Preseason - 2021 Houston Texans Outlook
Houston Texans Outlook
Over the past 10 seasons, Houston made six trips to the postseasons with seven winning years. Their franchise had a top-tier wide receiver (Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins) for 17 of 20 seasons in the NFL. In 2020, the Texans slipped to 4-12 due to continued failure on defense (30th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed – 464).
Houston brought in David Culley to take over as head coach. He comes with an offensive background while never holding an offensive coordinator job. Culley has been a coach in the NFL for 27 seasons while spending most of his career working with wide receivers. The questions swirling about Deshaun Watson point to an all-out rebuild, leaving Culley in a precarious position.
In 2019, Houston promoted Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator after working in various roles in the system since 2014. His offense finished 13th in offensive yards over the last two seasons. Even with a slight bump in points scored (384 – 378 in 2019), the Texans dropped to 18th in the offensive scoring rankings.
Lovie Smith takes over the defense after spending the past five years coaching at Illinois. He ran the Rams' defense from 2001 to 2003 before 12 seasons as a head coach for the Bears (81-63) and the Bucs (8-24). Smith helped Chicago to three playoffs berths.
Along with Watson struggling off the field, Houston lost their top WR Will Fuller to the Dolphins. He played well in 2020 (53/879/8) despite a five-game suspension). Fuller has never played more than 14 games in his five seasons in the league.
DE J.J. Watts jumped ship and signed with the Cardinals. Over his last 24 contests, he had 76 combined tackles and nine sacks. Watts will start the year at 32. When healthy and in his prime, Watts averaged over 75 tackles and 17 sacks over 80 games. Injuries cost him 31 starts since 2015.
The Texans brought in Tyrod Taylor for insurance at quarterback. When at his best, he projects as a game-manager with some value rushing the ball.
Houston added CB Desmond King and CB Terrance Mitchell to their secondary.
Los Angeles dealt King to Tennessee after six games. He continues to add value to the run defense with some success blitzing the quarterback. When at his best over his first three seasons with the Chargers, King made 189 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 17 defended passes, and four interceptions.
Mitchell set a career-high in tackles (65) in 2020 while also picking up 13 defended passes and three forced fumbles. His downside came from allowing big plays and some damage in touchdowns allowed. When keeping the receiver in front of him, Mitchell tends to give up a low completion rate.
The Texans signed LB Kevin Pierre-Louis and DE Jordan Jenkins to their defense.
Pierre-Louis saw the most playing time of his career in 2020 as a rotational player on passing downs. He'll help defense kick returns while having a low ceiling in coverage (five touchdowns allowed last year).
Jenkins picked up 15 sacks between 2018 and 2019 with the Jets, but only two quarterback takedowns over 12 games last season. His run defense is below par. At best, he will see rotational snaps on passing downs.
The upgrades on the offensive line came via G Lane Taylor and C Justin Britt.
Injuries cost Taylor most of the last two seasons. He projects as a backup this year, with his best asset coming in pass protection. In 2016, he made 16 starts for the Packers.
Britt suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2019, which led to a lost season last year. Over his first five years with the Seahawks, he developed into a reliable player in pass protection. His plays in run blocking regressed over the past two years.
The Texans traded away their first two draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
In the third round, Houston invested in QB Davis Mills and WR Nico Collins.
Mills made only 13 starts over the previous two seasons for Stanford. He came off the bench to start over the second half of 2019. A Covid issue cost him Week 1 the following year, and Stanford only played six games for the season. Mills is a pocket passer with the arm to deliver passes on time all over the field. His lack of experience hindered his pocket presence and reading defenses. Mills projects to have a higher ceiling while needing to prove he can handle surveying the whole field and maintain toughness under duress in the pocket.
Collins would be a better fit in a Deshaun Watson led offense where his deep speed and size offer more value. His route running won't create many wins over the short areas of the field, but he will command chances on fade routes at the goal line. Collins blocks well, which points to him being a game-breaker when his team plays from the lead in the fourth quarter. His hands grade well.
