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Offseason Primers: Houston Texans

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Texans' best chance to make the Super Bowl in the history of their franchise went by the wayside thanks to a late-season slump that cost them home-field advantage in the AFC. That overshadowed what was a pretty good season for a team that was loaded defensively and had their playmakers deliver strong seasons offensively. It also presents a challenging season ahead.

Getting those playmakers to repeat their feats will be tough. Andre Johnson will be 32 and coming off a career-best 1,598-yard season. But like league counterpart Calvin Johnson, he struggled when it came to scoring, nabbing just four touchdowns. That has to change for the Texans to be effective and it could be tough because the team is thin on receiving talent opposite Johnson. Last year they had Kevin Walter for the seventh straight year opposite Johnson. He stunk (518 yards, two touchdowns) and has since been let go. If they add a speedy receiver via the draft who can fill that role, the offense could be impossible to stop. If they don't, the likes of Lestar Jean, Keshawn Martin and maybe DeVier Posey will compete to start. Utilizing matchup nightmare running back/tight end James Casey isn't an option after he left for more playing time in Philadelphia in March. Houston has a very important hole to fill.

2012 Touches Leaders
862 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Arian Foster 391 (351 car., 40 rec.) 45.3%
Andre Johnson 112 rec. 13.0%
Ben Tate 76 (65 car., 11 rec.) 8.8%
Justin Forsett 66 (63 car., 3 rec.) 7.7%
Owen Daniels 62 rec. 7.2%
Kevin Walter 41 rec. 4.8%
All Others 114 13.2%

Not that passing is their preferred way to move the chains. The Texans again ranked highly as a rushing offense thanks to the exploits of Arian Foster. The Fantasy legend again topped 1,600 total yards and 12 total touchdowns (he had 17 in 2012), but it came at a steep price as he had over 400 carries between the regular season and the postseason (18 games). Not many running backs put up that much work and come back as strong the following year but Foster is a good candidate to buck that trend. An irregular heartbeat discovered last season shouldn't be anything to worry about nor should his overall workload -- which has averaged 21.2 carries per game over the last three seasons -- but it's all worth noticing. And if the Texans coaches notice, we could see his workload lightened to open the season. One big positive is his use at the goal line -- there were weeks last season that were salvaged by his scores and that's bound to continue. Foster remains a very good Fantasy option but one that needs a handcuff.

Outside of those two on offense, there are plenty of questions including whether or not Matt Schaub can push the team past the second round of the playoffs (remember when it was whether or not he could push them to the playoffs, period?). There's also the state of the defense and whether or not J.J. Watt can remain dominant and if the secondary can withstand the loss of Glover Quin. For a team that was so close to being a contender for Super Bowl XLVII, they're being taken as lightly as a team that went 8-8. We'll see if it's warranted in 2013.

Ben Tate -- Potential breakout

2012 Target Leaders
544 pass attempts
Andre Johnson 164 30.1%
Owen Daniels 103 18.9%
Kevin Walter 68 12.3%
Arian Foster 58 10.6%
James Casey 45 8.3%
All Others 106 19.5%

It goes without saying that if Foster stays healthy, Tate's contributions will be minimal. But Foster is coming off a season and postseason where he had not just 400 carries but over 450 total touches. It's a lot of wear and tear on a running back. The Texans are confident in Tate's abilities in the offense and might not be shy about giving Tate around eight touches per week if only to keep Foster in shape. Of course, Foster could always get hurt and that would open the door for Tate to be a high-volume back like he was at the very start of his career when Foster was sidelined. Either way, getting Tate is a must if you take Foster with an early first-round pick but he's also a speculative choice if you don't have Foster. We're talking about a middle-round pick so it's not exactly low-risk but if there's one thing that's in the back of Tate's mind it's that if he gets an opportunity to play he can make it pay off -- literally. He's in a contract year and could be a starter for a team looking to run the zone-blocking scheme in 2014.

Matt Schaub -- Bust

Schaub's numbers in 2012 weren't so far out of line with what he's done in Houston, and that's entirely the problem. His stock tanked last season as he struggled to put up big numbers while younger, more versatile passers were all the rage. Those youngsters are now who Fantasy owners are targeting, pushing Schaub down rank lists everywhere. He might be worth a late pick as a handcuff to one of the young quarterbacks you take in Rounds 5-8, but with the depth at the position and his sliding passing yard average to go with a less-than-stellar touchdown total, he's not the guy many thought he was a few years ago. Schaub might actually not get picked in some smaller drafts. Schaub is worth a late-round pick in drafts strictly as a decent backup Fantasy option and nothing more.

