The Houston Texans are very eager to put the 2013 season behind them. From a fantasy perspective, they didn’t have a top-30 quarterback or a top-30 running back, and while they did have one top-30 wide receiver, he enters this season very unhappy. And that makes Andre Johnson‘s prospective fantasy owners unhappy.
The Texans tied a franchise low with just two wins last season and hit the reset button for this year, parting ways with head coach Gary Kubiak, starting quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Ben Tate and tight end Owen Daniels. So what can we expect from first-year head coach Bill O’Brien in his rookie NFL head coaching effort?
Throughout his coaching career, specifically in his most recent stops as Penn State head coach and offensive coordinator in New England, O’Brien has been a fan of utilizing running backs to set up the rest of a pro-style offense.
The Nittany Lions averaged about 40 rushing attempts and over 170 yards on the ground per game last season. O'Brien helped get those numbers by employing two-tight end sets, and he likes to use a fullback to open up lanes for his tailback.
Arian Foster may be one of the best three-down running backs of the past decade, and O'Brien appears to view him as such. Foster claims he’s finally fully recovered from 2013 back surgery, and everything points to a great season for the veteran, if he can remain healthy -- which is a big “if”.
The Texans' running game will need some help from their passing game if Foster is going to see any daylight at the line of scrimmage. After shipping
Schaub off to Oakland, the Texans chose not to address their quarterback situation until the fourth round of the draft, when they took Pitt product Tom Savage. He’ll compete for snaps in training camp with likely starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case
Keenum, who saw moderate success in games last season.
No matter how you paint the picture, things don’t look good for this passing offense, at least in the early going. Fitzpatrick will start, giving the team a veteran leader under center, but expect Keenum and/or Savage to get starts at some point this season. O’Brien oversaw Penn State teams with Oakland's Matt McGloin and promising freshman Christian Hackenberg under center, and he could bring more out of these three than anyone expects. But realistically, none of these three quarterbacks should be picked up in most fantasy formats.
And that’s where the question of Andre Johnson’s fantasy value comes into play.
The Johnson reported to training camp in July despite rumors he’d hold out in the hope that the Texans would trade him to a playoff contender. He’ll pair up with DeAndre Hopkins to form one of the top-10 receiving tandems in the NFL, but their fantasy value is obviously tied to whatever happens at quarterback.
Last season, Johnson was thrown to more than any other wide receiver in the league other than Pierre Garcon. His 181 targets translated to 109 catches and 1,407 yards. Unfortunately, he caught just five touchdown passes, and the Texans finished with the second-worst scoring offense in the NFL, in front of Jacksonville.
Most overvalued player
Andre Johnson, WR – Obviously, if he’s disgruntled and the Texans’ passing game is in such bad shape, then drafting Johnson in Round 4 is just asking for trouble. In Hopkins the Texans have an up-and-coming sophomore wide receiver who made some pretty amazing catches last season and should draw more targets away from Johnson. If O’Brien leans heavily on the ground game -- which he will -- then Johnson will mostly be working in a supporting role. I’d rather have Hopkins much later in the draft (Round 10 or so) than Johnson in the fourth.
Most undervalued player
Andre Brown, RB – Imagine the pounding the average NFL player’s back takes during a regular season game. Now, imagine a running back who has already undergone surgery on his lower back enduring more pounding. As much as I like Foster to have a big bounce-back season in 2014 under O’Brien, especially as a mid-Round 2 pick, I absolutely love Brown as his backup. He can be had in the late rounds of most drafts as a backup to an oft-injured stud.
Brown isn’t great in the passing game, but he’s capable, and if he ends up getting starter’s touches, he’ll get plenty more opportunities. He has had his own injury problems, too, but as a late-round pick, he has a better chance of producing than most other tailbacks in that range.
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Tom Savage
RB: Arian Foster, Andre Brown, Dennis Johnson
WR: Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Keshawn Martin, Devier Posey, Mike Thomas
TE: Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin
K: Randy Bulluck
Not too long ago, the Texans defense was considered one of the best in fantasy football, and while they didn’t really dominate like they once did in 2013, they were still a top-10 fantasy DST. Now, add No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney to the defensive line on the other side of J.J. Watt, with linebacker Brian Cushing knocking down would-be ball carriers behind them.
This is a quality fantasy unit, with the opportunity to shoot back into the top five if Clowney excels immediately and the offense can control the ball even a little. The front line should create enough issues in the backfield that there are plenty of forced turnovers, with some definite pick-six opportunities for cornerback Jonathan Joseph and the secondary.