|By Shawn Childs, Monday, July 31, 2023|
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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 Amari Rodgers - Not Draft Worthy
Over four seasons at Clemson, Rodgers caught 181 passes for 2,144 yards and 15 touchdowns in 237 targets. He took advantage of his increased opportunity in 2020, leading to 77 catches for 1,020 yards and seven scores on 102 targets. In his career, Rodgers has an elite catch rate (76.3) while doing most of his work over the short areas of the field.
He has the tools to make defenders miss in the open field with the route running and hands to succeed out of the slot. His first challenge is improving his release vs. press coverage.
Green Bay had Rodgers on the field for only 103 snaps in his rookie season, gaining 56 yards on four catches. He played his way off the Packers' roster in 2022 due to putting the ball in the ground too many times in the return game (five fumbles and two lost). After a trade to the Texans, Rodgers caught 12 of his 17 targets for 154 yards and one touchdown, highlighted by one game (4/57/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Rodgers is a player I completely whiffed on last year. I expected him to be the best slot option for Aaron Rodgers in a season with a changing wide receiver class. At this point of his career, he'll return kicks only if he cleans up his turnovers.
Other Options: Jalen Camp, Steven Sims, Alex Bachman
UPDATE: RODGERS DID NOT MAKE HOUSTON'S ROSTER AND WILL TRY TO LATCH ON TO ANOTHER ROSTER OR PRACTICE SQUAD.
WR Robert Woods - Bye Week Fill-in
Woods blossomed over his first four seasons with the Rams, leading to 311 catches for 4,318 yards and 23 touchdowns over 56 games (15.73 FPPG in PPR leagues). In 2021, he had four dull games (3/34/1, 5/70, 3/38, and 4/48/1) over the first four weeks, while Los Angeles featured Cooper Kupp in the passing game. Woods broke lose in Week 5 (12/150), followed by four steady showings (2/31/1, 6/70, 3/57/2, and 7/98). His season ended in Week 10 with torn ACL in his left knee.
With about nine and half months to rehab his knee, Woods appeared in 17 games for Tennessee last year, but he finished with a disappointing season (53/527/2 on 91 targets). Woods had 130, 139, and 129 opportunities to catch passes in his peak years with Los Angeles. However, the Titans gave him more than seven targets in only three matchups (9, 8, and 9). He scored 10.00 fantasy points or more in PPR leagues in only four contests (4/85, 4/30/1, 6/69, and 5/39/1). Tennessee ranked 30th in pass attempts (456) in 2022.
Fantasy Outlook: Two things favor Woods being better in 2023. First, Houston attempted 123 more passes than the Titans last year, giving him a better chance to be active in the passing game. Second, the Texans will likely be trailing in more matchups, leading to more balls in the air in the second half of games. On the downside, he'll start the season at age 31 while profiling more as a WR2 than a stud frontline wideout. Let's shoot for four catches a game (68) for 750 yards and a peak of five scores. The Rams liked to use him in the run game (70/485/4) on counter and jet sweeps, something the Texans chose not to do in 2022. Houston's coaching staff's ties to the 49ers point to Woods seeing a rebound in runs this season.
WR Nico Collins - 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 Nathaniel Dell - 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.
WR John Metchie - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over his final 26 games at Alabama, Metchie caught 151 passes for 2,058 yards with 14 touchdowns on 212 targets. His catch rate (71.2) ranked highly. In 2020, he worked more as a big-play receiver (16.7 yards per catch) while transitioning to a possession player (11.9 yards per catch) the following season. Unfortunately, Metchie blew out his left knee (torn ACL) in early December.
He projects as a slot receiver with a high foundation in route running and strength in his release. Metchie will do most of his damage catching the ball over the short areas of the field, but he does have some open-field ability and sneaky value at times in the deep passing game. His overall speed and quickness out of breaks can lead to losses in tight coverage.
Metchie missed his rookie season with Houston due to a battle with Leukemia (Acute Promyelocytic). In the offseason workouts, he looked ready to turn the jets on for the 2023 season in late April, but a hamstring issue sidelined him in May.
Fantasy Outlook: I expect Metchie to emerge as the Texans' WR2 this season while having plenty of time to put his knee injury behind him. His possession skill set gives him a chance at a minimum of 60 catches, with a higher ceiling if his chemistry with C.J. Stroud takes off over the summer. In the early draft season in late May, Metchie draws a WR7 price tag. I view him as a value player and will follow his development over the summer.
WR Noah Brown - Low Potential
After a minimal role for the Dallas Cowboys over four seasons (4/33, 5/54, 14/154, and 16/184), Brown made the most of his chances in 2022. He caught 43 of his 73 targets for 555 yards and three scores. The Cowboys gave him a better-than-expected role over the first three weeks (5/68, 5/91/1, and 5/54 on 21 combined targets), but defenses slowed him down over his next eight matchups (15/186 on 25 targets). Brown played well in Week 14 (4/85) and Week 15 (6/49/2) while fading down the stretch (1/5, 1/7, 1/10, and 2/18). He finished the year with the second most wide receiver snaps (866) for Dallas.
