2021 Houston Texans Fantasy Team Outlook: With or Without Deshaun Watson, This Is a No Good, Very Bad Team

A fantasy football breakdown of the Houston Texans by high-stakes legend Shawn Childs
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Coaching

Over the past 10 seasons, Houston made six trips to the postseasons with seven winning years. Their franchise had a top-tier wide receiver (Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins) for 17 of 20 seasons in the NFL. In 2020, the Texans slipped to 4-12 due to continued failure on defense (30th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed – 464).

David Culley on the sideline for the Baltimore Ravens during the 2020 season

Houston brought in David Culley from Baltimore to take over as head coach. He comes with an offensive background while never holding an offensive coordinator job. Culley has been a coach in the NFL for 27 seasons while spending most of his career working with wide receivers. The questions swirling about Deshaun Watson point to an all-out rebuild, leaving Culley in a precarious position.

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 over the last two seasons. Even with a slight bump in points scored (384 – 378 in 2019), the Texans dropped to 18th in the offensive scoring rankings.

Lovie Smith takes over the defense after spending the past five years coaching at Illinois. He ran the Rams’ defense from 2001 to 2003 before 12 seasons as a head coach for the Bears (81-63) and the Bucs (8-24). Smith helped Chicago to three playoffs berths.

Free Agency

Along with Watson off-the-field drama, Houston lost their top WR Will Fuller to the Dolphins. He played well in 2020 (53/879/8) despite a five-game suspension). Fuller has never played more than 14 games in his five seasons in the league.

DE J.J. Watt jumped ship and signed with the Cardinals. Over his last 24 contests, he had 76 combined tackles and nine sacks. Watts will start the year at 32. When healthy and in his prime, Watts averaged over 75 tackles and 17 sacks over 80 games. Injuries cost him 31 starts since 2015.

The Texans brought in Tyrod Taylor for insurance at quarterback. When at his best, he projects as a game-manager with some value rushing the ball.

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Houston added CB Desmond King and CB Terrance Mitchell to their secondary.

Los Angeles dealt King to Tennessee after six games. He continues to add value to the run defense with some success blitzing the quarterback. When at his best over his first three seasons with the Chargers, King made 189 tackles with 6.5 sacks, 17 defended passes, and four interceptions.

Mitchell set a career-high in tackles (65) in 2020 while also picking up 13 defended passes and three forced fumbles. His downside came from allowing big plays and some damage in touchdowns allowed. When keeping the receiver in front of him, Mitchell tends to give up a low completion rate.

The Texans signed LB Kevin Pierre-Louis and DE Jordan Jenkins to their defense.

Pierre-Louis saw the most playing time of his career in 2020 as a rotational player on passing downs. He’ll help defense kick returns while having a low ceiling in coverage (five touchdowns allowed last year).

Jenkins picked up 15 sacks between 2018 and 2019 with the Jets, but only two quarterback takedowns over 12 games last season. His run defense is below par. At best, he will see rotational snaps on passing downs.

The upgrades on the offensive line came via G Lane Taylor and C Justin Britt.

Injuries cost Taylor most of the last two seasons. He projects as a backup this year, with his best asset coming in pass protection. In 2016, he made 16 starts for the Packers.

Britt suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2019, which led to a lost season last year. Over his first five years with the Seahawks, he developed into a reliable player in pass protection. His plays in run blocking regressed over the past two years.

Draft

Davis Mills

QB Davis Mills 

Mills made only 13 starts over the previous two seasons for Stanford. He came off the bench to start over the second half of 2019. A Covid issue cost him Week 1 the following year, and Stanford only played six games for the season. Mills is a pocket passer with the arm to deliver passes on time all over the field. His lack of experience hindered 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.

WR Nico Collins

Collins would better fit in a Deshaun Watson-led offense where his deep speed and size offer more value. 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. Collins blocks well, which points to him being a game-breaker when his team plays from the lead in the fourth quarter. His hands grade well.

TE Brevin Jordan 

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.

LB Garret Wallow

Wallow comes with a high floor in tackles while owning a frame closer to safety than a linebacker. His play shines when attacking the line of scrimmage while having a balance between patience and fire. Wallow gets in trouble when facing blocks in traffic while willing to detour rather than defeat his man with contact. He needs to get stronger and improve his decision-making when covering run lanes.

