It looks like the Texans are heading for a rebuilding year -- but don't tell Andre Johnson. The disgruntled veteran has wondered aloud about his future following Houston's awful 2-14 season and the ensuing offseason.
Not that it's been all bad for the Texans. They've hired Bill O'Brien to serve as head coach and offensive coordinator but also drafted Jadeveon Clowney to rush the passer as an outside linebacker on a team already flush with good defensive talent.
What has Johnson disgruntled is the quarterback position -- arguably the worst in the NFL -- as the Texans head into the preseason with just veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and 24-year-old rookie Tom Savage (the team's fourth-round pick) as the top candidates to start. Even the Raiders with ex-Texans slinger Matt Schaub and rookie Derek Carr look more appealing. So it's no wonder why Johnson (and maybe all of the other receivers in Houston) are disappointed in the Texans offseason.
What the team can and should be optimistic about is a defense that should rebound in a major way. The unit was talented to begin with last season but injuries took a toll. Brian Cushing is back in the middle of the defense, flanked by Brooks Reed moving inside to make room for Clowney. Kendrick Lewis comes over from Kansas City to play safety and J.J. Watt remains on the end, a huge piece to the puzzle. New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel (who has typically been more effective as a coordinator than a head coach) has a lot to work with and not many holes to cover up. A favorable slate of opponents really helps the cause.
If the Texans can keep the turnovers to a minimum offensively, they should contend for at least eight wins. That might be a lot to ask for considering Fitzpatrick (93 interceptions and 23 fumbles lost in 85 games) and Savage's (19 interceptions in 31 college games) track record.
Not a No. 1 option ... Andre Johnson
Before you wholly discount Johnson, remember who he caught passes from last season. Not exactly a who's who of quality arms. Johnson should continue to receive plenty of targets and remain consistent with what we've seen from him over his last three seasons: the equivalent of 6.5 catches and 89.7 yards per game with very modest (if not lean) touchdown totals. He's had exactly seven games with 10-plus Fantasy points in each of his last two seasons. So long as you count on him for numbers like this (90-plus catches, over 1,300 yards and a handful of touchdowns), you'll be fine.
Still a No. 1 option ... Arian Foster
Everyone is scared to draft Foster because last year was an injury-plagued disaster. Don't be. If there's one thing we've learned from Bill O'Brien it's that he's dedicated to running the football. In each of his last seven stops as a play caller he's had his backs run the ball at least 23.6 times per game, including at New England in 2011. He's also typically favored one back shouldering the load -- O'Brien even said "Arian's going to be a guy that we're looking to lean on, no question about it." Think of last year as a chance for Foster to get well and rest up -- there's nothing limiting him this summer and he should bounce back against what amounts to an easy schedule. Don't expect him to last past pick No. 16 on Draft Day.
Bust ... Garrett Graham
|Ben Tate||215 (181 car., 34 rec.)||27.4%|
|Arian Foster||143 (121 car., 22 rec.)||18.2%|
|Andre Johnson||109 rec.||13.9%|
|Dennis Johnson||57 (49 car., 8 rec.)||7.3%|
|DeAndre Hopkins||52 rec.||6.6%|
The way he finished last season with 29 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns in six games, you would have thought Garrett Graham would be a breakout candidate. Not so. True, Bill O'Brien modified his offense following his one season in New England when he had Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez create matchup problems for defenders. We saw him use big tight ends at Penn State whereas before New England he rarely relied on the position. The addition of C.J. Fiedorowicz, along with second-year tight end Ryan Griffin, should cap the number of targets Graham will get. Gary Kubiak loved getting his tight ends involved in Houston but he's long gone. Graham shouldn't be considered a draft-worthy tight end.
Look for Foster to especially get off to a good start as the Texans open up vs. the Redskins, followed by road treks to the Raiders and Giants before returning home to face the Bills. They don't face a tough defense until the Steelers at home in Week 7 (assuming that defense is actually tough). In fact, the Texans' entire schedule is void of any really challenging defenses, or at least it looks that way going into the season. Three tough AFC North defenses is really as bad as it gets. Oh, if only Houston had a quarterback ...
Training camp battles
Who's the quarterback? Watching Fitzpatrick battle Savage won't fire up Fantasy owners since not much is expected from either guy. But Savage could clinch the job if he outplays Fitzpatrick. If not, he'll probably get a crack to take over as the starter if the Texans aren't in contention by Week 10 when the team hits their bye week.
Who's the third receiver? Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins will be the Texans' starters on the outside. Who the third wideout will be remains to be seen. The likeliest candidates are Keshawn Martin (22 catches in 16 games last year) and DeVier Posey (15 catches in 14 games last year). Again, this is a battle that won't impact Fantasy owners much.
Just how good could Foster be? Behind an improved offensive line and with an offense lacking a premier passer (or even a reliable passer), Foster will have over 300 touches, over 1,400 total yards and at least 10 touchdowns. It will mark his fourth season in his last five where he produced at that level. Fantasy owners who take him between 10th and 15th overall will be generously rewarded.
Injury report: Brian Cushing (knee), probable for start of training camp. ... Johnathan Joseph (toe), questionable for start of training camp. ... Trevardo Williams (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Brennan Williams (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Arian Foster (back), already practicing at full speed.