History books will forever lump the 2013 editions of the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans together. Well, not history books, because they talk about war and politics and stuff, but, you know, sports websites. The two teams were widely expected to win their respective divisions, only for both to fall flat on their faces. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and a splash of overratedness damned both teams.
On the surface, it makes sense. But look deeper, and the two teams actually failed in remarkably different ways. The Falcons' offense struggled in 2013, sure. But it still put up 93 percent of the yards it had produced in 2012, and had 84 percent of the points. Really, the Atlanta defense was the out-and-out disaster, allowing 142 more points than it had allowed the year before, a 48 percent increase over 2012.
For Houston, on the other hand, it was the points. The team actually gave up fewer yards on defense in 2013 than it had in 2012, and its offensive yard total was reasonably close to the year before. But the team gave up 97 more points in 2013 than in 2012 (29 percent increase). And the offense -- oh, the offense.
After scoring 416 points in 2012, the Texans couldn't find the end zone last year; their 276 points were second-fewest in the league. By percentage of points scored in 2012, no team fared worse than the Texans in 2013:
Arian Foster and Owen Daniels got hurt. Matt Schaub got awful. DeAndre Hopkins and Ben Tate didn't develop as everyone might have wished. Andre Johnson finished as the No. 12 wide receiver in fantasy, so, you know, yay for that. But overall, the Texans' offense just didn't have it last year.
So then, the question becomes whether that was a blip, or the end of an era of productivity in Houston. The team let Tate leave as a free agent, cut Daniels and traded Schaub to Oakland. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and drafted Tom Savage to fill the quarterback role, welcomed Foster back from injury and signed -- and then released -- Andre Brown.
Can Foster stay healthy? Can Johnson stay young? Can one of the team's tight ends develop into a new Daniels? And can Fitzpatrick (or Savage) make the best of the group? Let's look through it.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was Tennessee's primary quarterback 10 times last year. In those 10 games, he scored at least 20 fantasy points four times, peaking with a 402-yard, four-score, 30-point outing against the Cardinals in Week 15.
Four 20-point games out of 10 translates to 6.4 over a full season. The only quarterbacks with at least six such games last year were Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, Tom Brady and Alex Smith. Not Cam Newton. Not Andrew Luck. Not a lot of guys.
Still, while Fitzpatrick had decent highs last year, his bugaboo (as it always has been) was his penchant for lows. He scored single-digit fantasy points in four of those 10 games, and over the season managed only 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
The team also drafted Tom Savage out of Pittsburgh. Savage could be a starter eventually, but 2014 seems like a rush for him. The best scenario for the Texans is for Savage to take over in 2015.
The same is true for fantasy players. If Savage ends up starting games for Houston, it will be because something has gone horribly wrong for Fitzpatrick -- either performance or health -- and that will mean low-end performance for the team's other offensive players, Andre Johnson in particular.
I rank Fitzpatrick as my No. 31 quarterback entering the season. If I'm looking around for a quarterback in bye weeks, and Fitzpatrick has a particularly good matchup, I could see myself grabbing him on the off-chance I catch one of his highs because he's likely to continue having them on occasion. But relying on him on a week-to-week basis seems foolhardy.
Arian Foster was the No. 3 player off the board in average draft position last year, behind Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. He had averaged 1,900 yards and 16 touchdowns per year in the three years leading up to that, so it made sense.
Foster was limited to eight games with a back injury, killing his fantasy value. For better or worse, though, it has led to a lot of "bounce-back" talk this year, while also ignoring a worrying trend in Foster's numbers: his yards-per-game. The following chart shows Foster's yards-per-game over the last four years:
Yards Per Game
On top of that, after 18, 12, and 17 touchdowns in the three years leading up to last year, Foster reached the end zone only twice in eight games in 2013. Yes, his season was a wash because of injury, but it wasn't building toward anything great even before that.
That said, Foster is definitely the top guy in Houston, something a lot of teams don't have. Barring injury, he'll at least be getting plenty of touches, and quantity can outweigh quality, if the quality isn't there.
