For many teams, a 9-7 record is failure. But for the Texans, it was a mark of success in 2009. The first winning season in the franchise's history suggests that this team is as close to being a playoff contender as it's ever been.
Frankly, the only reason why they did as well as they did was because Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson played for nearly all of the 16-game season. A boon for Fantasy owners, Schaub gutted out minor injuries and threw darts to Johnson, tight end Owen Daniels (when healthy), Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter. He'll need to repeat that feat in order to get the Texans into the postseason.
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He could use some help from the running game. The Texans maddened Fantasy owners in '09 with their wishy-washy roster decisions. A poor start followed by a serious nerve injury to Steve Slaton truly compounded the issue, but by the end of the season Texans running backs were as safe to start as ... well, Patriots running backs. You didn't know what you were going to get. 2010 might prove to be the same.
One thing's for sure: The Texans' passing attack has become gold in the eyes of Fantasy owners. Andre Johnson is considered the top receiver in the game and Schaub is considered a top-five quarterback. Expectations have never been higher for them -- in Fantasy and among their fellow Houstonians.
Sleeper ... Ben Tate, RB
Here's a sleeper with potential: The Texans employed a two-back system (when they could) last season and it worked fairly well. They used one back for running downs and another for passing downs. Expect them to keep it up in 2010, and for Tate to be the running downs back (Slaton should take up the passing downs role, making him a bit of a sleeper too). He didn't practice much in post-draft minicamps because of a slight hamstring injury, but he did see some time with the first-team offense and has the fresh legs Houston's craved since last year. He's got a shot at 15 touches per game with goal-line work, making him an excellent candidate to be a No. 3 rusher or flex option. While everyone else goes ga-ga over Ryan Mathews and C.J. Spiller on Draft Day, Tate might be the best rookie running back value based on draft position.
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Breakout ... Jacoby Jones, WR
Kevin Walter might have re-signed with the Texans, but Jones is the one who is more apt to put up career-best numbers. Here's the logic: If the Texans line up with Johnson, Daniels and Jones, it's going to be hard for defenses to keep all three covered. Jones is the one with the deep speed who won't be double-covered, and thus he'll be an attractive option for Schaub to hit. He should end up playing much more than he did last season when he caught a touchdown once every 4.5 receptions. Speed kills in the NFL, and this receiver should be a diamond on your bench with potential to start as a one-week replacement during the year.
Bust ... Owen Daniels, TE
"Bust" might be too strong a word for Daniels. If this were high school, let's just say he wouldn't be voted "Most Likely To Succeed." There's no doubting Daniels' ability to catch the ball, and there's no doubting that he's a popular target for Schaub. But there's plenty of doubting in Daniels' ability to run effectively following a torn ACL that brought his career-best 2009 to a screeching halt. Daniels has struggled to participate in offseason minicamps and despite personal assurances from Daniels via his Twitter account, he's just not as safe of a Fantasy choice as others at the position. He's certainly not a Top-5 option. If you end up drafting Daniels, do yourself a favor and pick up a second tight end like Zach Miller or John Carlson just in case the Texan is slow to get going in 2010. That's the best plan of attack, but it also means committing two roster spots to the tight end position, something many Fantasy owners just won't do.
A big reason for Johnson and Schaub's eye-popping stats last season was an easy schedule. This year it's going to be tougher for them to make magic, but not impossible. Matchups at Oakland (Nnamdi Asomugha) and at the Jets (Darrelle Revis) could hinder Johnson's potential. There's also looming trouble for the Texans' run game, as the Jets, Ravens and entire NFC East awaits. If you're a devout believer that matchups are what drives Fantasy Football, then you should be hesitant to draft any Texans this season.
Training camp topics
Can head coach Gary Kubiak form a game plan for his running attack and stick with it? That's something Fantasy owners will want answered as soon as possible. One way to get that answer: See how the running backs shake out in training camp.
Earlier, we outlined an idea where Tate would play on running downs and Slaton on passing downs, but that doesn't take into consideration the guy who had the strong majority of first-team reps at running back during the offseason: Arian Foster. The second-year back ended 2009 smacking around the Patriots for 145 total yards and two touchdowns, and he might create a role for himself this summer if Tate or Slaton can't answer the bell. We've seen Kubiak make quick running back personnel decisions before -- would it really surprise anyone if he names Foster his starter days before the start of the season? It's a reason to think twice before drafting a Texans rusher, but it's also a reason to play close attention to how the running backs perform this summer.
Fantasy owners should also keep an eye on a training camp battle among the Texans' kickers. Houston made a bold move this offseason, signing Neil Rackers following his release from Arizona. He'll compete with incumbent Kris Brown for the starting job, with only one getting to stay on the roster. Why follow a kicker competition? Because the Texans' offense will give their kicker plenty of chances to hit field goals and extra points. Our pre-camp guess is that Rackers unseats Brown.
Otherwise, there are huge expectations on the Texans defense to play strong. The team parted with cornerback Dunta Robinson but replaced him in the draft with Kareem Jackson, who has a starting job in hand going into camp. The Texans are also expecting their front seven to be more aggressive in 2010, but with defensive lineman Amobi Okoye disappearing last season and playmaking linebacker Brian Cushing disappearing for the first four games of this season, there are a lot of issues the Texans need solved long before the season.
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