Five Things to Watch Heading into Houston Texans Training Camp
The Texans’ 2016 season was marred by the terrible quarterbacking of Brock Osweiler. The Texans’ 2017 will be marked by new arrivals, old returns and (probably) a worse record. After a playoff win, 9-7 record and second straight division title, the Texans made two of the boldest moves of the season. The first took place in early March when, in an NBA style trade, the Texans offloaded Brock Osweiler and his albatross contract, their 2018 2nd round pick and a 2017 sixth round pick to the Cleveland Browns for a fourth round pick and $10 million in cap-space. The second also involved the Browns, but this time the Texans were acquiring a QB. For the right to select Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall, the Texans surrendered the 25th overall pick and their 2018 first. Watson is clearly the future, but his presence is among the five most pressing questions for Texans training camp.
Watson vs. Savage
Tom Savage is boring. He’s a former fourth round pick entering his fourth season in the NFL. He has one INT and zero TDs in five career games. He has missed games due to a knee sprain, elbow sprain, concussion and a broken leg.
Deshaun Watson is everything that Savage isn’t. He’s the 12th overall pick. He threw for a combined 825 yards and seven TDs against the vaunted Alabama defense in a pair of college championship games. He lost in 2015 and returned in 2016 to win, leading a game-winning drive in the final seconds.
Everything points towards Watson as the best chance to win … except for the coaching staff that intends to start Savage in Week 1. With Savage, the Texans are relying on their defense to win a lot of close games. It worked in 2016, but it isn’t a repeatable formula. By starting Savage, the Texans are limiting their offensive upside. Tom Savage is not going to win football games on his own or score points, as evidenced by the Texans’ 12 points and 17 points in his two 2016 starts.
Deshaun Watson, on the other hand, gives the Texans an opportunity to have an efficient game manager who can create offense when needed, much like Dak Prescott. Prescott limited turnovers, fed the running game and let the Cowboys’ strengths win games. Watch Watson closely in training camp and preseason because if Savage struggles early, Watson could start quickly.
Regardless of his fantasy impact, D’Onta Foreman’s legal situation is hairy. The good news is that his drug test came back negative and he said in a statement that his gun is legal. Hopefully, this all gets cleared up favorably for Foreman and the Texans, because if they want to win games, Foreman is going to be important.
Last season’s new RB, Lamar Miller, got all the carries and promptly fell on his face. Miller saw 21+ carries in seven of 14 games, which ultimately led to his late season injury. What the Miami coaches knew, and the Houston coaches soon realized, is that Miller is best utilized off of around 18 touches per game, not 25-30. To help spell Miller and return his big play ability, the Texans drafted D’Onta Foreman in the third round.
Foreman is a fundamentally different RB from Miller. Whereas Miller is slighter and kills with a 4.40 40-yard fash, Foreman is massive and runs through people with his high 31.6 body mass index. Foreman ran for 2,000 yards and 15 TDs in college. He should see 75-100 carries and could compile up to six TDs in a goal-line role. Although as I type this, I realize that I don’t trust the Texans to have any kind of successful offense, so maybe don’t expect for Foreman to have many goal-line TDs after all.
DeAndre Hopkins Bounceback? Or Letdown?
DeAndre Hopkins’s last two seasons have been polar opposites. The most recent season, 2016, was the worst, with a WR27 finish on 151 targets and a 78/954/4 stat line. His best, 2015, was special. Hopkins posted the WR4 season, catching 111 of 192 targets for 1,521 yards and 11 TDs. The only variable that changed was the QB, switching from mostly Brian Hoyer in 2015 to Brock Osweiler in 2016. Now, the QB is changing again to either Tom Savage or DeShaun Watson.
That will be the question surrounding DeAndre Hopkins as he enters his fifth season. Savage won’t be very good for Hopkins. In the two starts Savage made, Hopkins had a combined 10 catches on 17 targets for 166 yards and no TDs. Savage doesn’t take risks and doesn’t push the ball downfield. Watson is a prolific passer with 76 passing TDs in his last two collegiate seasons. Hopkins is a similar type of WR to Mike Williams. Williams inspired Watson’s confidence, leading him to trust the WR on 50-50 passes. Hopkins had made a career out of succeeding that way, and he needs Watson to win his own camp battle to have a respectable season.
DeAndre Hopkins currently has an ADP of WR13, per FFC. With this ADP, drafters are taking Hopkins at his ceiling production without accounting for his downside. A more realistic ADP would be around WR20, near Jarvis Landry.
Braxton Miller Makes An Impact?
For years the Texans have lacked an offensive weapon with any kind of speed and agility. To fix that, they signed Lamar Miller and drafted Will Fuller, but there was one more draft pick they brought in to help. Braxton Miller was one of the most prolific QBs in college football before a shoulder injury, JT Barrett and Cardale Jones knocked Miller out of his starting QB spot and into the WR room.
Miller gained national attention as a WR when he had a highlight real spin against Virgina Tech. The funny thing about that play is that it actually came out the wildcat formation, but it still shows his open field ability. At the NFL Combine, Miller posted a 96th percentile agility score indicating that his open field ability wasn’t a fluke.
I’ve been pretty down on the Texans’ offensive prospects this year and that extends to Miller. I expect Miller to have two or three long TDs or big plays, but absolutely no week-to-week consistency. Any value for Miller would have to come from the slot and underneath, but CJ Fiedorowicz is 6′ 7″ and has that pretty well locked up.
JJ Watt’s Return Makes This Defense How Good?
The No. 1 yardage defense in the NFL will see the return of three-time Defensive Player of the Year, JJ Watt. Just how good will the Texans defense be in 2017?
The Texans were second in pass yards allowed, but 12th in rushing defense. With Watt’s return and the loss of corner AJ Bouye, I’d expect those rankings to switch while the defense continues to limit team scoring.
The fantasy effect of Watt’s return is that he makes nearly all non-elite players unstartable. Quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, and Joe Flacco are going to be risky options in their respective weeks. Expect the Texans’ defense to maintain its ferocious ways with JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus once again terrorizing opposing QBs and RBs.
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Texans training camp, check out HoustonTexans.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others.