2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Houston Texans
August 28, 2015 | Chet
2015 Texans Schedule
As we approach the end of summer, you’re already fully aware that an early look at the yearly schedule should be handled delicately. With that out of the way, the Houston Texans only run into a few spots of really tough paper draws since they play in a comfortable division themselves and draw the NFC South for the most of their games.
We may not fully be able to take advantage of their schedule still since this offense may not be one that is consistently bankable on a weekly level. Houston is going through a quarterback change, moving on from their franchise leader in receiving and already is expected to be without their franchise leading rusher for a piece of the season. Last season, this was an offense that was in the middle of the pack in most offensive measures, so losing ground could place them far below league average.
Arian Foster bounced back from career lows per game in just about every category to rush for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns while adding another 327 yards receiving and five touchdowns catching the football. For fantasy, he averaged a weekly finish of RB9.4, which was the fourth best at the position. Foster missed three games on the season, but was a top-12 scorer nine times and a top-24 one in 11 of the 13 weeks in which he played.
That’s where we are with Foster. At age 29, he’s missed multiple games now in three of the past four seasons and will be missing a portion of them this upcoming season. Still, when he hasn’t been able to play, he’s never really jerked around with being a game time call, he just sits out. We can put up with that because when he’s on the field, he’s an elite performer. Since 2010, only Adrian Peterson ranks higher in rushing output on a per game level than Foster.
As mentioned, we already know Foster will be out for a while after suffering a groin injury in training camp and having sports hernia surgery. There have already been mixed reports on just how long Foster will be out, but Dr. Jeff Budoff takes a look at the injury itself and concludes that Foster will be out at least two full months at minimum and then will still need to get back into game shape in the middle of the season. Eight weeks would put him near the fourth game of the season, so that may be the best case scenario for him. Early reports have been positive and placing him to be ready anywhere between the second to fourth game of the season (I’m projecting him for 10 games played to split the difference in time tables plus accounting for potential re-injury) in which the back end of the expectancy lines up with Budoff’s diagnosis.
The way I’m handling Foster and his RB29 cost is a mixed bag and definitely context sensitive per league. Foster also stands the risk of re-injury at some point as he’s dealt with a litany of soft tissue issues so far in his career.If you have an IR slot that makes selecting him more palatable, but not every league has that option. If you don’t have an IR option, then there’s a lot of opportunity cost that goes into rostering Foster not only in the draft, but also week to week when you can’t use him and you also can’t maximize out your roster spots. You don’t want dead roster spots early in the season when the waiver wire is churning at a high rate. If I’m a team that went running back early on with two to three backs in the opening four rounds, then I’m really not even entertaining rostering Foster at all. If I’ve gone heavily at wide receiver or full blown Zero RB, then his upside at the position can be of value. There’s also the element of playing defense with Foster by not letting any of your other league mates have him, for better or worse. If my league has an injury spot and I’m chasing a running back ceiling or feel I’m insulated overall by talent, then anywhere near the end of round five and beyond is a spot where he can fit in factoring replacement level production from his vacant spot early on.
No team ran more times per game (34.5 attempts) or at a higher percentage of their play calls (51.9 percent) than Houston last year and behind Foster is Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk. There are also some favorable matchups on the early season slate. In the three games that Foster missed last season, Blue was the workhorse as he handled 76 percent of the backfield carries those weeks while Grimes remained a change of pace, passing down back. Over those weeks, Blue was the RB30, RB10 and the RB30 as his fantasy production was strictly tethered to volume. On a per carry basis, Blue was one of the most inefficient runners last season.
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Blue already has an inside track on the starting job with Polk being there this go around to push him if he remains as ineffective. As much as I’d like to fight it, he’s going to be relevant on volume alone again at least to start the season. I’m staying away for the most part for two reasons that stem beyond his effectiveness as a rookie however. The first is that I’m not spending one of my top eight picks on a player that I inherently know has a good shot not be relevant at all at some point in the season regardless of how well he’s playing. There’s a chance Foster is out longer than expected and that Houston may just be terrible and when Foster is eligible to return and decide to not even make him active again, but that ties into the second point on why I’m staying away from this backfield while Foster is gone. While the matchups early on could be favorable, Houston doesn’t stand to be favored in more than two to three games prior to their bye. That’s important because attaching myself to a back that may have talent limitations and then faces potential game script issues that don’t incubate fantasy points is not high on my to do list in conjunction with my first point on avoiding this situation. When it comes to playing the backs outside of Foster, I’m leaving them for daily games only.
Hopping Off of Hopkins?
After 12 seasons, Houston released Andre Johnson making third year receiver DeAndre Hopkins the lead receiver this season. In his sophomore season, Hopkins thoroughly outperformed Johnson, catching three more touchdowns for 274 more yards on 19 fewer targets. His 1,210 yard season placed Hopkins among some good company in terms of 21-year old receivers who started their careers off with at least 700 yards receiving and then came back with a 1,000 plus yard season at age 22.