Lestar Jean -- Late-round flier

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Matt Schaub Late-round pick
Arian Foster Top 3 overall
Ben Tate 80-95 overall
Andre Johnson 25-35 overall
Owen Daniels 120-130 overall
Randy Bullock Late-round pick
Texans DST Late-round pick

Consider Jean at the very least a placeholder and at the very most a deep sleeper. It's evident the Texans not only need to upgrade at receiver but are planning on it. You could tell that when they released seven-year veteran Kevin Walter, who did a lot of underrated work but was never great for Fantasy purposes. Coach Gary Kubiak said this offseason that he thinks a lot of Jean and why not after he proved he could work some magic on deep passes. Last year Jean had 151 yards on six catches: One went for over 20 yards, two went for over 40 yards, four went for first downs and another saw him finish in the end zone. Perhaps if Jean proves in training camp that he can do the dirty underneath work while also being an asset on the big plays then he'll earn a starting job and the stats will follow. Whoever starts opposite Andre Johnson will have the look of a late-round pick.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
T.J. Ward feels bad Gronkowski was hurt on low hit, but 'that's about it'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:11 am ET) Broncos safety T.J. Ward might hear a chorus of boos reign down in his direction during Sunday's game at New England, and that's because Ward was the player responsible for sending Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to injured reserve last season.

Ward, who was playing for the Browns last season, ended Gronkowski's season in Week 14 last season with a helmet-to-knee hit that tore Gronkowski’s right ACL and MCL. Ward said he has no regrets about the play and wasn’t purposely trying to take out Gronkowski’s knee, per The Boston Globe.

"I feel bad he got hurt, you know, but that’s about it," Ward said Wednesday. "I’m just playing fast out there, and coincidentally, it was a bang-bang play. I think if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt, then it wouldn’t be an issue."

Ward, who is seven inches shorter and 65 points lighter than Gronkowski, said the only way to tackle Gronkowski is by going low.

"Gronk’s a big dude. He gets hit, and he keeps going. Guys bounce off him, and he’s throwing guys left and right," Ward said. "I was taught that if you can take a guy’s wheels away from him, he’s no longer mobile, and that’s what you’ve got to do with big guys. I’m not going to go in there and bang heads with somebody that’s 60 pounds more than me. I’m going to hurt myself."


Titans OL Taylor Lewan pleads guilty to two misdemeanor charges
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Titans rookie tackle Taylor Lewan pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges Thursday in Michigan stemming from an incident that took place last year following a Michigan-Ohio State game, according to The Tennessean. Lewan entered pleas to charges of disturbing the peace and being drunk and disorderly.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Lewan is expected to get probation when he's sentenced Dec. 15. Lewan was initially charged with one count of misdemeanor aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery. Two Buckeyes fans said Lewan assaulted them. Lewan had previously stated that he was breaking up a dispute and wasn't involved in a fight.


Jaguars might consider changing up linebacker corps
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) While the Jaguars were pleased with how J.T. Thomas performed at middle linebacker Week 8 against the Dolphins, coach Gus Bradley is considering making a change to the linebacker corps because rookie Jeremiah George is making a strong impression on the coaching staff. 

"We’re looking at the linebacker spot, what’s our best three on the field?" Bradley said, per The Florida Times-Union. "We know J.T. played well. [Otto] Dekoda Watson played pretty well. Jeremiah George is showing up a little bit in practice, so a chance to see him in there and throw him into the mix. We’re trying to find a way to see as of right now, what gives us our best opportunity and what guys are playing the best on the field."


Bills' Kiko Alonso starts to run, but still has ways to go in recovery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:11 am ET) Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is pleased with his progress as he is three months removed from ACL surgery.

"I’ve started running already," Alonso told Buffalobills.com. "I’m just doing straight line running, so I’m doing everything but cutting right now. Obviously I’m progressing to full speed running. I’m doing everything, but I’m limited."

Alonso said his knee feels great. However, he is being cautious with his recovery, which usually takes 7-9 months after surgery.

"My knee feels great," he said. "It definitely doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with it. It’s just a matter of time. You’ve got to let that ligament heal and strengthen the muscles around it. It feels probably where it should be right now."


Ben Roethlisberger deserves to start
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It goes without saying that Ben Roethlisberger's six-touchdown, 522-yard performance Week 8 against Indianapolis was a once-in-a-blue-moon thing, and I stand by my earlier assessment that he's too inconsistent to start in standard 12-team leagues. But that's more for those weeks when every quarterback is available. With six teams on bye, that's certainly not the case in Week 9.

For those owners accustomed to starting Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler, Roethlisberger may be the best choice. His matchup against Baltimore isn't great. The Ravens rank a suspect 22nd against the pass, giving up 256.0 yards per game, but having allowed just seven touchdowns through the air, they've surrendered the second-fewest Fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Regardless of the matchup, though, Roethlisberger has a better chance than most of the quarterbacks who might be available of putting up the numbers you're accustomed to.

I'd prefer Carson Palmer, Nick Foles and Cam Newton to him, to name just a few fringy types, but Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Ricahrd both have Roethlisberger in their top 10 for this week.


