2020 Houston Texans Fantasy Team Outlook: What to Expect From Deshaun Watson in New-Look Offense

With the arrival of RB David Johnson, it's safe to the assume the Houston Texans will look to make him the centerpiece playmaker in an offense that will continue be very reliant on QB Deshaun Watson
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Coaching Staff

Over six seasons with Bill O’Brien as the head coach, the Houston Texans have a 52-44 record with four playoff berths (2-4). He has provided a winning season five times. O'Brien has been a coach for 11 seasons while taking over as Houston's general manager in 2020.

His decision in the offseason may very well lead to doom in his coaching career. He traded away WR DeAndre Hopkins for RB David Johnson, which goes against the NFL team-building grain. Running backs tend to be easier to find than elite wide receivers. O’Brien did land WR Brandin Cooks to soften the blow at wide receiver for the Texans in 2020.

In 2019, Houston promoted Tim Kelly to offensive coordinator after working in various roles in the system since 2014. His offense finished 13th in offensive yards, which was a third straight year of improvement. They scored 378 points (14th), helping the Texans to a 10-6 record.

Houston promoted Romeo Crennel to associate head coach, leading the way for Anthony Weaver to take over as the defensive coordinator. Over the previous four years, he worked as the defensive line coach. Weaver has eight years of coaching experience in the league, with all other positions coming from his defensive line.

The Texans fell to 28th in yards allowed and 19th in points (385) given up. They allowed 69 more points than in 2018 (316).

Free Agency

The Texans defense lost DT D.J. Reader, CB Johnathan Joseph, S Jahleel Addae, S Mike Adams, and DE Barkevious Mingo.

Reader signed a four-year, $54 million deal with the Bengals. His loss hurts the interior run defense on early downs.

Houston added Randall Cobb to improve their wide receiver depth. He played well as the WR3 for the Texans in 2019 after showing regression in his game over his final couple seasons in Green Bay.

They moved on from RB Carlos Hyde despite playing well in his early-down role last year. The addition of David Johnson should stabilize the running position for the Texans.

The offensive line gained G Brent Qvale while losing aging veteran T Chris Clark. Qvale projects as only a bench player.

Draft

This season Houston only had five selections in the draft with no pick in the first round. They focused on their defense with the first two choices (DT Ross Blacklock and LB Jonathan Greenard) in the second and third rounds.

Blacklock brings pass rushing to the interior of the Texans’ defensive line with his wins coming from his quickness and athletic ability. He wants to get an edge off the snap, which can put him out of position vs. the run. Blacklock loses value when stalemated against the top offensive lineman with power. His next step is getting stronger while improving his decision making at the point of attack.

Greenard has the feel of a well-rounded player that does his job. He’ll upgrade Houston’s run defense while also improving their pass rush. His vision and quickness grade well while owning a foundation of moves to create wins. Greenland missed 2018 with a wrist injury, and it may have hurt his explosiveness last year.

In the fourth round, Houston added T Charlie Heck and CB John Reid.

Heck should have more upside in pass protection than in run blocking. His size (6’8” and 211 lbs.) helps his reach while owning better than expected mobility. He’ll be tested with power, and Heck needs to improve his lower body and technique against quick-moving targets.

Reid is an undersized player (5’10” and 187 lbs.) that will be challenged by size and elite speed. He plays hard with vision and can chase over the short areas of the field. Reid offers minimal value to help the run while also having a history of injuries.

Their last player (WR Isaiah Coulter) chosen came in the fifth round. His experience vs. top competition is limited, which is also part of the reason his route running is trailing. Coulter has the feel of an explosive player with upside, but he needs more fight in his game while showing he owns his pass routes and the oncoming ball.

Offensive Line

The Texans dropped one notch to ninth in rushing yards (2,009) with growth in rushing TDs (17). Their ball carriers gained 4.6 yards per rush, with 13 runs over 20 yards.

