2015 Team Outlook: Houston Texans
After posting a league-worst 2-14 record in 2013, the Texans returned to respectability last year, going 9-7. Compared to 2013, they scored about 100 more points and gave up about 120 fewer. As good as that looks, Houston actually regressed in total yards gained and total yards allowed, finishing 17th and 16th in the league, respectively. They ranked 11th and seventh in those categories in 2013. Last year, the Texans ran the ball a league-high 551 times. This allowed them to keep the score close and limit the exposure to their defense.
Houston has made the playoffs only twice in the team's 13-year history. Bill O'Brien did a nice job in his first season as head coach. Romeo Crennel returns for his second seasons as the defensive coordinator. He has 14 years of experience as either a head coach or defensive coordinator with three Super Bowl titles coming with the New England Patriots. George Godsey has been moved from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator.
The best player Houston lost in free agency was wide receiver Andre Johnson. He has had an elite career with the Texans, recording five 100-catch season and finishing seven years with more than 1,000 yards. His skill set will be tough to replace, but Johnson is going to be 34 in July.
The best player added was nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Just like Johnson, Wilfork is long in the tooth (34), but he will provide a nice upgrade to Houston's run defense.
Linebacker Brooks Reed moved onto the Atlanta Falcons. He was no more than league average against the run and had limited upside when it came to rushing the QB. Safety Kendrick Lewis signed with Baltimore Ravens. In his second season as a starter, Lewis played well in pass coverage. The Texans added a pair of safeties -- Rahim Moore and Stevie Brown. Moore started every game for the Denver Broncos in 2014 and had almost the same production as Lewis. Brown, who will come off the bench has no defining asset in his skill set. Safety D.J. Swearinger has moved on to the Tampa Buccaneers after struggling badly against the run.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the New York Jets. Case Keenum will compete for the backup job with the St. Louis Rams. Brian Hoyer was added to the roster to battle quarterback Ryan Mallett for the starting job. Both QBs have ties to O'Brien from their time together with the Patriots.
Starting center Chris Myers was cut at age 34. Chris Polk will add depth to the running back position. DeVier Posey never developed into a viable wideout option, and he'll now fight for playing time with the Jets in 2015. Nate Washington replaced him on the Texans' roster.
In the first round of this year's NFL Draft, Houston selected cornerback Kevin Johnson. He flashed electric quickness and athletic ability at the combine. Johnson has upside as a cover corner with some question marks in his tackling ability, which may be corrected when he adds more bulk. The Texans will have the luxury of using him off the bench this year.
Linebacker Benardrick McKinney was added in the second round. McKinney will have his most value when attacking the line of scrimmage as a run defender or blitzing the QB. He has some value in pass coverage against tight ends.
With their next two picks, the Texans focused on adding WR depth with Jaelen Strong and Keith Mumphery. At 6-foot-2 and 217 pounds, Strong has the size to replace Johnson. Although he ran a sub-4.50 time at the combine, he lacks quickness and will struggle to beat defenders deep downfield. His should do his best work in the short areas of the field as he has a strong enough release to create separation. Mumphery runs decent routes, but he lacks quickness and deep speed. Keith is a willing blocker and may have value on special teams.
In the sixth round, Houston drafted linebacker Reshard Cliett and defensive tackle Christian Covington. Cliett will add speed to the defense, but he has some tackling issues. He needs to add more strength to help him in the heat of the battle at the line of scrimmage. Covington is an attacking player who has good instincts against the run and enough quickness to create advantages as a pass rusher. He, like Cliett, needs to get stronger. Christian missed the final five games of the season at Rice University due to a knee injury.
With their last pick in the draft, the Texans gambled on RB Kenny Hilliard. He had a tough combine where he run like he was in mud (4.83 40). Hilliard has some value as a pass catcher, but he really has no future in the NFL unless he is converted to fullback.
Houston Texans WR Jaelen Strong
Houston ran the ball a ton last year, and the offensive line looked great when leading the way for Arian Foster, who averaged 4.8 yards per rush on 260 carries. Unfortunately, Foster's backups averaged only 3.3 yards per rush.
Left tackle Duane Brown was the Texans' best overall lineman in 2014. He was very good in run blocking and allowed only two sacks.
Right guard Brandon Brooks was a top-five run blocker for his position last year and didn't allow a sack. He had similar success in 2013 as well.
Ben Jones is expected to take over at center after starting all 16 games at left guard in 2014. He was slightly above average in run blocking but wasn't quite as consistent in pass protection.
Houston's 2014 second-round pick, Xavier Su'a-Filo, is expected to take over the left guard position. As a part-time player last year, Xavier failed to show any upside in either run or pass blocking.
Right tackle Derek Newton was a huge liability in all areas of the game in 2013, but he did make a huge step forward in 2014 as run blocker. Newton allowed only two sacks, but he also allowed 36 QB hurries.
