2023 Houston Texans Team Outlook
The coaching carousel for the Houston Texans has had a boy band feel (New Direction) over the past few seasons (Bill O'Brien, Romeo Crennel, David Culley, and Lovie Smith). The Texans brought in DeMeco Ryans to grab the mic over the winter. His journey up the coaching ranks came through the San Francisco 49ers defensive coaching tree after playing in the NFL for 10 years. He ran San Fran's defense in 2021 and 2022 after holding a linebacking coach job over the previous three years.
Houston named Bobby Slowik as their offensive coordinator, who earned his NFL stripes as well over six seasons with the 49ers. He held multiple jobs (defensive quality control coach, offensive assistant, offensive pass game specialist, and offensive passing game coordinator) in San Francisco. He starts the season at age 35 with nine years of experience coaching in the NFL.
The Texans finished 30th in points scored in 2021 (280) and 2022 (289) while ranking even lower in offense yards (32nd and 31st). Houston hasn't had a top-10 scoring offense since 2012.
Their defense is in the hands of Matt Burke. Since 2004, he coached for seven different franchises before arriving in Houston. The Dolphins gave him two seasons (2017 and 2018) to run their defense. His recent jobs with the Eagles, Jets, and Cardinals were defensive special assistant, run game coordinator/defensive line coach, game management coach, and defensive line coach.
Houston ranked 27th in points allowed in 2020 (464), 2021 (452), and 2022 (420). They have had a bottom-five defense in yards allowed over the past four years.
Over the winter, the Texans added three offensive skill players (TE Dalton Schultz, RB Devin Singletary, and WR Robert Woods). Schultz moved into the starting lineup while Singletary projects to be a change-of-pace runner off the bench. Woods comes off a down season after missing about half of 2021 with a torn ACL. His experience puts him in the WR2 conversation for Houston at the minimum this year. In May, Houston signed RG Shag Mason.
Their defense lost DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (CLE) and DE Rasheem Green to free agency. Houston signed S Jimmie Ward, DT Sheldon Rankins, CB Shaquill Griffin, and LB Denzel Perryman.
The temptation of a new star quarterback led to the Texans drafting C.J. Stroud with the second overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. His size (6'3" and 215 lbs.) and arm project well, while needing to work on his footwork and pass release when on the move. Stroud isn't quite there with his defensive reads, but he has two impressive seasons on his resume at Ohio State, a college that typically doesn't produce NFL-caliber quarterbacks.
Houston beefed up their pass rush with the third pick in the first round by adding DE Will Anderson. His game is built on attacking the quarterback at all angles, but he does lose steam vs. top offensive linemen if they get their hands on him in 50/50 battles. Anderson must kick his game up a gear vs. the run, especially when he has to work to get into the play. His ceiling points to a difference-maker, giving the Texans a franchise player on the defensive side of the ball.
Houston invested in two draft choices (Juice Scruggs – 2nd and Jarrett Patterson – 6th) to upgrade their center position. Scruggs earns his edge by offering a stout anchor that neutralizes the pass rush well. On the downside, his quickness limits his push forward in run blocking while also allowing defenders to beat him in the pass rush outside his range. He does have experience at guard, but his run blocking needs more work to win early starting snaps at that position. Patterson grades better in run blocking with the vision to slow down free-running pass rushers. His strike comes from his questionable range in pass protection.
WR Tank Dell and WR Xavier Hutchinson were Houston's additions in the third and sixth rounds. Dell comes to the NFL with exceptional quickness and acceleration to create wins early in his route running. His size (5'8" and 165 lbs.) does bring some durability concerns, along with questions about his release vs. physical defenders. When covered up, Dell won't win his share of contested passes. His hands are at risk, with some work needed to clean up some of his flaws on some patterns. Hutchinson has a big wide receiver (6'2" and 205 lbs.) skill set that projects better on the outside. He can get off the line with wins against tight man coverage while a reasonable foundation in his route running. Hutchinson must prove he can't win more chances in the red zone to improve his value in scoring.
The final three draft pieces came on the defensive side of the ball – DE Dylan Horton, LB Henry To'oTo'o, and S Brandon Hill.
