Head Coach: Bill O’Brien
Defensive Coordinator: Mike Vrabel
D-line Coach: Anthony Weaver
Linebacker Coach: Bobby King
D-backs Coach: John Butler
Team Needs: DT starter, DE starter, S starter, CB depth
Draft Picks: 3rd Round (68), 3rd Round (80), 4th Round (99), 6th Round (163), 7th Round (196)
The Texans had some questions coming into the season, to which they got the answers, but not all those answers were good. Injuries once again reared their ugly head and put a significant damper on what seemed to be a promising season. They have a lot of really nice pieces to build around; they just have to get and stay healthy to take advantage of them. The Texans ranked 20th in the league, with 346.6 yards allowed per game, but finished with a league-worst 27.2 ppg allowed. A closer look at their team numbers shows that their deficiencies in the pass rush (23rd with 32 sacks) and inability to cover on the backend (20th with 11 interceptions), were big issues for that defense.
Even with such bad numbers, there were some bright spots for the defense and fantasy owners that had key Texan defenders on their roster. Linebacker, Bedardrick McKinney led the team in tackles with 95 and rookie phenom LB, Zach Cunningham finished 2nd with 90. In the sack department, OLB JaDeveon Clowney led the team with 9½. As you can tell, the linebacker group was their strongest group. In the secondary, their best playmakers were FS Andre Hal, who had 71 tackles and a team-leading 3 interceptions and CB Kareem Jackson, who had 73 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack and eleven pass breakups.
Among the front line of the defense, DE DJ Reader was their only real consistent presence, as he recorded 47 tackles and one sack. It’s clear that injuries (LB Whitney Mericlus and the loss of superstar DE J.J. Watt), had a big effect on this team. With a fully healthy defensive unit intact, the result would be much different. Take note, that the Texans will have to make some key contract and player health decisions, over next couple years. Those decisions will be huge factors in how this team will look in future. Now that we have a sense of how the Texans season faired, we can look ahead to 2018 and make a quality assessment on who/who not to own in fantasy.
Snap Counts: DJ Reader 526, Brandon Dunn 419, Carlos Watkins 330, Joel Heath 325, Angelo Blackson 195
DT, D.J. Reader
Reader will be entering the third year of a four year/$2.55 million deal. He improved his game, both at stopping the run and rushing the passer. While he more than doubled his tackle totals (47), his sack total (1) didn’t reflect his improvement. D.J. did record 5+ tackles in a game, on six different occasions. He should be the starter in 2018, and with a healthy team around him, the Texans should get a great look at how good he can be.
DT, Carlos Watkins
The Texans drafted Watkins in the 4th round (142) of 2017 draft and signed him to a deal of four years/ $2.819 million. Like most rookie DTs, he got off to a slow start and earned limited playing time as he learned the pro game. Once he got acclimated, he showed the toughness and physicality, which the Texans wanted at that position. He only had twenty-one tackles on the season but recorded 13 of them over the last six games of the season. If he can take the next step of improvements, then he could challenge DJ Reader for the starting job. At the least, I see him being involved in a heavy rotation.
Snap Counts: JJ Watt 218, Ufomba Kamalu 183, Christian Covington 166, Gimel President 67
DE, J.J. Watt
Watt is one the dominant defensive players to play in the league, since maybe Lawrence Taylor. He is everything that you want and then some. The only knock on him is his ability to stay healthy. After not missing a game in his first five seasons, he has missed 24 over the last two. Watt is one of the rare players that makes everyone around him better. When healthy, he ranks among the league leaders in sacks and can disrupt the game from every facet.
The Texans have him locked up contractually until the 2022 season. From the 2012-2015 seasons, he recorded an absurd 70 sacks and 41 pass breakups. You just don’t see that type of production every day and can see why the Texans defense is so tough to crack.
DL, Christian Covington
A rotational D-lineman that due to all the injuries who was forced to play more snaps and out of position at times. Covington will be entering the final year of his four year/ $2.37 million rookie deal in 2018 and hopefully put together a good season. His 2017 season was limited to seven games after he tore his bicep in week 8 versus the Seahawks. Up to that point, he was on pace to set career highs in tackles and sacks. While he is a good player and can help your team, he is not one that you want to be a starter in my opinion. Next year will tell us a lot about his future.