This line has two very good players and has been especially effective when Foster runs between his center and his right guard. On 98 such runs last season, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Houston will need better overall play at center and left guard. Without Foster in the lineup, this line has been below league average.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2014, which will work as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: This is the results for each team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
Based on last year, the Texans have the easiest schedule in terms of their opponents' rushing yards allowed. The Jets are their only tough matchup in that area. They play in a division with some poor defenses, plus the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons are also weak against the run. Houston will face three AFC East teams that have solid defensive lines and are strong at defending the pass -- the Jets, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. The most favorable matchups for their passing game will most likely come against Atlanta and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Texans ran the ball 53.1 percent of the time last year, which ranked second in the league. Slightly more than 20 percent of their completed passes went to RBs but only 11.0 percent went to TEs (second-lowest rate in the league). Their quarterbacks completed 67.5 percent of their passes to WRs, who caught a total of 199 for 2,585 yards and 10 TDs.
QB Brian Hoyer, NE - Bust (overvalued)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Hoyer had a solid game in Week 13 (308 combined yards and three TDs), but his ticket came in a week late. On the year he has one game with 300+ yards passing and three games with three TDs. The Patriots rank 9th in the league in QB Fantasy defense, with five of their last six opponents scoring fewer than 20 Fantasy points. QBs have 16 passing TDs, while gaining 6.8 yards per pass. Not ideal, but he may surprise if New England sets the tempo on offense.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/3): The one week Fantasy owners place a bet on Hoyer coming out as the top value play at QB, he comes up short due to the Saints not pressing the issue on the scoreboard. He finished with 205 yards and two TDs. He has one 300-yard passing game in seven full games played, with two games with more than two TDs. Buffalo is about league average in QB Fantasy defense, with improved success in four of their last five games (20 Fantasy points or less). QBs have 20 passing TDs, while gaining 6.8 yards per attempt. Not ideal, but maybe the Hopkins/Hoyer combo comes in a week late.
UPDATE (11/21): Hoyer actually hasn't been awful. He has an impressive TD-to-INT ratio of 13-to-4. Despite missing large chunks of multiple games due to injuries or due to being benched, he is still averaging a respectable 243.4 yards per game. All things considered, those really aren't awful Fantasy stats. With that said, he is currently injured and suffered a concussion and memory loss in Week 10. It's unclear how much time he will miss. T.J. Yates will start in his absence.
Hoyer outplayed Johnny Manziel in 2014, which led to him starting 13 games for the Browns. He went 7-6 while passing for 3,326 yards, 12 TDs and 13 INTs. He completed only 55.3 percent of his passes. His lack of success was due to a poor wide receiving corps and a disappointing year from TE Jordan Cameron. Just like Mallett, Brian spent three seasons as the backup in New England. His tenure came when O'Brien was the Pats' quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. Hoyer's resume is short and his upside is limited. I expect him to start some games this season and offer value as a game manager.
QB Ryan Mallett, --- - Low Potential
After riding the bench for basically the first nine games, Mallett finally got his chance to prove his worth in Week 10, facing the Cleveland Browns on the road. Ryan completed 20 of his 30 passes for 211 yards, two TDs and one interception. The Cincinnati Bengals shut down the Texans' passing game the following week as Mallett completing only 46.7 percent of his passes for 189 yards, no TDs and one INT. His season ended that week because of a torn right pectoral muscle. Last season Houston threw the ball only 485 times for a total of 3,460 yards, 22 TDs and 13 INTs. That doesn't provide much of an opportunity for the QBs here, plus the WR corps takes a hit with Andre Johnson no longer on the roster. Ryan was expected to have high upside coming out of college in 2011 and he has three years of experience holding the clipboard for one of the best QBs in the game, Tom Brady. Even if he wins the Texans' quarterback competition this summer, his lack of a resume will lead to him having possible job-loss risk. Mallett is a low-rate backup QB flier with no impact Fantasy value on the horizon.
Houston Texans QB Ryan Mallett
QB Tom Savage, --- - Dynasty Only
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Savage really doesn't have a commanding college resume. He started his career at Rutgers, where he threw for only 2,211 yards and 14 TDs in his freshman year. A hand injury led to him losing the starting job as a sophomore. He then transferred to Arizona, where he sat out the 2011 season. After a coaching change, he then transferred to Pittsburgh, where he sat out another season due to transfer rules. Finally, as the starting quarterback for Pittsburgh in 2013, he threw for 2,958 yards and 21 TDs in 13 games. He has plus arm strength, but his slow feet and lack of experience make him a project at this level. He needs to learn how to read defenses and make better decisions with the ball. He should have no Fantasy value in the near future.
RB Alfred Blue, --- - Fantasy Handcuff
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Blue was limited last week with a back issue, which led to him only being on the field for nine plays, compared to 30 by Polk and 27 by Grimes. This week he is listed as questionable. On the year, Blue has one 100-yard rushing game with three TDs, while gaining only 3.5 YPC. New England is 12th in the league in RB Fantasy defense, with some fade in their last three games due to injuries on the defensive side of the ball (523 combined yards, four TDs and 17 catches). Low upside with inconsistent player time.
