Texans Year in Review
2015 Pass Attempts Rank: 9th (619)
2015 Rush Attempts Rank: 5th (472)
2015 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 1st (1,127)
2015 Yards Per Play Rank: 31st (4.9)
Projected Starting Lineup
QB: Brock Osweiler
RB: Lamar Miller
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
WR: Will Fuller
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz
TE: Ryan Griffin
LT: Duane Brown
LG: Xavier Su'a-Filo
C: Nick Martin
RG: Jeff Allen
RT: Derek Newton
Passing Game Outlook
Brock Osweiler had a bumpy seven-start run in Denver last season, shining on Gary Kubiak's scripted early-game plays before running into trouble in second halves. Whereas Osweiler posted a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 72.2% completion rate in first quarters of games, he completed under 54% of his passes in third and fourth quarters, throwing four touchdowns and three picks. Although you may read elsewhere that Osweiler has a "cannon" -- assumptions presumably derived from his towering size (6'7/242) -- Osweiler's arm is better described as average. He also struggles to read coverage and doesn't throw with anticipation. Desperate for any kind of quarterback answer, Texans GM Rick Smith signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million deal and will bank on coach Bill O'Brien's past signal-caller successes on top of a run-heavy approach. O'Brien got the most out of Christian Hackenberg at Penn State, Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2014, and Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and T.J. Yates last year. The Texans have finished the last two seasons first and fifth in the league in rushing attempts. Houston's up-tempo style and the presence of DeAndre Hopkins do make Osweiler an intriguing late-round QB3 in two-quarterback and best-ball leagues. In re-draft, Osweiler would do well to emerge as a viable streamer against bad pass defenses.
DeAndre Hopkins' game reached new heights post-Andre Johnson last season, finishing third in the NFL in receptions (111), receiving yards (1,521), and first-down catches (83), and seventh in touchdown grabs (11) and 20-plus-yard receptions (19). A route technician with elite ball skills, Hopkins is one of the NFL's toughest receivers to cover. There was a mildly concerning split inside his third-year breakout, though. Whereas Hopkins posted an absurd 133-1,774-11.4 receiving pace with the Texans allowing an average of 28.4 points per game in the initial seven weeks, his pace stats fell to 94-1,324-10.7 as Houston's defense stiffened, holding its last nine opponents to a 12.7-point weekly average. That final nine-game pace still would have made Hopkins last year's overall WR7 in both PPR and non-PPR scoring, and he was the WR9 in points per game from Week 8 on. While the best 2016 projection for Houston's defense probably lies somewhere in between last year's splits, this is a case where I believe we shouldn't overthink. Hopkins is a premier talent worth consideration beginning in the mid-first round of drafts.
Presumably for stylistic reasons, the Texans bypassed more-complete receiver prospects Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell in order to make Will Fuller the No. 21 overall pick. GM Rick Smith probably believes Fuller's lid-lifting style will better complement route-running maven Hopkins while serving to stretch the field, perhaps opening up running lanes for Lamar Miller. Blessed with 4.32 jets at 6-foot, 186, Fuller has short arms (30 3/4") and tiny hands (8 1'4") and committed 21 drops over his final two college seasons. His game is built on finesse and a special ability to outrun coverage. On a run-committed team where Hopkins will continue to vacuum targets, Fuller profiles as a low-volume role player who will struggle for bankable week-to-week usage. In an ideal world for the Texans, Fuller will compete for the league lead in yards per reception and threaten defenses with the occasional splash play. Barring an injury to Hopkins, it's hard to imagine Fuller returning consistent re-draft value. I do like him as a high-volatility WR7/8 in best-ball leagues, where Fuller usually goes in the 13th-15th rounds.
The top-two contenders for Houston's third receiver job are Jaelen Strong and Cecil Shorts. 28-year-old Shorts took a $1 million pay cut following a pedestrian 2015 campaign wherein he managed a 42-484-2 receiving line on 75 targets, mainly manning the slot between Hopkins and departed Nate Washington. Annually plagued by soft-tissue ailments, Shorts missed five games with shoulder, hamstring, and groin injuries last year. A 2015 third-round pick, Strong earned increased playing time late in his rookie season but did little with it. He has also battled weight fluctuation problems and was arrested for marijuana possession this February. Still only 22 years old, Strong did draw praise from the coaching staff for improved offseason conditioning and possesses a compelling athletic profile with 4.44 timed speed and a 42-inch vertical at 6-foot-2, 217. The Texans' complementary pass catchers are unlikely fantasy contributors, but Strong arguably offers the highest ceiling of the group should the light flip on in year two.
