Texans pressing fantasy questions: DeAndre Hopkins to recoup value lost

DeAndre Hopkins enters 2017 with a new QB and optimism.
Can DeAndre Hopkins rebound from a disastrous 2016 campaign? (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
3-Point Stance: Hopkins, Miller figure to improve on 2016 stats

As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Friday’s topic: The Houston Texans

DeAndre Hopkins “nuked” plenty of fantasy rosters in 2016. BUY or SELL a bounce back into the top-twelve wideouts this go-around?

Liz – SELL. Hopkins was on the field for 100 percent of the Texans’ snaps and involved in over 600 passing plays in both 2015 and 2016. However, his number of targets in the red area of the field dropped by over 20 percent last year. As Brock Osweiler’s struggles became more evident BOB turned to Lamar Miller, not just on early downs, but especially when the team was in scoring range. This change occurred around Week 5.

Hopkins amassed 5 red zone targets over the first five weeks of the year and just 6 high-value opportunities over the following 11 contests. In contrast, Miller averaged fewer than 2 RZ rushes per game until Week 6, but nearly 3 per outing after that week and through the remainder regular season. After a year in which Alfred Blue existed as Houston’s lead back, Miller (an RB known for having a nose for the end zone) was added to provide the team with some balance. That, in combination with Osweiler’s previously mentioned inefficiency, took away from Hopkins’ premium target share.

A change under center certainly figures to improve Hopkins’ outlook in 2017, but his rebound may not be as dramatic as some owners are anticipating. As clutch as Deshaun Watson was in college, he’s still a rookie, who will have to face a considerable learning curve. Additionally, Miller continues to be the Texans RB1 and is expected to remain heavily involved. Ranked just outside of my top-twelve wideouts, Hopkins is a high-end WR2 for fantasy purposes. FF: 81-1,057-6

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Brad – BUY. Hopkins suffered from a severe case of Brockitis last fall. For the unfamiliar, it’s an affliction, caused by excessive overthrows, that greatly tarnishes fantasy reputations. As a result, he was arguably the biggest bust among 2016 WRs. Widely labeled a Round 1 value, he barely finished inside the position’s top-36 (WR35). More alarming, he experienced precipitous declines in several underlying categories including yards per target (’15: 7.9, ’16: 6.2), catch percentage (57.8, 51.7), fantasy points per target (1.71, 1.30) and, most dramatically, red-zone targets share (36.7, 14.7).

Despite Hopkins’ sudden free fall, investors should buy on the bear. With only speedster Will Fuller, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and developing slot man Braxton Miller to challenge him, his targets share should again climb above 25 percent (150-plus). However, how involved he’ll be near the goal line is anyone’s best guess.

Ultimately, how early Deshaun Watson seizes the reins may determine how strong ‘Nuk bounces back. The highly decorated Clemson QB is precisely what he needs. Last year, Watson tallied a top-10 ranking in adjusted completion percentage on passes thrown between 1-30 yards, a good fit for a WR who thrives on digs, outs, curls and slants. Catching passes from an athletic and accurate short-field thrower would instantly wash away last year’s filth. Working under the assumption Watson ascends sooner rather than later, I foresee the wideout roaring back with roughly 90-1250-9.

BELIEVE OR MAKE BELIEVE. Lamar Miller is a sure-fire RB2 in 2017 and closes out the season inside the top-15 producers at the position.

Brad – MAKE BELIEVE. A season ago, there probably wasn’t a stronger Miller advocate than some rather boisterous chap with sparsely populated head hair. Seduced by volume potential and a suitable offensive line, I vigorously ranked him top-five overall. In hindsight, that was a slight miscalculation.

Essentially, Miller was an overpriced, high-IBU beer in 2016. Save for a handful of games, he left a very bitter taste in owner mouths. His yards after contact per touch (RB69), total evaded tackles (RB25) and juke rate (RB73) were completely uneventful. If not for his rigorous workload (69.5% opportunity share), he would’ve landed well outside the position’s top-20. It’s no wonder why Houston snagged D’Onte Foreman in Round 3 of the NFL Draft.

To be fair, Miller was 5-for-8 inside the five for touchdowns last season. Though terribly inefficient elsewhere, he should play a prominent role inside the red zone. Still, Foreman, who has the shiftiness of a greased squirrel at 6-foot, 233 pounds, figures to touch the rock some 8-10 times per game and possibly more if he displays competency in pass pro and ball security. Bill O’Brien made it clear in early March he overused Miller. If the rookie performs well early, a dreaded hot-hand situation could develop which would push the veteran outside the RB top-15.

Liz – BELIEVE. One touch shy of a combined 300, Miller logged a career-high number of totes in 2016. He also recorded his least efficient campaign since 2013, averaging 4.0 YPC. While the addition of D’Onta Foreman surely means fewer carries for Miller, it also figures to keep the vet’s legs fresh. In fact, Bill O’Brien admitted as much this past spring. It makes sense then that the team’s HC would advocate for Foreman, who moves well for a big man and can withstand a hefty workload.

Still, Miller’s hands, versatility, and durability (he’s only missed two games over the past four years) suggest he’ll shoulder the load for Houston. In an offense that’s averaged a minimum of 28.5 rushing attempts per game over the past three seasons and has consistently ranked among the top-six most run-focused schemes in the league (since O’Brien was installed), Miller’s opportunities project to be plentiful. For drafting purposes, he’s my RB11.

DUMPSTER DIVING. The under-the-radar Texan owners should remain acutely aware of is ________.

Liz – BRAXTON MILLER. PPR enthusiasts would be well advised to keep an eye on Braxton Miller. A developmental talent in his rookie year, the converted QB is slated to be the Texans’ slot receiver in his sophomore outing. Excelling in the short to intermediate passing game, the 6-foot-1 and 200 pound WR could work as a safety valve for first-year QB Deshaun Watson, who’s struggled with deep ball accuracy.

Taking notes from new assistant wide receivers coach Wes Welker, who played under Bill O’Brien in New England, Miller is in ultra-capable hands. He’s not worth a roster spot at the moment, but given Will Fuller’s inability to stay healthy or hold on to the ball, it’s nearly guaranteed the former Buckeye will make his way into an add/drop conversation before midseason.

Brad – DESHAUN WATSON. Similar to Tyrod Taylor, the rookie from Clemson is a terrific leader, mostly accurate passer on short/intermediate throws and extends plays with his legs. Running quarterbacks may be a passing fad compared to the heights of RGIII and Cam Newton, but remaining ground opportunists sport high floors. Take Tyrod, for instance. Though he plummeted in several passing categories last year, his rushing contributions lifted the bottom line and placed him inside the QB top-12. Watson could be a poor man’s version.

Due to various unknowns, the steep learning curve, questionable progressions, turnover issues in college and his fluttering deep ball, Watson is a complete wildcard. His big-game coolness and rushing abilities, however, are plus qualities. If he supplants Tom Savage in short order, a likely outcome, he’ll be an effective player for the two-QB crowd. Lines around 220-1-35 could become routine. Best of all, you’re basically shelling out Chiclets to acquire him (186.4 ADP, QB26). Watch how he progresses in camp.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF