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Rotoworld's Texans 2017 Fantasy Preview

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  • Rotoworld's Texans 2017 Fantasy Preview

    Texans 2017 Fantasy Preview

    Evan Silva
    Texans Offensive Profile Under Bill O’Brien

    2014-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 30th, 9th, 14th
    2014-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 1st, 5th, 6th
    2014-2016 Play Volume Rank: 8th, 1st, 5th
    2014-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 24th, 31st, 31st
    Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 31 (30th)
    Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 53 (15th)

    Projected Starting Lineup

    QB: Tom Savage
    RB: Lamar Miller
    WR: DeAndre Hopkins
    WR: Will Fuller
    WR: Braxton Miller
    TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz
    LT: Duane Brown
    LG: Xavier Su’a-Filo
    C: Greg Mancz
    RG: Jeff Allen
    RT: Breno Giacomini

    Passing Game Outlook

    Texans quarterback battlers Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson represent polar opposites in terms of playing style. Whereas Savage is a burly (6’4/228), strong-armed statue with sloth-like athleticism, Watson (6’2/221) offers Alex Smith-level tools with sub-par arm talent but a winning track record and ability to make plays with his feet, which Watson translated into 26 rushing TDs in 35 college starts and a 4.66 yards-per-carry average over his final two Clemson seasons. Although coach Bill O’Brien insists Savage is favored to start Week 1, Watson’s dual-threat skills can add a needed dimension to Houston’s mundane but run-first offense by creating more space around the line of scrimmage. I like Watson’s odds of making 12-plus starts on a Texans team that can afford to bring a rookie along slowly with a top-five defense returning J.J. Watt and just enough run-pass weaponry to ease the quarterback burden. Even as a mild skeptic of Watson’s long term, I do believe he can be two-quarterback-league relevant in year one. Painfully lethargic with a 6.32 yards-per-attempt average in his three-game (two-start) 2016 sample, I don’t have much hope for Savage as even a deepest-of-leagues fantasy asset.

    Since exploding for silly averages of 13.5 targets and 104.5 yards per game over the first ten weeks of 2015, DeAndre Hopkins has crashed back to Earth with 9.5-target and 65.2-yard averages over his last 25 games, including the playoffs. Hopkins scored nine touchdowns in that ten-week sample to begin the 2015 season. He’s scored just seven times in the 25 games since. The Texans’ quarterback carousel has zapped Hopkins’ efficiency; his yards per reception, yards per target, and catch rate have all experienced annual decline. While continued quarterback concerns threaten Hopkins’ floor and ceiling, he does look primed for positive TD regression and maintains an extreme-volume role having finished top eight in the NFL in targets and air yards in consecutive seasons. Hopkins just turned 25 and is entering a contract year. Fantasy owners have continued to chase Hopkins’ fast-start 2015 by making him the WR12 off the board in Average Draft Position, an admittedly rich cost for last year’s WR34 in PPR points per game.

    Will Fuller looked like a 2016 fantasy steal when he ripped up the preseason, then posted top-15 wide receiver stats in the first four weeks. Fuller proved a tease, failing to top 60 yards with zero touchdowns in each of his final 14 games, playoffs included. Hamstring, leg, and hip injuries were partly to blame, but so was league-basement quarterback play and Fuller’s resulting inefficiency, corralling just 48.3% of his targets after Week 4. Pro Football Focus charged him with seven drops, a problem of Fuller’s dating back to college due to his tiny (8 ¼”) hands. Fuller can run like the wind (4.32), but he also has abnormally short arms (30 ¾”) and a below-average vertical (33 ½”), reducing Fuller’s catch radius and the odds he ever becomes a true high-volume NFL receiver. Now forced to play with Savage or a rookie quarterback, Fuller is just a late-round, best-ball dart in his second season. As the WR63 in MFL10s and WR72 on FF Calculator, Fuller’s ADPs suggest fantasy drafters indeed have little faith in a significant sophomore leap.