Houston ranked 14th in passing yards (4,083) with 27 TDs and 14 Ints while gaining 7.6 yards per pass attempt. Their offensive line allowed 49 sacks and 93 QB hits, which was more than a 20 percent improvement from 2018.

LT Laremy Tunsil

Before the start of 2019, the Texans acquired Tunsil in a package with Miami for two first-round draft picks and a second rounder. After the season, they signed him to a three-year deal worth over $57 million. Tunsil battled an ankle injury in 2019, and he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in March.

Last year he played at an elite level in pass protection while trending toward the league average in run support.

LG Senio Kelemete

Kelemete missed 15 games last year after suffering a wrist in Week 1. In 2018, he minimized the damage for most in pass blocking while regressing as a run blocker. His window to start looks almost over, as Houston needs to find a better all-around option to help in all areas.

Max Scharping brings power with questionable foot speed. He projects to be an edge in a power run game, but Scharping does have risk in pass protections tied to his lack of quickness. The Texans drafted him in the second round in 2019. Over his 14 starts last year, he held serve in pass blocking well struggling in the run game.

C Nick Martin

Martin is an attacking power player who was expected to add value as a run blocker. Over the past two years, he started all 32 games for Houston while showing surprising growth in pass protection. Defenses rarely reached the QB up the middle. The Texans drafted Martin the second round in 2016.

RG Zach Fulton

Fulton has six years of experience. Last year he started 16 games at right guard with failure in run blocking. Fulton has been a steady player in pass protection over the previous four seasons. Overall, the Texans may replace in the starting up to help improve the balance on offense.

RT Tytus Howard

Howard comes to the NFL with athletic ability and a base foundation skill set to have success despite coming from a small school program. He needs development in his technique, along with adding more strength to his game. Howard lacks the power in his hands at this point in his career. The Texans’ drafted him in the first round in 2019.

In his rookie season, he missed eight games with a battle with a right knee injury that required surgery in December. Over a half of a season, he played well in pass protection while ranking poorly in the run game.

Offensive Line Outlook

This offensive line is moving in the right direction, but it does need a couple of its young players to stay healthy and show growth. Their most significant area of need is pass protection. A possible big step forward.

Offensive Schedule

The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).

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This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.

2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.

2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.

The Texans have a neutral schedule for their running offense. They have four favorable games (CLE, CIN, and JAX X 2). Their most challenging contests will come against the Ravens and the Patriots while also having three other mid-tier games (CHI and IND X 2).

On the passing side, Houston will struggle to throw the ball against PIT, BAL, and NE. They’ll have the most success against the Lions while the two matchups against the Titans look favorable.

Offense

Based on the changes in the offseason, Houston wants to become more balanced on offense to help control the clock with their run game. Their offensive line should improve, and RB David Johnson has the talent to rebound this year. Last year the Texans ran the ball 44.8 percent of the time.

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Here’s a look at the early projections for Houston, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:

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Quarterbacks

Deshaun Watson

The structure of the offense takes a new direction in 2020 after shipping the great WR DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals for RB David Johnson. A second deal for WR Brandin Cooks will soften the hit at WR1, but it leaves Watson looking for a receiver he can trust in the most significant moments of the game.

His completion rate (67.8) was elite over the last two seasons while adding a warrior mentality as a runner (181/964/2). His sacks total (44) remains high despite shaving 18 sacks off his 2018 season (62).

Houston looks positioned to run the offense through the running back position while looking to take some deep shots in the passing game. Randall Cobb helps the depth at wide receiver, but Watson needs WR Will Fuller to stay healthy to hold his top five QB value.

Still a top-five QB for me, but I can’t pay a premium for him on draft day based on the questions at WR1. On the positive side, Houston looks to be moving in the wrong direction on defense. Watson is projected for 4,401 combined yards with 32 touchdowns in the first version of his projections.

