For yet another season, Razzball will be interviewing local NFL beat writers for some in-depth actual football knowledge to sway some insight in our fantasy football knowledge. Keep your eye out for an interview for every NFL team through the summer and check out each one on the “2012 Fantasy Football Team Previews” link. Our first installment comes courteous of Stephanie Stradley who writes for a prominent Houston Texans blog:
1. Arian Foster persevered after the infamous “anti-awesome white stuff” tweet, and even after missing time, was one of the best fantasy running backs in 2012. He is now the clear number one selection in 2012 fantasy football. Do you have any concerns regarding his workload the past few seasons? And do you think we see about the same workload for Ben Tate spelling Foster if both backs stay healthy?
It’s hard to predict injuries, but as illustrated by the contract they gave Foster, the Texans will want to give him every opportunity to succeed. I see them continuing to use Tate in the change of pace, middle of the field role, giving Foster breathers. In blow out games, Tate will get more opportunities. Against bad teams, it’s a possibility that both will get big carries.
The Texans staff/players believe that the defense will continue to improve as the players get a full camp to implement the entirety of Wade Phillips’ defensive scheme. Assuming average to above average defensive performance, the Texans will continue to maintain their preferred game plan: use their offense to get to an early lead and then use the running game to chew clock and wear opposing defenses out in the second half.
Rick Dennison has made it clear since he became the offensive coordinator that his first choice is to impose the Texans will in the red zone with the run. Foster will get the majority of those touches assuming health.
The biggest question mark for the offense is the unproven players at the right tackle and right guard positions replacing the tough options of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. The Texans have very good offensive line coaching, but until the replacement players prove that they can play a 16-game regular season, we will not know for certain.
2. Speaking of healthy, Andre Johnson could easily have been the best WR of the past decade if he could stay on the field. There’s no denying how dominant he is when he plays. Is there any talk of his off-season workouts or any plans he has regarding injury prevention for the upcoming season? Or should fantasy owners expect a few games out again this year?
Andre Johnson is one of the fittest people on the Houston Texans at any age and always comes into camp in shape. The hamstring issues that he suffered last season were a first for him. In his career, he’s had 5 years of 16 games, 2 years of 13 games, 1 year of 9 games, and last year with 7 games (though he was likely held out longer than he wanted to as a playoff precaution).
In his years with Kubiak, whether he has missed games or not, 4 of the 6 years he’s had over 1,000 yards, and has always led the team in explosive plays. The Texans offensive scheme typically is set up to go to the open target, but when Andre Johnson is healthy, the target preference is usually AJ and then everybody else.
As a player ages, certainly injuries are a concern, but if he is healthy, he will be the highest performing receiving target for the team even if the Texans get into more run oriented games. I do not think fantasy players should expect a performances of 1500+ yards as we saw in 2008 and 2009 because the Texans had to throw the ball a lot due to poor defensive performances and falling behind in games. Even so, 1100+ yards would not be surprising—he was on pace for those numbers last year with an improved defense before he was hurt.
3. Keeping the theme going (sorry to be so injury-dreary!), but Matt Schaub has had numerous injuries keeping him off the field as well. I know a lot of his injuries have been fluky, but do you see the Texans’ offense soaring again or will Schaub be slowed from his Lisfranc surgery and missed time?
Last year was a tough one for injuries for the Texans offense as Schaub, Johnson and Foster only played together for less than 4 quarters last year. As with many other teams, you need to look at public injury statements about players with a great degree of skepticism. However, there is nothing with the Texans off-season moves that make you think that Schaub is expected to miss time.
All the public statements given by the Texans and by Schaub are that his recovery is on course.
For fantasy players, it is worth looking in particular at the Texans matchups week-to-week. Schaub is going to be facing some very good pass rushers, and with the changes on the Texans offensive line, it will be interesting to see if they can conduct their offense as usual and whether Schaub can stay in one piece.
4. With the departure of Joel Dreessen to the Broncos, Owen Daniels looks to have a huge role in the offense like he did in 2009 before he tore his ACL in week 8. Daniels was destroying it that year before that unfortunate injury and hasn’t really put up the numbers since. Is Daniels in store for a big year?
Joel Dreessen last year acted as the sneaky TD vulture at the goal line with an absurd TD-to-catch ratio. Dreessen would end up being the guy not covered as defenses were paying attention to other Texan weapons. I think the biggest drag on Daniels’ numbers will be the Texans preference to run 2-TE sets in order to disguise run/pass.
They’ve wanted to run a lot of 2-TEs more frequently in the past, but had trouble due to injury at the TE position. The decrease in Daniels’ numbers likely has less to do with injury and Dreessen getting more looks, and more about the vast improvement of the Texans running game with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and the addition of Arian Foster. More reliable targets and a stronger rushing attack means less targets for Daniels.
Schaub has a good rapport with Daniels, and depending on matchups, will have solid games here and there.
5. For years Jacoby Jones was a fantasy sleeper in the Texans offense, but never delivered and now is with the Ravens. Kevin Walter has always been the number two, but has never had a huge season and is coming off his worst year since 2006. At the time of this interview it appears Walter is the number two entering 2012, but there’s got to be another receiver that emerges, perhaps third-round pick DeVier Posey. Who would you pick to have the biggest season behind Johnson and Walter and do you think a receiver surpasses Walter on the depth chart at some point in 2012?
The Texans offense has the same fantasy football issue that a lot of prolific offenses have: Too many targets. Receivers not named Andre Johnson may have big games here or there depending on matchups, but none will likely in the short term be a consistent receiving target.
Gary Kubiak wants his players to meticulously know the playbook to execute the plays exactly as called, so he is very reluctant to put offensive skill position rookies on the field too fast if he has other veteran options. Assuming Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter say healthy, they will be the preferred 1 and 2 options on the field.
Even so, given Johnson and Walters’ ages of 30, the Texans are going to want to develop their future receivers. Fantasy players should monitor coaching discussions of the wide receivers during camp, particularly evaluations of things like blocking, route running, and understanding the playbook, all critical to the offensive scheme working as a whole.
Posey may have a bit of advantage given where he was drafted, but for the skill sets that compliment Johnson and Walter, a player like Keshawn Martin with return skills may get quicker playing time. And as Arian Foster demonstrates, if an undrafted player outperforms those who were chosen in the draft or were brought in as free agents, they can get time too.
Even so, short term and from a fantasy perspective, the most appealing fantasy players will be Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub. Owen Daniels may be a good value choice for someone who needs a TE. There are too many playmakers for the Texans for the rest of the players to contribute much in other than desperation waiver-wire pickups.
Stephanie Stradley is a lawyer who writes a popular Houston Texans blog for the Houston Chronicle online. You can find her on Twitter @StephStradley where she frequently gives out Texans-specific fantasy football information. You can also find her writing for her personal blog at www.StephStradley.com.