2022 Houston Texans Team Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
The cloud of Deshaun Watson left the Houston Texans over the winter. Davis Mills handled himself well in his rookie season, but the Texans only added one upgrade at wide receiver (John Metchie) in this year's draft class. The running back position gains Marlon Mack and Dameon Pierce, which may not be a significant improvement. Brandin Cooks looks to be the only fantasy-relevant player until Metchie recovers fully from his torn ACL (last December).
Houston ran the ball 43.5 % of the time last season due to losing in many games. Despite needing to chase on the scoreboard, they averaged only 32.1 passes per game. Overall, the Texans need to improve in all areas of the game to create better production in rushing and passing yards.
The rushing running back opportunity rose by 52.6 % for Houston in 2021 despite their backs gaining a dismal 3.2 yards per carry (1.2 yards fewer than 2020). Houston completed 79 passes to their running backs for 557 yards and two touchdowns on 104 targets.
Over the past three seasons, the Texans' wideouts accounted for 70, 69, and 68 % of their receiving yards. Unfortunately, the change at quarterback led to a drop of 39 catches, 887 yards, and seven touchdowns despite only 21 fewer targets. Their wide receivers caught 57.3 % of Houston's completions (63.2 in 2020 and 64.2 in 2019), with regression in their catch rate (63.8 – 71.4 in 2020).
The Texans' tight ends finished with almost identical results in catches (72, 72, and 71) over the past three seasons with a close-range in targets (99, 97, and 106). Most of their completion last year gained short yards per catch (8.5).
Houston promoted Lovie Smith to head coach after running their defense in 2021. The Texans didn't bring in a defensive coordinator, which means Smith will handle the lead role again this season. Over the previous five years, he was the head coach at Illinois. Smith worked over 12 seasons as a head coach for the Bears (81-63) and the Bucs (8-24). He helped Chicago to three playoffs berths.
Over the last two seasons, Houston ranked 27th in points allowed (464 and 452), with weaker results in yards allowed 30th and 31st.
The Texans brought in Pep Hamilton to run their offense. He has been a coach in the NFL for 12 seasons, with his previous experience as an offensive coordinator from 2013 to 2015 with the Colts. Last year Hamilton worked as the pass game coordinator and quarterback coach for Houston.
Their offense finished last in the NFL in offensive yards while ranking 30th in points allowed (280). The Texans scored 104 points fewer than in 2020 (384).
Houston added DE Jerry Hughes, DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE Rasheem Green, and CB Steven Nelson to their defense. Hughes has plenty of experience in the NFL, but he'll start the season at 34. He projects to be a rotational pass rusher. Nelson played well in coverage in 2019, which wasn't repeatable over the past two seasons. The Texans lost S Justin Reid, QB Tyrod Taylor, DE Jacob Martin, and TE Jordan Akins to free agency. Reid struggled in all areas over the past two years. The other two additions were RB Marlon Mack and G A.J. Cann.
The most crucial issue for Houston in the 2022 NFL Draft was their secondary, leading to them drafting CB Derek Stingley (1.3) and S Jalen Pitre (2.5) with two of their first three selections. In addition, the Texans added five offensive players – G Kenyon Green (1.15), WR John Metchie (2.12), RB Dameon Pierce (4.2), TE Teagan Quitoriano (5.27), and T Austin Deculus (6.27). LB Christian Harris (3.11) and DT Thomas Booker (5.7) were the other two players selected on the defensive side of the ball.
The Texans remain last in rushing yards (1,422) while averaging 24.7 rushes per game and only 3.4 yards per carry. They scored eight touchdowns on the ground with only six runs over 20 yards.
Houston fell to 26th in passing yards (3,630) with 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while gaining 6.6 yards per pass attempt. Their offensive line allowed 44 sacks.
The offensive line has three first-round draft picks – Laremy Tunsil (2016), LG Kenyon Green (2022), and RT Tytus Howard (2019), pointing to much better blocking this season. The other two options (Justin Britt and A.J. Cann) project to be below the league average. Overall, this offensive line should be much better in all areas this year.
The Texans moved up one notch to 31st in rushing yards allowed (2,418) with 25 rushing touchdowns. Ball carriers gained 4.6 yards per rush with only nine runs over 20 yards.
They finished 23rd in passing yards allowed (4,117), with quarterbacks tossing 27 touchdowns and 17 Interceptions. They allowed 12 catches over 40 yards while their defense recorded 32 sacks.
Despite missing five games with a foot issue, DE Jonathan Greenard showed growth as a pass rusher (eight sacks) in his second year in the league. However, his run defense still needs work. The Texans' secondary should be better over time after adding two strong coverage players in this year's draft. They hope the other two positions offer league average stats after signing both CB Steven Nelson and S Eric Murray to $10 million deals for two seasons. The Texans' linebacker position lacks impact players, and they only have one young developing player in the defensive line (Ross Blacklock).
This defense is a couple of drafts away from pushing up the rankings. Houston will be found on the waiver wire in many weeks in the fantasy world.
QB Davis Mills, HOU - Quality Backup
He 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. Mills finished his college career with 63 rushes for 86 yards and three touchdowns.