In the fifth round, Houston drafted TE Brevin Jordan and LB Garret Wallow.
Jordan has a chain-mover feel in the passing game while lacking the foundation to handle his responsibilities in the blocking game. His route running works best with a clean release over the short areas of the field. Jordan fights hard after the catch, creating some big plays if he breaks a tackle or two.
Wallow comes with a high floor in tackles while owning a frame closer to a safety than a linebacker. His play shines when attacking the line of scrimmage while having a balance between patience and fire. Wallow gets in trouble when facing blocks in traffic while willing to detour rather than defeat his man with contact. He needs to get stronger and improve his decision-making when covering run lanes.
With their final selection in the sixth round, the Texans threw a dart at DT Roy Lopez. He projects to be a run clogger with limited range. Even with a questionable first step, Lopez does his best work early after the snap. His pass rush and vision point to a rotational early-down player.
The Texans fell to 32nd in rushing yards (1,466), partly due to only 21.5 rushes per game. They scored 10 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.3 yards per carry with only had five runs over 20 yards.
Houston climbed to 2nd in passing yards (4,843) with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions while gaining 8.9 yards per pass attempt (best in the league). Their offensive line allowed 50 sacks.
LT Laremy Tunsil
The Texans signed Tunsil to a three-year deal worth over $57 million in guaranteed money before the 2020 season. Last year he played at the highest level of his career in pass protection, but Tunsil regressed in run blocking. He missed two games with an illness and an ankle issue.
LG Max Scharping
Max Scharping plays with strength while having questionable foot speed. He projects to be an edge in a power run game, but Scharping does have risk in pass protections tied to his lack of quickness. The Texans drafted him in the second round in 2019. Last year Scharping made eight starts with mixed results. He held his own in pass protection with emptiness in run blocking. Houston needs him to take a step forward this year.
C Justin Britt
After sitting out the last year and a half, Britt should be the favorite to win the center job for the Texans. Earlier in his career, he played much better in run blocking. Britt won't give up many sacks while missing only one game over his first five seasons with Seattle.
RG Marcus Cannon
The Texans acquired Cannon in mid-March via a trade with the Patriots. He opted out of 2020 with Covid concerns. Most of his experience comes at the right tackle, but Houston will ask Cannon to move inside this season. He will give up some sacks with the foundation to be a league-average player. The move inside should fit his game well.
RT Tytus Howard
Howard comes to the NFL with athletic ability and a base foundation skill set to have success despite coming from a small school program. He needs development in his technique, along with adding more strength to his game. Howard lacks the power in his hands at this point in his career. The Texans' drafted him in the first round in 2019.
Over his first two years, he missed 12 games. He allowed a ton of pressure while falling short of expectations in run blocking.
This offensive line has two players with a chance to rank near the top of the league at their position. Overall, the Texans need to clean up their sacks allowed with improvement in run blocking. I'll grade them as league average with upside.
Houston chased on the scoreboard in many games, leading to a poor output in rushing yards. They passed the ball 61.5 percent of the time with more chances left on the mat due to 50 sacks. The direction of this offense hinges on the Deshaun Watson saga off the field
QB Davis Mills, HOU - Dynasty Only
Mills passed for 3,468 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions over his final 13 games at Stanford. His completion rate (65.5) and yards per pass attempt (7.9) ranked well. He finished his college career with 63 rushes for 86 yards and three touchdowns. Mills will need to develop, but Houston may need to start him if Watson misses the season.
QB Tyrod Taylor, NYG - Deep-league Only
Over his three seasons as a starter for the Bills (22-20), Taylor helped his success with his ability to run (283/1575/14). Over this span, he passed for 8,857 yards (201 per game) with 51 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His M.O. is a ball-controlled game manager.
Taylor looks willing to take the dump-off pass to the running back position or the tight end, leading to short yards per pass attempt (7.0) in his career.
