2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 5,802 yards (15th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 38 (18th)
Offensive Plays: 1,040 (7th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 568 (22nd)
Rush Attempts: 472 (4th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 120 (15th)
Unaccounted for Carries: 151 (9th)
Editor’s Note: If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your drafts, check out the all-new Rotoworld NFL Draft Guide. Now mobile-optimized with a new look and feel, it’s never been easier to take our award-winning advice with you to your drafts for that extra competitive edge! Click here to learn more!
Though he’s spent much of his Texans tenure on the hot seat, Bill O’Brien is, against all odds, still standing. Hired from the college ranks after an impressive two-year run at Penn State, O’Brien has served as Houston's head honcho since 2014. To his credit, the Texans have only endured one losing season under O’Brien, though they’ve been chronic underachievers in the playoffs, compiling a miserable 1-3 postseason record during that span. A proud alumnus of Belichick U (he spent five years as a New England assistant including one as offensive coordinator), O’Brien has shown a diabolical side at times, winning power struggles with past GMs Rick Smith and Brian Gaine. Survival instincts aside, O’Brien has developed into one of the more seasoned offensive minds in football, winning the trust of franchise signal-caller Deshaun Watson, who publicly vouched for him during a recent rough patch. After leaving the offensive coordinator position vacant last year (O’Brien doubled as the team’s de facto OC), 32-year-old Tim Kelly will begin his first NFL coordinating stint following a two-year spell as Houston’s tight ends coach. The defense will again be coordinated by Romeo Crennel (also from the New England coaching tree), who has served in that capacity since 2014.
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
Coming off a brilliant, albeit injury-shortened rookie year in 2017, Deshaun Watson showed zero ill effects in his return from ACL surgery, leading Houston to its third division title in four years on the strength of 26 touchdown passes (11 of them to all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins) and 551 rushing yards, the latter ranking third among quarterbacks. The 23-year-old showed big-play capability (sixth in yards per attempt) but unlike most of the league’s other vertically-inclined gunslingers, Watson’s downfield agenda didn’t come at the expense of his completion percentage (68.3), which also ranked among the NFL’s highest. Many of you were understandably skittish about Watson’s fantasy prospects on the heels of such a significant injury, especially after bearing witness to Robert Griffin III’s career-altering ACL tear years earlier. But Watson—who ascended to college football royalty by sticking to a strict diet of tenacity and unmatched playmaking—didn’t show an iota of fear, rolling to five rushing touchdowns, which trailed only Josh Allen (eight) and Dak Prescott (six) for the league-lead among QBs. Some have wondered what it would look like if Lamar Jackson—a master escape artist whose passing skills have yet to catch up to his immense rushing talent—could throw with accuracy. Stop wondering—that’s Deshaun Watson you’re describing.
As convincing as Watson’s performance was, the former Clemson star did show a few cracks in his otherwise sturdy armor last year. He took far too many sacks—his league-high 62 takedowns tied for the fifth-most in NFL history—and also underachieved in the red zone, completing a mere 54.4 percent of his throws inside of 20 yards. Both stand out as rough edges in need of smoothing, but it’s hard to be too critical of the former 12th overall pick, whose heroics last year included 4,165 passing yards, the most by a Texan since Matt Schaub went for 4,370 in 2010. And despite taking an inordinate number of hits (part of the blame falls on Houston’s patchwork O line), Watson only missed one offensive snap over the entire 16-game slate. That’s toughness personified.
Even at this early stage in his development, it’s not hyperbole to call Watson the best quarterback this city has seen since Steve McNair made Houston his home in the late 1990s (although that’s an admittedly low bar to clear when the competition is Matt Schaub and David Carr). But let’s get one thing straight about Watson—he hasn’t done it alone. Far from it. While other teams scrounge for table scraps at receiver, Watson has been posting up at the Ritz, enjoying a life of luxury with pass-catching prodigy DeAndre Hopkins at his beck and call. Still criminally underrated for reasons unbeknownst to this particular fantasy scribe, Hopkins put on an absolute clinic in 2018, cruising to career-bests in both yards (1,572) and catches (115), all without dropping a single pass. Hopkins’ place in the NFL hierarchy is a matter of preference—you could make the case for any of Nuk, Antonio Brown or Julio Jones as the league’s top receiver. But there’s little doubt who has the best hands—it’s Hopkins by a country mile. Whether it’s leaping in traffic, tight-roping down the sidelines or hauling in a back-shoulder pass from Watson (a fellow Clemson product), Hopkins can do it all and then some. Even with a target on his back, the 27-year-old still wreaked havoc last season, winning stare-downs with Stephon Gilmore (8-78-0), Byron Jones (9-151-0), Tre’Davious White (5-63-1), Xavien Howard (6-82-2), Denzel Ward (7-91-0) and Jalen Ramsey (3-50-1 and 12-147-0), among others. Hopkins’ consistency was off the charts, displaying one of the safest floors in fantasy by either scoring or topping 70 yards in every game save for the Texans’ playoff loss to division-rival Indianapolis. In a league overrun by flavor-of-the-month wide receivers, the three-time Pro Bowler has demonstrated considerable staying power, both in the real-life and fantasy realms.