Horton continues to get stronger, but he is still trying to catch up to his frame (6'4" and 257 lbs.). His weakness comes vs. power blockers who push him off his block. Horton wants to rush the quarterback, helped by his quickness after the snaps and a foundation of pass-rushing attacks. As a result, his transition in change of direction moves looks labored.
To'oTo'o is an undersized (6'1" and 225 lbs.) linebacker. His game only has a steady feel while lacking a difference-maker skill. He understands the game and his responsibilities while lacking the hammer to finish off ball carriers on a high percentage of his hits. In addition, To'oTo'o can't make up for missed steps with his speed.
Hill fits the cover safety mode while falling short of his job description supporting the run. His speed (4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL combine) aligns with the cornerback position. His style/game fit well in center field, but his vision and attack could be better on more plays.
The Texans bumped to 31st in rushing yards (1,476) while averaging 23.4 rushes per game and only 3.7 yards per carry. They scored seven touchdowns on the ground with only seven runs over 20 yards.
Houston ranked 25th in passing yards (3,642) with 20 touchdowns and 19 interceptions while gaining 6.3 yards per pass attempt. Their offensive line allowed 38 sacks.
The offensive line has three first-round draft picks – LT Laremy Tunsil (2016), LG Kenyon Green (2022), and RT Tytus Howard (2019), pointing to much better blocking this season.
Tunsil was one of the best left tackles in the NFL last season while pushing to the league average in run blocking. It was the first time in his career that he played an entire season of games.
Green was overmatched in his rookie season, leading to massive damage in pressure on the quarterback. He also struggled in most weeks in run blocking.
The center position appears to be in the hands of incoming rookie Juice Scruggs. He will be up and down in run blocking while improving the pass team's blocking.
RG Shag Mason has a long history of being an asset as a run blocker with New England and Tampa. His pass-blocking has been an edge on most years.
Howard showed supporting the run game in his fourth year. He doesn't allow many sacks, but he will allow pressure on the quarterback.
The Texans need their young players to emerge to create bigger running lanes and a longer passing window. I expect growth this year by Houston's offense and their offensive line.
QB C.J. Stroud, HOU - Deep-league Only
Over his two seasons as a starter in college, Stroud passed for 8,123 yards over 25 games with 85 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His completion rate (69.3) graded well while averaging 9.8 yards per pass attempt. Over this span, Stroud offers minimal value in the run game (79/88).
He passed for more than 400 yards in five matchups (484/3, 406/5, 405/2, 432/6, and 573/6) in 2021. Last season, Stroud failed to reach that threshold in any matchup despite delivering four more touchdowns in seven games.
Fantasy Outlook: The Texans have an 11-38-1 record over the past three seasons. Their rebuild process starts with better quarterback play, and their 2023 coaching staff invested in Stroud. He will be behind center in Week 1 if his training camp goes well. In the early draft season in the high-stakes market, Stroud is the 26th-ranked quarterback.
QB Davis Mills, HOU - Not Draft Worthy
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 is a pocket passer with the arm to deliver passes on time all over the field. However, his lack of experience hinders 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.
His game regressed in his second year with the Texans. Mills saw his completion rate (61.0) fall while tossing 15 passes to the other team. He finished with 3,226 combined yards over 15 games with 19 touchdowns. Mills passed for fewer than 200 yards in eight of his matchups while passing for more than 300 yards in one game (319/1). His best fantasy outcome came in Week 18 (298/3).
Fantasy Outlook: Mills has 26 career starts, giving him the inside track to start for Houston in Week 1. He gained more than 20 yards on 17.1% of his 292 completion in 2022, despite gaining only 6.5 yards per pass for the year. From a fantasy perspective, Mills will be found in the free-agent pool in most formats.
Other Options: Case Keenum
RB Dameon Pierce, HOU - Solid/Safe Pick
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.
In his rookie seasons, he gained 1,104 combined yards with five touchdowns and 30 catches over 13 games. Pierce ranked 26th in running back scoring (168.40) in PPR formats. His best run came from Week 3 and Week 5 (60/310/3 with 11 catches for 43 yards). He lost his mojo in Week 11 (17 combined yards with two catches) and Week 12 (16 combined yards with three catches) while failing to score more than 16.00 fantasy points in his final eight starts. Pierce missed the last four weeks with an ankle injury.