Fantasy Outlook: The 2021 Texans are poised to be a disaster and Taylor, despite having solid value with his legs, is being set up to fail. As the presumptive starter, Taylor has some Superflex value as a lesser QB2/3 but he can be safely ignored in standard redraft leagues and has middling dynasty value.
QB Deshaun Watson, CLE - Gamble (high risk)
After a steady first three games (280/2, 292/1, and 269/2), Watson passed for over 300 yards in 10 of his next 13 starts while producing six impact games (30.45, 35.35, 34.80, 36.30, 31.00, and 30.45 fantasy points). His finish over the final seven games (207.50 fantasy points) pushed him to fifth in quarterback scoring in four-point passing touchdown leagues.
Watson set career-high in completions (382), completion rate (70.2), pass attempts (544), passing downs (33), and yards per pass attempt (8.9). He completed 69 passes over 20 yards, with 11 of those plays gaining 40 yards or more. Watson continues to help fantasy teams with his ability to run (90/444/3).
Fantasy Outlook: Watson is a stud, and he makes the players around him better. The cloudiness with his off-the-field issue continues to depress his fantasy value. He lost another top wide receiver while adding only backend pieces at wideout and tight end. I don't expect him to play another game in Houston, and a suspension could be on the way. For now, I'll place Watson in the avoid column until there is some clarity on his situation.
Watson is the ultimate boom-or-bust pick, but looks more likely to bust in redraft.
RB Mark Ingram, NO - Over the Hill (decreased production)
Ingram played well in his first season in Baltimore (1,265 combined yards and 26 catches), highlighted by his 15 touchdowns. His 2021 season started with 250 combined yards with two touchdowns and three catches over six games.
A left ankle injury and a battle with Covid led to him missing five games, and the Ravens phased him out of the running back rotation over the second half of the season.
Fantasy Outlook: Ingram runs hard while offering some value on passing downs. He should work as the top handcuff for David Johnson.
Other Options: Buddy Howell, Dontrell Hilliard, Scottie Phillips
RB Phillip Lindsay, IND - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
After gaining over 1,200 combined yards in his first two seasons, Lindsay saw his opportunity (11.4 touches per game) decline in 2020. He missed three games early in the year with a concussion and his season ended in Week 15 with hip and ankle issues.
Denver failed to get him involved in the passing game (7/28 – 70/437/1 combined in 2018 and 2019). Lindsay had the most production from Week 6 to Week 8 (266 combined yards with one touchdown and one catch) despite seeing only 38 touches.
Fantasy Outlook: Lindsay overcame long odds and rushed for a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in Denver. While he wasn't involved much in the passing game, Lindsay has fresh legs and could easily move past the fading David Johnson in a Houston lineup that inspires little confidene. Lindsay is a solid late-round target that offers a lot of sleeper appeal.
RB David Johnson, --- - Bust (overvalued)
The running back for Houston saw a drop of 96 rushing attempts from 2019 despite gaining 4.4 yards per carry. They also had success in yards per catch (8.7) with a high catch rate (76.7).
Over 12 games, Johnson gained 1,005 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 33 catches on 180 touches. He had eight plays of 20 yards or more while delivering winning stats in yards per rush (4.7) and yards per catch (9.5). Deshaun Watson missed him multiple times in the flat in the red zone, which would have led to some easy scores.
Houston didn't give him over 20 touches in any game. Johnson had the most success over his final three games (392 combined yards with three touchdowns and 17 catches or 24.73 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. Despite missing four weeks, he ranked 21st in running back scoring (180.50 fantasy points).
Fantasy Outlook: The Texans brought in two other running backs to compete for playing time. Johnson still has game, but his window is closing at age 29. Houston will rotate in a second runner, which puts a ceiling of 240 touches no matter who starts at quarterback, but losing Watson, as expected, would be a devastating blow to Houston's run game behind a subpar O-line.