    Top candidates for sub-package snaps in Houston’s passing game are 2016 third-round pick Braxton Miller, No. 2 tight end Ryan Griffin, and 2015 third-rounder Jaelen Strong. Miller caught ten balls in the Texans’ first three preseason games, then fell off the map due to a Week 2 hamstring strain and was placed on I.R. in December with an AC sprain in his right shoulder. Healthy now, Miller spent the spring working with new assistant Wes Welker on an expanded slot role. The Texans re-signed Griffin to a three-year, $9 million contract after he set career highs in receptions (50) and yards (442) as a dump-off target for the Texans’ checkdown-inclined quarterbacks. Griffin played 46% of Houston’s offensive snaps. Strong opened last season logging heavy snaps between Hopkins and Fuller, but did nothing with his opportunity and was eventually placed on I.R. with an ankle injury. While Miller is the best deep Dynasty stash in this group, expectations should be low for anyone here making a 2017 fantasy impact.

    C.J. Fiedorowicz opened his third NFL season as a part-time player sharing snaps with Griffin. He earned a promotion to the Texans’ featured tight end role beginning in Week 4 and was the PPR TE10 the rest of the way, showing an on-field connection with Brock Osweiler as Fuller vanished from the passing attack. Fiedorowicz is a passable athlete with 4.76 speed at 6-foot-6, 265, and the Texans see him as a plus blocker, which should ensure he stays ahead of Griffin on the depth chart. This is a contract year for Fiedorowicz, who paced last year’s team in red-zone targets (12) and targets inside the ten (7). The Texans are likely to remain a run-first, low-scoring offense that struggles to consistently maintain drives, lowering Fiedorowicz’s ceiling. He’s still a fine TE2 target at his TE17 (FF Calc) and TE20 (MFL10s) ADPs.

    Running Game Outlook

    Lamar Miller disappointed in his first season as a workhorse runner, finishing tenth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,073) but 16th in PPR points in a year where it was reasonable to have top-ten or even top-five aspirations. Miller struggled on increased volume with career lows in yards per carry (4.00) and yards per catch (6.1) and finished a lowly 35th among 42 qualified rushers in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. Miller ranked 49th among 53 backs in PFF’s Elusive Rating and 50th of 58 in yards after contact per attempt (2.0). Shoulder, ankle, and rib injuries limited Miller throughout the second half of the year. While immediate returns weren’t pretty, Miller’s lead back job should stay secure in an offense that added a dual-threat quarterback and has ranked top six in rushing attempts in each of Bill O’Brien’s three years as coach. A borderline first-round fantasy pick last fall, Miller now typically lasts until the third and fourth rounds at ADPs of RB12 (MFL10s) and RB13 (FF Calculator).

    Third-round pick D’Onta Foreman spent his first two seasons at Texas as a lightly-used reserve and special teamer before erupting for the 2016 Doak Walker Award on an NCAA-high 184.4 rushing yards per game. At 6-foot, 233, Foreman showed his straight-line speed with a 4.46 forty at the Longhorns’ Pro Day but was ordinary in peripheral drills, managing 35th-percentile SPARQ results. Foreman caught only 13 passes in his three-year college career and was widely seen a poor pass blocker by film scouts. Foreman reported to rookie camp out of shape and admitted after OTAs he needed to lose weight before training camp. Big and fast with plus foot quickness for his size, Foreman will be given every opportunity to take work off Miller’s early-down plate. Incumbent first- and second-down plodder Alfred Blue will be Foreman’s primary competition for the No. 2 running back job.

    2017 Vegas Win Total

    Winners of nine games all three years under Bill O’Brien, this year’s Texans have a Vegas Win Total of 8.5 with a lean toward the over (-130). Last year’s Texans were the NFL’s biggest overachievers with a Pythagorean Win Expectation of 6.2-6.5, somehow surviving the league’s 30th-rated offense by DVOA and a minus-49 point differential, by far worst of the O’Brien era. Although J.J. Watt’s return will inspire public confidence on the over, I prefer the under on Houston winning 8.5 games. Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp identified the Texans with a bottom-dozen schedule, while Houston’s offense seems likely to remain among the league’s worst, and rookie DC Mike Vrabel’s secondary lost a concerning amount of talent. Ultimately, I like Houston’s chances of managing 7-8 wins better than pulling off 9-10.
    If you're not following the Astros, you are doing Houston sports wrong.