DT Roy Lopez

He projects to be a run clogger with limited range. Even with a questionable first step, Lopez does his best work early after the snap. His pass rush and vision point to a rotational early-down player.


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Offensive Line

The Texans fell to 32nd in rushing yards (1,466), partly due to only 21.5 rushes per game. They scored 10 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.3 yards per carry and only had five runs over 20 yards.

Houston climbed to 2nd in passing yards (4,843) with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions while gaining 8.9 yards per pass attempt (best in the league). Their offensive line allowed 50 sacks.

LT Laremy Tunsil

The Texans signed Tunsil to a three-year deal worth over $57 million in guaranteed money before the 2020 season. Last year he played at the highest level of his career in pass protection, but Tunsil regressed in run blocking. He missed two games with an illness and an ankle issue.

LG Max Scharping

Max Scharping plays with strength while having 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. Last year Scharping made eight starts with mixed results. He held his own in pass protection with emptiness in run blocking. Houston needs him to take a step forward this year.

C Justin Britt

After sitting out the last year and a half, Britt should be the favorite to win the center job for the Texans. Earlier in his career, he played much better in run blocking. Britt won’t give up many sacks while missing only one game over his first five seasons with Seattle.

RG Marcus Cannon

The Texans acquired Cannon in mid-March via a trade with the Patriots. He opted out of 2020 with Covid concerns. Most of his experience comes at the right tackle, but Houston will ask Cannon to move inside this season. He will give up some sacks with the foundation to be a league-average player. The move inside should fit his game well.

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.

Over his first two years, he missed 12 games. He allowed a ton of pressure while falling short of expectations in run blocking.

OL Snapshot

This offensive line has two players with a chance to rank near the top of the league at their position. Overall, the Texans need to clean up their sacks allowed with improvement in run blocking. I’ll grade them as league average with upside.

Offense

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Houston chased on the scoreboard in many games, leading to a poor output in rushing yards. They passed the ball 61.5 percent of the time with more chances left on the mat due to 50 sacks. The direction of this offense hinges on the Deshaun Watson saga off the field.

Quarterbacks

Deshaun Watson

After a steady first three games (280/2, 292/1, and 269/2), Watson passed for over 300 yards in 10 of his next 13 starts while producing six impact games (30.45, 35.35, 34.80, 36.30, 31.00, and 30.45 fantasy points). His final seven games (207.50 fantasy points) pushed him to fifth in quarterback scoring in four-point passing touchdown leagues.

Watson set career-high in completions (382), completion rate (70.2), pass attempts (544), passing downs (33), and yards per pass attempt (8.9). He completed 69 passes over 20 yards, with 11 of those plays gaining 40 yards or more. Watson continues to help fantasy teams with his ability to run (90/444/3).

Fantasy Outlook: Watson is a stud, and he makes the players around him better. The cloudiness with his off-the-field issue continues to depress his fantasy value (21st quarterback drafted) in May. He lost another top wide receiver while adding only backend pieces at wideout and tight end. I don’t expect him to play another game in Houston, and a suspension could be on the way. For now, I’ll place Watson in the avoid column until there is some clarity on his situation.

Tyrod Taylor

Over his three seasons as a starter for the Bills (22-20), Taylor helped his success with his ability to run (283/1575/14). Over this span, he passed for 8,857 yards (201 per game) with 51 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His M.O. is a ball-controlled game manager.

Taylor looks willing to take the dump-off pass to the running back position or the tight end, leading to short yards per pass attempt (7.0) in his career.

Fantasy Outlook: The Texans’ offense will significantly drop if Taylor ends up starting in 2021. He has no draftable fantasy value.

Davis Mills

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 will need to develop, but Houston may need to start him if Watson misses the season.

Other Option: Jeff Driskel

Running Backs

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Houston's running backs  saw a decrease of 96 rushing attempts from 2019 despite gaining 4.4 yards per carry. They also had success in yards per catch (8.7) with a high catch rate (76.7).

David Johnson

Over 12 games, Johnson gained 1,005 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 33 catches on 180 touches. He had eight plays of 20 yards or more while delivering winning stats in yards per rush (4.7) and yards per catch (9.5). Deshaun Watson missed him multiple times in the flat in the red zone, leading to some easy scores.

Houston didn’t give him over 20 touches in any game. Johnson had the most success over his final three games (392 combined yards with three touchdowns and 17 catches or 24.73 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues. Despite missing four weeks, he ranked 21st in running back scoring (180.50 fantasy points).