Brandon LaFell not the only Patriots WR to consider
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) It's time to give Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell a shot in Fantasy -- as in not just owning him, but starting him. If his 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown Week 8 against the Bears weren't enough to convince you, his matchup Week 9 against Denver should be.

It's not that the Broncos are so bad against the pass. They rank in the middle of the pack, allowing 242.9 yards per game. It's just that the Patriots' only hope against them is to beat Peyton Manning at his own game. Their passing attack -- at least the version they've shown in the last four weeks -- is good enough to beat anybody when they're motivated to use it.

LaFell appears to have leapfrogged Julian Edelman in the pecking order, but frankly, Edelman might not be such a bad play either. Tom Brady is going to need every weapon at his disposal to outscore Manning and company. Edelman is more of a desperation play than LaFell, I think, advisable only if you're short on startable wide receivers, but Dave Richard likes him enough with this matchup to rank him 24th at the position.


Shane Vereen a better choice than Jonas Gray
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) By giving the previously unknown Jonas Gray 17 carries for 86 yards Week 8 against Chicago, the Patriots revealed that they'll stick with a two-man backfield even with preferred rusher Stevan Ridley out for the year with a torn ACL and MCL.

But Week 9 against Denver might be a better matchup for preferred receiver Shane Vereen, who also thrived in Week 7 against the Jets. The Broncos, like the Jets, have done a good job stopping the run this season. They rank No. 1, in fact, allowing 72.4 yards per game.

Plus, the Patriots will most likely have to throw more than usual just to keep up with the league's highest-scoring team. These days, a team's only real choice against Peyton Manning is to beat him at his own game.

So most likely, Gray will spend much of Week 9 on the sidelines while Vereen spends much of it in the backfield. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Vereen among their top 20 running backs for this week.


Vincent Jackson not such a great play
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) On a day when the Buccaneers couldn't get anything going offensively Week 8 against Minnesota, wide receiver Vincent Jackson was barely involved, catching one pass for 13 yards. He was targeted five times, but for a player who misses a lot of the balls thrown his way, both because of his role in the passing game and his issues with drops, that's a pretty low number. He averaged 10.0 targets in his first six games.

Even worse for Jackson, quarterback Mike Glennon has developed a nice rapport with both Mike Evans and Louis Murphy, and the Buccaneers passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain three wide receivers. Is it more likely to sustain him than those other two? Yeah, probably. But it'll likely cut into his production regardless.

And it could cut into his production in a big way Week 9 at Cleveland. The Browns don't rank especially high against the pass, but they don't give up many touchdowns through the air, allowing the fourth-lowest quarterback rating of any team this season. Cornerback Joe Haden, who has played better in recent weeks after a slow start, is a big reason for that, and he'll likely go up against Jackson on Sunday.

Neither Jamey Eisenberg nor Dave Richard rank Jackson among their top 30 wide receivers -- and that's in a week with six teams on bye.


Time to the roll the dice on Denard Robinson?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Sitting Denard Robinson the week after his breakout 127-yard effort against the Browns was understandable. It was an outlier performance achieved with an especially favorable matchup, and there was some big talk about Toby Gerhart still playing a big role. But now, after back-to-back 100-yard games, taking a conservative approach with Robinson just seems kind of silly.

Especially since his matchup Week 9 at Cincinnati is, at least on paper, a favorable one. The Bengals rank 29th against the run, allowing 140.7 yards per game, and have given up the eighth-most Fantasy points per game to running backs. And as tough as the Jaguars defense has played in recent weeks, you don't have to worry so much about the Bengals running away with the game, compelling the Jaguars to throw every down.

Calling Robinson a must-start is taking it a bit far. Some people have enviable depth at the position. But in Week 9, Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank Robinson among their top 24 running backs, with Dave slotting him as high as 15th.


Is starting Andy Dalton a good idea?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10/29/2014) Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank the Bengals' Andy Dalton among their top 12 quarterbacks for Week 9, presumably because he's facing the Jaguars. But how did that work out for Ryan Tannehill in Week 8, Brian Hoyer in Week 7 or, yep, even Ben Roethlisberger in Week 5?

I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of the whole "start Player X against the Jaguars because they're bad" argument. Because they're not. At least not anymore -- not on defense, anyway. The Jaguars have allowed an average of 16.5 points in their last four games, and if not for the Dolphins' two defensive touchdowns in Week 8, it'd be 13.0

True, star wide receiver A.J. Green is looking likely to return from a three-game absence for a toe injury, which would certainly improve Dalton's chances. But again, quality quarterbacks -- namely, Tannehill and Roethlisberger -- have had their full arsenals when they faced the Jaguars, and they still underwhelmed against them. I'm not sure this is Dalton's week.

Now, with so many high-profile quarterbacks (such as Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler) on bye this week, you may want it to be Dalton's week, but I'd give Carson Palmer, Nick Foles, Cam Newton or Tannehill a shot before I turned to him.


 
 
 
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