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2021 Team Report: Houston Texans

Last updated: Sat, Aug 28

Offensive Philosophy

The Houston Texans have a new head coach this year in David Culley, but he retained Tim Kelly, who has served as offensive coordinator since 2019. Last year, the Texans ranked last in the NFL in total plays, which is usually the sign of a moribund offense, but Houston actually had one of the better units in the league. Instead, they mostly abandoned an ineffectual running game (ranking 31st in runs despite quarterback Deshaun Watson contributing 90 of his own) and focused on an aggressive passing game that pushed the ball down the field, with Watson leading the league in yards per completion and yards per attempt. The net result of these splits was an offense that ranked 22nd in time of possession per drive and plays per drive but a startling 5th in yards per drive. They moved down the field fast (both in terms of play and in terms of time)- largely because they didn't waste time with many non-quarterback runs- and Deshaun Watson accounted for nearly 83% of all yards Houston gained, breaking the all-time NFL record. While it was effective, the obvious downside of this "let Deshaun Watson do everything" philosophy is it leaves the team without an identity without Deshaun Watson.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Deshaun Watson (susp?)
Backup(s): Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills [R], Jeff Driskel

Starting QB: Deshaun Watson is currently the Texans starting quarterback, but due to multiple law suits brought against him, he could be facing criminal charges and likely a suspension from the league. If Watson is suspended, or if he elects to hold out, Tyrod Taylor would assume the role as the team's starting quarterback with rookie Davis Mills battling Jeff Driskel to be his understudy. Legal issues aside, Watson is on record saying that he does not want to play for the Texans again, which adds to the uncertainty and lack of clarity with the Texans quarterback situation. Early in the offseason, before any legalities came into view, Watson asked for a trade out of Houston. As of now, he is still the Texans starting quarterback and he may face a suspension from the league. In fantasy terms, Watson is one of the best producing quarterbacks in the league, finishing with a top five ranking in 2020. Houston has lost their best wide receiver in each of the last two years with DeAndre Hopkins being traded to Arizona prior to the 2020 season and Will Fuller signing with Miami this offseason. Watson is a rare quarterback who can find success with all levels of talent, but this season, when and if he plays, will be a test. Brandin Cooks assumes the role of starting wide receiver for Houston. Houston is losing notable talent rather than gaining it and they could have multiple games without Watson.

Backup QB: Tyrod Taylor was supposed to be the Chargers starting quarterback who gave way to rookie Justin Herbert at some point in the year. That moment came in Week 2 of the 2020 season and Herbert never looked back. Fast-forward to this season. Taylor has signed with Houston and may find himself as the team's starting quarterback for multiple games while Deshaun Watson serves a possible league suspension. Taylor is a journeyman who is joining his fifth team in 11 years in the league, most as a backup. Taylor, a former sixth-round pick, saw his biggest opportunity in the league during his time with the Bills from 2015-2017. He finished as a top-20 fantasy quarterback each of those years mainly due to his dual-threat abilities. Taylor has an impressive career 54:20 touchdown to interception ratio, has passed for nearly 10,000 yards, rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and has amassed 16 rushing touchdowns in his career. If he is forced into action for multiple games, he has the ability to be productive with an outside chance at being fantasy relevant. Rookie Davis Mills was selected as a quarterback who could potentially see a more involved role in the future. He will battle Jeff Driskel for the de facto backup to Taylor position, with the possibility of starting before the end of the season if Watson's time with the Texans is over.

Running Backs

Starter: David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay
Backup(s): Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead, Buddy Howell, Scottie Phillips, Dontrell Hilliard
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The Texans have question marks at several positions and running back can be mentioned as an area of uncertainty. David Johnson is the de-facto starter but he's not the only horse in the race despite leading the team in rushes (147), rushing yards (691), and total touchdowns (8-tied). Johnson will have competition from newly signed Phillip Lindsay and veteran Mark Ingram. Lindsay and Ingram are two of 14 offensive, skill-position free agents who were signed this offseason by Houston. The opportunity at running back is wide open and it may wind up being a conglomeration of these three backs with Johnson seeing the majority of the team's load. Johnson brings with him two top-20 fantasy seasons in the last three years and he has never had less than 33 receptions in a season where he played more than one game. His touchdown totals in the years he played more than one game include 12, 17, 10, 6, 8. Johnson is capable of producing, but he is no longer the same player who took the league by storm in 2015 and 2016. Expectations aren't high for him this year so he could sneak his way into a respectable season, but the additions of Lindsay and Ingram could put a damper on his level of production.

