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2021 Player Outlooks: Houston Texans

By Ken Ilchuk | 8/6/21

Deshaun Watson

QB Deshaun Watson
(2020 QB Rank – No. 4, 27.2 FPts/G)

Some fantasy owners may have sat up and crossed their fingers when Deshaun Watson showed up at Texans camp. But the latest in a weird saga that continues to get weirder by the day has Watson showing off his defensive chops as a member of the scout team at training camp. This is, I guess, his best effort to avoid daily fines for missing camp after getting tired of playing 4th string QB last week.

With the three-time Pro Bowler and the Houston front office at an impasse, Watson will not see a single play of game action for the Texans this season. With 22 sexual assault cases pending, no team in their right mind, even the Eagles (who reportedly have floated offers), is going to bring him into their building at this point. Watson owners, like me, who rode him to a championship last season, will have to wait until at least 2022 when this whole mess gets sorted out and we see where he lands.

QB Tyrod Taylor
(2020 QB Rank – No. 63, 11.1 FPts/G)

So, it would seem the whole Deshaun Watson debacle would be a boon for Tyrod Taylor, the former Ravens, Bills, Browns, and Chargers QB who was signed to a Texans contract this Spring, indicating the team saw him as something more than a backup. Given Watson’s current issues, it would seem they saw it correctly.

However, everyone I talk to points to the Texans roster and expects this to be an epically bad season in Houston. That means even if Taylor exceeds his modest career stats, at some point the Texans will probably reach the “let’s see what the young kid’s got” juncture of the season and take a test drive with 3rd-round pick and former Stanford QB Davis Mills, sending Taylor and his dual threat abilities to the bench.

Taylor has never averaged more than 300 passing yards per game, never averaged more than 8.0 yards per attempt, and never thrown more than 20 TD’s in a season. But he is athletic and has the toolbox of skills to serve as a spot starter, and the best seasons of his career came in Buffalo, where current Texans HC David Culley was his QB coach. If your starting QB has an early bye, and the matchup is right, Taylor might be worth a pickup. But after Week 8 or so, he’ll probably have zero value.

RB David Johnson
(2020 RB Rank – No. 18, 12.4 FPts/G)

Remember 2016 when David Johnson was a fantasy stud in Arizona? That year, he amassed over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage and 20 TD’s. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to regain that form, but saw a slight resurgence in his first season in Houston in 2020. He averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry and totaled just over 300 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns.

He appears to be the lead dog in a crowded RB room, and the new coaching staff has talked about a re-dedication to the run game. The problem is the Texans’ frustratingly ineffective defense. Their inability to get off the field severely limits Houston’s offensive snaps every week, and their inability to keep opponents out of the end zone forces the offense into full-on catch-up mode – great for the passing attack, not so much for the run game. Even Johnson’s strong receiving skills won’t help him, though. His 46 targets in 2020 were the lowest of any season in which he played at least 12 games.

All of the above makes Johnson a marginal RB2 at best. Throw in the fact that Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead, and Mark Ingram could all be vying for snaps (at least for now – we’ll see if all three survive cut downs) and DJ begins to sound like an uninspiring pick in the middle rounds.

RB Phillip Lindsay
(2020 RB Rank – No. 63, 5.4 FPts/G)

An undrafted free agent coming out of Colorado in 2018, Lindsay carved out a productive role with the Broncos the first two years of his career, surpassing 1,000 rushing yards each season despite working as part of backfield committee. Injuries limited him to 11 games in 2020, but he has continued to average just under 5.0 yards per carry over three seasons and can do a little bit of everything. He’s got the speed and quickness to play in space, is a solid receiving threat out of the backfield, and has proven he can find pay dirt (17 total TD in his first 31 NFL games) and be an effective runner between the tackles despite his size (5-8, 190).

The problem with Lindsay is he has landed in a very crowded RB room and no one really seems to know what the roles will be, or even if all the current backs will be with the team once the season gets underway. Lindsay is a “spark plug” type player, and as much as I like that type of energy, on a bad team that will probably have to throw a lot to stay in games, I don’t see a fantasy relevant role for him unless David Johnson goes down and Lindsay is the lucky man picking up snaps. He’s a watch list guy for me, but not draftable.

