From now till Thursday, September 1 — the day of the final preseason games — FantasyLabs is releasing our 2016 team previews: 32 previews in 32 days. Are you ready for some football?
Houston Texans Team Preview
For the first time since 2012, J.J. Watt may not be the most talked about player on the Houston Texans. Watt’s 17.5-sack campaign was of course remarkable, but with Arian Foster injured and Andre Johnson in Indianapolis it was DeAndre Hopkins who emerged to become THE story of the Texans’ 2015 season.
After breaking out in his second season with a 1,210-yard performance, Hopkins elevated his game, turning 192 targets into 111 receptions, 1,521 yards, and 11 touchdowns and dragging the Texans to a division championship and the playoffs. What made this all the more impressive was that he was productive while catching passes from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. The 30-0 home loss to the Chiefs isn’t how the Texans were hoping to the end the season, but 2015 was a good season that they can build on this year.
Last year, the Texans had maybe the worst quarterbacks in the league, and Foster was healthy for only four games. This year, free agent acquisitions Brock Osweiler and Lamar Miller should step in and produce, as Osweiler is no longer Peyton Manning’s understudy and can practice as the starter and Miller can finally be used as a workhorse back. Add in the fact that the Texans selected two wide receivers with top-100 draft picks in April, and it’s easy to see why there is so much optimism for the 2016 Texans.
Still, Vegas has set Houston’s 2016 win total at just 8.5, the second-highest total in the AFC South behind the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts. The new-look Texans will need to develop chemistry fast to defend their division title against the Colts, but regardless of team performance there is plenty to like about a number of Houston’s fantasy options this year.
Osweiler has just seven starts to his name, and, although he’s 5-2, Osweiler’s production in these seven games shows why Broncos’ President John Elway was content letting Osweiler walk during free agency:
Osweiler, at 6’7” and 242 lbs., may have the look of a franchise quarterback, but with an extrapolated 16-game total of just 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions he didn’t play like one at all last season. Osweiler’s fantasy production is concerning. Weapons were abundant in Denver with Demaryious Thomas and Emmanual Sanders, yet Osweiler’s average DraftKings production on the year was actually lower than Hoyer’s.
As our Trends tool shows, Osweiler posted a Plus/Minus of +2.40 in his seven starts. It’s nice to have a positive Plus/Minus, but always keep in mind that a positive Plus/Minus still doesn’t do much good if the player continues to post mediocre point totals, like Osweiler’s average of 16.59 points per game:
Throw in a mediocre 6.9 adjusted yards per attempt, which ranked just 25th in the NFL among all quarterbacks with at least five starts in 2015, and there is a case to be made that Hoyer would have made a better fantasy option in Houston this year. Hopkins’ presence should ease Osweiler’s transition, but it doesn’t help him that the Texans have a young receiving corps and called the fifth-most run plays in the NFL in 2015 with Alfred Blue as their lead back. If Osweiler does prove to be an effective fantasy quarterback in 2016, his soft end-of-season schedule could be targeted in DFS. Three of the Texans’ last four opponents finished 2015 among the 12 worst teams in the league in average quarterback fantasy points allowed.
In Week 16, Weeden won his one start with the Texans, thereby stopping his brutal losing streak against the spread at 10 games. He completed a meager 15 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns in that game, which was his best outing in more than two years. Unless the best is yet to come for the soon to be 33-year-old former first-round pick, the odds now seem decent that he will eventually end his NFL career with more than two touchdowns passing in a game just once.
2016 is shaping up to be the year of Miller. Despite having played in 16 games for three consecutive years, Miller is still yet to carry the ball more than 216 times in a season. A very respectable 4.6 carer yards per carry makes Miller a breakout candidate with his new workload.
Despite being a four-year veteran who has seen action in 61 career games, Miller has received 20-plus touches in just 10 games, averaging 16.18 fantasy points per contest, which would have made Miller a top-10 fantasy running back in 2015 in per-game scoring. Miller still finished 2015 as a top-15 running back in DraftKings points per game and had a season-long Plus/Minus of +3.41. Even with a limited workload, he almost an elite back.