Backup RBs: Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram were brought in as David Johnson insurance, as well as being capable role players on their own. After two strong years in Denver in a part-time role, Lindsay's shine lost a bit of luster. Injuries to his knee, hip, and ankle held him to 11 games last year where he ultimately finished outside of the top 60 to end the season. He's a versatile overachiever who will fight for playing time. He'll compete with Mark Ingram for touches in the backfield behind David Johnson and could be fantasy relevant especially if an injury elevates his standing on the depth chart. Mark Ingram is entering his 11th year in the league. He brings starter experience from his time with New Orleans and recently Baltimore. Ingram has five top-20 seasons, which came over the last seven years. He has scored less than five touchdowns only twice in his career. Once in 2013 and last year. Each of those years he played 11 and 10 games respectively. He was a healthy scratch in last season's divisional playoff game against Buffalo. It comes as no surprise that Baltimore elected to move on. Instead of retirement, the 31 year-old Ingram opted to sign with Houston. He has the knowledge and experience to be an effective member of the backfield but his role will be that of a situational back, similar to what we saw in Baltimore, under 10 touches per game.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Brandin Cooks, ???
Backups: Nico Collins [R], Keke Coutee, Chris Conley, Anthony Miller, Andre Roberts, Chris Moore, Alex Erickson

Starting WRs: The departure of Will Fuller to Miami opens the door for Brandin Cooks to assume the leading role in the Texans receiving offense. They may not have a blue-chip wide receiver like most teams, but Houston is a work in progress, especially with uncertainty surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson. Cooks has a top-16 finish with four teams in his career. He did so with New Orleans, New England, Los Angeles, and Houston (last year). This year he will occupy the leading role for Houston and should be a decent fantasy option as a result. With Randall Cobb headed back to Green Bay, the other starting spot will be up for grabs between third round pick Nico Collins, journeyman Chris Conley, and offseason pickup Anthony Miller.

Backup WRs: Nico Collins opted out of the 2020 season, but still improved his draft value with an elite measureables pro day. Like Donovan Peoples-Jones, he might have been hampered by poor quarterback play at Michigan that concealed his abilities. The team traded up for him and obviously sees him as a possible long-term starter. After Collins, Keke Coutee leads a group of receivers who could make their presence known in Houston in 2021. Coutee is only 24 years old but he hasn't exceeded 8 games in any of his three seasons in the league due to knee, head, and foot injuries. When he's healthy he has the potential and talent to be a playmaking slot receiver with excellent hands and skills after the catch. The biggest hurdle has been staying healthy. Anthony Miller, like Coutee, has the talent to make the team, but his value is at a low after the Texans acquired him for a late round pick swap. Chris Conley is next in line for Houston. The former third-round pick from Georgia has enjoyed 12 touchdowns over the last three years, one with Kansas City and two with Jacksonville. Conley has always been on the cusp of being a contributing fantasy asset but he has never taken that final big step to become a reliable, consistent threat. He is a role player on an offense that could struggle in 2021. He isn't expected to have much fantasy appeal as a result. Andre Roberts should make the team as a return specialist, but won't prominently figure into the wide receiver picture. Chris Moore and Alex Erickson, who can contribute on special teams, will compete to convince the Texans to keep seven wide receivers and it's possible the Texans only keep six receivers, which would leave all three out in the cold.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jordan Akins
Backups: Brevin Jordan [R], Pharaoh Brown, Ryan Izzo, Antony Auclair, Paul Quessenberry

Jordan Akins led the Texans tight ends with 37 receptions last year. With Darren Fells out of the picture, Akins should see a boost in snaps as well as targets. In three years in the league, Akins has totaled 3 touchdowns. He'll need to increase that number if he is to become a fantasy-relevant tight end in 2021. The Texans have struggled to find a consistent, productive tight end since the days of Owen Daniels in the early 10's and mid-teens. Akins will get the first crack atop the tight end depth chart but even with an improvement over last season he may not reach the level of production needed to be a fantasy threat at the position. The Texans drafted early-declare tight end Brevin Jordan from the University of Miami. In three years with Miami, Jordan accumulated 105 receptions for 1,358 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was an immediate offensive surge in his first year. It may take some time for him to become acclimated to the pro game, but he brings athleticism to the next level that will be difficult to defense, especially in the red zone. Izzo is a player GM Nick Caserio knows from New England and the team gave up a seventh round pick for him. Auclair has been a serviceable blocking tight end for the Bucs in the past. This position will have at least one camp battle for a roster spot.

Place Kicker

Ka'imi Fairbairn: Fairbairn improved from a so-so 2019 to a more solid 2020. His rate of makes from 40-49 yards (6 of 8) and 50+ (4 of 6) got better and he missed fewer extra point attempts. That's still not compelling enough to draft Fairbairn even though he was on the borderline of startable in fantasy leagues last year. With the prospect of no Deshaun Watson for some or all of the season and an offense that is very much under construction, Fairbairn is one of the least essential entrenched kickers in fantasy football.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Andre Roberts, Alex Erickson

The Texans signed a massive number of free agents this offseason, most of whom have no shot of making an impact in 2021. Among that mass of players, though, were two of the most experienced return specialists in the NFL in Andre Roberts and Alex Erickson. Whichever player makes the final roster has a good shot at ranking among the league leaders in total return yards.