Other options: A.J. McCarron, Alex McGough, Nick Tiano

Running Backs

Over the past three years, the Texans barely used their running backs in the passing game. Their backs accounted for only 9 and 11 percent of their passing yards in 2018 and 2019. Houston did show growth in touchdowns (13) by their running back last year with a much higher total in yards per rush (4.49).

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David Johnson

Johnson struggled in one (7/14/1) of his first six games, but he gained 613 combined yards with five TDs and 30 catches over this stretch. After leaving Week 7 with an ankle injury, Johnson lost his starting job with minimal playing time and chances (100 combined yards with one TDs and six catches) over the final nine games.

His yards per rush have been low in 2018 (3.6) and 2019 (3.7) while remaining a top threat in the passing game (36/370/4 – 10.3 YPC).

In 2019 for the Texans, Carlos Hyde ranked 29th in PPR leagues (245/1070/6) despite limited chances in the passing game (10/42).

Getting older with more battles with injuries, but Johnson looks to be viable based on his early ADP (60) as the 25th RB off the board. I have him projected for 1,576 combined yards with 12 TDs and 53 catches, making him a value play for me.

Duke Johnson

In his first year in Houston, Johnson failed to match his early career success with the Browns. He finished with his lowest total in catches (44) and receiving yards (410) despite gaining 9.3 yards per catch. The Texans had him on the field for 48.5 percent of their plays.

With David Johnson added to the roster, Houston will have the ability to have a pass-catching option out of the backfield on most plays. Only a rotational RB3 in PPR leagues while being drafted well after the tenth round in 12-team leagues.

Other options: Buddy Howell, Karan Higdon, Scottie Phillips

Wide Receivers

Over the past three seasons, DeAndre Hopkins caught 315 passes for 4,115 yards and 31 TDs, which is 49.1 percent of the WR catches (641), 49.6 percent of the WR receiving yards (8,299), and 54.4 percent of the WR TDs (57) over this span. The Texans’ wide receivers averaged close to 330 targets from 2017 to 2019, which accounted for almost 70 percent of their receiving yards. The change at WR1 should lead to fewer chances in 2020.

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Brandin Cooks

Cooks saw his streak of four seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving end in 2019, and it wasn’t due to his two games missed due to a concussion. He ranked 15th in WR scoring (221.20) in 2017 and 13th (243.20) in 2018.

After a slow Week 1 (2/39), he looks on his way to another successful year over his next three games (17/257/1). Over his final ten games, Cooks caught 23 passes for 287 yards and a TD on 41 targets. This year he’ll play for his fourth franchise in five seasons.

Cooks can’t fill the void created by the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, but he should see a rebound in his game this year while being an easy value play based on his early ADP (111) as the 40th WR drafted in the early draft season. I have him projected for 71 catches for 1,050 yards and seven TDs, which ranks 25th at wide receiver in PPR leagues.

Will Fuller

Fuller remains to be more of a tease than a wise investment in the fantasy market. Over his four seasons in the NFL, he’s yet to play a full year while missing 22 of his possible 64 games. In 2019, Fuller did set career-highs in catches (49) and receiving yards (670) with a massive part of his value coming in two games (14/217/3 and 7/140). He missed five of his final nine games in the regular season with a groin issue that was later deemed a sports hernia that required surgery.

An explosive player, who remains a wild card as a WR4 in PPR leagues. Fuller is projected for 53 catches with 737 yards and six TDs. Fantasy owners have him priced as the 38th wide receiver with an ADP of 100, which is just above Brandin Cooks.

Randall Cobb

After trending downward over his final three seasons at Green Bay, Cobb proved he still had the game to make plays in the NFL for the Cowboys. In his new role, Cobb set a career-high in yards per catch (15.1) while doing the most damage over four games midseason (20/342/2 on 30 targets). He did finish with seven games with fewer than 45 yards receiving as the WR3 for Dallas. Cobb posted ten drops, but he did catch 66.0 percent of his target. The change to the Texans should lead to a slight bump in chances if WR Will Fuller goes down with another injury. A 60/700 floor with a chance at a handful of TDs.

