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Thursday Night Football preview: What to expect fantasy-wise from Texans at Chiefs

Will Fuller, game wrecker.

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1’s Thursday Night Football showdown featuring the Houston Texans at the Kansas City Chiefs might end up being the highest scoring game of 2020. Two future Hall of Fame, gunslinging quarterbacks with loaded pass catching groups will be teeing off against subpar pass defenses whose training camps were abbreviated and whose preseason games were cancelled entirely. Established connections between quarterbacks and pass catchers are much more easily maintained than the complex relationships between four plus person secondaries and their on-field feng shui with their pass rushing teammates. Fantasy drafters who’ve rostered prominent players on both the Texans and Chiefs are going to want to get them into their lineups in this surefire shootout.

Houston Texans

The great thing about playing the Chiefs is that bad, run-heavy coaches get forced out of their gameplans. When you have a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback like Deshaun Watson who’s only just now entering his prime and an old school, run-heavy head coach in Bill O’Brien, good things will come from Watson taking control of the offense. The Chiefs will have no issue steamrolling the Texans defense which will force Watson into playmaking mode. At his disposal are a foursome of downfield speedsters, moderate intermediate-area pass catchers, a pair of dual threat running backs, on top of his natural rushing ability. In his 38 career games, Watson’s totalled 1,233 rushings yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. A cursory glance at his 2019 game log shows us that he tends to utilize his rushing more in high-scoring games — a box this matchup is sure to check. Watson is our overall QB2 for Week 1.

The Texans’ most pivotal pass catcher is none other than wide receiver Will Fuller. As discussed in the Houston Texans Team Preview piece, former Texans All Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins racked up 314 more targets than the next closest Texans receiver over the previous three years. The target vacuum that was opened via Hopkins’ trade-departure this offseason is immense and with Watson potentially hitting his single-game-high in passes against the Chiefs, Will Fuller may see the biggest workload of his career. The oft-injured Fuller is a DeSean Jackson-like burner when healthy. Last year, viewers saw such occurrences in Weeks 5 and 12. Week 5 yielded a preposterous 16 targets, 14 catches, 217 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Week 12 brought 11 targets, 7 catches, and 140 yards. Given that KC is down it’s top cornerback, Breshaud Breeland, who was suspended for 4 games in August and starting free safety, 2019 second round Draft pick Juan Thornhill’s availability is uncertain, one has to wonder what the Chiefs plan to do to slow Will Fuller, his game-breaking speed and his change-of-direction ability. It’s not hyperbole to say that Will Fuller has a very real chance at being Week 1’s No. 1 scoring wide receiver across all fantasy formats. There are plenty out there who will play the “What if?” game with him though. What if Fuller pulls a hamstring in the 1st quarter? What if Fuller suffers another knee sprain? What if? What if? What if? The fact of the matter is that Will Fuller is one of the most talented downfield receivers of his generation and he’s playing with a possible Hall of Fame quarterback and right now he’s fully healthy. We aren’t playing for second place. Get him in your lineup.

Journeyman deep threat Brandin Cooks was added to the Texans roster this offseason. Like Fuller, he has an extensive injury history. But unlike Fuller, Cooks is currently battling a quad injury. He’s managed two limited participations in practice this week, including on Wednesday, putting him in line to at least play some on Thursday. He’ll be a player to monitor right up until game time. If he’s good to go, he’s worth a boom/bust-acknowledged flex start as a long touchdown is within his reasonable range of outcomes.

Kenny Stills, a former teammate of Cooks from their days with the Saints and similarly a journeyman deep threat may end up seeing the field more if Cooks is limited. Stills ran a third of his routes in the slot last year and could do so in four-wide receiver sets this evening. Given that Stills is healthy, he may be the savvier, if less talented boom/bust flex option.

Conflicting reports suggested that the Keke Coutee suffered a training camp injury. He’s practiced in full this week though as he’s not on the injury report. The team initially had high hopes for Coutee, engineering touches for him in his 2018 rookie season. Coutee produced as he was targeted both down field and around the line of scrimmage. Coutee’s unreliability resulted in Bill O’Brien handing the mostly-washed-up slot receiver, Randall Cobb a bloated three-year contract. The weight of Cobbs deal ensures that he’s locked in as the Texans starting slot receiver for 2020. Although not typically recommended, Cobb would be a worthwhile flex in PPR formats given his health and guaranteed full-time role in this upcoming barnburner.

