Although Bill O’Brien, the silver-tongued donkey, will stand in the way of the Houston Texans ever achieving their potential in the pursuit for the Lombardi Trophy, fantasy drafters are still able to mine his team for a few diamonds in the rough. Between winning the internal power struggle in the Texans’ front office, assuming the titles of both head coach and general manager, and rigidly implementing his archaic offensive scheme, prospects for Texan players seems bleak. But game script and scheduling stand to work in QB Deshaun Watson’s favor. Per Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule metrics, the Texans are expected to face high-powered offenses, which will push the pace for the Texans’ offense, and weak front-sevens which Watson’s rushing ability should royally manhandle. With DeAndre Hopkins gone, WR Will Fuller assumes the mantle as Houston’s defacto No. 1 WR. Brandin Cooks may bring late round value. Cooked RB David Johnson may even be saved by the aforementioned slate of swisscheese run defenses.
The Rotounderworld Radio episode, “Bill O’Brien cooking the books”, hosted by Matthew Kelley with a guest appearance by Evan Silva is an exceptional deep dive on how the current Texans franchise came to be.
Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule:
- 12th toughest overall schedule
- 11th toughest in terms of the opponent’s overall defensive efficiency
- Mid-tier blend of pass defenses
- 5th toughest in terms of the opponent’s defensive pass efficiency
- 5th softest blend of rush defenses
- 4th softest in terms of the opponent’s defensive rush efficiency
- 11th toughest in terms of the opponent’s overall offensive efficiency
- 10th toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive pass efficiency
- 10th toughest in terms of the opponent’s offensive rush efficiency
Although QB Deshaun Watson will have to contend with fearsome pass defenses for much of the year, he will be routinely forced into playmaking mode as the equally fearsome opposing offenses run up the score on the Texans’ hapless defense. Watson’s rushing prowess has been evident from the start. Factoring in his abbreviated rookie year, totaling 1,233 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in what amounts to two and a half seasons is quite the feat. There are committee running backs who yearn for that production. In place of DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans have collected a stable of downfield threats in Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee, forcibly reinforcing Watson’s desire to chuck it deep. This should bode well for fantasy purposes. Of the high-ceiling, early round quarterbacks, Watson’s 5.12, QB6 .5PPR ADP is perhaps the most easily digestible. If doing so, stacking him with Fuller or Cooks later in the draft would be a recommended strategy.
David Johnson’s career has been derailed by wrist, back, and ankle injuries since his explosive 2016 season. Worryingly, Bill O’Brien prefers to utilize his running backs by ramming them up the middle of the defense time and time again. According to Sharp Football’s 2020 Football Preview, 67% of the Texans’ rushes in 2019 were off of the left guard, center, and right guard, an area that DJ has always struggled to find his footing in, even when healthy. On the plus side, the Texans do face one of the five-easiest expected slate of run defenses this year, per Sharp Football’s Strength of Schedule metrics. The real question is whether or not DJ is over his 2019 back injury that effectively limited his agility to that of an old man.
Complicating things, Deshaun Watson has never been one to heavily involve his running backs in the passing game — the true specialty of both David Johnson and backup RB Duke Johnson Jr. Although Duke is a very underrated rusher as well. Given David Johnson’s injury concerns and competition for passing game work with Duke Johnson Jr., it’s best to pass on David and nab Duke late in drafts. David’s 5.03, RB23 .5PPR ADP just carries too much opportunity cost with players like DJ Chark, DK Metcalf, and Terry McLaurin going right behind him. Meanwhile Duke’s .5PPR ADP of 12.09, RB49 is great for a late round dart throw.
It’s worth noting that there is risk involved in banking on Duke assuming lead back duties, should David miss time. Bill O’Brien found it necessary to add Carlos Hyde last year after trading a 3rd Round pick for Duke, in order to have a 2-down banger back. 6’1”, 215lbs unknown back Buddy Howell may even be in line for carries before Duke is.
The target volume that DeAndre Hopkins leaves behind is colossal. In 2017, Hopkins totaled 174 targets, 117 more targets than the next most-targeted player on the Texans roster. In 2018, Hopkins totaled 163 targets, 118 more targets than the next most-targeted player on the Texans roster. In 2019, Hopkins totaled 150 targets, 79 more targets than the next most-targeted player on the Texans roster. For the first time in Will Fuller’s career, he’s the alpha dog in the receiving game — in line for well over 100 targets this year. Unfortunately, Fuller has been plagued by injury throughout his 4-year career, never playing in more than 13 games. When he has been on the field though, the results are explosive. Two such occurrences were last year 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. These showings are not one-offs. In his career debut game in 2016, Fuller 5 of 11 targets for 107 yards and a score. There was an 8-target, 5-catch, 125-yards, and 2 touchdown performance in Week 8 of 2017 and three performances in 2018 in which he registered 5 or more catches, 101+ receiving yards, and a touchdown. The answer here is simple. Finding a player with Fuller’s ceiling, at his current .5PPR ADP of 8.01, WR35, is damn near impossible — outside of DeSean Jackson who is going criminally late. Although it’s likely that Fuller’s hamstrings once again can’t keep up with his 4.32-second 40-yard speed for the duration of a season, a smart fantasy drafter cannot pass on a player with serious Top 12 potential on a weekly basis, this late in drafts.
Brandin Cooks is a talented deep threat, plagued by concussions. Although he had a three year concussion drought after his first one in 2015, he suffered one in the 2018 playoffs and another in October of 2019. The total is worrisome but, like Fuller, Cooks is in the right offense to be productive when available. Although he will play second fiddle to Fuller, Cooks’ targets are assuredly going to come in a high-value, downfield capacity. With the number of expected shootouts the Texans are going to be in, Cooks’ services will be frequently called upon. He’s a fine flex option at his 7.12, WR37 .5PPR ADP.
Kenny Stills plays a similar game to teammate Brandin Cooks. In fact, Cooks’ presence on the Saints roster back in 2014 was likely one of the reasons why the Saints were comfortable trading then-teammate Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins. Now reunited, Cooks once again has relegated Stills to a less-necessary role. Spiked weeks will come for Stills but he’s unlikely to be a reliable fantasy option while Fuller and Cooks are healthy. Were one of them to miss time, Stills would be an immediate add off of the waiver wire.
Randall Cobb being a washed up slot receiver didn’t stop King O’Brien from paying him an inflated salary. Cobb will see some work in the middle of the field but the general lack of ability will keep him from being more than a deep-league, matchup-based flex option — assuming he ousts fellow slot receiver Keke Coutee from the starting gig. Coutee has flashed potential but has also been bitten by the injury bug from time to time. He’s reportedly fighting for a roster spot.
Jordan Akins and Darren Fells largely cannibalized each other’s production last year. Akins has reportedly had an outstanding training camp though so there may actually be some distance between the two of them this year. Given the fragility of the pass catching corps, Akins could be a decent streaming option at TE in 2020.
Ka’imi Fairbairn is a moderate option at kicker. We’d prefer a kicker tied to a savvy, high-scoring analytical team but Watson should get the team in scoring position fairly often.
The Texans’ D/ST is one to completely avoid. This is not a talented roster and they face a brutal offensive schedule.