When doing the projects in May, I struggled to get him enough chances (47/568/3).

Kenny Stills

The move to the Texans’ offense didn’t give Stills the expected bump even with WR Will Fuller missing some time. Over his first four weeks (11/188/1 on 14 targets), he had WR3 snaps. A hamstring issue cost him a pair of games, and a knee injury led to him sitting out Week 17. His best play came in four contests (4/105, 3/61/1, 3/35/2, and 3/80/1)—more of a WR3A for the Texans after the offseason changes. Only a waiver wire fill-in if Houston has an injury to one of the other top receivers.

Other options: DeAndre Carter, Keke Coutee, Isaiah Coulter, Steven Mitchell, Isaac Whitney

Tight Ends

Last year the tight end position for the Texans was active in scoring (nine TDs) while continuing to gain value in catches (71) and receiving yards (767). Even with growth, Houston still doesn’t have a top tier tight end option.

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Darren Fells

In his sixth season in the NFL, Fells set a career-high in catches (34), receiving yards (341), TDs (7), and targets (48) while being on the field for 50.9 percent of the tight end snaps. His best value came in three games (5/49/1, 6/69, and 6/58/2). Fells has never had a starting pass-catching job in his career—a flash or best-ball backup player, who will be found in the free-agent pool in most leagues.

Jordan Akins

Over four seasons at the University of Central Florida, Akins caught 81 passes for 1,149 yards and eight TDs while showing some growth in each year. His best year came in 2017 when Jordan caught 32 passes for 515 yards and four TDs. He played WR early in his career in college. Akins lacks blocking skills, and his route running is below NFL standards. His hands grade well, but he’ll need time to develop.

In 2019 in his second year in the league, Akins caught 36 of his 55 targets for 418 yards and two TDs. His only scoring came in Week 3 (3/73/2). He gained over 50 yards in two games on the year with only one contest with over four catches. At age 28, his ceiling doesn’t look that high.

Kahale Warring

Raw is the word to describe Warring coming into the 2019 NFL Draft. Over his last two seasons at San Diego State, he caught 49 passes for 620 yards and six TDs. Kahale is a hand's catcher that did most of his damage over the field's short areas. His athletic resume comes from many sports, which is why his football development is behind his expected skill set. Warring has the potential to be a physical TE once he adds on more bulk. His route running still needs fine-tuning while showing a feel for finding open space after the first play route breaks down. Overall, he needs to improve his blocking skills and get more reps to help create a window in his pass routes. Houston would like him to emerge as the top pass-catching TE on the roster.

In his rookie season, Warring didn’t have a catch or a target due to a season-long concussion issue.

Other options: Dylan Stapleton

Kicker

Ka’imi Fairbairn

The Texans’ offense lost scoring value in 2019, leading to 17 fewer field goal attempts from his top kicker ranking in 2018 (11.34 FPPG). Over three years in the NFL, Fairbairn made 83.7 percent of his field goals, with ten of 16 kicks coming from 50 yards or longer. He does have ten misses in his 121 career extra-point tries. Houston has a top quarterback while adding a talented running back. I sense many stalled trips in the red zone, which should be a win for Fairbairn in 2020.

Defensive Schedule

Other than a matchup against the Ravens, Houston has a neutral schedule for their run defense. They have five other contests (MIN, TEN, IND, and IND X 2) against teams that ran the ball well in 2019. The Texans will have the most significant edge vs. KC, PIT, CIN, and CHI).

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Houston has one of the better schedules for their pass defense. They face five teams (BAL, PIT, CHI, and IND X 2) that struggled to throw the ball last year. The Texans' only tough matchup comes in Week 1 (KC).

Defense

The Texans plummeted to 25th in rushing yards allowed (1,937) with 12 rushing TDs. Ball carriers gained a league-low 4.8 yards per rush with only 15 runs over 20 yards. Houston fell 22 spots in the rushing rankings from 2018 while allowing 1.4 yards per rush more.

