The Houston Texans started the season per usual, winning their first two games. A strong offense, top-notch defense, Houston looked to be well on their way to another AFC South title.
Then they lost every game the rest of the season.
A disastrous 2-14 season was good (or bad) enough for the Texans to land the worst record in all of football, as well as the first overall pick in May’s draft. And after serving as a consistent playoff contender, the Texans are looking like a rebuilding team entering the 2014 season. Just don’t tell Andre Johnson that. But still, Houston has some intriguing fantasy players to target this year.
Will Houston have a problem again in 2014?
Oh, oh, oh, Fitz-Magic.
The Texans will be going from Matt Schaub and his pick-six tendencies to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who, according to ESPN, has thrown an interception on 3.4 percent of his passes since 2008. Is Fitzpatrick a Pro Bowl passer? Of course not. Is he a top-15 fantasy quarterback? No. But I do think he will be just as good, if not, better for the Texans pass-catchers than Schaub was.
And heck, if you are in a bind and need a streaming option, there are far worse options than Fitzpatrick.
The guy was a top-12 fantasy option back in 2011, and actually finished the season strongly last year, too. From Week 10 on, only four other quarterbacks averaged more fantasy points per game than the Amish Rifle. And as Keith Lipscomb points out, his 11 games with three or more touchdown passes over the last four seasons is more than guys like Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler and Cam Newton. Also, in his last three full seasons as a starting quarterback, Fitzpatrick has thrown 23, 23 and 24 touchdown passes. Now, he’s in Houston with far better weapons than Buffalo and Tennessee, so there is legitimate reason to consider him a deeper sleeper, though, the quarterback position is so darn deep, that it is difficult to picture owning him very often.
Well, it finally happened.
After seeing perhaps the biggest workload out of any current running back in football, Arian Foster finally broke down. From 2010 to 2012, Foster averaged a whopping 371.7 offensive touches, which is absolutely insane. Foster played eight games for the Texans last year before suffering a season-ending back injury. However, outside of the injury, nothing changed with Foster when he was on the field.
The volume was still there for Foster, as he averaged 23 offensive touches during his six actual healthy games last season. It’s becoming rare to find featured backs with high usage rates in the league nowadays, and Foster is just that.
Foster is still this team’s best player on offense, second overall, so he’ll be used quite a bit, especially with new head coach and offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien. The former Penn State coach stated he wants to use Foster as more of a dual-threat back, wanting him to do it all. I love the move for Foster, as O’Brien has been known to put his best players in the best situations to succeed. He did it in New England as an offensive coordinator, in Penn State and elsewhere, too. O’Brien also loves implementing a bigger personnel with fullbacks and tight ends for blocking, and considering Foster has some of the best vision and patience in the league, it’s a good match. And, of course, staying with the volume theme, O’Brien’s offenses have tended to be very run-heavy.
Also, Foster should see even more goal line work this year, despite already leading the league with a whopping 80 red zone rushes and 44 carries from inside the 10-yard line back in 2012. Meanwhile, head coach Gary Kubiak is gone, and so are his tendencies of targeting the tight ends in the red zone more than anyone in football. In fact, per Matthew Berry, only four teams in football have targeted the position more than the Texans over the last seven years.
I think Foster is still a running back one in fantasy, and many are letting him slide to the middle of the second round. As long as he stays on the field, that will be stealing at season’s end.
Assuming his mind is right, Andre Johnson still has plenty left in the tank to be a WR1 in fantasy football. But, of course, he has to actually want to play football, and at the moment, it doesn’t look like he wants to, not for the Texans, at least. Despite the mess at quarterback from a season ago, Johnson still managed to catch 109 balls for 1,407 yards and five scores. His 181 targets were third-most in the league, en route to a top-12 fantasy finish. He made the big plays, too, ranking fourth in vertical targets with 76, according to ESPN. Johnson also posted 20 plays of 20 yards or more, the 6th-most in football. Those big plays could see a decline with Fitzpatrick under center, as he ranked top-five in slot targets among passers last year (via PFF). But, without the tight end gameplan, Johnson could see more looks from up close, too.
Odds are, if Johnson isn’t in Houston, his fantasy value will take a hit.
Then there’s second-year wideout, DeAndre Hopkins, who I am very bullish on. His rookie campaign wasn’t “bad” by any means, just not discussed much. He caught 52 balls for 802 yards and two scores, but he had flashes of brilliance. I expect a major breakout campaign, even with Fitzpatrick under center. First of all, second-year receivers tend to thrive, as, according to ESPN, receivers see a 65 percent increase in fantasy points from their rookie year. Hopkins, meanwhile, ranked 7th among all wide receivers in offensive snaps (969).
In Owen Daniels’ absence last year, Garrett Graham should have done a lot more, and when he ended up missing time, Ryan Griffin looked just as good, if not, better. This could be another two-tight end set under O’Brien, though, if one emerges, they could be a sleeper. Fitzpatrick likes to target his tight ends, and helped Delanie Walker thrive towards the end of last year in Tennessee.