2019 and Offseason Recap
The Houston Texans’ 2019 season was a pretty successful one, but it ended in disappointment. After a miraculous comeback victory over the Bills in the wild card round, the Texans’ playoff hopes were crushed. They fell 51-31 to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. That crushing defeat would set the table for an offseason with a tremendous amount of roster turnover.
Their 2020 offseason has been one of the most heavily scrutinized in recent history. The biggest reason for this was the trade that many NFL pundits referred to as “the worst trade ever.” Of course, I’m referring to the trade that saw elite WR DeAndre Hopkins traded to Arizona for the formerly studly, but now considerably overpaid RB David Johnson. The Texans also received a second-round pick and swapped a 2021 fourth-rounder for a 2020 fourth-round pick.
That upgrade in draft capital seemed to do little to console the fanbase over the loss of one of the league’s top receivers. Then GM and head coach Bill O’Brien went out and signed Randal Cobb to a big contract and traded the 57th pick in the 2020 draft (which became WR Van Jefferson) for Brandin Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round-pick. Even after these moves, the WR depth chart still seems to be significantly weaker, and David Johnson did not look like his former self towards the end of last season. Still, the anchor of the offense and the reason there is still potential value is QB Deshaun Watson.
Watson is coming off a 2019 season where he finished as the #4 QB on the season and #2 QB in fantasy points/game, behind only Lamar Jackson. He has averaged a stellar 22.1 fantasy points/game in his three seasons since coming into the league. The question that dynasty owners ask with Watson is: “how much does the loss of Hopkins hurt Watson’s fantasy production?”
The answer isn’t exactly clear as there isn’t enough of a sample of Watson playing without Hopkins to draw conclusions. We can conclude that based on Watson’s three seasons, he is an elite player in his own right. He is also one of the best dual-threat QBs in the league, maybe the best one not named Lamar. It’s possible that if he does regress as a passer without his favorite weapon, he could make up for that by escaping the pocket more and picking up more valuable (with standard QB scoring settings) yards with his legs. Watson might not be a lock for his typical 22 fantasy points/game, but he’ll likely find a way to remain in the top 5 QBs this year, and if you can buy him at a discount in your dynasty league, then you should do it because talent lasts and situations change. For all we know, Bill O’Brien could be gone next season, and they could draft one of the better WRs that’s coming out next year like Ja’marr Chase or Devonta Smith.
Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott are QBs that are going in the same range in startups as Watson. Murray is relatively unproven in the NFL, and Dak Prescott is only signed through 2020. Watson is the safest long-term option of the three, and in my opinion, the best value of that QB tier. Acquiring him now might come at the expense of one down season because of the lack of continuity and the uncertainty around training camp and preseason, which might make that lack of continuity even more damaging to the passing numbers. But his dual-threat ability combined with the presence of his two pass-catching RBs named “D.Johnson” (make sure to draft the right one), should allow a very safe floor for Watson even in a likely turbulent season.
The first D.Johnson on the depth chart is, of course, named David. A former #1 overall fantasy player in 2016, David Johnson’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield allowed him to be one of the few truly game-script independent RBs in football. Since that tremendous season, he has been up and down, and it has mostly been due to injury.
In 2018, he did manage to play all 16 games and finished just inside the top 10 (9th in PPR, 10th in standard) RBs. That was despite being in the league’s worst offense. Then in 2019, his season was derailed by injury again (ankle and back), and after looking like a slow plodder upon his return from his high ankle sprain, he was benched in favor of trade acquisition: Kenyan Drake. Bill O’Brien paid a high price to acquire David Johnson. Johnson was able to pass a physical. It’s okay to be cautiously optimistic that he’ll be able to return to his form from early last season. He was producing like a top 15 RB then. Don’t expect the top five RB numbers that DJ used to produce when he was younger and had a very healthy target share.
The other Johnson in the backfield is Duke, who the Texans acquired from Cleveland for a third-round pick last offseason. He’s clearly behind David Johnson on the depth chart (otherwise they wouldn’t have paid such a steep price for David), but given the likelihood that Duke has a 3rd down role and the injury history of David Johnson, Duke still has flex appeal. This is especially true in full PPR formats. He’s one of the higher upside backup RBs, and many truthers have been calling for him to have a bigger role for years. Another David Johnson injury would thrust him into the top 20 RB conversation.
UDFA rookie Scottie Phillips is worth consideration as a late-round flier in rookie drafts or a last-round flyer in startups. He showed pretty well in college and showed the ability to catch the ball, albeit on a modest 21 targets, but he caught 18 for an 86% catch rate and a solid 10.1 yards per reception.
This is where things get intriguing, but also challenging to predict. The departure DeAndre Hopkins has left an enormous void of 150 vacated targets. Will another WR step up and become the clear #1 option, or will the ball be spread pretty evenly amongst all of the receiving options?
The newest acquisition to the WR corps, Cooks is a veteran WR who was a quintessential model of consistency for four years before having a down season in 2019. In the four years from 2015-2018, his lowest PPR point total was 221.2. His 117.5 PPR points last season was a career-low as he missed 2 games and only started 11. He had his fifth documented concussion week 8 against the Bengals, and it seemed to derail his season as he missed the next 2 games and didn’t exceed 4 catches or 46 yards in the remaining six games that he played.
