After back-to-back appearances in the postseason in 2011 and 2012, the first two playoff trips in franchise history, the Texans reverted back to their expansion days, finishing 2-14 in 2013. The two wins marked a franchise low and also the end of Gary Kubiak after seven seasons. Replacing him with Bill O’Brien, who will serve as head coach and play caller on offense, Houston looks to replant themselves on the path to success in 2014.
2014 Texans Schedule
|3||@||New York Giants|
Take the usual course of caution when looking ahead at the schedule, but if O’Brien can get this offense out of the flaming dumpster it resided in during 2013, there are not many paper mountains to climb. Of course, it still remains to be seen if anything this team puts on the field can be useful for fantasy purposes based on where we last left the Texans. Here’s the fall off from 2012 to 2013 in a few offensive efficiency areas.
|Points Per Game||25.7||10||17.2||31|
|Average Scoring Margin||4.3||10||-9.5||31|
|Points Per Drive||1.88||14||1.28||31|
|Yards Per Point||14.7||15||20.1||32|
|Points Per Play||0.373||14||0.253||31|
|Red Zone Att. Per Game||3.6||7||2.6||29|
That downfall is a good reminder of just how quickly things can turn south on a franchise in the NFL, and when it does, there’s little juice for us in the fantasy community to squeeze from a situation in dire straits. O’Brien has spent the past two seasons coaching at Penn State after a one year stop calling plays for the 2011 Patriots and won’t have to do too much to improve on those heinous numbers, but the question still remains, how much improvement is enough for us?
There’s a lot of gray surrounding Arian Foster entering this season. Coming off of calf, hamstring, back surgery and even a heart scare over the past two seasons, the soon-to-be 28-year-old running back openly considered retirement this offseason. He’s missed multiple games in two of the past three seasons and the injuries have surely affected his on field performance. Take a look at his Career Graph available at RotoViz.
Before missing the final eight games last season, Foster was a mixed bag for fantasy purposes. He still managed to notch five top 13 PPR weeks in his first six games of the season, but he only scored on 1.4 percent of his touches, which was the seventh lowest rate for any running back. A far cry from the 47 namaste poses we saw from 2010 through 2012.
The Texans weren’t scoring period as almost half of Foster’s rushing attempts came while the team was already trailing in the game. Those game script concerns aren’t exactly going to be alleviated coming into this season, and Foster has had a decent drop off in fantasy production like most backs do when their team is faced with negative circumstances. Houston does see the NFC East and they play in a comfy division, but it’s hard to bank on Houston playing with leverage frequently.
When healthy and on the field, he’s still going to be the center piece of this offense and his pass catching ability (he averages 3.2 receptions per game in his career) does keep him near the top of the running back position no matter what we anticipate this offense to look like. The addition of Ryan Fitzpatrick also bodes well for his receiving output (more on this later). For his career, he’s been nearly matchup proof, and we know his apex is higher than his current market value, but he’s going to have to slide into the third round before I can take on the amount of risk that is associated with his health at this point. For those that can stomach the risk earlier, he may present a decent return in the event that he stays on the field all season.
With longtime handcuff Ben Tate finally freed from Foster’s shadow, there’s still some vagueness as to who will primarily be behind the fragile Foster this season. Jonathan Grimes appears to have an inside track on the duties and he performed serviceably in his lone start in week 17 a season ago. Houston also used a late pick on Alfred Blue, who isn’t nearly the athlete Grimes is, but is built in the mold of an early down banger. Even if Foster misses time again this year, it’s likely that both Blue and Grimes would be in a rotation on rushing and passing downs, cutting off either from being able to be used as a volume play.
The Texans passed on selecting a quarterback early in the draft this spring, meaning that Ryan Fitzpatrick will enter the season as their starting quarterback. Houston will be the third team that Fitzpatrick is on the books for this season behind Buffalo and Tennessee. He started nine games last season for the Titans after Jake Locker was lost for the season and was a capable fantasy commodity if not a real one.
Nearly half of his starts were quality starts for fantasy, which was a higher percentage than Carson Palmer, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and even Tom Brady. A big part of his viability came from the Konami Code as he ran for 20 or more yards in six games. 24.3 percent of his fantasy output stemmed from rushing points and he was actually fifth out of all quarterbacks in fantasy points per rushing attempt.