The recipient of a four-year, $26 million contract this offseason, Miller seems likely to see a lot of touches this season, as the Texans have finished fifth and first the past two seasons in rush attempts. Miller has converted nine of his 19 rushes inside the five-yard line into touchdowns from 2014 to 2015, and last year he set career highs with 47 receptions, 397 yards, and two touchdowns through the air. Don’t overthink this: The Texans’ offensive line will need to improve on the league’s third-worst yards-per-carry average in 2015, but Miller has the ability to be a high-end RB1 even with a bad offensive line, as long as he is getting the volume.
Blue’s 3.48 career yards/carry is unconscionably bad. Over the last 20 years, only 10 other running backs to rush as often as he has have been more inefficient. And despite being a big-bodied runner he has somehow rushed for only four touchdowns in his two-year career. In 2015 alone, Blue had 20 carries inside the red zone, and he scored only one touchdown on those carries. If Miller were to miss time to injury, Blue would be a viable fantasy option only if he were likely to inherit almost all of Miller’s touches.
Grimes was the only Texans running back in 2015 to average more than four yards per carry on at least 50 carries, and that includes Foster. A small-school superstar at William & Mary, Grimes entered the NFL in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with phenomenal receiving skills, which have translated to the NFL. He has caught 85 percent of his 47 targets, accumulating 342 yards and a touchdown along the way. If Miller were to miss time, Grimes might not get the majority of the touches in his absence, but he probably should. His receiving ability gives him three-down potential that will almost certainly never be realized.
Selected by the Texans in the fourth round this year, Ervin can do it all on a football field. Ervin is just 5’10” and 192 lbs., but at the combine he ran his 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.41 seconds and he displayed elite explosiveness. Serving as a workhorse for only the first time in college as a senior, Ervin was a multi-dimensional all-around weapon, rushing 294 times and catching 45 passes for 1,935 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns. He even added an extra touchdown as a punt returner.
Ervin faced a lot of unimpressive competition at San Jose State, but when he faced top competition he still did well, hanging 161 yards on Auburn and scoring two touchdowns with over 100 total yards against Oregon State. His showing in the first preseason game was unimpressive, but he has the tools to be a three-down back with upside thanks to his athleticism and receiving capability.
Last year marked the first time in 12 years that the Texans started the season without the best receiver in franchise history starting at wideout. Releasing Johnson might have been a difficult decision and one that fans didn’t like, but Hopkins put on a first half performance for the ages in 2015 and reminded everyone that he was more than capable of being the team’s No. 1 wideout:
Hopkins’ first eight games of 2015 resulted in an absurd Plus/Minus of +8.72 on DraftKings. On the season, Hopkins was dominant enough to finish as the No. 5 wide receiver in average DraftKings points per game — again, with a quartet of chaos chucking the ball to him.
As a red-zone weapon, Hopkins is excellent. In 2014-2015, he converted seven targets inside the 10-yard line into five touchdowns, and last season he received the fourth-most red-zone targets in the NFL. A top-three finisher in targets, receptions, and yards last year, Hopkins enters Week 1 of this season looking like a weekly top-five fantasy receiver. It helps that three of his first four opponents finished 2015 among the 12 worst teams in the league in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers.
Speed and massive college production made Notre Dame’s Fuller a first-round pick this year. With a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the 2016 NFL combine, Fuller proved that he should be able to run by cornerbacks in the NFL, just as he did in college, when he posted 138 receptions for 2,352 yards and 29 touchdowns in his final 26 games before entering the NFL a year early.
A knock against Fuller is that he drops a lot of passes — nine in each of his last two seasons — but he also showed the type of consistent dominance in college that can make a few drops bearable. College football’s best deep threat converted 27 percent of his catches into gains of 25-plus yards as a junior, and these types of chunk plays will be welcomed in a Texans’ offense that last season was just 29th in the NFL in big plays (runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 25 or more yards). While Fuller’s 6’0” and 186 lb. frame won’t help his NFL transition, expect Fuller to progress into a bigger role as the 2016 season unfolds. With his deep speed, Fuller could swing some early tournaments with even just a few big plays.