Jordan Akins reportedly asserted himself over Darren Fells as the team’s primary pass catching tight end in training camp. That’s all one needs to know in order to fire up Akins as a high-ceiling streaming option in Week 1, at fantasy’s lowest scoring position.

In 2019, the Chiefs defense routinely invited teams to run on them in hopes that offensive coaches would take the bait and let the Chiefs run up the score while the opposing offense helped them kill the clock. The end result was KC allowing the seventh most rushing yardage on the season. We don’t yet know if Bill O’Brien is going to square-peg-round-hole it with RB David Johnson by trying to make the dual threat running back become a north/south banger. Nor do we know if David Johnson can ever fully recover from his 2019 back injury that tanked his season. What we can rely on though is that Bill O’Brien will either enforce his love of the run game to some capacity in this one — at least in the first-half or give DJ the passing game attempts that he deserves. Against such a generous opponent, it’s likely David Johnson, hobbled or not, is either able to get things going on the ground or racks up decent production in the passing game. With perhaps the highest ranking he’ll earn in 2020, David Johnson comes in as our RB18 for Week 1. Word to the wise; sell high on David Johnson after his Week 1 performance. His longevity is severely in question and his usage will be suboptimal under Bill O’Brien.

There’s an outside chance that Duke Johnson Jr. is given 10 or so touches in this one, optimally with a majority coming via the passing game. Given Bill O’Brien’s track record though, Duke would be tough to depend on here. He’s an RB4 (RB39 overall) with some PPR upside.

Although 2017 and 2019 were ho-hum seasons for Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, he showed us that his kicking ability is can be elite, taking the overall K1 spot in 2018, when he led the league in field goals. For the 2020 season, we can expect decent production out of him but in Week 1, we can expect the best. For kickers, we want competent legs on great offenses because the team will consistently get the kicker into good field position and if the team happens to score, he’ll get the PAT. Fairbairn is one of Week 1’s best options at the position and there’s a decent chance he’s sitting on your waiver wire. Unless you’ve got a set-it-and-forget it stud like Harrison Butker, Greg Zeurlein, Zane Gonzalez, Robbie Gould, Will Lutz, Chris Boswell, or any kicker on a powerhouse offense, drop your kicker and add Fairbairn for this week.

Fantasy managers tend to worry too much about D/STs that are facing high-scoring offenses as D/STs lose points when scored on, in typical scoring formats. It’s extremely hard for D/STs to produce serious fantasy points via shutouts though. The real money makers for fantasy D/STs are sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries and the best place to find those are in high-scoring affairs. Now, the Texans defense is so depleted of talent that they do make for more of a risky streaming D/ST than most would in this situation. However, if desperate for a streamer, one could choose to rely on J.J. Watt’s ability to grab a strip-sack and hope for a return TD. Again, this D/ST is very risky as it could produce a donut. Drafters might do better with the Chiefs’ D/ST, but we’ll get to that…

Kansas City Chiefs

The defensive roster that the Houston Texans will trot out in an attempt to stop the greatest quarterback on earth is easily one of the worst in the NFL. Andy Reid’s pass happy Chiefs should jump out to an early lead on the Texans tonight — and they’ll just keep throwing as Deshaun Watson wills his way to scoring responses. That Mahomes finished top 10 in 2019 in both passing yards and passing touchdowns while playing much of 2019 on some combination of a sprained ankle and a recovering dislocated kneecap is an impressive feat. To see his full potential, a quick glance at his 2018 box scores shows the regularity with which Mahomes cleared 300 passing yards and multiple touchdowns. In one of the best fantasy matchups of 2020, Mahomes is viable to clear 400 passing yards and multiple scores. He’s the overall QB1 this week.

All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce has led the team in targets for four-straight seasons, two of which were quarterbacked full-time by Patrick Mahomes. It speaks volumes that even after a change in the quarterback regime, Kelce formed a strong enough bond with Mahomes that he maintained a stranglehold on the top dog passing game role. It’s all systems go for the dynamic duo in Week 1. Only George Kittle who’s facing the tight end-allergic Arizona Cardinals has a chance of besting him.

The only Texans cornerback with a hope (and history) of slowing WR Tyreek Hill is Gareon Conley but Conley currently sits on Injured Reserve, clearing the runway for a monster Week 1 for Hill. There was a brief hamstring scare that Hill worked through during training camp but he’s off of the injury report and ready to go. His speed is as fast as anyone’s and his route running has continued to improve year after year. Like his Texans’ Z-receiver counterpart Will Fuller, Hill is in contention to finish as Week 1’s overall WR1, given the matchup.

