2019 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,792 (19th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 44 (10th)
Offensive Plays: 1,017 (17th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 583 (18th)
Rush Attempts: 434 (12th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 167 (4th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 254 (1st)
Few coaches possess the level of franchise control that Bill O’Brien has obtained. His team oversight last season included dealing away Jadeveon Clowney, acquiring Carlos Hyde, Kenny Stills, Laremy Tunsil and Gareon Conley in trades and hiring former “character coach” Jack Easterby, who now holds the title of Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Roster overturns of this magnitude often take multiple seasons - yet without the same kind of checks and balances, O’Brien is able to make swift decisions and the roster reflects it. That extended to the 2020 offseason, with B.O.B. sending franchise pillar DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2020 second-round pick (resulting in DT Ross Blacklock), a 2021 fourth-round pick and RB David Johnson and his $11.1 million cap figure this season, as well as trading a second-round pick for WR Brandin Cooks. That infinity gauntlet-level power made the decision to hand over play-calling duties to 33-year old offensive coordinator Tim Kelly even more surprising. One root of the choice seemed to stem from Kelly’s relationship with Deshaun Watson - the unquestioned foundation of the offense after Hopkins’ trade. Kelly has never called plays at the NFL level outside of preseason games, but it became clear that the offense grew stale under O’Brien. And to top it off, the Texans have a new defensive coordinator in defensive line coach Anthony Weaver taking over Romeo Crennel’s spot.
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It is a whole new world for Deshaun Watson, as his go-to target DeAndre Hopkins is no longer in the fold as a safety blanket and big play threat. Hopkins owned a third of Watson’s completions over the last two seasons. To revert back to the eye test, too often Watson was not afforded the same easy completions as his peers over the middle of the field - think Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo. Watson was forced off his primary read too often. Hopefully Tim Kelly manufactures spacing and open receivers in the passing game, because lay-ups would be a major bonus for a quarterback who is capable of the spectacular. There are a few areas of improvement, the first being play action rate. The Texans were 19th in play action frequency last season. Adding names to the backfield, interior receivers and vertical passing elements suggests the Texans could land in the top third of the league in play action passing this season. The next is passing percentage in neutral score situations, as the Texans ranked 18th in frequency at 56%. At the end of the day, Watson is capable of creating magic, especially when behind on the scoreboard. Watson’s rushing numbers jumped from 4.4 yards when leading to 6.3 yards when trailing. A healthy Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller would do wonders for one of the best vertical passers in the game, and that’s why Watson firmly sits as a top 5 or 6 pick at the quarterback position.
By now you have seen the eye-popping numbers for Will Fuller when playing with Watson, compiling 82 catches for 1,237 yards and seven touchdowns in his last 16 healthy games. The duo’s connection is rare, but the glaring roadblock is Fuller’s inability to stay on the field - playing in just 42 of a possible 64 games over the last four years, and Fuller has not completed a full season since his final year of college. Contract years often bring out the best in soon-to-be free agents, and Fuller could be the next name on the list. While many will focus on the negatives, I implore you to look at the positives with Fuller - because if Fuller can manage to play 16 games this season he should shatter his season high mark of 92 targets as a rookie, resulting in a ridiculous value at his current ADP in WR3 territory and become the type of player that propels you into the fantasy playoffs.
Bill O’Brien clearly values Brandin Cooks’ talent - as a second-round pick is an expensive salary to pay for a player with at least four known concussions before his age 27 season. So what might the Texans be expecting? The team has 167 unaccounted for targets on the table, the majority of which DeAndre Hopkins left behind. While Cooks and Hopkins won in different areas of the field last season, the former posting an aDOT of 13.9 yards and the latter 10.5 yards, the Texans are likely attempting to turn a strength even stronger. Deshaun Watson is one of the best vertical passers in the NFL with an adjusted deep ball (20-plus yards) completion rate of 54% last season, good for second best among all starters last season. Cooks is still a blur and 25% of his targets last season qualified as deep balls. His career remains a bit of a mystery, however, as teams consistently give up considerable draft capital (Patriots, Rams, now Texans) in order to acquire Cooks’ services, yet the receiver will be on his fourth team in five seasons. His ADP basically mirrors Will Fuller’s, so grabbing both in the WR3 range is an interesting strategy.
Randall Cobb’s game declined for multiple years before finding new life in Dallas last season, turning 83 targets into 55 receptions, 828 yards and three touchdowns. That 15.1 yards per catch average was actually the highest of Cobb’s career, and a drastic jump from the 10.2 average he accumulated over the previous four seasons. It is fair to wonder if Cobb’s age 29 season was a mirage, but the Texans are hoping he can continue his late career resurgence. The team has searched for an interior passing game since the 2018 NFL Draft when they selected Keke Coutee and Jordan Akins. Cobb should see a number of the team’s 167 available targets, as his average depth of target practically mirrored Hopkins’ last season (10.4 vs 10.5).
The Texans’ tight end spot is a difficult position to whittle down to just one name. Darren Fells re-signed after scoring seven touchdowns, with all seven stemming from red zone snaps. Yet Fells is 34-years old, and the Texans recently spent draft selections on Jordan Akins (third-round in 2018) and Kahale Warring (third-round 2019). This is likely not a team to rely on for fantasy tight end production, but if one name does emerge he could be a sneaky fantasy darling, as Fells and Akins combined for 103 targets last season, which would have Voltron’d for the second most on the team.
RB: David Johnson, Duke Johnson
OL (L-R): Laremy Tunsil, Max Scharping, Nick Martin, Zach Fulton, Tytus Howard
The volume is available for David Johnson to explode this season - if his on record explosiveness cooperates. Carlos Hyde leaves behind 245 carries, a number that Johnson has reached just twice in his five-year career. The Texans heavily invested to improve their offensive line prior to the 2019 season, but injuries kept first-round pick Tytus Howard out for over half the season. While Hyde posted one of the quietest 1,000-yard rushing seasons in recent memory, it is fair to question if he was actually a positive in fantasy formats. How often did he win you weeks? Hyde finished the season as the RB23 in total fantasy points, yet he contributed just five double-digit scoring games while averaging 9.8 Half PPR per contest. He is the poster player for why we should all focus on fantasy points per game over cumulative season scoring. Regardless, Johnson should see the bulk of backfield carries as long as his health cooperates, and if some of his explosiveness and tackle breaking abilities return, Johnson could be a value at his current RB22 status.
Johnson was once considered the best receiving back in the NFL. Teammate Duke Johnson might be inserted in that conversation if he was ever afforded enough opportunity. Something would have to change in Deshaun Watson’s game and in this offense in order for that to happen this season, as Watson simply does not target running backs at a high rate. Hyde recorded just 16 targets last season as the lead back, while Johnson accounted for 62 targets, tying a career low. Bringing this full circle, perhaps Tim Kelly can unlock that element of Watson’s game - highlighting and emphasizing the layups, as both backs could be dangerous if given the chance.
Win Total 7.5
After winning 10 games last season and taking an early 24-0 lead on the eventual Super Bowl Champions during the playoffs, the Texans now hold a projected win total of just 7.5 games. For all of the massive changes O’Brien made this offseason, the bulk of the blame likely would crash down on his shoulders if the Texans lose two or three (or) more games this season compared to 2019… but it is easy to see that happening, due to the team’s negative point differential last year, implementing two new coordinators as well as significant questions on defense. I’ll project an 8-8 season thanks to Watson’s heroics, which would hit the over.