Fantasy Outlook: Houston upgraded their backup running back in the offseason, pointing to fewer chances in 2023. Pierce ranks 20th in the early draft season at running back. I'll pencil him in for 60% of the rushing opportunity and about half of the pass-catching chances. My starting point is 1,000 combined yards with five to seven scores and 25 catches.
RB Devin Singletary, HOU - Bye Week Fill-in
In his third season with the Bills, Singletary emerged as their top running back by snap count (830 – 63.0%). He finished with a career-high in touches (228), combined yards (1,098), touchdowns (8), and catches (40). Singletary ranked 19th in running scoring (198.00) in PPR leagues. His best value came over his final seven games (630 combined yards with nine touchdowns and 21 catches) on 18.1 touches per game. His risk comes from his low bar and production over his first 12 games (99.3 fantasy points – 8.28 per game).
Last year, Singletary posted almost identical stats (1,099 combined yards with six touchdowns and 38 catches) as 2021 on 215 touches. He slipped to 23rd in running back scoring (180.90 fantasy points). He scored more than 20.00 fantasy points in two games (24.10 and 20.50), but Singletary posted fewer than 10.00 fantasy points in nine contests.
Fantasy Outlook: The downgrade in overall offense will lead to small holes and fewer chances. He'll be drafted as an RB4 in the high-stakes market while on a path for 175 to 200 touches for 800 combined yards with short touchdowns and 30+ catches.
Other Options: Mike Boone, Dare Ogunbowale, Gerrid Doaks
WR Nico Collins, HOU - Bye Week Fill-in
Collins caught 75 of his 122 targets over his final two seasons at Michigan, leading to two similar seasons (38/632/6 and 37/729/7). His game is all about stretching the field and testing defenses deep. He catches the ball well with the ability to win jump balls and score on fade at the goal line.
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 while offering value in the deep passing game. Collins blocks well, which points to him being a game-breaker when his team plays from the lead in the fourth quarter. His hands project to be an edge.
In his first season with Houston, he caught 33 of his 60 targets (55%) for 446 yards and one touchdown over 14 games. A foot issue knocked him out of three matchups. Collins only had one contest with more than four catches and fewer than six targets in 11 games. Over his final five weeks, he caught 15 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown while never scoring over 13.00 fantasy points in any game in PPR formats.
Collins was trending forward in 2022, highlighted by an improved opportunity (10, 7, 9, and 10 targets) in four games (5/49/1, 5/48, 6/44, and 3/35/1) from Week 10 to Week 13. Unfortunately, he missed the final five contests with a foot injury. Collins also sat out a pair of games earlier in the season with a groin issue. Over his first six games, he averaged three catches for 51 yards on five targets.
Fantasy Outlook: There are signs of growth in Collins's game, but his bump in chances late last season may have resulted from weak wide receiver options on the Texans' roster. He only has two career drops, with a slight rise in his catch rate (56.1) in 2022. His next step should be 50 catches for 700 yards and limited scoring. He fits the flash player mode, making him challenging to time from week to week. Collins ranked 63rd at wide receiver in the high-stakes market in late May.
WR Tank Dell, HOU - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Over his final two seasons in college (Houston), Dell delivered two exceptional seasons (90/1,329/12 and 109/1,398/17) thanks to elite targets (135 and 154 – 10.7 per game). He had a floor of seven catches in 15 of his final 20 games, with 11 of those showings resulting in more than 100 yards receiving (9/165/3, 8/164/1, 7/100/1, 9/152/1, 10/150, 7/120, 7/134/1, 9/112/2, 13/180/2, 9/1761/, and 9/161/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Dell brings three explosive aspects to the NFL. He is extremely dangerous in space, knows how to get open, and makes impact plays. Houston must get him in their wide receiver rotation to take advantage of his difference-maker skill set. Defenses will make him work harder off the line, and his spacing to catch the ball will be tighter in the pros. Dell will be found in the free agent pool in the early draft season. I expect him to push quickly up the Texans' wide receiver depth chart while developing into an intriguing player for C.J. Stroud and fantasy teams.