They dropped one spot to 29th in passing yards allowed (4,276) with QBs tossing 33 TDs and 12 Ints. They allowed 12 catches over 40 yards while their defense recorded 31 sacks.

DE J.J. Watt

Watt had an excellent start to his NFL career over 80 games (371 tackles, 74.5 sacks, 45 defended passes, and 15 forced fumbles), and he may be an even better person. Injuries crushed him and the Texans’ defense in three of the past four seasons (missed half of his games with minimal value in 2019 – four sacks in eight games). At age 31, his days of glory may be over to his inability to stay on the field. Watt needs to be an impact player for this defense to improve in 2020.

DE Charles Omenihu

Omenihu looks like a beast of a man with quickness off the snap. Unfortunately, he lacks a plan while losing value when asked to change direction. His anchor is in question if asked to hold down the run inside. Omenihu enters the NFL with plenty of strength, which points to upside once he develops his foundation skillset.

In his rookie season, he picked up 13 tackles with three sacks, two defended passes and forced fumbles. Houston had him on the field on passing downs in 2019, which will be the case this year.

DT Ross Blacklock

The Texans hope Blacklock can handle a rotational role this season after adding him in the second round of this year's draft. His run defense will be a work in progress, but Blacklock will make plays on the inside in the pass rush.

LB Whitney Mercilus

Mercilus rebounded from a down season after playing at high-level seasons in 2015 and 2016 (injured for 11 games in 2017). He finished with 7.5 sacks and 48 tackles, a move back when compared with his combined success in his two best years (105 tackles and 19.5 sacks). Mercilus tends to be a slight edge in run support.

LB Benardrick McKinney

After missing two games late in the year with an ankle injury, McKinney picked up 14 tackles over two games in the playoffs. Over the past four seasons, he has over 100 tackles three times while adding 10.5 sacks over his last 62 games. His game is built on strong tackling and a high-level of success defending the run.

LB Zach Cunningham

Over his three seasons, Cunningham has improved his production each year. In 2019, he set a career-high in tackles (142). Cunningham only has 3.5 sacks over 46 career games. His play vs. the run last year was elite while improving in this area each year.

LB Brennan Scarlett

The Texans gave Scarlett the most playing time of his career in 2019, leading to career-highs in tackles (51) and sacks (3.5). Overall, his game projects below the league average, and he’ll be pressed for playing time by incoming rookie Jonathan Greenland.

CB Gareon Conley

Houston traded for Conley last October with the hopes of improving their pass defense. He finished the year with a career-best in tackles (50) while regaining some of his bounce in coverage with the Texans (11 defended passes over eight games). Conley is a former first-round draft pick (2017). Overall, his play ranks below the league average in all areas.

CB Bradley Roby

In his first season with the Texans, Roby missed six games with a hamstring injury. His pass coverage value bounced back slightly, but his success remains below his best four seasons with the Broncos. Houston saw enough of him to sign him to a three-year extension for $36 million.

S Eric Murray

In his only season with the Browns, Murray struggled with injuries and to earn starting snaps. In 2018, he saw the most playing time of his career with the Chiefs, which led to 55 tackles and value in supporting the run. Cleveland signed him to a three-year contract with a chance to earn over $20 million, which points to him seeing starting action this season.

S Justin Reid

In his sophomore season, Reid delivered 78 tackles, two Ints, and five defended passes. He is a speedy safety who needs to add strength to his game. Reid brings vision and anticipation to the field with his best value coming in coverage. He’ll attack the run game where his speed and quickness plays well.

The strength of this defense comes at linebacker, while Watt is the stud on the defensive line. The Texans need to solve their 2019 problems against the run plus reinvent a pass rush. I consider their cornerbacks neutral at best with one potential void at safety. More of a backup fantasy defense with the talent to be improved this year.

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