On a more positive note, the opportunity is there for Cooks to carve out a healthy target share, and with Watson throwing the rock, they could form one of the best deep-ball tandems in the NFL. Be cautious if you’re looking to acquire Cooks as another concussion could deal a severe blow to his future in the league. It’s best not to expect longevity out of Cooks at this point, but the production could return to WR2 levels.
The only incumbent of the top three WRs, Fuller, has something that the others don’t: an established rapport with QB Deshaun Watson. However, he doesn’t have in his favor is an established history of staying healthy and on the field. The most games Fuller has appeared in during his four-year career was 14 during his 2016 rookie season. He has appeared in a total of only 42 out of 64 possible regular season games or 66%. DynastyNerds founder Rich Dotson always says, “The best ability is availability,” and Fuller is certainly not the poster-boy for availability.
However, if you are comfortable taking on a lot of injury risk to find low-cost production, Will Fuller might be for you. He averages a healthy 11.9 PPR points/ game over his career. It’s reasonable to expect that number to jump slightly with a likely target bump after the departure of Hopkins. The cutoff for a top 36 WR last year was just over 12.4 PPR points/game, and the cutoff for the top 24 was 14.7/game. Fuller’s dynasty ADP is WR#36, according to Fantasyfootballcalculator.com. He has an excellent chance to outperform that PPG production in whichever games he’s healthy enough to play in 2020.
Randall Cobb was signed to a 3-year deal for $27 million. It was a surprisingly large dollar amount for the wily veteran. In 2019 he put up 55 catches for 828 yards and 3 TDs on 83 targets. A solid campaign that saw him finish as WR#42 in total PPR points. Given the substantial commitment and the lack of other weapons that operate in shorter areas of the field (Fuller and Cooks each have a career aDOT over 12.5 yards), Cobb should see an uptick in volume from last season and has a good opportunity to perform as a WR3 (in PPR leagues) in 2019. He’s going outside of the top 70 WRs in startups because he’s 29 years-old and lacks upside. However, if you are looking for cheap WR depth for your competitive roster, Cobb is an excellent short-term buy.
Darren Fells and Jordan Akins
The front-runner for tight end snaps is the incumbent starter, Darren Fells. He finished as TE #17 in PPR in 2019 on the back of 7 TDs, but only had 34 receptions for 341 yards and 48 targets. Jordan Akins was right behind Fells in snaps with 655 and actually outproduced him in catches and yards with 36 for 418 on 55 targets, but only had 2 TDs. Neither of these two tight ends is a particularly attractive dynasty asset as neither seems to be able to carve out a large target share or possess much athletic upside.
If you’re looking for a wild card with some great athletic upside at the tight end position, there may be a relatively cheap option. His name is Kahale Warring.
The 23-year-old TE out of San Diego State was placed on injured reserve before the start of his rookie season (2019). We have yet to see him in an NFL game. Warring was a 3rd-round-pick in 2019 and had impressive athletic measurables. He ran a 4.67 40-yard-dash at 6’5” 252 lbs. He also had a 20.5 breakout age after only playing one year of high school football and walking on at San Diego State. There is no guaranteed role for Warring in 2020. However, because of the draft capital invested, he’ll likely be given a chance to carve out a role. He’s worth acquiring on your dynasty team if you can get him cheap. Try getting him as a throw-in in a trade or a late pick in a startup. The potential is there, and the price is right.
An elite run-defender, Cunningham, led the AFC in total tackles in 2019 with 142. He’s 25-years-old and should be considered a top-15 LB for 2020 and beyond. If he can get more involved as a pass rusher, he might break into the top five LBs.
Another season was cut short by injury for J.J. Watt, but he managed 4 sacks, and 21 QB hits on eight games. His 8.8 fantasy points/game was fourth-best among DL. He still has the potential to be a top tier defensive lineman in 2019, if he can stay healthy. At age 31, though, and with eight games played or less in three of the last four seasons, don’t pay for him as if he’s still a top tier dynasty option. He is currently 14th among DL on DynastNerds site rankings.
Safety Justin Reid had a bit of a sophomore slump recording 57 solo tackles and 21 assists to go along with 5 Pass deflections and 2 INTs. His numbers were good for just 5.6 fantasy PPG, down from 7.2 PPG in his rookie campaign the previous season. It was revealed at the end of the season that Reid had been playing through a torn labrum. Expect him to bounce back in 2020 and produce closer to that 7.2 PPG number from his rookie season. That would get him back into the top 25 DBs, and at the ripe age of 23, he can be viewed as a long-term asset at the position and should be valued around DB20.
Bill O’Brien might just be the worst GM in the NFL. However, there is still a decent amount of talent on the roster. Between having a great QB and a formerly great RB that may yet have some gas left in the tank, the Texans could still be a good team in 2020. There should still be some fantasy production to go around. Whoever steps up in the offense will probably be a great value in hindsight, as the uncertainty is causing owners to fade most Texans players. The defense is still a solid unit. They underperformed in 2019, but with some better fortune with injuries, they could bounce back. In which case, the Texans will offer some good IDP options as well.
Thanks for reading my article! If you have any questions or comments you can find me on Twitter @JamieHfantasy.
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