Fantasy Outlook: The Texans brought in two other running backs to compete for playing time. Johnson still has game, but his window is closing at age 29. Houston will rotate in a second runner, which puts a ceiling of 240 touches no matter who starts at quarterback. Not a bad flier as an RB3 due to his ability to catch the ball, but I wouldn’t fight for him on draft day until I know the status of Watson.

Phillip Lindsay

After gaining over 1,200 combined yards in his first two seasons, Lindsay saw his opportunity (11.4 touches per game) decline in 2020. He missed three games early in the year with a concussion and his season ended in Week 15 with hip and ankle issues.

Denver failed to get him involved in the passing game (7/28 – 70/437/1 combined in 2018 and 2019). Lindsay had the most production from Week 6 to Week 8 (266 combined yards with one touchdown and one catch) despite seeing only 38 touches.

Fantasy Outlook: Lindsay won’t be much of a factor in the passing game, but he will offer a change-of-pace value on early downs. My early thought is 175 touches for 750 combined yards with about five scores and a cap of 20 catches.

Mark Ingram

Ingram played well in his first season in Baltimore (1,265 combined yards and 26 catches), highlighted by his 15 touchdowns. His 2021 season started with 250 combined yards with two touchdowns and three catches over six games.

A left ankle injury and a battle with Covid led to him missing five games, and the Ravens phased him out of the running back rotation over the second half of the season.

Fantasy Outlook: Ingram runs hard while offering some value on passing downs. He should work as the top handcuff for David Johnson.

Other Options: Buddy Howell, Dontrell Hilliard, Scottie Phillips

Wide Receivers

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The Texans’ receivers ranked third in receiving yards despite being only middling in targets (339 – 13th). Their wideouts accounted for more than 69 percent of the team’s passing yards for the second straight season. They also scored two-thirds of Houston’s passing touchdowns.

Brandin Cooks

Houston struggled to get Cooks involved over his first four games (10/138 on 21 targets). In Week 5 (8/161/1), he broke out when a ton of fantasy owners had him on the bench. After the suspension to Will Fuller, Cooks became the focal point of the passing game (29/431/3) over four contests, highlighted by his final two weeks (7/141/1 and 11/166/2). He caught 71 passes for 1,012 yards and six touchdowns over his last 11 games, pushing him to 17th in wide receiver scoring (232.00) in PPR leagues. Cooks missed Week 14 with a neck issue.

Over the last six seasons, he gained over 1,000 yards five times while averaging 78 catches in those years. Cooks has never had over 130 targets in a season.

Fantasy Outlook: The concern about Watson playing has Cooks ranked 42nd in the early 12-team draft season with an ADP of 105. He has a wide range of outcomes, but the safe starting bet is 70 catches for 90 yards with a handful of scores. With Watson behind center, Cooks could very well finish as a top 12 wide receiver.

Keke Coutee

An injury to Randall Cobb and the suspension of Will Fuller led to Coutee becoming relevant over the final games (8/141, 3/24/1, 5/53/1, 5/54, and 6/90). Over the first 11 games, he only had six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown on nine targets while sitting out eight contests.

Over 23 career games, Coutee has 83 catches for 941 yards and four touchdowns on 117 targets. His catch rate (82.5) was impressive in 2020, which should lead to him pushing for the WR2 role.

Fantasy Outlook: Coutee had a possession feel over his first two seasons based on his yards per catch (10.8). Houston allowed him to test a defense deep more last year, leading to a pair of catches of 40 yards or more. His best season in college (93/1,429/10) showed more big-play ability. Only a flier if he wins the WR2 role.

Randall Cobb

Cobb worked the WR3 for the Texans over the first nine games, leading to 36 catches for 434 yards and two touchdowns on 46 targets. His best two showings came in Week 3 (4/95/1) and Week 7 (8/95). After five snaps in Week 11, he had two catches for seven yards and a score, but a toe injury ended his season.

Over the past three seasons, Cobb has 131 catches for 1,652 yards and eight touchdowns on 192 targets.

Fantasy Outlook: His catch rate (78.2) was favorable in 2021. Cobb is closer to a WR3 than a WR2 in this offense, no matter who starts. He’ll be found in the free-agent pool in most leagues.

Nico Collins

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 a defense deep. He catches the ball well with the ability to win jump balls and score on fade at the goal line.