Mills is a pocket passer with the arm to deliver passes on time all over the field. However, 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.
In his first season with Houston, Mills went 2-9 over 13 games. He passed for 2,664 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while offering strength in his completion rate (66.8). His best play passing the ball came in four home starts (312/3, 310/2, 331/1, and 301/3). Unfortunately, Mills gained only 6.8 yards per pass attempt with 31 sacks.
Fantasy outlook: The Texans lack an impact pass-catching back while needing their top tight end to develop. Their wide receiving corps can surprise at times, but Houston needs Nico Collins and/or John Metchie to be productive for Mills to push higher in the quarterback ranking this year. He comes off the board as the 28th at quarterback in the National Fantasy Football Championship in late May. At best, 4,000 combined yards with below-par passing touchdowns. Mills offers no value as a runner.
Other Options: Kyle Allen, Jeff Driskel, Kevin Hogan
RB Dameon Pierce, HOU - Quality Backup
The Gators used Pierce as a change of pace runner over four seasons. He rushed for 1,806 yards and 23 touchdowns on 329 carries in his career, with his best value coming in 2021 (100/574/13). His play in the passing game improved over the past two years (17/156/1 and 19/216/3) while gaining 10.3 yards per catch.
Pierce has a unique running style with short jabby steps in traffic. When given a free run, his strides open up, leading to acceleration and sneaky speed over the short areas of the field. He runs through contact with the vision to make good decisions in space. Pierce brings strength to the table while lacking difference-maker acceleration over the long field. However, he has a feel for open space in the passing game.
Fantasy outlook: His ADP (125) climbed by 109 spots in the high-stakes market after Houston drafted him. Pierce doesn't have the resume to be a lead back, and his base skill set isn't ready to shine on passing downs. I sense similar usage as Kareem Hunt (one-third of his team carries with goal-line value and some action in the passing game). I have him ranked behind Marlon Mack in late May, but that could change quickly if the coach-speak in Houston suggests he will win the starting running back job in Week 2. I'll set his early bar at 150 rushes for 600 yards with about five scores and 25 catches.
UPDATE: Pierce's preseason peformance and the release of Marlon Mack have put the rookie squarely on the RB2 radar. Expect his ADP to continue to climb all week.
RB Rex Burkhead, HOU - Over the Hill (decreased production)
The Texans gave Burkhead minimal touches (12 for 67 yards with one touchdown and five catches) over their first eight games. An injury created a rotational over the next five weeks (65/178 with nine catches for 74 yards) while gaining only 2.7 yards per rush. Surprisingly, Burkhead posted a beast game (22/149/2 with two catches) in Week 16. His lack of running returned over Houston's last two matchups (16/47 and 12/24) while catching nine passes for 74 yards.
Fantasy outlook: At age 32, I don't see any reason to get excited about Burkhead. He battled a hip issue in 2021. In his nine years in the NFL, his best opportunity in touches (147) came last year. An older running back on a losing team equals a bad fantasy investment on fantasy draft day, no matter his reports over the summer.
Other Options: Royce Freeman, Dare Ogunbowale, Darius Anderson
RB Marlon Mack, DEN - Bye Week Fill-in
Mack improved each year in the league, but he still hasn't played an entire season of games in his career. In 2019, he set career highs in rushing attempts (247) and rushing yards (1,091) while regressing in the passing game (14/82). Over 26 games between 2018 and 2019, Mack scored 18 touchdowns while 84 yards and about one catch per game.
After missing most of 2020 due to a torn Achilles, Mack only played in six games (109 combined yards with two catches).
Fantasy outlook: The Texans expect Mack to be their top early-down option in the run game in 2022. He only has 57 catches for 448 yards and two scores over 47 career matchups. His early ADP (188) in the NFFC ranks him as the 58th running back drafted. Mack looks to be on a path to get about 175 touches while only working as a short-term fantasy starter when receiving the lead running back snaps.
UPDATE: Mack was waived as the Texans cut their rosters down to 53. He'll likely latch on somewhere as a backup but for now, it's all about Dameon Pierce #SZN!
WR Brandin Cooks, HOU - Solid/Safe Pick
Cooks has been in the NFL for eight seasons while playing for four different franchises. He gained over 1,000 receiving yards six times (at least once in each city played). With the Texans in 2020 and 221, Cooks had two excellent years (81/1,150/6 and 90/1,037/6), leading to him ranking 17th and 20th in fantasy scoring (232.00 and 231.80) in PPR leagues. His best play came in seven games (5/132, 9/78/1, 9/112, 6/83/1, 8/101, 7/102/2, and 7/66/1). He had a floor of six catches in eight contests but seven targets or fewer in nine games.
Fantasy outlook: Cooks has a long resume of success, but he continues to rank below his previous success. He has an ADP of 72 in the NFFC as the 28th wideout in late May. With plenty of experience playing with Davis Mills, Cooks will be the Texans' top receiving again in 2022. He set a career-high in targets (134) last year despite missing one game. His next step points to 100 catches with a chance to set a new top in receiving yards (1,204 in 2018) with a minimum of five scores.