August 28, 2010
The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.
Tex, you had to know it was coming…
If last season proved nothing else about the Houston Texans, let's hope you're at least convinced that this team has a legitimate star at quarterback, the sort of passer who can lead an elite offense.
In 2009, Matt Schaub(notes) posted the sixth-highest passing yardage total in NFL history. The only quarterbacks who've thrown for more than 4,770 yards in a single season are Dan Marino, Drew Brees(notes), Kurt Warner(notes), Tom Brady(notes) and Dan Fouts. That's a pretty good list of passers, and Schaub's name is next. Last year he also established new career highs in completion percentage (67.9), yards per attempt (8.2) and passing touchdowns (29).
As far as I'm concerned, it's settled law: Schaub is great. He's an early-round fantasy asset, a guy you need to select among the top six quarterbacks on draft day.
And please, stop calling the guy "injury prone." When he's actually missed time due to injury in the past, it's generally been the result of a late, cheap hit that was penalized and/or fined. (Jared Allen(notes), Drayton Florence(notes) and Albert Haynesworth(notes) were the offending pass rushers). These have not been freak injuries; they don't raise any questions about Schaub's durability. In fact, he played all 16 games last season, and he returned to the field in Week 13 after dislocating his non-throwing shoulder. Schaub is certainly tough enough for your imaginary football team. Draft and enjoy.
Andre Johnson(notes) is also clearly good enough for any roster, although you probably won't have the opportunity to draft him unless you have a top-seven selection. When the first tier of running backs is off the board, Johnson is the clear play. He's coming off back-to-back 100-catch, 1,500-yard seasons, and he's led the NFL in receiving yards each of the past two years. The Yahoo! fantasy team is rarely in total agreement on anything, but we're in lockstep on Johnson. We all consider him to be the top wide receiver on the cheat sheet, and we'd all draft him at pick No. 7 in a standard league. Fantasy ranks are rarely this simple.
The No. 2 option in Houston's passing attack is tight end Owen Daniels(notes), assuming he's healthy and recovered from November ACL surgery. We know he's been cleared to play, and his knee ligaments have received a stamp of approval from no less an authority than Dr. James Andrews. All the recent reports are encouraging, and Daniels is on a normal ACL recovery timeline (unlike Welker). There are reasons to be bullish. Daniels is the eighth tight end taken in recent mocks (86.6 ADP) and he was the No. 3 per-game scorer at his position last year, so the draft day pricetag isn't too scary.
Entering his fourth NFL season, Jacoby Jones(notes) is finally challenging Kevin Walter(notes) for targets in Houston. Jones flashed all kinds of big-play ability last year, crossing the goal line six times on just 27 receptions. In this offense, you really shouldn't fret too much about which receiver is the starter and which guy is the No. 3. Jones has the upside and greater TD potential; Walter is the safer bet for 50-plus catches, and he also has the new five-year deal, loaded with guaranteed money.
Here's head coach Gary Kubiak discussing the receiving corps:
Kubiak considers Jones to be the team's No. 3 receiver at this point, with an important qualifier. "He's been competing with Kevin and has been very competitive, but they've both done their job, and I think we have three starters, in my opinion," Kubiak said. "They're going to be on the field plenty."
The Texans had the NFL's top-ranked passing offense in 2009, so they should be able to deliver multiple fantasy wideouts. David Anderson(notes), not Andre Davis, looks like the No. 4 WR at the moment.
Arian Foster(notes) has locked up the featured role in Houston's backfield, and his combination of size (6-foot-1, 227) and all-purpose ability has forced Steve Slaton(notes) into a supporting role. (If the Texans need a critical game-changing fumble, they'll call your number, 20. Stay ready). Foster closed the 2009 season in style, rushing for 97 yards and a TD on 19 carries in Week 16 (at MIA), then totaling 119 yards and two TDs in Week 17 (vs. NE). He remains a draft day steal, however, because he doesn't get top-billing in any of the fantasy preview magazines — we all thought rookie second-rounder Ben Tate(notes) was the guy to own back when the mags were written. But Tate will miss the season due to a fractured ankle, and Foster had gained an early edge in camp anyway.
Houston's new offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison, is another member of the Shanahan coaching tree. He teamed with Kubiak in Denver, where he coached the O-line, specializing in zone-blocking principles. There's hope for this running game, and the stats will tilt heavily toward Foster.
Houston's defense has a few nice individual pieces that can assist an IDP-league roster, beginning with elite assets Mario Williams(notes), DeMeco Ryans(notes) and Bernard Pollard(notes). Linebacker Brian Cushing(notes) is clearly a top-tier player as well, but he'll be on the shelf for the first four games of the season due to a fertility drug-related suspension. It hardly seems possible that they can have four top-shelf IDPs, yet only have the No. 15 team defense. That's how we've ranked 'em, though. This unit seems like a strong candidate to outperform expectations, but we never really know with defenses.
OK, Tex, there it is. You're allowed 500 words in your rebuttal…
Photo via Getty Images
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