the passing-down work. Based on the player's history and his projected workload (300-plus touches), it's tough not to view him as a late-first round talent. I'm on board. Andre Brown should really only be of interest to handcuffers. Foster has said plenty of nice things about O'Brien's offense (here's a taste), so no worries or friction there.
For a few minutes there during the first round of the NFL draft, it appeared Houston was positioned to land both Jadeveon Clowney — the top overall player on most boards — and Teddy Bridgewater, arguably the most impressive quarterback in the class of 2014. Had the Texans pulled it off ... well, wow. That would've been an astonishing, franchise-changing haul. Alas, the Vikes leapfrogged Houston and snagged Bridgewater with the final pick of Round 1. So Fitzpatrick it is, at least for now. The Texans drafted Pitt QB Tom Savage in the fourth round, but he won't challenge for early-season snaps. (Also, "Tom Savage" seems like a fake name. Can't be trusted. Let's get the Roto Arcade investigative team on this.)
Fitzpatrick has been a streaky, scattershot passer throughout his pro career, completing just 59.8 percent of his throws, tossing nearly as many picks (93) as touchdowns (106). He's also given us a few legendary garbage-time performances, and for that the fantasy community is grateful. But we're not drafting him this year except in leagues of unusual size/shape. Fitz should have bye-week appeal, nothing more. He's not the prototype QB for any system.
Houston's receiving corps is a familiar and talented group, led by 33-year-old Andre Johnson. AJ gave us all a scare when it seemed as if a trade was a strong possibility, but he's now in camp, saying conciliatory things. Johnson has caught over 100 balls in four of the past six seasons, including 2012 and 2013, and he's ranked as a top-12 fantasy wideout in five of the last six years. When healthy, he's a monster — AJ topped 1,400 receiving yards last season, with a rogues gallery of QBs (Schaub, Keenum, Yates). He slips to the late-fourth round in many drafts, where he's an obvious steal. A common criticism of Johnson is his lack of career receiving TDs — his single-season high is nine — but that's not a result of some inherent flaw with the player. AJ clearly has the skill set and requisite size to be a terrifying red-zone weapon, but his team's offense in the Kubiak era was generally predictable and Foster-focused.
DeAndre Hopkins enters his second pro season, learning another new offense, coming off a promising first year (52-802-2). Hopkins has good size, strong hands, physicality and advanced skills. He's capable of highlight plays, and he only recorded one dropped-pass on 91 targets as a rookie. It wouldn't be much of a surprise if he topped 900 receiving yards in year two, with a modest uptick in TDs. He should find a place on fantasy rosters in most leagues, though not in early-season starting lineups.
Beyond Johnson and Hopkins, there really aren't any names on Houston's wide receiver depth chart that fantasy owners need to target. (Mike Thomas? Nope, not in standard leagues.) This team figures to roll with multiple tight ends fairly often, giving Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin and Iowa rookie CJ Fiedorowicz opportunities to produce. Of the trio, Graham is the most interesting for 2014, based on presumed usage...
Garrett Graham is fired up to play for Bill O'Brien. "He wants to use me as more of a move tight end, an H-back. I'm excited about that."— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) March 13, 2014
...with Fiedorowicz as a plausible dynasty target. We need to resist the temptation to make Pats comps with this group, however, despite O'Brien's New England ties. There are no Gronks here, no Hernandez-types. In a typical redraft league, with only 10 or 12 teams, you probably aren't going to mess with Houston's collection of tight ends.
The Texans defense should be the backbone of the team, a fearsome group if the key pieces remain healthy. JJ Watt is as good as it gets — the man has delivered 31.0 sacks over the past two seasons — Clowney is beastly (dominating in camp), and Brian Cushing should be good to go for the opener. Houston gets a seemingly friendly September schedule, too, opening with Washington, Oakland, the Giants and Buffalo. Draft this D/ST and enjoy.
2013 team stats: 17.3 PPG (NFL rank 31), 261.4 pass YPG (15), 19 pass TDs (25), 108.9 rush YPG (20), 25.9 rush attempts per game (22), 39.6 pass attempts per game (5)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City