Fantasy Outlook: Brown provides veteran experience to the Texans' wide receiver depth chart. His low resume suggests he will only be an injury replacement type option, other than when Houston uses him in four wide receiver sets.
Injury Status: Injured Reserve
WR Xavier Hutchinson - Dynasty Only
Iowa State gave Hutchinson starting snaps over three seasons, leading to 254 catches for 2,929 yards and 15 touchdowns. His role and opportunity progressed each year (64/771/4, 83/987/5, and 107/1,171/6). He finished 2022 with 10 catches or more in six matchups, gaining more than 100 yards in seven games (8/128/3, 13/101, 10/154, 8/100, 10/123/1, 10/106, and 8/101). On the downside, Hutchinson scored only once after the season's third game.
Fantasy Outlook: Hutchinson will have to earn his keep in tight coverage over the short areas of the field. He provides some insurance for Robert Woods with fighting for snaps in his rookie season.
TE Dalton Schultz - Solid/Safe Pick
Out of the gate in 2021, Schultz produced five playable games (6/45, 6/80/2, 6/58/1, 6/79, and 5/79) over the first six weeks. He finished the year as the third-highest-scoring tight end (78/808/8 on 104 targets – 208.80 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. Schultz had a floor of six catches in nine of his 18 games, with better production at home (47/556/5 on 64 targets).
Last season, he opened up the year with seven catches for 62 yards on nine targets, but Schultz was worthless in the fantasy market over the next five games (two catches for 18 yards on eight targets) while posting two zeros and missing two starts with a knee injury. Over his final 13 matchups (including the postseason), he regained his form, leading to 60 catches for 619 yards and eight touchdowns on 90 targets. His top fantasy value came in three games (4/31/2, 7/56/2, and 7/95/2).
Fantasy Outlook: The target share for the Texans' passing game will have a wide range of outcomes in 2023. Schultz finished 11th in tight end scoring (143.70) last season despite offering no value for 29.4% of the year. Houston signed him to a one-year $9 million deal in March to take the lion's share of their tight end targets. My starting point for Schultz will be about 60 catches for 600 yards and four to six scores.
TE Brevin Jordan - Not Draft Worthy
Over three seasons in college, he caught 105 passes for 1,358 yards and 13 touchdowns on 152 targets. His top production came in 2020 (38/576/7) over eight games. He did all of this by the age of 19.
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.
In his first season with Houston, Jordan caught 20 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns on targets over nine games. He offered playable stats in three matchups (3/41/1, 4/26/1, and 4/56). The Texans had him on the field for 21.8% of their plays in 2021. Unfortunately, Jordan failed to gain momentum last season, leading to a regression in his stats (14/128 on 28 targets) over 11 games.
Fantasy Outlook: The backup tight end job looks like a battle between Teagan Quitoriano and Jordan in 2023. Both options will have minimal chances when Dalton Schultz is in the starting lineup.
Other Options: Teagan Quitoriano, Mason Schreck, Jordan Murray
PK Ka'imi Fairbairn - Not Draft Worthy
Last year Houston scored 29 touchdowns while creating 31 field goal attempts. Fairbairn finished 2022 with the highest success rate (93.5) of his career, going 6-for-6 from long range. Over six seasons, he made 85.5% of his field goal attempts while going 24-for-34 (70.6%) from 50 yards or more. In his career, Fairbairn missed 16 of his 2021 extra-point tries.
Fantasy Outlook: The Texans will be better offensively this year but may stall on many drives in the red zone. Fairbairn won't be drafted in any redraft format while offering possible matchup value.
Houston - Not Draft Worthy
The Texans finished last in rushing yards allowed (2,894) with 25 rushing touchdowns. Ball carriers gained 5.0 yards per rush while averaging 33.7 rushes.
They finished 11th in passing yards allowed (3,558), with quarterbacks tossing only 15 touchdowns and 16 Interceptions. Their defense recorded 39 sacks.
The interior of Houston's defensive line gets a slight boost by the signing of DT Sheldon Rankins, but the Texans still lack impact talent to stop the run. DE Jerry Hughes enters the season at age 35 while coming off his best year in sacks (9) since 2014. However, his run defense is fading while seeing his missed tackles rise. The Texans need DE Will Anderson to hit the ground running in his rookie season to add value to Houston's pass rush and overall defense. DE Jonathan Greenard posted eight sacks in 2021, but he missed nine games last season with a calf injury.
CB Derek Stingley didn't allow a touchdown in his rookie season while holding receivers to a low catch rate. Houston added him with the third overall pick in 2022. He finished last year with weakness in his run defense. S Desmond King played well in all areas in his second season with Houston. He has 182 tackles and five interceptions over the past two years. S Jalen Pitre missed some tackles in his rookie campaign, but he added 147 tackles, one sack, five interceptions, and eight defended passes to his stat line. Receivers did beat him for four touchdowns. CB Steven Nelson gave Houston good snaps at their second cornerback slot but fell short of expectations in run support due to a sharp in missed tackles.
The second level of the Texans' defense lacks any impact players, suggesting another long season in run support.
There is no reason to chase Houston's defense around in the fantasy market. They will struggle against the run and getting offenses off the field.