While Hopkins has been a model of durability, appearing in all but one game over his six-year career, Will Fuller finds himself on the polar opposite end of that spectrum. The dictionary definition of a burner, the 25-year-old Notre Dame alum has speed for days. But what good are 4.32 wheels when your car is always in the shop? Injuries have been the prevailing narrative for Fuller, limiting him to just 31 games since arriving as a first-round pick in 2016. Last year was no exception as a torn ACL in Week 7 cost him the final nine games, a figure that stretches to 10 if you include Houston’s one-and-done postseason. Though injuries have kept them apart, in the rare instances when Fuller and Watson have been healthy at the same time, the two have shown an almost telepathic connection. In 11 games together, Fuller has compiled a monster 45-782-14 receiving line while averaging an outlandish 17.4 yards per catch. Between Watson’s deep prowess and Fuller’s elite separation skills, the two were practically made for each other. Fuller carried the drop-prone label early in his career but that criticism is largely outdated as the fourth-year field-stretcher wasn’t charged with any drops last season and only committed three the year prior. Hopkins will always be the main event in Houston’s receiving corps, but when he’s healthy, Fuller makes for an enticing undercard.
Outside of Hopkins and Fuller, what to expect from the rest of Houston’s pass-catching unit is anyone’s guess. Keke Coutee, a slot receiver with an affinity for Colt-killing (he totaled 22 grabs for 219 yards and a touchdown in two meetings last season), can be safely penciled into three-wide sets for Houston following the loss of Demaryius Thomas and could carry substantial fantasy weight as an insurance policy for the oft-injured Fuller. Then again, it’s hard to say if Coutee is any more durable than Fuller after missing most of his rookie year due to hamstring woes. Jordan Thomas tied for the league-lead among rookie tight ends with four touchdowns last season but received exceptionally poor marks from ProFootballFocus (he earned PFF’s worst grade among 70 qualified tight ends) on account of his abysmal blocking. Third-round rookie Kahale Warring has drawn moderate buzz on the dynasty circuit this summer, but with incumbents Thomas and Jordan Akins blocking his path at tight end, he’s probably too deep a cut for redraft leagues.
In recent years, Lamar Miller has settled in as a “plug-your-nose” fantasy starter, the kind of tepid, low-wattage RB2 that nobody particularly enjoys playing. Sixty yawn-inducing yards and an occasional touchdown is usually about all Miller and his brand of no-frills football is good for, but at a deeply erratic fantasy position, the 28-year-old’s continuity has to at least count for something. Miller has mostly been acknowledged as a high-volume plodder since arriving in Houston, but he was actually rather efficient last year, boasting his highest rushing average (4.6 yards per attempt) since 2014. He finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing and surely would have reached that milestone if not for a pesky late-season ankle injury. And even if Miller is plain toast in a breakfast spread of omelets, smoked salmon and other delicacies, his standing atop Houston’s running-back food chain remains relatively unthreatened, unless you’re counting on a challenge from 2017 third-rounder D’Onta Foreman. And I know a good handful of you are bracing for exactly that.
Foreman looked like he was on his way to overtaking Miller for lead ball-carrier duties as a rookie in 2017, but a torn Achilles threw a humongous wrench in that plan. The former Texas Longhorn did eventually see the field last season but it wasn’t until Week 16, when he lost a yard on seven carries at Philadelphia, though he did contribute a receiving touchdown in the losing effort. Foreman was reportedly a standout at Texans OTAs this spring, but there’s still a lot that has to go right if the 23-year-old hopes to pull even with Miller in Houston’s backfield tug-of-war.
Houston’s offensive line remained an enormous liability last year and the Texans addressed the issue by spending early-round picks on Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard (23rd overall) and Northern Illinois standout Max Scharping (55th). Houston is also hoping for a lift from Seantrel Henderson, who incurred a season-ending ankle injury in last year’s opener. Despite his own recent struggles, free-agent acquisition Matt Kalil should, at the very least, be an improvement on Julie’n Davenport, who looked utterly overmatched protecting (if you can even call it that) Deshaun Watson’s blind side in 2018 (12 sacks allowed, 16 penalties).
The number I’ve seen floated around is 8.5, which seems insultingly low for a team that cruised to 11 wins last season. The Texans’ defensive front—a unit occupied by the likes of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney (assuming his contract holdout doesn’t drag into the regular season)—is still a juggernaut while Houston’s electric passing attack enters the year with equally high-reaching aspirations. But the steep drop-off projected by Vegas has nothing to do with the Texans’ talent. Instead, it has everything to do with their impossible schedule, which ranks as the league’s hardest, according to SOS expert Warren Sharp. Houston’s 2019 slate includes brutal road battles with New Orleans, Los Angeles (Chargers), Kansas City and Baltimore and a home date against the defending champion Patriots, a team the Texans have defeated just once in their 17-year existence. The Texans deserved a whole lot better than this shark-infested hell schedule, but sometimes you draw the short straw. Given the murderer’s row that awaits them in 2019, I think nine wins might be a tough ask for Houston.