After a 979-yard and seven-touchdown performance in 2012, Shorts has scored just six touchdowns in the last three seasons combined. Brought into Houston in 2015 to serve as a reliable supplementary option to Hopkins, Shorts started in only four games and managed just 484 yards and two touchdowns on 75 targets. On an offense suddenly replete with young, talented receivers, Shorts will need to resurrect his short-lived early NFL success before he can be trusted as a fantasy option.
The Texans’ largest receiver at 6’2” and 217 lbs., Strong combines solid size with great athleticism, but (Hail Mary aside) he was rather mediocre as a rookie, appearing in only 10 games and turning just 24 targets into 161 yards. Still, Strong’s 58.3 percent catch rate as a rookie is encouraging, as are his 12.5 percent touchdown rate (three touchdowns) and his 66.7 percent red-zone touchdowns rate (on three targets).
In his final two games of the season he averaged six targets per game, so maybe there is some hope that he can emerge as regular contributor. Houston did just spend a top-100 pick on his last year, so he has potential within the organization, but Houston also selected two more receivers with top-100 picks this year, so he’ll need to prove that he’s worthy of earning snaps. A dominant player in college, Strong could actually be a viable injury fill-in for Hopkins if he develops and the need ever arose for him to play that role.
The Texans’ returner in 2015, Mumphery managed just 14 catches for 129 yards last season in a limited offensive role. An average athlete with good size, Mumphery’s likely to be nothing more than a special teams player in the regular season. He’s on a roster with two first-round and two third-round receivers who are all still on their original NFL contracts. Mumphery meanwhile was drafted in the fifth round last year.
The two-time Big Ten player of the year and former quarterback of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Miller switched to receiver as a redshirt senior after his season-ending shoulder injury the previous year opened the door for other quarterbacks to outplay him and take his job. Immensely productive as a running quarterback as a sophomore and junior, Miller did relatively little as a receiver in his final season.
Still, Miller has enticing athleticism, as he ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at his pro day and displayed elite agility at the combine. A versatile player who could be used in a variety of ways in this offense, Miller is likely still a year away from making a consistent impact at his new position.
In nine games played last year, Griffin had just 20 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns. At 6’6″ and 261 lbs., Griffin has the ability to be a red-zone option in the NFL. In limited but effective red-zone work, Griffin has turned five targets over the last two seasons into four receptions and three touchdowns. Additionally, in his senior season at Connecticut he caught an incredible 60 percent of all of UConn’s touchdowns receiving. He has potential.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Osweiler may be bad news for Griffin’s 2016 fantasy outlook. In Osweiler’s seven 2015 starts, he targeted Broncos tight end Owen Daniels just over four times per game. It might mean something that Daniels nabbed three touchdowns in those games, but the target numbers and Griffin’s limited role last year suggest that he’s unlikely to develop into a consistent DFS option this year.
Griffin was the receiving tight end in Houston last year, but it was Fiedorowicz who started 14 of 16 games for the Texans. As a blocker, the Fedora had only 17 receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown. There’s no reason to believe that his role will be any different in 2016.
Two dates with the Jaguars in 2016 will give Miller a great chance to shine against 2015’s third-worst defense against running backs in Plus/Minus allowed, but the Texans’ 2016 success will largely hinge on how effective Osweiler and his young receivers can be. Early dates against the Bears in Week 1 and Titans in Week 4 will Osweiler a chance to get going against two of 2015’s bottom-five defenses against quarterbacks in Plus/Minus, but the 2016 Texans are likely to be a two-man fantasy show, and Osweiler is not one of those men.
Miller and Hopkins are likely to be high-end DFS options on a weekly basis. It’s plausible that they could both finish the season atop the points standings at their positions. For the first- and second-year receivers, however, the conservative offense of head coach Bill O’Brien and the fact that Osweiler has been more bad than good in his NFL career suggest that Houston’s unproven receivers will likely be better for tournaments than cash games in 2016.