Sammy Watkins continues to be one of the more perplexing players in the league. One would think the X-receiver on the NFL’s best offense would routinely blow up box scores, but outside of one to two annual regular season showings — and strangely consistent playoff production — Watkins has been underwhelming. Squaring the matchup and his recent history, Watkins can only be viewed as a boom/bust flex option in Week 1. If you drafted him, this is likely to be one of the best times to start him. It’s still a risky proposition though. Should Watkins perform this week, in your starting lineup or on your bench, try to sell high on him first thing Tuesday morning.

Keeping in mind that Tyreek Hill missed time last year, it’s helpful to note that Demarcus Robinson totaled the second-most WR snaps on the team. That said, outside of his Weeks 2 and 3 performances, he was largely just a role player. The team coveted him enough that they re-signed him for his 5th year in the league though so there’s obviously a decent valuation of Robinson from a front office perspective. In a track meet like this, Robinson is a sneaky PPR multi-flex option in deep leagues. The pace will be pushed higher than usual and Robinson could see five plus targets in Week 1’s O.K. Corral.

Mecole Hardman wowed crowds with his deep field prowess, in an albeit limited capacity in 2019. It appears as though Andy Reid likes to keep him in bubble wrap though, as one of the few WR handcuffs in fantasy. Should Tyreek Hill miss time, Hardman is his direct replacement. If Hardman is to contribute in Week 1, it’s likely to be through his punt/kick return role and possibly on three or fewer deep bombs from Patrick Mahomes. Hardman is the most unique player in the KC vs. HOU matchup, given his talent but infrequent usage. Although Hardman will not see comparable targets totals to Watkins or Robinson, his talent might just be superior at this point. If one is inclined to roll the dice big time, Hardman’s your man.

WR Byron Pringle is the least likely to show up in the box score this week.

Finally, the man who has stolen the Kansas City spotlight from QB Patrick Mahomes without even touching the field, rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire is ready to rock in Week 1. CEH, a prolific dual threat college running back, landed in the best possible situation of all backs drafte in the 2020 Draft. Once Damien Williams opted out for the season, Edwards-Helaire had the starting gig all but sewn up. HC Andy Reid features his running backs in the passing game, which is great for fantasy purposes as receptions produce far more yardage than carries do on a per touch basis. Don’t get it twisted though, CEH is a fantastic rusher in his own right.

The only road block for the rookie back is veteran pass blocking extraordinaire, RB Darrel Williams. Williams bounced the newly signed DeAndre Washington off of the team with his studly training camp performance and we should absolutely expect him to have a serious role in this matchup. CEH and Williams splitting touches down the middle, perhaps in an 18-touches apiece manner would not be unreasonable. Given that seven or so of CEH’s touches are likely to come via the passing game and perhaps three or so would be the case for Williams, we can expect CEH to safely produce the higher yardage total — to an extent that should yield top 12 fantasy RB results in Week 1. Williams’ upside lies in the possibility for goal line rushing work. Although more of a floor play, if Andy Reid isn’t confident in trusting the rookie for the first couple trips to the redzone, Williams’ upside could be massive. Consider CEH a safe RB1 play — he garnered the RB8 ranking at Fake Teams this week. Williams, on the other hand, is a high-end flex option with decent RB2 potential. A No. 2 fantasy back of his caliber is hard to find.

RB Darwin Thompson is not fantasy relevant as of now but needs to be rostered in all formats.

Harrison Butker should’ve been the first kicker drafted. Great kickers on All World offenses are valued commodities. Fire him up this week as fantasy’s No. 1 kicker.

KC’s defense isn’t great in real life but they’re built adequately for fantasy purposes. With Tyrann Mathieu, and possibly Juan Thornhill in a limited capacity, patrolling the deep field and Frank Clark and Chris Jones harassing the passer KC’s D/ST is a sack/turnover factory. Regarding sacks specifically, in Josh Hermsmeyer’s piece for FiveThirtyEight published this morning, Hermsmeyer brings up the fact that QB Deshaun Watson is sacked at an fairly high rate due potentially to the Texans play calling but also because of the way Watson plays the game. This bodes very well for KC D/ST’s sack potential. Regardless of opposing QB sack tendencies though, with the way the Chiefs’ offense runs up the score on opponents and forces the opposing offense into desperation passing, the Chiefs’ D can just focus on attacking the passing game and for fantasy purposes, the undermanned defensive roster just gets the job done. KC’s D/ST is a Top 12 fantasy unit this week.