For a fourth straight season, Razzball will be interviewing local NFL beat writers for some actual in-depth football knowledge to shed some additional light on our fantasy football knowledge. Keep your eye out for an interview for every NFL team through the summer. This installment comes courteous of Stephanie Stradley from leading Houston Texans blog The Houston Chronicle’s Ultimate Texans blog:
1) Arian Foster is still the obvious big fantasy name there in Houston and is coming off a slightly down year strictly on a fantasy scoring per-game basis. His YPC has gone down three straight seasons as has his receptions. Are you worried at all about his workload? Or is he still going to be the elite running back he’s always been since becoming the starter?
I think from just a probabilities standpoint, most folks are concerned with the number of touches that he has had the last couple of years. In 2011, he had to be the workhorse of the offense getting them to the playoffs due to injuries to Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. In 2012, he got more touches than even the Texans staff wanted to give him due to the injury to Ben Tate. So from a probability standpoint given the injury numbers regarding backs with over a certain number of carries, yes, fans should be wary of him being part of that group.
But as for him specifically and not as a part of a statistical group, in 2013, I do not have the panic-in-the-streets feeling some have that he can’t come back from the calf injury he suffered in OTAs. Gary Kubiak trusts what he can do. He doesn’t need to get every rep in the Houston heat. Though some people were alarmed that there wasn’t a specific date given on his return from camp quotes, those of us who are at camp have seen all the work he has been doing on the rehabilitation field. Matt Schaub didn’t seem to be concerned about his return when I asked him specifically about Foster (he had been throwing to Foster after practice the day before). I think the Texans are just being very safe with him.
Ultimately, I think their goal of touches would be more in line with what Foster/Tate had in 2011. It is also worth noting, Kubiak likes to reward players who have been practicing well, and reward players who are trying to prove themselves in contract years. If Ben Tate continues to perform in camp the way that he’s been performing, Kubiak will give him an opportunity to prove himself.
As for the YPC/receptions, I think that there are reasons that have nothing to do with his individual conditioning. In both 2011 and 2012, he played with a better defense and played more with leads. The Texans are not afraid to run against unfavorable fronts with a lead to burn clock. In 2011, T.J. Yates instead of Matt Schaub at the end of the year tended to shrink the field. In 2012, I think the rotational line play did him no favors. In addition, I think some of the passes that would have gone to Foster in year’s past, instead were called for James Casey. I believe they decreased his receiving targets because he was getting so many carries. Worth noting that some say the YPC number is a little overrated because of a lack of stability of that number from year to year.
Ultimately, from a fantasy football perspective, it is important to note that offensive coordinator Rick Dennison wants to be able to run at will in the red zone for TDs to impose the offensive line’s will. And probably the best running back in the NFL to patiently walk his way into the end zone is Arian Foster.
2) Andre Johnson was awesome last year, setting a career-high in receiving yards that I think went a little bit under the radar with Calvin Johnson’s huge year. Maybe I’m wrong on that because I didn’t draft AJ anywhere and wish I did! Will he repeat last year’s performance this upcoming season?
If Andre Johnson is healthy, expect Andre Johnson to get his targets. Gary Kubiak promised to increase his targets after he became head coach and it happened. Every 16 game season he has had since Kubiak has been coach, he’s had over 100 targets. Even when David Carr was quarterback.
3) With Kevin Walter leaving in free agency, rookie DeAndre Hopkins is looking at a starting role opposite Andre Johnson. He has some pretty solid hype, but there still hasn’t been that big season across from AJ in recent memory. What do you expect from Hopkins this year?
That is a difficult question because there isn’t much history of Gary Kubiak putting a promising, first round rookie wide receiver in the starting lineup week right away.
Hopkins is clearly talented. His catch radius is huge. The biggest question for him is whether he can learn the position well enough to allow his athleticism to show, and for Kubiak to trust him with more of the playbook.The Texans expect a lot from their wide receivers, and like those from the Bill Walsh-tree, Kubiak doesn’t want to overburden young receivers too much, too soon with too much thinking.
I have an entire blog post on this subject fittingly entitled, “What are the realistic projections for DeAndre Hopkins?”
4) Owen Daniels was fairly solid last year at TE for fantasy owners, but he still hasn’t gotten back to that top-tier level yet. He did have a whopping 104 targets last year, so he’s still getting a lot of looks. Any optimism he could have another 800-yard season?
Matt Schaub has great chemistry with both Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. Understandably. They are both 3rd down move the chains guys that he depends on. I’m not sure you can expect a monster season out of OD, but with DeAndre Hopkins on the field, it may end up giving OD more open looks. The difficulty from a fantasy perspective is that the Texans run a lot of two TE sets, especially with leads, and the TE catches will be split.
5) Matt Schaub had another 4,000 yard season but only threw for 22 touchdowns, his lowest in a full season for the Texans. Will he throw for more scores in your mind, or is this still a team focused more on defense and Foster running the scores in?
As I noted as a play calling preference, Dennison prefers to run in the red zone if they are able to. Even though Schaub had a 4000 yard season, it was his least efficient career season, with the obviously poor performances down the stretch. Another year removed from his foot injury, he looks much better this camp. I expect his numbers to be better, but not huge. Projections suggest that the Texans defense will be good again, and if the Texans get a lead, Kubiak tends to want to play keep away with the run in the second half of games. Schaub’s best years were when the Texans defense was among the league’s worse, and they had to be aggressive to have even a chance to win.
Bonus Question! – You gave me a heads up you were heading to camp, which is awesome as you’re one of our most plugged-in writers that’s a friend of Razzball Nation. What things do you look for in camps, fantasy or otherwise?
The first thing I look for is conditioning and shape. How do the players look in comparison to the previous year?
After that, it is mostly making my own observations to separate what is real from what is hype. For example, most camp reports in 2012 said that rookie WR X, Y, or Z was ahead for a particular day. And my observation over the entire OTAs and camp was, hey, I’m not seeing that. I’m seeing inconsistency.
Or, being able to eyeball rehabbing players to see if I think discussions of their return are real or fake or overly alarmist.
People can watch the same thing and see different things, and the only way I know to make sure I agree with those assessments is to see them myself.
I watch a lot of the drill stuff to see players more as individuals and to hear assistant coach comments. Under the terms of the media credentialling, we can’t report those comments, but they often give you a sense of the progress of players and what the points of emphasis are.
Oh, and sometimes, I ask questions specifically because I know fantasy football people will like to know these things. Like the one in this post: “Gary Kubiak thinks too much Andre Johnson is just right.”
Ultimately, my focus in my writing is the reader. I don’t care about manufacturing news. My thoughts are always, “What would I like to know about camp if I weren’t there?” “What are details that may help fans out, whether it is for fantasy reasons or details that would make watching the games more enriched?” “How can I make it feel like fans are there?”
I’m not really interested in breaking news because other people tend to do that better, and I’m not looking to duplicate other’s efforts. I’m always looking to help fan understanding of the game and the team, and often I will ask questions not for a story, but just so that the story can be written by someone.
Stephanie Stradley (@StephStradley) has written a Houston Texans blog for the Houston Chronicle online since 2006. In time for the 2013 season, they recently moved her writing to the Chronicle’s Ultimate Texans blog. She’s also a lawyer, and you can find her random, non-Texans writing at her personal blog.