He’s not ill suited for this system if he can manage his turnovers, something that is a major issue for him making it through all 16 weeks as the starter. Fitzpatrick doesn’t bring a lot to the table vertically, which helps the opposing defense. Since 2008, here’s his pass distribution on throws of different lengths since 2008.
[table id=183 /]
*Data Provided From Pro Football Focus
You’re not drafting Fitzpatrick to carry you over the threshold if you’re even drafting him at all. Game script is important for quarterback performance and Fitzpatrick is no stranger to operating in negative situations, but Houston does open with a very favorable first six weeks if you’re playing in two quarterback leagues or want to tack him on to your best ball roster.
Of course, there’s still the threat that things could go so poorly that we see Case Keenum and/or Tom Savage, but there’s nothing good that can happen if that were to occur. That threat does give some pause when investing into the skill players that are away from the football, so let’s run through some of those options.
I can’t stay away from Garrett Graham this summer. Houston made re-signing him one of their first priorities this offseason when O’Brien was brought on board as Graham will be playing in the role that Aaron Hernandez played in this system. Ryan Griffin should be on your radar as well, a player that was a strong target on a small sample last season, but Graham appears to be the big winner here.
You’ll be chasing rainbows if you believe that the Texans tight ends are going to combine for the 237 targets and 24 touchdowns that Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski totaled in 2011 under O’Brien, but you have to take into account all of the dots that are connecting to Graham being a screaming value for tight end streamers looking to hit on a potential weekly starter. The system, Fitzpatrick’s propensity to attack the intermediate area of the field, and the lack of a third receiver presence on the roster really opens the door for Graham to be just that. Using the RotoViz AYA App, look at the types of players that have the most success with Fitzpatrick during his career, the top of the list is littered with intermediate options in the form of tight ends, backs, and inside receivers.
[table id=184 /]
*Every Player With 50+ Targets From Fitzpatrick
This also means that Andre Johnson is still a rock solid purchase for 2014. Johnson has been a PPR Gibraltar during his career, averaging over six receptions per game in seven of his past eight seasons. He has five 100-plus catch seasons on his resume, tied for the most in league history with Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker. Since 2012, he has 16 games with eight or more receptions, which is the most in the league. Even in a season that was a complete train wreck, Johnson was a model of consistency still, posting nine top 24 PPR weeks and his high end ceiling was as good as any other receiver’s. The best part is that he’s also played in all 32 games over the past two seasons after missing time in four of the previous seven seasons.
He does have a little crust on him as he’s going to be 33 years old this season, so there’s some worry that Father Time will grasp his fantasy soul sooner than later. He also has had a really tough time finding the end zone, scoring in just six of his past 32 games played. Over that run, he’s scored on just four percent of his receptions and only 2.6 percent of his targets. You’re hoping that he can revert to the mean in those areas, but he’s never had a double-digit touchdown season in his career so far. That said, he’s still an easy buy at his current price, especially as your second or third receiver. He’s an anchor that still has potential to finish as a fantasy WR1 despite whatever may become the Texans this season.
The last piece of this puzzle is last year’s first round selection DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins came out of the gates strong as a rookie, catching 18 passes for 243 yards during the first three weeks of 2013. But when the Texans self-destructed, Hopkins was the player that was most affected, catching only 26 passes for 559 yards the rest of the way.
He was criminally underused, targeted on only 14.5 percent of his routes, which was the third lowest total in the league last season. His true breakout may be once again hampered by this system and Fitzpatrick, but there’s plenty to like. One is that he’s going to be on the field at all times except for one wide receiver sets. Two is that he’s still only 22 years old and is coming off of a productive season in regards to his age. Here’s every rookie receiver to gain at least 700 receiving yards at the age of 21 and their yardage and touchdown totals as a sophomore.
[table id=185 /]
He’s keeping good company so far. The Texans’ overall team outlook, their quarterback situation, and his meandering finish as a rookie have kept his stock very low entering 2014. While we may be another year away from the true breakout we’re hoping for, there’s no harm in trying to be a year early still on a player going after the ninth round when you’re not forcing him into your weekly lineup.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Hopkins – we’ve seen this story play out recently, sophomore receiver with high end pedigree. Don’t be afraid to taste the apple at his current cost.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Foster – from injury to retirement to potential offensive quagmire, there’s a host of red flags here that accompany a lot of draft capital.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Graham – for those waiting on tight end or looking to pry one early on waivers, he benefits from a perfect storm of system, quarterback play and lack of a third option in the passing game.
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