DL, Ufomba Kamalu
Usually, backup rotational D-lineman have little value, but Kamalu is an interesting piece. He was signed as a free agent before 2017 season, to be no more than a depth piece and give the occasional rest at best. Then why mention him? Well, he rotated in all along the d-line and in the limited amount of snaps he received on the year, he did record two sacks. Two sacks is the same amount as Reader and Watkins combined, on roughly 600 fewer snaps. I don’t expect him to be the next Aaron Donald or Ndamukong Suh, but he could develop into a viable piece in future.
Snap Counts: Benardrick McKinney 963. JaDeveon Clowney 898, Zach Cunningham 816, Brennan Scarlett 302, Dylan Cole 205, Whitney Mercilus 204, Brian Cushing 165, Jelani Jenkins 81, LaTroy Lewis 68, Brian Peters 67
ILB, Benardrick McKinney
McKinney has one year left on his current four year/ $5.3 million deal and will be a free agent in 2019 if he’s not resigned. It’s hard to imagine that the Texans would allow a player, with his talents to leave. He led the team in tackles, for the 2nd consecutive season, with 95 and added ten tackles for a loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and a pass break up. His numbers were down a bit from last year, but everyone’s numbers suffered without the presence of J.J. Watt. He’s very athletic and intelligent, and along with Zach Cunningham, they will be a formidable duo as the ILBs. 2018 will be a contract year for McKinney, and he will want to have a big year so that he can land a big contract.
OLB, JaDeveon Clowney Clowney
The freaky athletic Clowney will enter the final year of his four year/$22.72 million contract in 2018. Like McKinney above, he is an integral part of this defense. Clowney has improved every year, and his stats show just that. He’s the teams best pass rusher, other than J.J. Watt, and led the team, this season with a career-high 9½. It gets better as 2017, was his best season, as he also set career highs in tackles (59), tackles for loss (21), forced fumbles (2), fumble recoveries (2) and his 1st career defensive touchdown. Just imagine what he will do for an encore, in a contract year, along with a healthy Watt and company.
ILB, Zach Cunningham
The Texans drafted Cunningham in the 2nd round of 2017 Draft and signed him to a four year/$4.471 million contract. This contract allows them to have control of an extremely good player for cheap. He had an outstanding rookie season despite, starting out as a backup. With Brian Cushing suspended again, he stepped in to fill that spot and never looked back. His snaps played count was fifth best among Houston defenders, and that was with him starting the season as a backup.
It’s one thing to get a high volume of snaps as a young player, but more importantly how you produce. Cunningham passed the test with flying colors, as he recorded 90 total tackles, which was 2nd best on the team and had five tackles for a loss, 1½ sacks, one forced fumble and six pass deflections, which was good enough to tie for 3rd on the team. A tackling machine with a bright future ahead and should man the middle for years to come.
OLB, Whitney Mercilus
The Texans have two more years left with Mercilus, on his five year/$27.43 million deal. Another key component to this defense that will become a free agent (2020), shortly. 2018 will be his seventh season, all with the Texans. Mercilus will look to rebound from an injury-riddled 2017, in which he missed eleven games, with a torn pectoral muscle. He has been a really good pass rusher (38½ career sacks) and has a nose for forcing turnovers (7 forced & 6 recoveries). I do wonder if 2015 (career-best 52 tackles and 12 sacks) was his peak? He did follow that up with another solid season (51 tackles, 7.5 sacks & 4 fumble recoveries) and I think those numbers are what we can expect from him going forward.
ILB, Brian Cushing
He has two years left on a six year/$55.643 million deal and is set to become a free agent in 2020. However, after multiple PED suspensions and injuries, along with the emergence of star rookie Cunningham, the Texans could look to try and move him in a trade or possibly even cut him at some point. He’s set to make $7.25 & $8.25 over the final two years of the deal and in my opinion that’s a bit much for someone who’s now become a backup.
The 2018 season will be his tenth year in the league, but the veteran defender is still a solid player when he’s on the field. A very good tackler (three 100 tackle seasons), who does provide the Texans with some quality depth. Depending on how the team views his multiple PED suspensions, he could remain with the team, but it will be in a backup role moving forward.
