Texans Year in Review
2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 30th (485)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 1st (551)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 8th (1,062)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 24th (5.2)
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Although the Texans intend to hold a camp battle at quarterback, all indications during OTA and minicamp season were that Brian Hoyer had obtained an edge on Ryan Mallett, and quite possibly a significant one. In all likelihood, both Hoyer and Mallett will make 2015 starts. Hoyer was arguably the worst passer in football last season, posting a 12:13 TD-to-INT ratio while ranking 40th in completion rate (55.3) and 38th in passer rating (76.5) among signal callers with at least 100 attempts. Mallett showed command of coach Bill O’Brien‘s offense in two spot starts last year, but was traded away by Bill Belichick for a conditional seventh-round pick, and got outplayed by Hoyer in spring practices. Regardless of the identity of the Texans’ starter in a given week, O’Brien’s approach will involve “hiding” that quarterback with a high-volume run game and turnover-causing defense. Houston’s quarterbacks are also surrounded by one of the NFL’s least-talented pass-catcher corps. They’re not going to have fantasy value this season.
The inefficiency of Houston’s quarterback play is the most glaring concern for DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins, however, dealt with sub-par passing last year (Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage) and made out just fine. “Nuk” managed to finish 14th in fantasy wideout scoring despite ranking 22nd in targets, while then-No. 1 Texans receiver Andre Johnson ranked fifth in targets but 39th in receiver points. Hopkins has above-average size (6’1/214) and good-enough speed (4.57), and is a route technician with top-shelf playmaking ability on the ball, allowing him to win at all three levels of the field. A candidate for 150 targets as the new No. 1 pass option on a team otherwise short on pass catchers, 23-year-old Hopkins is a value at his late-third-round ADP.
Veteran retreads Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington will compete with third-round pick Jaelen Strong to start opposite Hopkins. A person I trust with Texans connections recently described Strong as “way behind” after battling sub-par conditioning and a hamstring injury this spring, and said he “highly doubt(s)” Strong will be “a factor this year.” Washington and Shorts both practiced well at OTAs, and it’s possible they’ll share No. 2 duties in an offense that regularly features two-tight end sets. Nothing will be decided until late August, but my pick to win the No. 2 job is Shorts, who is 27 years old with one top-25 fantasy finish under his belt, and offers position flexibility at Z and slot receiver. Washington can also play multiple spots, but is going on age 32 and better suited for a sub-package role. Strong easily offers the highest Dynasty ceiling, but is young for a rookie (21) and needs a lot of polish, especially as a route runner. I could envision Strong as an early-season game-day scratch who emerges later in the year.
Although Bill O’Brien made heavy use of tight ends as an offensive overseer in New England, he did not deem Garrett Graham or C.J. Fiedorowicz worthy of big pass-catching roles his first year in Houston. Graham, who turns 29 in August, saw just 28 targets across 11 games, blocking on 51.4% of his snaps and doing so poorly, earning negative grades as both a run and pass blocker from Pro Football Focus. Since the Texans have a major question mark at No. 2 receiver, they may be looking for second-year TE Fiedorowicz to step up. A 2014 third-round pick out of Iowa, Fiedorowicz was targeted just seven times in 15 games as a rookie, and blocked on 75.3% of his downs. Fiedorowicz is the member of Houston’s tight end group about whom we can have some optimism simply because he’s still a relative unknown, but it’s hard to imagine him or Graham suddenly emerging as a 2015 fantasy factor. Technically, Graham is the flex tight end in O’Brien’s offense, while Fiedorowicz lines up most frequently on the line of scrimmage.
Running Game Outlook
Arian Foster showed up on the weekly injury reports with hip, groin, and hamstring ailments last season, but when healthy remained one of the NFL’s most-effective runners. His yards-per-carry average (4.79) was Foster’s best in a half-decade, and DeMarco Murray was the lone running back to outscore Foster in standard-league points per game. Only Le’Veon Bell and Murray outdid Foster in per-game PPR scoring. Foster turns 29 in August, but is in the midst of his healthiest offseason in memory, and coach Bill O’Brien recently recommitted to Foster as the centerpiece of Houston’s offense. “We have a very good running back,” O’Brien said. “So you can rest assured that as long as he’s healthy and he’s out there, we will run the ball. I can tell you that. That’s one thing we will do.” Foster is a first-round fantasy pick this season.
Alfred Blue turned in two slightly-memorable fantasy performances last season, posting a 13-78 line in a Week 3 spot start at the Giants, and a 36-156 rushing number in Week 11 at Cleveland. Blue’s overall rookie-year play was poor, however, averaging 3.12 YPC behind one of the league’s top offensive lines and pass blocking ineffectively per PFF’s grades. A big (6’2/223), methodical-moving plodder with 4.63 speed, Blue’s handcuff role should not be assured as training camp approaches. The Texans return more-explosive third-down back Jonathan Grimes, and they signed former Eagle Chris Polk before selecting LSU power back Kenny Hilliard in the seventh round of the draft. Due to Foster’s past durability woes, this will be a camp battle to monitor. Blue will enter July as the favorite, but don’t be surprised if versatile Polk beats him out.
Vegas Win Total
The Texans are a tricky team to project. Their Vegas Win Total is 8.5, and they certainly benefit from facing perennial doormats Jacksonville and Tennessee twice in by-far the NFL’s easiest division. They are well coached, have one of the best running games in football, and boast a disruptive, J.J. Watt-led defense. They’re also likely to be a team that plays in-season musical chairs at quarterback, are painfully short on pass-catching talent beyond DeAndre Hopkins, and must win close games because they simply aren’t going to score a lot of points. The Jaguars and Titans do look slightly improved from last season, and this year the AFC South faces the beastly defenses of the AFC East in addition to the dangerous offenses of the NFC South. I wouldn’t bet much money on the Texans’ win total either way, but would go with the under if forced to pick.
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