The team signed Andre Brown from the Giants in the offseason. Brown was interesting as a backup -- he's produced when he's been healthy -- but Houston cut him earlier this week, so ... less interesting now (though I could easily see him resurfacing somewhere, maybe even back in New York).
With Brown gone, the team's backups are now, in some order, Jonathan Grimes, Alfred Blue, Ronnie Brown, and William Powell. That's one heck of a mishmash of backgrounds. Grimes was undrafted out of college and has never been a key part of any offense. He's on his third stint in Houston, and his performance in Week 17 of last year, when everyone else was hurt -- 126 yards from scrimmage -- accounted for almost 80 percent of his career yardage total.
Blue was the team's sixth-round pick in the draft. Coming from a loaded LSU system, Blue didn't shine much in college, but he's seen as an upside play who could develop a lot in the pro game. Ronnie Brown was a first-round pick in 2005, but his days as a prime running back are clearly behind him; he has only 513 rushing yards in his last three seasons combined. Powell has been a version of Grimes that just hadn't gotten to Houston yet.
Similar to "if Savage plays quarterback," if the Texans end up having to rely on any of these four guys, something has gone terribly wrong. Grimes is the likely backup to start the season, but Blue is the only one of the four I'd even consider owning as a handcuff, and I probably wouldn't even go there.
As for Foster, I rank him as my No. 10 running back, No. 19 overall. I've seen him go a few spots higher or lower -- he was ranked anywhere from eighth to 14th in our group ranks -- but the overall opinion seems clear: Foster has high upside, but a lot of risk. I think a stud No. 1 running back this season enables fantasy players to wait on RB2, but someone with Foster's risk negates that. If you draft him, get your other guy quickly.
Like so many years of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson has been a receiver in search of a running mate for a huge chunk of his career. He's led the team in receiving yards every year since 2003 except one, and that was a 2011 season in which he was limited to only seven games. When he's played a full season, he's doubled up the receiving yards of most of his running mates.
Early in the season last year, it started to look like DeAndre Hopkins might be that No. 2, as he went for 243 yards and a score on 18 catches in the season's first three weeks. Hopkins fell off a lot after that, with between one and three catches in 11 of the last 14 games and only one more touchdown. Still, he was very durable, and entering only his second season he certainly has room to develop.
Johnson, meanwhile, is 33, and certainly has peaked as a player. He had a perfectly fine 1,407 yards last year on a career-high 181 targets, but that 1,407 represented his worst 16-game total since 2006. Combine that with a short holdout this year and some unease between him and the team, and the end is in sight for "Andre Johnson, Houston Texan."
Still, Johnson is going to be the team's No. 1 this season. Hopkins is likely to develop, but he is still behind the team's stud. I rank Johnson as my No. 8 receiver, which represents his perceived reliability -- I'm willing to bet someone from the Alshon Jeffery/Keenan Allen/Julio Jones/Randall Cobb sort of player bests Johnson's production, and maybe several of them do. But Johnson's floor, as long as he's healthy, is higher than the floor of those guys.
Hopkins, who finished 54th at the position last year, is my No. 33 wide receiver entering the season. I see him taking a big step forward. Behind Johnson and Hopkins, the team's other options -- Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, and others -- are unimpressive and not intriguing, even if the guys ahead of them get injured.
The Texans no longer have their old reliable Owen Daniels, and while holdovers Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin and third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz aren't "old," they also aren't close to "reliable."
Graham was the first guy they went to after Daniels went down. While he did score five touchdowns on the year and put up a 136-yard game in Week 11, he didn't impress from a skill perspective, looking slow overall. He missed the season's last three games, leading to Griffin's opportunity. Griffin responded with 177 yards on 14 catches in those last three games, though he didn't score.
Fiedorowicz is also in the fold in Houston, a sign that new head coach Bill O'Brien likely plans to continue the penchant for two-TE sets he established in New England. All three guys will see the field a fair amount, though I think Graham, despite his periodic struggles a year ago, will be the top guy of the group.
I rank Graham as my No. 22 tight end entering the season, and didn't rank Griffin or Fiedorowicz at all. Ultimately that means no Texans tight end is really ownable to start the season, and the best strategy is to watch at least the preseason games, and maybe the season's first few weeks, to see who develops into the team's first look.
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