RB Mark Ingram
(2020 RB Rank – No. 71, 4.7 FPts/G)

Ingram is not the player he once was in New Orleans, or in his first year in Baltimore. He’s 32 years old now and was a healthy scratch in four of the Ravens last five games in 2020 before they cut him loose this Spring. With so many horses in the mix, it’s hard to put much faith in any of the Texans RB’s as a week-in, week-out fantasy option. Remember, new GM Nick Caserio came from New England, the “Land of Random Weekly Running Backs”. Ever own one of Belichick’s RB’s? Not fun.

If Ingram ends up grabbing the short yardage and goal line work, he could garner some value as a scorer. But he could also be the odd man out on cut day, as it doesn’t seem likely Houston will keep David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead and Ingram on the roster.

The alert here, like all of the Texans’ backs, is stay away for now,

RB Rex Burkhead
(2020 RB Rank – No. 48, 8.3 FPts/G)

Burkhead was having the best year of his career in New England in 2020 until a knee injury ended his season. A month later he was undergoing surgery, and one offseason later he finds himself in a new city with a new team. Always a “jack of all trades” type of back, he was actually leading the Patriots RB’s in total snaps, and scored six TD’s in 10 games.

What we’ll have to see is how Burkhead, now 31, will rebound from the surgery. If he can get back to full strength, he’s the type of do-it-all back who can make himself relevant no matter what the gameplan is week to week. But if he doesn’t, he could find himself on the shelf, on the sidelines, or on the cut list. Either way, you won’t likely have an answer by draft day, so save him as a potential waiver wire pickup during the season.

WR Brandin Cooks
(2020 WR Rank – No. 16, 10.1 FPts/G)

Perhaps no one will feel the effects of QB Deshaun Watson’s absence more than Brandin Cooks. An excellent receiver with speed, quickness, athleticism, strong hands, and precision route running ability, he has recorded five 1,000-yard receiving seasons in seven years for four different teams.

With Will Fuller and now even Randall Cobb gone, Cooks is the clear WR1 in Houston and a playmaker who can attack from the slot or the perimeter, so he could see more targets, but he could also see more coverage coming his way. On a bad team, he will find the sledding tough. Don’t draft him as anything higher than a WR3.

WR Anthony Miller
(2020 WR Rank – No. 80, 3.9 FPts/G)

Miller flashed some scoring ability as a rookie with the Bears in 2018, but hasn’t done much since. The Texans acquired him in a trade, and he could make a run at some playing time working out of the slot, especially now that Randall Cobb has been traded away to Green Bay. But he hasn’t really lived up to his promise as a pro, so I’m not putting any stock in Miller until he shows me something, and the current QB situation he’s landed in will make that a tough go.

WR Keke Coutee
(2020 WR Rank – No. 89, 7.3 FPts/G)

Coutee was a 4th-round draft pick in 2018 and promptly ended up in the doghouse of former HC Bill O’Brien. But once O’Brien left town, Coutee flourished and ended 2020 on a high note. In his last five games he caught 27 of his 31 targets for 362 yards and two touchdowns. That’s enough production to offer some promise for the future.

However, Coutee’s forte is his straight-line speed. He’s a 4.4 40 guy with an excellent burst off the line of scrimmage and a dangerous deep threat, particularly when working out of the slot. I’m not sure QB Tyrod Taylor has the arm to effectively put that speed to use, which is going to cap Coutee’s fantasy value. He’s probably a WR4 at best in deeper leagues.

WR Chris Conley
(2020 WR Rank, No. 86, 4.2 FPts/G)

Conley is another burner who normally works out on the perimeter. Unfortunately, the only thing he seems to be able to do consistently is run past his defender. If he could secure the ball with the same consistency, he might have more value. Once again, the Texans seem to have stockpiled speed at the receiver position, but may not have a QB who can get them the ball.

WR Nico Collins
(2020 WR Rank – N/A)

Collins has made some noise in the opening weeks of Texans camp, flashing significant playmaking ability. He’s a rookie, so there’s still a lot to evaluate, but at 6-4, 215, with 4.4 speed, he’s got as good a shot as anyone to earn playing time behind Brandin Cooks. Of course, being a starter in this offense doesn’t equate to fantasy relevance. Like most of the skill players on this team, he’s not draftable material. Normally he might be worth stashing on your watch list, but this offense is going to struggle and will severely cap any legitimate fantasy production for Collins or his teammates.

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