LB, Dylan Cole
In the 2017 draft, the Texans selected Dylan Cole from Missouri St for three years/ $1.66 million deal. While he mostly provided depth as a backup, he did produce fairly well on limited snaps. He only had sixteen tackles on the year but did record one sack and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown versus the Titans, in week 4. As long as Cushing is still with the team, I wouldn’t expect much more from Cole, but if the Texans decide to move on from Cushing, then Cole could become an interesting piece. He seems to be comfortable playing in coverage and makes smart decisions
Snap Counts: Kareem Jackson 872, Jonathan Joseph 748, Kevin Johnson 581, Marcus Williams 147, Jonathan Banks 89, Treston Decoud 51
CB, Kareem Jackson
Jackson is an eight-year veteran and had one of his better seasons in 2017. He set a career high in tackles (73) as well as getting his first ever sack. Jackson will be entering the final year of a four year/$34 million deal and set become a free agent in 2019. He has shown no signs of slowing down at this point of career, as he has increased his tackle totals, in each of the last six seasons. He helped his stock, by getting some reps at safety. Anything you can do to prolong your career is a good thing, and if you can do it well, then that’s even better. I still expect him to be a starting corner for Houston in 2018.
CB, Johnathan Joseph
Joseph a 12-year veteran corner will hit the free agent market at the close of the season. There is a good chance that he could resign with Texans for 2018 or longer. His durability and consistent play will be well worth considering. If he does indeed resign, I see him continuing with the same role. He has twenty-eight career interceptions, five of which he has returned to the house for scores and whopping 169 pass breakups. Even if Joseph isn’t what he used to be, there is a lot of value in having a savvy vet around that knows what to do on a consistent basis.
CB, Kevin Johnson
Johnson will be entering the final year of his four year/$10 million deal. Despite missing five weeks with an MCL injury, he played a lot of meaningful snaps for Houston in 2017. He also missed twelve games in 2016, so staying healthy is an issue for him. If he can remedy that, he has the potential to be a nice piece in nickel and dime situations. He recorded 45 tackles this past season, of which 35 were of the solo variety. This tells me he will and can be trusted to hold up in one on one coverage.
Snap Counts: Andre Hal 943, Marcus Gilchrist 817, Eddie Pleasant 307, Corey Moore 240, Kurtis Drummond 74
S, Andre Hal
The Texans signed Hal, to a four year/$15.69 million deal at the start of the season. The 4th year safety responded with a career-high in tackles (71), while adding three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Andre has improved over the course of his four seasons and looks to be a good player for a secondary that’s getting a little long in the tooth. At age 25, he is just hitting his stride and should provide the Texans with some consistency and production at the back end of the defense.
S, Marcus Gilchrist
Not quite the player he was when he played for the LA Chargers at the beginning of his career, but he still is an effective and serviceable player. The Texans signed Gilchrist to a one year deal before the start of the season so that he will become a free agent at the close of the season. On the year he recorded 56 tackles, one sack, and one interception, so he played well enough that the Texans might entertain bringing him back for another year.
ILB: Zach Cunningham He’s a buy in all leagues and formats. He finished 2nd on the team in tackles and has an excellent opportunity to lead them in that category next season. He took over the starting job when incumbent Brian Cushing was suspended and never looked back. I expect him to make a big leap in production in year two. If you can acquire him this offseason, then I suggest you do, as his stock will only increase.
OLB: Jadeveon Clowney He put together a career season last year and next year should be even better. With all the young guys having a full season of experience under their belt and all those that had injuries healed up, Clowney could be poised for a huge season for fantasy owners.
DE: J.J. Watt If you are going to make a move to try and get Watt, then now is the time. His value is as low as it will get, after being injured for last two seasons. Even still, you may have to give up quite a bit to get him, but the return could be off the charts if he returns to MVP form.
ILB: Brian Cushing While he still is a good player, his best days are behind him. He’s been replaced as a starter by the young rookie star and his repeated PED offenses, have made him expendable. I would suggest getting whatever you can for him at this point. Maybe try trading him in a package deal to an LB needy fantasy team.
OLB: Whitney Mercilus while he isn’t a fantasy star, he is a very solid player on a weekly basis.
LB: Dylan Cole Buried on the depth chart at the moment, but with the possibility that Cushing could be moved or cut, then Cole’s value would increase a lot. He produced when given the opportunities and I expect that to continue with more playing time.