Fantasy Outlook: A dynasty wait-and-see.

Other Options: Chris Conley, Isaiah Coulter, Chris Moore

Tight Ends

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The tight end position has been active with increasing production since Watson took over at quarterback. Over the past three seasons, they accounted for about 18 percent of the team’s passing yards while scoring 16 touchdowns over the past two years.

Brevin Jordan

There is a good chance Jordan emerges as their top tight end at some point in 2021. 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.

Fantasy Outlook: Only a player to follow over the summer.

Jordan Akins

Akins had a similar opportunity in 2019 (36/418/2) and 2020 (37/403/1) while working in a rotational role. His only score came in Week 1 while offering only one fantasy game (5/83) of value in the season-long contests.

Fantasy Outlook: There is no hope for Akins in fantasyland. He’ll start the year at age 29, and his chance to move up the rankings looks to be over.

Kahale Warring

Fantasy Outlook: Warring didn’t have a catch or a target in his rookie season due to a season-long concussion issue. Last year, he finished with three catches for 35 yards on seven targets.

Other Options: Pharaoh Brown, Paul Quessenberry, Ryan Izzo

Kicker

Ka’imi Fairbairn

Over four years in the NFL, Fairbairn made 84.6 percent of his field goals, with 14 of 22 kicks coming from 50 yards or longer. He does have 13 misses in his 161 career extra-point tries. Fairbairn led the league in fantasy scoring in 2018 (11.34 FPPG), followed up by a 19th (7.24 FPPG) and 15th (8.71) place finishes.

Fantasy Outlook: Decent leg, but the expected direction of this offense, points to a low-scoring season.

Defense

The Texans fell to 32nd in rushing yards allowed (2,564) with 24 rushing touchdowns. Ball carriers gained 5.2 yards per rush with only 17 runs over 20 yards.

They worked up to 24th in passing yards allowed (4,104), with quarterbacks tossing 30 touchdowns and three INTs. They allowed 11 catches over 40 yards while their defense recorded 34 sacks.

DE DeMarcus Walker

Walker came into the NFL in the second round in 2017. The Broncos gave him minimal playing time over his first two seasons. A bump to a part-time player in 2019 and 2020 led to 8.5 sacks losing value against the run.

DE Charles Omenihu

Over his first two seasons, Houston gave him rotational snaps on passing downs. Omenihu showed weakness against the run with some missed tackles.

DT Ross Blacklock

In his rookie season, the Texans gave him minimal playing time. Blacklock failed to pick up a sack with no help in run support.

DT Maliek Collins

Over his first four seasons with the Cowboys, Collins made 84 tackles and 14.5 sacks. Last year he failed to pick up a sack for the Raiders. Collins has never played well against the run.

LB Whitney Mercilus

Mercilus isn’t the same player he once was back in 2015 and 2016 (105 combined targets and 19.5 sacks). Last year Mercilus made only 21 tackles and four sacks.

LB Zach Cunningham

Over his four seasons, Cunningham has improved his production each year. In 2020, he set a career-high in tackles (164). Cunningham only has 6.5 sacks over 62 career games. His play vs. the run slipped to the league average last year.

LB Shaq Lawson

Houston added Lawson in the offseason via a trade with the Dolphins. Over the past two seasons, he had 65 tackles and 10.5 sacks. His play vs. the run looks to be neutral while upgrading the Texans’ pass rush.

CB Terrance Mitchell

Over the last four seasons, Mitchell played well in coverage in two years. His ceiling is limited, and a weaker pass rush will lead to more questions about his ability to cover over the long field.

CB Bradley Roby

In his two seasons with the Texans, Roby missed 12 games with a hamstring injury and a suspension. His value in pass coverage 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 in 2020.

S Eric Murray

In his first season with the Texans, Murray set a career-high in tackles (71) while delivering two sacks and two defended passes. Even with success, he saw a fade in run support and plenty of risk in coverage.

S Justin Reid

Reid delivered 249 tackles, five interceptions, and 18 defended passes over the last three seasons. 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. His run defense faded last year due to an increase in missed tackles.

Fantasy Defense Snapshot

Houston is on a path for a long season defensively in 2021. The secondary isn’t dead in the water, and it may be saved by offenses running the ball a lot late in games. Both the defensive line and second level of the defense need rebuilding while having a couple of young players with a chance to emerge. The Texans’ defense has no fantasy value in 2021.

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