HOUSTON -- There was a time where the Houston Texans had a near-flawless 1-2 combination at wide receiver. One could argue that, when healthy, Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins were a top 10 duo in today's game.
Hopkins was traded to Arizona by former head coach/GM Bill O'Brien. Fuller is now trying to prove he's worth a megadeal with Miami. And the Texans? They need a new No. 2 to step up.
If anyone can take anything away from the 2020 season, it's Brandin Cooks, who undervalued. After being traded for the third time in four years, he could have opted out due to the pandemic.
Instead, he tallied 81 catches for 1,150 yards (14.2-yard average per catch) and six touchdowns. That 1,000-yard marker was passed for the fifth time in his seven seasons since coming out of Oregon State.
No top-25 mention, huh?
Cooks is back for another season and could be the No. 1 receiver once more. The only problem is he'll likely be working with a new quarterback from here on out.
Deshaun Watson still is asking to be traded. That could happen if his name if officially cleared. Currently, the 25-year-old is dealing with legal issues, including 22 civil lawsuits of sexual harassment and assault.
The NFL is still investigating as well.
Cook will be tasked to work with Tyrod Taylor and perhaps rookie Davis Mills. Each step of the way, he's been a team's defacto No. 2 option. Can he be the No. 1 once more?
Expectations for the Texans receiving corps should be limited. Both Hopkins and Fuller were first-round picks and lived up to the Day 1 status. Cooks, who was drafted by the Saints in 2014, also heard his name called on a Thursday night.
The Texans didn't have a first-round pick in April's draft to take Ja'Marr Chase or Jaylen Waddle. They didn't possess a second-round pick to land a Rondale Moore or Elijah Moore.
There's talent at the position, but what's a realistic goal for a team coming off a 4-12 season?
Training camp could decide the depth chart at wide receiver, but first-year coach David Culley and offensive coordinator Tim Kelly could wait. The September 12 game against Jacksonville could be a chance for veterans to prove their worth.
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That doesn't mean they'll be starters in Week 17.
Based on the offense scheme implemented by Kelly, likely Randall Cobb and Keke Coutee have first-team reps awaiting them. Both are fighting to remain a part of the roster. Cobb, who signed a three-year deal last offseason, missed the last six games year.
Coutee, a fourth-year Day 3 selection, might only be back due to his success in place of Cobb. Prior to the former Packers slot target Cobb missing time, Coutee’s contributions with Houston have been limited.
Rookie Nico Collins should be fighting for reps with the first-team as a perimeter target. New Texans general manager Nick Caserio took a gamble drafting the Michigan product, trading away two picks in the 2022 NFL Draft to grab him.
Collins elected to opt-out last season due to the pandemic, but his early film in 2018-19 might make him a steal. At 6-4 and with a 40-yard time of 4.41, the rookie has both size and speed needed to play on the perimeter.
His production in Ann Arbor also helps Culley see what could be headed to NRG Stadium. In his last two seasons with the Wolverines, Collins tallied 75 total catches for 1,361 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Will second-year wideout Isaiah Coulter improve? Drafted by former management, the Rhode Island product started the season on injured reserve before being activated in October. He did not record a single catch last season.
There's always the veteran who could stand out. Houston has several in Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Taywan Taylor, Donte Moncrief and Alex Erickson. Of the five, Conley is the safest bet to be a breakout veteran target.
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Last season with the Jaguars, Conley caught 40 passes for 471 yards and two scores. Combined, the other four receivers have one touchdown and less than 15 catches in 2020.
The hope will be that Collins is “the future Hopkins” for the offense. Cooks can continue to be the leader in receiving yards. Coulter could be the vertical threat and Cobb or Coutee should command the slot.
Is that enough for Houston to improve?
New wide receivers coach Robert Prince will have his work cut out for him, but he's widely respected across the league. A duo of Fuller and Hopkins is hard to replace, but at least one Texans target should benefit under the new system.
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