Punt Returners: Andre Roberts, Alex Erickson, Keke Coutee

The Texans signed a massive number of free agents this offseason, most of whom have no shot of making an impact in 2021. Among that mass of players, though, were two of the most experienced return specialists in the NFL in Andre Roberts and Alex Erickson. Whichever player makes the final roster has a good shot at ranking among the league leaders in total return yards.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Max Scharping, C Justin Britt, RG Marcus Cannon, RT Tytus Howard
Key Backups: OL Lane Taylor, OL Justin McCray

The tackles are bookends, as Laremy Tunsil made his second straight Pro Bowl and Tytus Howard is a quality pass protector on the right side. The interior will be entirely new, with Justin Britt at center, Marcus Cannon at right guard and either Max Scharping, Lane Taylor or Justin McCray at left guard. This group ranks low initially but this veteran group has the chance to be decent once the interior settles.

Team Defense

The Texans piled it on against the Jaguars in their first meeting and against the Lions on Thanksgiving, but otherwise their D/ST was a dud for fantasy. Now that JJ Watt is gone and Deshaun Watson's status is unknown, there is no reason to dabble in using the Texans defense outside of the rare start two D/ST league.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Charles Omenihu, NT Brandon Dunn, DE Maliek Collins, DE Shaq Lawson
Backups: DE Derek Rivers, NT Jaleel Johnson, DE Ross Blacklock, DE Ray Lopez [R]

Starting DL: With so much upheaval in terms of personnel and regime change, the defensive line remains unsettled. It will likely come down to camp competition to determine who wins starting spots. J.J. Watt was released shortly after the new David Culley regime stepped in and Carlos Watkins also departed. Charles Omenihu will have to show he is ready for full-time work this year after getting limited snaps last year. He will have to contend with Shaq Lawson, who was added when the Texans traded Benardrick McKinney to the Dolphins. Brandon Dunn is currently the incumbent starter at nose tackle, but he could be a cut casualty, as getting rid of him would save the Texans $3.75 million against the cap. One member of the projected starting line has plenty of NFL experience: Maliek Collins, formerly of the Raiders and Cowboys, signed a one-year deal with the team in mid-March.

Backup DL: Jaleel Johnson could very well win the starting nose tackle spot with a strong camp. He came over from the Vikings in the offseason and had quality moments with them in which he produced, albeit with a more talented group around him. Ross Blacklock has played in a limited capacity with the Texans, netting a handful of snaps each game. It will be interesting to see if his role increases or if he is viewed simply as a career backup by the new coaching staff. Ray Lopez isn't an effective player against the run, but does show some ability as a pass-rusher, especially when he is not double-teamed.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Zach Cunningham, ILB Christian Kirksey, OLB Whitney Mercilus, OLB Jordan Jenkins
Backups: ILB Nate Hall, ILB Kevin Pierre-Lewis, ILB Hardy Nickerson, ILB Joe Thomas, ILB Tae Davis, ILB Kamu Grugier-Hill, ILB Garret Wallow [R], OLB Duke Ejiofor, OLB Dereck Rivers, OLB Jacob Martin, OLB Jonathan Greenard

Starting LBs: Bennardrick McKinney, Tyrelll Adams, and Dylan Cole are all off the squad, but the Texans have been aggressively signing players to create competition. Christian Kirksey, formerly of the Browns and Packers, is the most experienced of the group and is most likely to win a starting spot across from Zach Cunningham. Kirksey has plenty of talent, but staying healthy has been a challenge for him so far in his career. Garret Wallow has a solid all-around game, but has no trait that is special or makes him stand out. Whitney Mercilus returned after the Texans and his representation were able to agree on a restructured deal. Former Jet Jordan Jenkins was a cheap signing, but one that could provide value. With a very untalented group around him, he managed 17 sacks in the past three years.

Backup LBs: The backup group is composed mostly of special teams players who never got a crack at starting work with the Texans or their former clubs. It will be a full-on camp competition to see who can win primary backup work. Derek Rivers is probably the most interesting addition to the group. When he was healthy, he was a very good pass rusher for the Patriots. Unfortunately, the biggest struggle he has had throughout his career has been staying healthy.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Terrance Mitchell, S Justin Reid, S Lonnie Johnson, CB Bradley Roby, NCB Desmond King CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Bradley Roby, CB Desmond King, SS Lonnie Johnson, FS Justin Reid
Backups: CB John Reid, CB Vernon Hargreaves, SS Eric Murray, SS Terrance Brooks, FS A.J. Moore

Starting DBs: The group will have a new look in terms of starting cornerbacks with the additions of Terrance Mitchell and slot man Desmond King. While the starting safety positions are unchanged from 2020, the results will have to improve for them to hang on to their jobs. Lonnie Johnson is the starter in name only-- he is expected to compete with veteran Eric Murray and A.J. Moore. Justin Reid in particular played in the box more often in 2020 in a desperate effort to stop the run. The results were horrendous, with Reid missing a whopping 14 tackles in 13 games played.

Backup DBs: Vernon Hargreaves will likely be relegated to backup work with the additions of Terrance Mitchell and Desmond King. Perhaps second-year corner John Reid will have more opportunity to show if he is developing or if the Texans need to move on from a mistake the previous regime made.