Will Fuller Has An Opportunity To Become A Game Changer For The Texans
The Houston Texans made one of the biggest - and most head scratching moves - of the NFL offseason when they traded star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.
Hopkins hauled in 104 passes for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019, which came a year after he caught 115 passes for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns. The standout wide receiver has caught at least 104 passes in three of his seven seasons and has topped 1,000 yards five times.
With Hopkins gone, there is an opportunity for former Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller to become an even bigger part of the Texans offense.
Fuller, the Texans first round pick in the 2016 draft, has caught 156 passes for 2,231 yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons. He’s coming off a season in which he caught 49 passes for 670 yards and three scores. The issue for Fuller has been an inability to stay healthy.
To talk about Fuller’s career up to this point, and the opportunity that awaits him with Hopkins gone, I reached out to State Of The Texans editor Patrick D. Starr to get the latest.
Q: When healthy, what kind of player has Fuller been for the Texans?
Patrick D. Starr: The key is health. Will Fuller is a complete scheme changer for the Texans offense and how he opens up plenty for Deshaun Watson. He has changed the perception of a just being a speed receiver that struggles with drops. He put in the work with wide receiver coach John Perry to clean up his hands and cut down on his drops. Fuller's catch percentage has climbed each season as well as his receiving yards, receptions, and catch percentage. He has turned into Watson's go-to deep threat to break down defenses.
Injuries have derailed Fuller's career to this point, and he is still waiting to play a full 16 games in a season. Fuller was coming off a torn ACL in 2018, 2019 was plagued with a hamstring injury and groin issue that required surgery at the end of the season.
Q: Has he proven, when healthy, that he can be a go-to player in the NFL? Or at least flashed that potential?
Starr: Fuller is an offensive coach and quarterback's dream with his ability to stretch defenses and big play ability. His potential has been stunted by the injuries that have slowed him. From broken ribs, a knee clean up, torn ACL, soft tissue injuries and core muscle injury that needed surgery. Fuller has been a medical issue since his arrival to the Texans.
But it is unmatched speed and how he turns the offense into a different group, which makes him worth the risk season to season.
Q: In college his big-play ability forced coordinators to alter how they defended Notre Dame. Has he had that kind of impact with the Texans at all?
Starr: No doubt it has, defensive coordinators have two choices with Fuller. Leave a cornerback in off coverage with a safety shaded to his side or play press man and have a safety rolled over heavy to that side to help just in case.
Teams are afraid of Fuller's top-end speed. Notre Dame fans are probably used to where Fuller can literally outrun any defender, but it looks like he is using no effort to make it happen. There have been plenty of times where Fuller baits cornerbacks into thinking they have him covered, and he blows past them for a big gain.
He has the one thing that you can't teach, speed. He has refined his route running, which makes him that much more dangerous.
Q: In the few games I've watched with the Texans it seems Fuller and Watson have a strong connection. Is that accurate when Fuller has been healthy?
Starr: No doubt, Watson loves throwing the deep ball, and he knows when Fuller gets vertical, he needs to throw it up for him to make a play.
Fuller and Watson have connected for 94 receptions racking up 1,452 yards (15.4 yards a catch) for 14 touchdowns in 22 games.
With Watson, Fuller is one of four players in the NFL to record at least 12 receiving touchdowns on less than 170 targets since 2017 and the only wide receiver to accomplish this feat. He joined the Ravens Mark Andrews, the Buccaneers O.J. Howards and fellow teammate Darren Fells.
Fuller has 14 touchdowns on just 166 targets in 28 games.
Q: With DeAndre Hopkins now done, does Fuller's role change at all? In other words, how does Hopkins departing impact Fuller?
Starr: Fuller will stay the same; it looks like getting healthy is his priority. His importance to the offense makes him tough to get rid of, but now he has to find a way to stay on the field for 16 games.
Continuing to stretch the field, catch passes when thrown to him and opening up space for others to make plays.