July 15, 2008
The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings rely on hard, incontrovertible math. There are algorithms at work. This stuff is peer-reviewed. Seasons are simulated. You can't argue with science, so don't even try...
23. Houston Texans
The Houston offense put up respectable numbers last season, if you're willing to overlook all the turnovers (38). When you're just considering points per game, red zone performance, and total yardage, the Texans don't seem like they belong among the 10 lowest-ranked teams for fantasy purposes.
But when you look at their depth chart -- particularly the pileup at RB -- you get different ideas. It's tough to place a team much higher than the mid-20s in this Index if none of their running backs should be started in fantasy leagues.
Let's not begin with the sketchier side of the Texans, though. Instead, we'll consider what works well for them: Matt Schaub (or anyone) throwing to Andre Johnson.
Last season, Johnson caught touchdown passes in seven of his nine games played. (He missed Weeks 3 through 9 with PCL and MCL sprains, then had arthroscopic surgery in May). The year before, with David Carr as his quarterback, he caught 103 passes. Johnson is basically un-coverable, and he achieves remarkable separation. He's currently the No. 5 fantasy wide receiver in the Yahoo! experts ranks, and he's generally drafted in the middle of Round 3 (ADP 24.7).
Johnson is also Houston's only must-start player.
The rest of the Texans' receivers proved to be situationally useful last season, especially when Johnson was shelved. Andre Davis and presumptive starter Kevin Walter each had productive weeks. Davis is more of a vertical threat (17.7 yards per catch); Walter is the larger target, less likely to produce highlights but more likely to deliver a six-reception game. They're joined in the outer fringe of the receiver ranks by talented second-year receiver Jacoby Jones.
None of those guys should actually be drafted in 10-team public league, though.
Owen Daniels falls just outside the top 10 in the tight end ranks, despite finishing ninth at his position in total fantasy scoring last year (82 points). He hasn't been quite the TD threat many of us hoped for, but Daniels has delivered after the catch (4.3 career YAC) and he had the sixth-highest reception total among tight ends in '07 (63). He had essentially the same season as Chris Cooley (63 and 66 REC, 786 and 768 yards), but with five fewer touchdowns. Still, Daniels will go nearly seven full rounds after Cooley in an average draft. Their ADPs are 72.0 and 140.5.
With most NFL teams, you're tempted to say that the health and performance of the starting quarterback will determine exactly how far the franchise can go. But that's not quite the situation in Houston, where Sage Rosenfels was an effective back-up to Matt Schaub in 2007. The 30-year-old Rosenfels threw at least one TD pass in every game in which he appeared, and his Week 7 duel with Rob Bironas was particularly entertaining.
Schaub, however, is better. He's also the guy with the substantial contract. Schaub has the stronger arm, he was exceptionally accurate last year (66.4 completion percentage), and he threw fewer interceptions than Rosenfels, despite 49 more pass attempts. He dealt with a medley of injuries last season, and he had off-season surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. We've nonetheless ranked Schaub 14th among QBs. If he has a relatively healthy season -- and just as importantly, if Johnson has a healthy season -- he'll play his way into the top 10.
Schaub just needs to survive a brutal opening month: @ PIT, vs. BAL, @TEN, @ JAX, vs. IND. After that, the schedule gets much more user-friendly.
And with that, we're finally ready to discuss all those sketchy, uninteresting Houston running backs. Ahman Green heads what will likely be a committee. If you're counting on him to A) play 16 games, B) receive more than 12-16 carries per game, or C) look anything like the 2003 version of Ahman Green, then your team has big problems. Catastrophic problems, in all likelihood.
Chris Brown follows Green on the depth chart, with undrafted 24-year-old Chris Taylor apparently not far behind, according to the Houston Chronicle (way back in mid-March):
Gary Kubiak and his assistants are high on Taylor. And I mean really high. They still want another veteran running back to go with Taylor, Ahman Green and Darius Walker ... But based on what I've been hearing lately, the coaches expect big things from Taylor in the system Alex Gibbs has installed -- more Denver, less Green Bay.
It should be noted that some of the enthusiasm regarding Taylor is a result of his Week 17 performance in 2006 against a bad run defense.
Rookie Steve Slaton is expected to have a third-down role. He's elusive, talented and likely the Texans' most dangerous back. But he's also a fumble-prone wee person (5-9, 195) who seems ill-suited to blocking NFL-sized pass-rushers.
Gibbs, of course, will bring the delights of zone blocking to the Texans:
Gibbs, who also was being pursued by Kansas City and Baltimore, will oversee everything on offense. He'll work closely with offensive line coach John Benton.
With Gibbs, the Texans will tailor their running game to the zone blocking scheme he put in at Denver and Atlanta. During his three seasons with the Falcons (2004-06), the Falcons led the league in rushing each season.
It's an encouraging move, as was the first-round selection of tackle Duane Brown. But the Texans' O-line wasn't their biggest problem last season. In fact, they generally kept ball-carriers from getting stuffed, and they allowed only 22 sacks, one of the lowest totals in the league.
No, the biggest issue with the Houston running game was -- and is -- the personnel at running back. You're not drafting any Houston back in a public league, and you're not starting any of them in deeper flex leagues.
The Texans defense didn't score well last season, fantasy-wise (109). A conspicuous lack of playmaking DBs will limit the unit's potential. However, Houston has a pair of elite IDP selections in Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans.
2007 Houston Texans team stats
Rushing: 99.1 Y/G
Passing: 234.4 Y/G
Points per game: 23.7
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 46, 28
'08 Schedule strength: .547
The rest of the Index...