After being considered one of the favorites to win a championship in the past few years, the Texans finished as the worst team in the league last season. In an attempt to right the ship, the first order of business for owner, Bob McNair, was to fire Gary Kubiak and replace him with former Patriot Offensive Coordinator and Penn State Head Coach, Bill O’Brien. In the few interviews that O’Brien has done so far, he has preached "scheme versatility." This should excite Texan fans but make fantasy owners a little nervous. In the Kubiak era, fantasy owners knew that the Texans would run the ball as often as possible, work in a decent amount of targets for Andre Johnson, and score plenty of touchdowns with their tight ends. Now, that simple bliss of having clarity over this team will be demolished. With what should be a considerable amount of Bill Belichick influence, the game plans will change every single week and the predictability of the Texans will be replaced with uncertainty and frustration.
Quarterbacks – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, TJ Yates
Bill O’Brien is considered to be a quarterback guru and will have to put these skills to the test immediately with this crop. He has already been quoted as saying that the Texans will draft a QB in this draft, but without any sure-fire prospects at the top with Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, or Teddy Bridgewater, they may be forced to take Jadeveon Clowney with their #1 overall pick and settle for the likes of Zach Mettenberger, Jimmy Garappolo, AJ McCarron, or Tom Savage in the 2nd round. Either way, this QB situation looks shaky at best and will stifle the fantasy potential of the entire team unless O’Brien can work his magic and quickly develop the incoming rookie into a formidable option. If the rookie is not ready for the start of the season, I expect Fitzpatrick to be the starter. If this is the case, the Texans will be forced to rely heavily on the run game and short to intermediate passing routes. Fitzpatrick’s greatest flaw is deep ball accuracy. Keenum has shown flashes of potential. However, he was unable to show that he has the ability to read defenses and struggled in making the subtle movements in the pocket to create passing lanes, which is critical for shorter QBs. He will have to have made considerable strides in both of these areas to have a chance on any roster in this league. Yates has shown his potential as a game manager and a decent backup option, but with a lack of immense upside potential, I can see him being released shortly after the draft so that O’Brien can focus more on the other QBs on the roster with a greater chance of becoming the franchise QB.
How many times recently have you been overjoyed to have a Patriots running back? Even if you have been on draft day, disappointment was sure to follow once the season started. You would think that the starting running back for a high-powered offense would be a high commodity, but just because he’s listed as the starter on the depth chart, doesn’t mean he will be the featured back every week in the Patriot offense. Belichick uses every player on the depth chart to exploit any and all weaknesses of their opponent. I don’t think the first year of the O’Brien era in Houston will be as dire as the Patriot situation, but fantasy owners (especially in dynasty leagues) should be wary of the potential of this happening to the Texan backfield in the coming years. Arian Foster has been one of the most versatile backs in the NFL. This should give him a greater chance of staying on the field in any situation, but he has been hampered with hamstring injuries and a severe back injury that landed him on injured reserve for the last half of the season. He also turns 28 before this season, the age where most RB’s skills start to rapidly decline. Hopefully, the rest from the injury that prevented him from another near 400 carry season will allow him to shake off the wear and tear from overuse and reassemble the skills that garnered him the elite status among RBs. The offensive line should also see an upgrade during the offseason, not only in personnel but in scheme as well. O’Brien will not only continue to run the zone scheme but add in power, trap, draw, blast, etc. He will allow for the line to play to its strengths which will allow the RB to produce in return. I still prefer Foster in the zone scheme because of his elite vision, but he also excelled in the power scheme in short yardage and red zone situations. The power may be better suited for the Ben Tate replacement, Andre Brown. Brown has almost as much talent as Tate but unfortunately gets injured just as much as well. When on the field, Brown can produce very good fantasy numbers, but his reckless style leaves his body open for too much punishment. Dennis Johnson is the only current "speedster" on the team but has had trouble with ball security. He will not make the roster if these issues continue. Jonathan Grimes has been the consistent last resort option for the Texans whenever the roster is decimated with injuries because his one-cut-and-go style was perfect for Kubiak’s zone scheme. Ray Graham has shown great ability before tearing up his knee in college but has struggled to get back to that level. I expect the Texans to draft a 3rd down back with speed and pass catching ability to create more mismatches. They were reported to have interest in trading for Darren Sproles when he became available. Lache Seastrunk, Devonta Freeman, Dri Archer, or DeAnthony Thomas could be possiblities.
With Andre and Nuk Hopkins, the Texans have a very formidable receiving duo if they have someone at the QB position that can get them the ball. Andre will be 33 at the start of this season, but where he might lose a step in speed, his route running is still top notch and allows him to continue to get separation. Nuk has the potential to have an Alshon Jeffery-like rise in his production in his second year. His high-point ability is just as good and Pro Football Focus had him credited with only 1 drop for his entire rookie year. All he needs is a QB that can throw it up into his general area but easier said than done with Fitzpatrick at the helm. If the rookie they bring in has the arm strength and confidence, just like Jay Cutler and Josh McCown did with Jeffery, he could be a fantasy stud in 2014. Martin, Posey, Bonner, and Thomas are the current possibilities to be the primary slot receiver. Martin has immense potential but has played with many minor injuries and also has trouble with ball security. Posey came back sooner than expected from an Achilles tear, but still struggled to reach 100%. Bonner was drafted in the 6th round last year and was a Gary Kubiak favorite but was injured during training camp and spent the entire year on IR. Thomas is the salty veteran of the group that spent time with Jacksonville and Detroit. The Texans had always been a fan of his and even tried to acquire him before he went to Detroit, but I would not be surprised if the Texans tried to upgrade at the slot WR position and looked for more game-changing ability with the likes of Bruce Ellington, Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Gallon, or Jalen Saunders. Lemon and Cruse both flashed some in the preseason but will likely be heading back to the practice squad at best. Nwachukwu excels at running the deep 9 route with blazing speed and that’s about it.
After Owen Daniels was released, the Texans signed Garrett Graham to a pretty substantial deal. He was apparently told by O’Brien that he will mostly be used as the "move" TE in his system. That is great news for Graham owners since he will spend more time running routes instead of being inline pass blocking. Ryan Griffin will likely be used in that aspect. Griffin showed off his great potential when Daniels and Graham were both hurt. However, he needs to work on his blocking if he intends to stay on the field and not be passed up by a draft addition like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, CJ Fiedorowicz, Arthur Lynch, or Joe Don Duncan. Phillip Supernaw is another player with upside but has not been able to stay healthy through training camp. Zach Potter was signed recently and is an inline blocking option with not much else to contribute.
The Texans had a pretty good run with having many great fantasy options, but depending on the QB, the fantasy potential of this team may come crashing down to the bottom of the league, just like their season last year. Hopefully a decent option at the position will present itself so that all of these fantasy assets will not be wasted.