With the NFL Combine in full swing it feels a little bit like football is back! That was a bit melodramatic as we all know that football never really goes away. You must forgive my enthusiasm as this week has always been one of my favorites as we get a boat load of Mike Mayock. Yes. I am an unabashed Mayock slappy and love his analysis.
With a winter storm having just passed through my corner of Michigan you can bet Old Uncle Waldo will be stocking up on the Red Bull and snacks for some combine binge watching.
In the meantime, we continue a pre-draft fantasy look at teams heading into the 2016 season. With the aforementioned winter storm having just passed through, we decided to do what all smart folks do at this time of year. We are heading down south. More to the point we are looking at the AFC South.
QB- It’s very likely that the next fantasy option at QB for the Texans is not on the current roster. As the defacto starter once Ryan Mallett overslept and under-performed his way out of town, Brian Hoyer finished the regular season with 19 touchdowns and nine turnovers. Unfortunately, Hoyer finished the postseason with one of the worst performances in playoff history. He turned the ball over five times as the Texans were pummeled by the Chiefs 30-0. Hoyer finished outside the top 25 for fantasy purposes and will be hard-pressed to hold onto the starting gig in Houston.
While 2014 fourth-round draft pick Tom Savage has stated that he expects to challenge for the starting job, there is little reason to be excited about his fantasy potential. Savage missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and has shown little to make folks believe he can take over the offense. It’s likely the Texans address the QB position through the draft and free agency.
An early mock draft by Dan Collins of Fantasy Sharks has Houston taking Paxton Lynch the QB from Memphis. You get the point. Until we see who ends up leading this offense it is advised to steer clear of any QB options on this team.
RB- We enter some very murky waters here for fantasy purposes. Former fantasy stud Arian Foster is still under contract but will turn 30 in August and is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in late October. In the past three seasons, Foster has played 25 of a possible 48 regular season games and seems to be breaking (or already broken) down. There have been reports that the Texans may decide to release Foster which would create $6.625 million in cap space. Ranking Foster at this point is useless because we don’t know if he’ll be ready in time for training camp or what team, if any, he may be playing for. In my humble estimation the door has officially closed on Foster being a fantasy relevant player.
The problem facing the Texans is that should they decide to cut ties with Foster they have no heir apparent on the current roster. The trio of Jonathan Grimes, Alfred Blue and Chris Polk saw the bulk of the carries (once Foster went down) with underwhelming results. They rushed for 1,314 yards while scoring four touchdowns on the ground and added 391 receiving yards with three scores.
To put things into a little better perspective, there were 17 individual RBs that posted seven-or-more total touchdowns. Grimes led the trio in receptions (26) and was the only back to average more than four yards per carry (5.0) but carried the ball the fewest times (56). You get the point. The next fantasy-relevant RB is not currently on the Texans roster.
With names such as Doug Martin, Matt Forte, Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory available via free agency look for Houston to try and sign a back. If they can’t land someone in free agency then there is a strong possibility that a RB like Ezekiel Elliott (ESPNs Mel Kiper has the Texans selecting Elliott in his 2.0 mock) would still be on the board at 22 when the Texans are on the clock.
WR- This will be a short and sweet evaluation as DeAndre Hopkins stepped into the elite tier of WRs last year for fantasy purposes. Count me among the pundits that were worried about Hopkins heading into 2015 due to the shaky (I am being kind here) QB situation in Houston. Hopkins proved to be QB-proof as he finished with top-six totals in both standard and PPR scoring formats. He set career highs across the board posting 10 games with at least 90 yards or a touchdown while being targeted 192 times which trailed only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown for most in the league. Hopkins is a top-five fantasy WR regardless of who ends up under center for the Texans in 2016.
After Hopkins there wasn’t much to get excited about from the rest of the WR corps last season. The duo of Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts combined to catch 89 passes for 1,142 yards and six scores while being targeted 23 fewer times than Hopkins. Washington will be 33 in August and is a free agent that will likely be allowed to walk. Shorts has one year left on his deal but continues to struggle with hamstring issues and missed five games last season.
After showing up to training camp overweight, rookie Jaelen Strong eventually worked himself into game shape and is worth hanging on to in dynasty leagues. He finished his first NFL season with only 14 receptions but did manage to reach the end zone three times. Strong will battle for the #2 WR spot on the team and if he manages to land that role, he could even bring some late-round draft value in redraft formats.
This team needs to upgrade at WR and will likely use the draft to address the situation as the free agent market is a bit thin after Alshon Jeffery (who is unlikely to leave Chicago).
TE- This position has been an afterthought in the offense during the Bill O’Brien era in Houston. In 2015, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Garrett Graham and Ryan Griffin saw only 77 targets combined and as a group hauled in 41 receptions for a total of 448 yards and four touchdowns. Those totals for the three players were not good enough to crack the top 20 in either standard or PPR scoring and this position can be avoided on fantasy draft day. Nothing to see here.
K- The Texans released Randy Bullock in September and replaced him with veteran Nick Novak. While Novak was a perfect 16/16 from inside 49 yards, he was only 2/5 on 50-plus-yard attempts and missed a pair of extra points. Novak is a free agent and even if he is brought back there are plenty of better options to be had.
D/ST- After many pundits (yours truly included) were touting the Texans defense as a fantasy unit to own, they stumbled out of the gate in 2015. No. Scratch that. They fell down out of the gate and then rolled around on the ground for awhile. Through eight weeks, Houston was the 23rd highest-scoring fantasy defense with merely 20 sacks and nine turnovers. Led by Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, they righted the ship and managed to finish the season as the 13th best fantasy defense.
From weeks 9-17, they amassed 24 sacks (J.J. Watt had nine) with 16 turnovers and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. A healthy Jadeveon Clowney would really bolster this unit as he has played a total of only 17 of a possible 33 games in his first two seasons.
Having produced only two special teams touchdowns in the past three seasons the Texans would be well advised to look for a return specialist in this year’s draft. Any defense featuring the aforementioned Watt will always be a top-10 fantasy selection as he brings elite pass rushing skills and the ability to wreak havoc on an offense.