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That’s an arbitrary list, but still shows the kind of company Hopkins could be potentially keeping in regards to his ceiling as a player. With Nicks and Gordon on there, it’s also a reminder that the bottom can fall out at any given moment. Hopkins did have a stellar campaign last year with seven top-24 scoring weeks, but his true ceiling was only on limited display as he had just three top-12 scoring weeks. One of those was a nine catch, 238 yard, two touchdown game in week 13, but Hopkins was more of a safe play WR2 than a high caliber option outside of that week. He topped 75 yards receiving eight times, but also had five games with less than 40 yards receiving.
Houston has already named Brian Hoyer the starting quarterback this season, so there’s some slight cooling down on Hopkins going the route of Moss and Fitzgerald from above. In a handful of starts and spot duty, Hoyer hasn’t aided a ton of efficiency for his pass catchers.
Hopkins has caught passes over the past two seasons from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Schaub, Ryan Mallet and Case Keenum, so there’s not a major reason to be too flummoxed when staring Hopkins down in the third round this summer just because he’ll be catching passes from Hoyer. At worst, Hopkins is going to be a volume hog that will have the ball forced to him regardless of drawing a lot attention of not.
Relying on volume over efficiency can create consistency issues and the one thing Hopkins has yet to display yet is being a consistent touchdown producer to smooth over any inefficiency that may occur. Hopkins has just nine scores on 218 targets (4.1 percent) to start his career and has been even worse near the end zone. In the red zone Hopkins has turned just three of 24 targets (12.5 percent) into a touchdown. Then when factoring in the loss of Foster and what that means for this offense, Hopkins hasn’t scored in any of the 11 games that Foster has missed over the past two years.
C.D. Carter highlights that gap from median outlook to ceiling potential with Hopkins in his Equity Scores. There’s no denying that Hopkins could be reduced to a volume dependent option, but at WR16, Hopkins has both his potential ceiling and risks fairly priced in. I’m pouncing on Hopkins if he hits the fourth round, but at this stage I’d rather roster both Jordan Matthews and Brandin Cooks considering all of the components of volume and situation. I’m not avoiding Hopkins, though, but in spots where I do roster him, I want a safe floor third receiver to help me iron out weeks when fits of volatility crop up from this either poor quarterback play or poor team performance.
Behind Hopkins, Houston brought in free agents Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington and then drafted Jaelen Strong and Keith Mumphery. Our own Chad Scott profiled Strong prior to the draft and expressed caution on him hitting the ground running in the NFL and that bore out by the required draft capital it took to land Strong in the draft. Strong had issues with being overweight in OTA’s that may have set him back a bit, but does still offer a unique blend of attributes that the other receivers on this depth chart don’t have and Jon Moore found to be extremely overlooked. Strong is virtually free right now in drafts, so if you’re league is deep enough, you can make a swing on him, but it’s hard to see him vaulting up the ladder to right behind Hopkins this season based on all the reports stating how far behind he is right now. Even if he did, you’re looking for Hoyer to be able to support two options.
Shorts in intriguing because he’s actually shown us a viable ceiling exists in his range of outcomes as he was the WR25 in 2012 and the even had a usable 2013 at WR38. The problem that exists with drafting Shorts is that he’s largely been very target dependent thus far in his career, seeing roughly 20 percent of his teams targets over the past three seasons and that kind of volume may not exist for him. Combining that with the fact that he’s yet to play a full season in his career to this point and after being a splash play option in 2012, he has averaged just 11.2 yards per reception over the past two years, it’s easy to let someone else chase him bouncing back. Outside of a deep cut in a best ball format, you can leave him on the wire to begin the season.
As someone who took a lot of really late round cuts on Garrett Graham last season, I would love to buy into all the excitement about him this preseason. We heard the same a season ago, though, and then the Texans went out and targeted their wide receivers 69.9 percent of the time last season, the fourth most in the league. With Johnson gone, Graham may be able to siphon a few more looks, but he seen just 28 total targets in 11 games played last season. I’ll pass until we get tangible evidence of his role being significantly increased.
Holding Hope for Hoyer
Brian Hoyer will be 30 years old this season and on his fourth team in five seasons with just 17 career starts under his belt. The positive with Hoyer is at least he wasn’t afraid to take shots last season in Cleveland. Per Pro Football Focus, 15.2 percent of Hoyer’s attempts were 20 yards downfield or further, the third highest percentage in the league and his 10.8 average depth of throw was also third in the league. If those mad bombing tendencies weren’t completely system functionality that will at least open the door for Hopkins keeping his ceiling in play weekly. System use very likely has something to do with that though as 29.2 percent of Hoyer’s passes were off of play action, the third highest mark in the league. With Foster out, that kind of effectiveness is neutralized. He’s not someone you’re likely targeting anyways, but if you’re thinking about grabbing Hoyer late as a streaming option, his scoring potential may also be capped by the receiving corps he has as this entire unit has struggled to produce in the red zone.