I’d have been surprised if someone told me in summer 2018 that I’d never write about Keke Coutee. I saw him as a somewhat limited wide receiver prospect, but in the right situation could flourish. I’m not sure a better situation could have been designed for him than the one into which he was drafted. Deshaun Watson slinging the ball with DeAndre Hopkins being the focal point from defenses and when healthy Will Fuller lifting the lid. Former general manager Brian Gaine use the term ’nickel offense’ to describe their intended attack with a focus on the inside passing game. I foresaw second and third cornerbacks and middle of the field defenders unsuccessfully trying to chase him around the yard 1-on-1 and was irrationally excited about getting him on my teams. Then two years later if that same person told me I’d be writing about him in 2020 I’d have laughed in their face, but … here we are.
Former head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t exactly hide his disdain for Coutee as he tumbled down the depth chart. Mid-season 2019 he entered the doghouse and never emerged from it. Was it because of his performance? Injuries? Injuries effecting his performance? Did O’Brien just give up on him? Somewhere in between? Assessment is in the eye of the beholder as all O’Brien would cite was lack of consistency. From our perspective all that matters is after a laundry list of injuries he effectively gave up on Coutee in October 2019 and spearheaded a campaign to bring in free agent Randall Cobb. He was only (barely) on my radar in August because I wanted to see where he ended up after getting cut, but to my surprise Houston decided to keep him so I erased him from my mind for the season. Or so I thought.
O’Brien was not so gracefully shown the door with the team on the brink of a mutiny after an 0-4 start to the season. He had already shipped out DeAndre Hopkins in arguably the worst move of the 2020 offseason, Cobb was lost for the season after Week 11, Kenny Stills was given his walking papers three days later, and amidst all the Covid that dominated the news cycle this weekend Will Fuller was popped with a PED suspension. Has the war of attrition led to a second chance for Coutee in Houston? He was thrust into the third receiver role after Cobb’s injury and has turned in modest returns, but he’s going to be tasked with more now that Fuller’s done for good. What should be expected? Well, nothing, but I think it’s important to note what he was when he entered the league just two and a half years ago.
Where does he win? Downfield, as his 67 percent catch rate on passes 20-plus yards down field was the best in his class. He was adept at finding the soft spot against zone coverage from the slot where he accumulated the most yards and highest quarterback passer rating in the 2018 class. He was tasked with a nuanced route tree in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense and yielded plus quarterback passer ratings on all of them. He’s not a pure track star but it can’t be detected with him in pads as he doesn’t appear to lose a step in them compared to out. He’s the prototypical slot receiver – physical and technical with yards after the catch abilities and a propensity for winning deep. I hope all that makes it obvious why I was so excited about his pairing with Watson in this particular offense. His profile was the missing piece to this offense.
Having said all that, I think I should re-emphasize reasonable expectations. Is it possible none of the above has changed and this late bloomer (he’s still just 23!) was just mismanaged by a terrible coach? Sure, absolutely. It’s also possible his wounds were self-inflicted. Once he entered the doghouse no one on the team stuck their neck out for him and even after O’Brien’s departure he was still a game day inactive until the Houston brass soured enough on Stills. The range of potential outcomes are vast and I think we’ll have fairly quick returns on that answer, but this is an add now ask questions later game. So how should you treat him as we (eventually?) exit Week 12 and prepare for Week 13?
This week’s Flavor of the Week: Potluck.
Don’t get any ideas; we’re still neck-deep in a global pandemic. You all know what a potluck is and aware of the sort of wildcard dishes some of your guests cook up. Today, that’s exactly what Coutee is – a wildcard. You can’t trust him, especially considering the opponent (Indianapolis), but there are plenty of plausible reasons to think he could blow up. He’s not an auto-add in redraft, but depending on what the edges of your roster looks like he’s at the top of the heap of potential replacements. He is a must-add in dynasty, though. Before Fuller’s suspension I intended to write up Jacksonville’s Collin Johnson because these are exactly the sort of stocks to seek out this time of year. December heroes who could earn their way to a starting job in 2021. Every dynasty roster has an expiring asset by now that’s lost short-term value and likely won’t regain it before next season. Expunge the old for some of these new shiny toys as you start to build on your 2021 campaign with some players that have a chance at popping for you next year.