Tight end jobs will be up for grabs at Texans camp, where Ryan Griffin figures to enter as the favorite for receiving work ahead of in-line blocker C.J. Fiedorowicz, third-year UDFA Anthony Denham, second-year UDFA Eric Tomlinson, and rookie UDFA Stephen Anderson. Texans tight ends have combined for meager reception totals of 32 (2014) and 42 (2015) in Bill O'Brien's two years as head coach. Griffin, 26, spent Weeks 2-9 on injured reserve/designated for return with a sprained MCL last season. He averaged under four targets per game after returning, topping 40 yards once. The 65th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Fiedorowicz averaged under ten yards per reception in his college career and has 21 catches through 31 NFL games. Fiedorowicz does offer real-life value, grading out as PFF's No. 6 run-blocking tight end among 73 qualifiers in 2015. Anderson may be the most intriguing long-term prospect. He is an 80th-percentile SPARQ athlete and was a favorite pre-draft sleeper of Rotoworld college football guru Josh Norris. Just 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Anderson will likely struggle to ever earn regular snaps in the pros.
Running Game Outlook
Hellbent on reestablishing themselves as an efficient rushing offense after finishing last season 28th in team yards per carry (3.67), the Texans invested a four-year, $26 million contract into Lamar Miller, who has been one of the NFL's most efficient runners despite terrible rushing environments in Miami. Miller has averaged 4.81 YPC over the past two seasons, a two-year mark superior to Le'Veon Bell (4.76), Doug Martin (4.49), Adrian Peterson (4.48), Mark Ingram (4.42), DeMarco Murray (4.35), and LeSean McCoy (4.30). Miller has also made major strides in the passing game. Last season, he set career highs in catches (47), receiving yards (397), catch rate (83%), and yards per reception (8.4) while grading out as a top-three pass-blocking back at Pro Football Focus. For the first time in his career, Miller projects as a true high-volume workhorse on a team that will treat him as its offensive centerpiece. Still only 25 years old, Miller warrants draft consideration beginning near the top of round two in 12-team leagues.
The Texans will hold another camp battle at No. 2 tailback, where two-down plodder Alfred Blue returns ahead of passing-down type Jonathan Grimes, versatile fourth-round pick Tyler Ervin, and diminutive burner Akeem Hunt. Although Blue is painfully inefficient (3.48 career YPC) and offers little in the passing game, the Texans' coaching staff has thought enough of him as a spot-duty runner to give Blue 15 or more touches in 12 games over the last two years. Blue would be the favorite for carries and goal-line work should Miller miss time. Ervin presently appears buried on the depth chart, but he is worth stashing in Dynasty leagues and monitoring by deeper-league re-draft owners. Ervin runs 4.41 with explosive marks in the vertical (39") and broad (10'10") jumps and excelled as a senior bellcow at San Jose State, where he logged 22.6 carries per game. That's an eye-popping feat for a 5-foot-10, 192-pound back. Ervin piled up 87 receptions in his college career and scored five touchdowns as a returner on special teams.
2016 Vegas Win Total
The Texans have gone 9-7 in each of Bill O'Brien's two years as coach. They finished 2015 on a tear, winning seven of their final nine games before an embarrassing 30-0 loss to Kansas City in the Wild Card Round. This year's Texans have a Vegas Win Total of 8.0. They are pre-season favorites in seven of their initial 15 games, and were assessed as having the NFL's tenth most difficult schedule by Warren Sharp. Despite their flashy offseason additions, I still see Houston as a 7-9 win team in an AFC South where improvement should be expected across the board. The Texans otherwise face the AFC West and NFC North in addition to New England (road) and Cincinnati (home). Combined with a tough slate, my skepticism of Osweiler and Houston's defensive personnel beyond J.J. Watt leads me toward the under on their 2016 Win Total.
Texans Year in Review