Week 13 DFS Update (12/5): Blue had his best game in Week 12 (81 combined yards with a TD and a catch) vs. the Saints since Week 3 (139 yards and a TD). He finished with 17 touches, but the Texans also gave Grimes (21), Polk (16), and Hunt (4) a good percentage of playing time. Over the last two games Blue has 41 touches, 173 combined yards with a TD and four catches. The Bills are league average defending RBs, with eight teams scoring over 20 Fantasy points. They allow a 4.2 YPC average and 11 TDs to RBs. Improving opportunity, but Fantasy owners could very easily get beat by the head coach giving him less playing time.
UPDATE (11/21): The Texans' backfield is a mess without Arian Foster. It appears Blue is the best option, nevertheless, that does not make him a good option. Since Foster has gone down, Blue has 26 carries for just 61 yards. He's nothing more than a desperation flex option. While he had one game in which he rushed for 139 yards on 31 carries, those games are few and far between for him. He is not a reliable option.
Update (08/06): Houston gave Blue 184 touches in his rookie season so most fantasy owners will naturally be drawn to him as the best available athlete at the RB position. His 3.1 yards per rush is a huge negative for me headed into the 2015 season, but I can't dismiss that he Alfred can show improvement in his second year in the league. Until I see him on the field or a strong message from the coaching staff endorsing him as the starter, I'm placing him in the number two position behind Polk. His success or failure with be the key to the Texans adding more running back depth.
Blue was unimpressive as a sixth-round rookie in 2014 (641 combined yards and three TDs on 184 touches). He averaged only averaged 3.1 yards per rush. In the three games he started, he accrued 310 yards from scrimmage on 69 touches. His season highlight came in Week 11 when he rushed for 156 yards on a whopping 36 totes against the Browns. Over four seasons at LSU, Alfred never was the lead back. He rushed for a total of 1,253 yards on 209 carries in college and had limited value in the passing game (16 catches, 105 yards). I think he will be passed on the depth chart before the season begins. Blue is a low-level handcuff.
Houston Texans RB Alfred Blue
RB Arian Foster, --- - Gamble (high risk)
Update (08/06): Foster suffered a groin injury on August 4th that will require surgery. The early reports have him out for three to six months. He has no draft value headed into the 2015 football season. If somehow he crawls back to the field late in the year, Arian will be found on the waiver wire. Roster slots are too valuable to carry him with a chances of playing a couple of games.
Foster continues to be an injury risk, and that tag won't go away with him turning 29 in late August. After being discounted in 2014 drafts, Arian delivered a top-five Fantasy RB season despite missing three games and carrying the ball 13 times combined in two other games. He battled hamstring, knee, groin and hip issues. He had seven 100-yard rushing games and nine outings with 15 or more Fantasy points in FFWC scoring. Compared to previous seasons, Foster wasn't used as much in the passing game, but his skill set remains very good in this area as he caught 38 passes for 327 yards and five scores. In four of his past five seasons, Arian has touched the ball at least 298 times. His success last year couldn't be defined better than by comparing his yards per carry average (4.8) to the rest of Houston's RB options (3.2). In his 11 full games, Foster averaged 25.3 touches per game. He is one of the most productive players in the sport when he's on the field. His draft stock really depends on how people weigh his risk versus his reward. Foster's handcuff will be cheap, but as stated above, those players failed to have much of any impact value last year. As much as I like Foster as a player, I can't see him being on the field when I need him during the Fantasy playoffs. My advice would be to avoid the risk and find another impact RB who actually has age on his side.
RB Chris Polk, --- - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Week 14 DFS Update (12/13): Polk had a bump in opportunity in Week 13 due to Blue having a back issue. He finished with 72 combined yards, a TD and a catch on 13 touches. On the year, he is gaining only 3.6 YPC with one other TD. Only a gamble with more failure than upside.
Update (08/06): We think Polk has the most value at the RB on the current Texans roster. I wouldn't get all giddy by him getting an upside opportunity as his resume is short with some injury risk. Chris has talent to be a power runner on first and second down with enough pass catching ability to be in the mix in the passing game. His biggest downside would be Houston adding a veteran back with a more proven resume. For now, Polk is an upside flier to watch over the next couple of weeks as the Texans and the fantasy world waits to see the winning hole open in this backfield.
Through three NFL seasons, Polk has only 57 carries, 270 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He's caught just six passes for just 77 yards in his career. Chris was given goal-line carries a couple of times last year while with the Philadelphia Eagles and he responded with four TDs in limited action. Overall, Polk took 46 rushes for 172 yards, a 3.7 average. He has the power-running style to replace Foster. However, his NFL resume is short and he's been nagged by injuries throughout his time in the pros. Chris was a three-year starter at the University of Washington, where he rushed for 4,049 yards on 799 carries with 26 TDs. He even caught 79 passes for 683 yards and four scores. I like his overall skill set more than Blue's, and Polk may emerge as the best handcuff to Foster this season.