We’re previewing every NFL team to get you ready for the 2021 season. Our analysts will tackle pressing fantasy questions and team win totals, in order from the squad with the least amount of fantasy relevancy all the way to the most talented team. Next up, the 30th-ranked Houston Texans.
Deshaun Watson's season and future are very much up in the air following the disturbing allegations against him. The Texans are also sending signals they're preparing for a future where Watson isn’t part of their plans. For the purposes of this fantasy preview, we won’t be discussing Watson further.
1. The Texans are collecting veteran running backs for some reason, adding Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay in the offseason to go with David Johnson. If staying away isn’t an option, how do you proceed here?
Liz: The Texans are likely signing veteran RBs not to beef up the physicality of their backfield, but to emotionally bolster what’s expected to be a beleaguered squad. Mark Ingram’s addition feels more about feelz… and incorporating a veteran presence that’s been freshly minted as one of the NFL’s greatest hype-men.
Phillip Lindsay — and his explosiveness (top-12 in breakaway runs in back-to-back seasons) — figures to be more of a threat to Johnson. Still, the former Bronco has struggled to produce consistently and appears behind Johnson on the depth chart.
While he was limited to 12 games in 2020, Johnson is coming off a top-20 fantasy finish, recording just over 1,000 scrimmage yards and eight total TDs. With Duke Johnson sharing opportunities, David Johnson averaged 15 touches per contest (12 carries, 3 receptions). Given the likely change in QB and lack of field-stretching weapons, I fully expect Johnson’s efficiency numbers (4.4 true YPC, RB22) to drop. However, his targets in the passing game will probably grow.
As odd as it sounds, Johnson is the most versatile and reliable option in this backfield, paving the way for RB30-ish numbers.
Dalton: This looks like a committee situation on the worst team in football, so no Houston RB is super attractive in fantasy leagues, but Lindsay is the best bet among them. He’ll bring a lower ADP, is three years younger than David Johnson and is the better runner. But this is an ugly setup on a Houston squad with a historically low over/under thanks to years of gross mismanagement by Bill O’Brien.
Matt: If I have almost completely eschewed the running back position in a Zero-RB type approach with a fortified wide receiver corps and a rockstar tight end in tow, David Johnson makes sense as a pure volume play. We’re talking seventh-round or later here and only with this type of roster construction. Johnson makes no sense as your squad’s RB3 or 4. You’re never going to start him. This team might legitimately win fewer than four games in 2021. A declining starting back on that type of offense is nightmare fuel.
2. Does the potential volume/target share make Brandin Cooks an intriguing fantasy option?
Matt: Brandin Cooks is about to walk into the wilderness. He’s enjoyed great to elite quarterback play every single year of his NFL career. You can maybe quarrel with some of the Jared Goff years. That said, Tyrod Taylor is a fine replacement-level backup quarterback who can at least keep a competent offense afloat. Unfortunately, the Texans don’t have such a unit to speak of. Cooks will look good in projection models because he’s a lock for 120-plus targets given Houston’s projected negative game script and the haggard options after Cooks in this receiver room. At a steep draft discount, I’ll take a very unenthusiastic plunge.
Dalton: Absolutely. The Texans are going to be playing from behind and in throwing situations the moment they step off the bus this season. The expected move to Tyrod Taylor is an obvious downgrade at QB, but with Will Fuller gone, Cooks has to be projected for 130-plus targets. There’s a real chance he sees 150-plus. Given his situation, I have Cooks ranked as a top-25 fantasy WR.
Liz: It’s tough to draw up a proper projection for Cooks without, as Charles Robinson and I discussed on the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast, clarity regarding Houston’s QB situation, but volume certainly appears to be leaning in Cooks’ favor. While the 27-year-old doesn’t profile as a prototypical No. 1 WR, he’s certainly the most seasoned/talented/versatile threat on the Texans roster and therefore in line for another 8-ish targets per game. (Fun fact: Last year, after Will Fuller was suspended, Cooks averaged 10.25 looks per contest over the last four games of the season.)
Interestingly, Cooks was the WR40 selected in a recent Yahoo Mock Draft, making him an intriguing fantasy value… particularly for a pass-catcher likely to clear 80 catches and 1,000 yards.
3. Is there a sleeper to be found anywhere on this roster?
Dalton: Tyrod Taylor is a definite sleeper in Superflex formats as a QB who runs, but in standard leagues, give me Jordan Akins. The Texans tight end room got a little thinner when Houston released Darren Fells during the offseason, and the No. 2 pass catching spot is wide open behind Brandin Cooks with Will Fuller now in Miami. Akins is a sleeper.
Liz: How about Nico Collins? A third-round pick out of Michigan, Collins is a natural hands catcher with fantastic size (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds) and a catch radius in the 94th percentile. He has a clear path to immediate starting time — lining up opposite Cooks — and deserves to be on fantasy radars heading into the fall.
Matt: Will I get fired if I just write “nope,” here? Seriously, there’s just not much to like here. The Texans are in pure misery right now.
If forced to write for my paycheck, there’s some appeal in Tyrod Taylor as a rushing-only bye-week fill-in or QB3 best ball quarterback. Phillip Lindsay could emerge as the starter at some point and he does have talent. This just isn’t the ecosystem to show it. The Texans roster is a mess.
Houston Texans projected 2021 fantasy contributors
QB: Tyrod Taylor
RB: David Johnson / Phillip Lindsay / Mark Ingram
WR: Brandin Cooks / Randall Cobb / Keke Coutee / Nico Collins
TE: Jordan Akins
Houston Texans O/U on 4 team win total from BetMGM
Dalton: UNDER. This number is incredibly low considering it’s now a 17-game season, but it’s well deserved given the disastrous situation in which former GM Bill O’Brien left the team. The Texans had a bottom-three defense in DVOA last year and this offseason lost their No. 1 wide receiver, J.J. Watt and likely their No. 1 quarterback. Houston’s first draft pick was third-round QB Davis Mills. With one of the toughest projected schedules in 2021, this roster isn’t winning four games.
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