Houston Texans fantasy football draft preview: A real Schaub story

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It was a disappointing finish for the Texans last year, but Houston is still loaded with some of the most elite players in the game. Which ones should you be drafting in your league?

The Texans have been an offense trending upward for longer than it might seem, having jumped from 28th in total yards in 2006 to 14th in that same category in 2007, the first year of the Matt Schaub era. That's the lowest they've ranked in that statistic with Schaub, averaging a ranking of 7.3 during his six years, Schaub injuries notwithstanding.

And that's really the crux of any argument when discussing the Texans and fantasy football: What's the status of Matt Schaub? Battle Red Blog wrote about Schaub's apparent "dead arm" last year and noted how the team underperformed at times because of it. This includes a stretch of back-to-back OT games against the Jaguars and Lions that occurred over a five day period. A real Schaub story if I've ever heard one.

But while some are ready to write off Houston as having passed their window of opportunity and not being able to trust an "aging" 32-year-old Schaub, there's still good reason to bet that the Texans remain the best team in the division, and possibly the best in the entire AFC. They are absolutely 100 percent better than the Colts, and any argument against that is ludicrous as of right now. Schaub is still there. Arian Foster is still one of the best running backs in the league. Andre Johnson is coming off of maybe the best season of his career, and some would comfortably say that first round pick DeAndre Hopkins was the best receiver in the 2013 class.

The Texans might have more thirtysomethings than Bedford Falls, but they're hardly old. Now, if they can only escape that injury bug for the first time in ever.

Quarterbacks

Matt Schaub, 32

2012 stats: 350-of-544, 64.3 percent, 4,008 yards, 22 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 7.4 yards per attempt, no rushing game to speak of.

Schaub's yards per attempt had been trending upward in Houston, but did he peak in 2009? That season, Schaub completed 67.9 percent of his passes (while leading the league in completions and attempts) for 4,770 yards, 8.2 yards per attempt, and 29 touchdowns. In 2010 he was trending downward again, and in 2011 hit IR with the all-of-a-sudden trendy Lisfranc injury, though he boasted a career-high 8.5 yards per attempt.

Last season's 7.4 was the worst of his Houston career, and fantasy owners who rode Schaub like a Texas rodeo thingy (I'm not much of a cowboy) to the playoffs with 21 touchdowns in his first 12 games were treated to only a single touchdown and three interceptions over his final four games.

Basically, you probably didn't win your fantasy championship with Schaub. So what is to be expected of him this season? There's several possibilities:

  • Schaub gets hurt. He's missed at least five starts in three of his six seasons with the Texans. This always puts him in the "caution" category if drafted, and he shouldn't be selected as your starter without a significantly high-upside or safe backup.
  • Schaub doesn't get hurt, last season was a fluke. A healthy Matt Schaub has never been a bad Matt Schaub. He's reliable, even if he's not Drew Brees-level exciting. Though he did drop four touchdowns on the Broncos in Week 3 and five on the Jaguars in Week 11. He's got big-play potential, but is almost a guarantee of 22-to-29 touchdowns and 4,000 yards with about a dozen interceptions.
  • Schaub doesn't get hurt, but his lowering Y/A last season wasn't just a dead arm. It was also the dying heart of a Schaub fantasy owner. Players do regress, but rarely this quickly and rarely when they've had 81 pretty-good starts to prove themselves.

In real life, I'm a Matt Schaub fan and believe the Texans have the right guy to possibly win a Super Bowl this year. In fantasy, he's my "safe school." I want Stanford (Robert Griffin III) not Arizona State, but I'll settle if I have to (I don't know who I just offended, but it was somebody and it was worth it).

Schaub carries risk due to injury, and the reward just doesn't seem to have the kind of payoff you're expecting in a passing league. If you pass on QB over and over again in your draft and Schaub is left hanging, he's someone you want to grab. But just grab a backup soon after that.

Then again, he gets six games against the defenses in the AFC South.

2013 Prediction: 370-of-550, 67.2 percent, 4,300 yards, 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 7.8 yards per attempt

Backup QBs:

T.J. Yates, Case Keenum

These sound exactly like the names of backup quarterbacks in Texas. Fair that Keenum is from Abilene and went to Houston. That Yates might be a Georgia boy, but Yates sounds like a Texan name to me anyway. But can he play?

Meh.

Yates is the incumbent backup, having previously made five starts during his rookie season in 2011. He was underwhelming, though "he" did "win" his first playoff start. The next week he threw three interceptions in a loss to Baltimore. Yates and Keenum are neck-and-neck to be the backup to Schaub.

None of these players would provide any interest unless first Schaub got hurt and then second, they did something. The first part is possible but the second part is really unlikely.

Running Backs

Arian Foster, 27

2012 stats: 351 carries, 1,424 yards, 15 touchdowns, 4.1 yards per carry, 89 yards per game, 40 catches, 217 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 fumbles.

An important thing to note with fantasy football or regular football, in particular with running backs, is that plenty of players peak early. Not that they get bad all of a sudden, but remember the "contact" part of this sport and know that it's perfectly normal to have a huge year and then never approach that again.

Clinton Portis scored 17 total touchdowns as a rookie, 14 touchdowns in his second year, and then never really came came close to those numbers or his 5.5 yards per carry again.

Ricky Williams broke out for a huge season at age 25, rushing for 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns on 4.8 yards per carry while leading the league in carries. He led the league in carries again the next year, but went all the way down to 3.5 yards per.

Travis Henry scored 25 total touchdowns over his second and third seasons, and then scored eleven touchdowns the rest of his career.

Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns during his third season, and was never quite the same.

The key isn't finding Foster, everyone knows about him, the key is to find the next Foster.

Foster was the best running back in the league in 2010, if not the most valuable overall player. He ran for 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns, with 66 catches for 604 yards and two more touchdowns. The next year he ran for 1,224 yards in 13 games, but his yards per carry dropped from 4.9 to 4.4. Last year, he led the league in carries, and saw his yards per carry dip to 4.1, though he scored 17 touchdowns. He also saw his receiving yards per game drop from 47.5 to 13.6.

Without a doubt, Foster will be one of the top picks in your fantasy draft. He very well might be the best player. LaDanian Tomlinson didn't stop producing after three years, neither did Shaun Alexander. But word to the wise: It's possible that Foster's best days are behind him. The key isn't finding Foster, everyone knows about him, the key is to find the next Foster.

2013 Prediction: 320 carries, 1,344 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns, 35 catches, 300 yards, 2 touchdowns

What did Texans blog Battle Red Blog have to say about Foster? Writer Brett Kollman had this to add about his 2012 season:

Foster is still out with his back soreness, and Tate is out with a groin. Not sure on either of their statuses but I'm 99% sure they are both ready to roll week 1. As for Foster's diminished YPC last season, most of that is attributed to his terribad right side of the offensive line, which has been dealt with for the most part. New starting right guard Brandon Brooks has had a hell of a camp blocking everyone in sight (including Watt), and should immediately bolster the blocking in front of Foster. Greg Jones doesn't hurt either as our first real fullback since Leach in 2010, when Foster ran for 1600 yards.

Ben Tate

2012 stats: 65 carries, 279 yards, two touchdowns

Well, Tate is in dangerous territory of also being a guy that might have his best days behind him. After rushing for an incredible 942 yards in mostly a backup role in 2011, Tate was being seen as a player who could be your RB2 even though he was the RB2 on his own team.

And then he wasn't even that anymore.

Tate ran for 74 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2, and then nothing. Battling injuries and a more-productive Justin Forsett, Tate didn't score for the rest of the year and dropped from 5.4 yards per carry in 2011 to 4.3.

Remember that it was Tate, not Foster, who was supposed to be the next big thing in Houston. He was a second round draft pick in 2010, but went on IR before the year and as they say in Hollywood, "a star was born."  He's proven effective in the past, with Football Outsiders ranking him as one of the top backs in the NFL in 2011, but he's in a bad position right now.

Which is exactly why he might be a late-round steal, but is also a must-draft if you take Foster.

2013 Prediction: 120 carries, 576 yards, four touchdowns

Backup RBs: Cierre Wood

With Forsett gone to Jacksonville, Tate doesn't have that kind of veteran experience threatening carries again but it doesn't mean he's not threatened. Even though Wood went undrafted this year, a guy named "Foster" also went seven rounds without hearing his name called.

Wood was one of the top high school backs in the country and went to Notre Dame, gaining over 1,000 yards as a junior. He isn't getting a shot in the NFL for nothing.

Wide Receivers

Andre Johnson, 32

2012 stats: 112 catches, 1,598 yards, 14.3 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns, 69 percent catch rate, 0 fumbles.

At first, it was hard to believe that Johnson could have a career-year at 31, but then when put into perspective it's not that hard to understand. Johnson, thus far, is one of the best receivers of all time. One of the most productive. Why should he stop now? Jerry Rice put up 1,503 yards and 15 touchdowns when he was 31 ... and 1,499 yards at 32 ... and 1,848 yards at 33 ... and had 108 catches at 34 ... and had 92 catches for 1,211 yards when he was 40.

Johnson is far from done, but the presence of Hopkins will draw some attention away from Johnson by both defenses and Schaub.

2013 Prediction: 100 catches, 1,400 yards, 7 touchdowns

DeAndre Hopkins, 21

Rookie, 27th overall pick

As a junior last year, Hopkins had 82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns for Clemson. He's not the tallest, the strongest or the fastest. He needs to make tough catches (he can) and turn them into something (he can). Prior efforts to put a star opposite of Johnson has failed time and time again, but Hopkins (only the second WR the Texans have drafted in the first round, after Johnson) might have the most potential of them all.

And it seems like he's got almost no competition. If Schaub is accurate, with Johnson controlling the opposite side of the field, it could be a productive rookie year for Hopkins.

2013 Prediction: 45 catches, 675 yards, 15 YPC, 4 touchdowns

Backup WRs

Lestar Jean, 25 - 2012 stats: 6 catches, 151 yards, 1 touchdown

DeVier Posey, 23 - 2012 stats: 6 catches, 87 yards, 0 touchdowns

Keshawn Martin, 23 - 2012 stats: 10 catches, 85 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 carries for 53 yards

Barring a big preseason from one of these players, it's not likely that any Texans receivers get drafted other than Johnson and Hopkins. But that doesn't mean that one of them couldn't produce.

Posey was one of the other players implicated alongside Terrelle Pryor at Ohio State in "Pants-gate" but was also a third round pick just last season. But he tore his Achilles tendon in January and also had just 87 yards last year. He's bubbling with potential but I'd still err on the side of thinking that he'll begin the year on PUP.

Martin was the team's fourth round pick last season. He wasn't productive as a receiver, but should be active in the return game.

Jean has fans and some expect him to breakout for the Texans this year, but he's yet to produce anything more than a couple of big plays during his two seasons, the first of which was spent on IR with a shoulder injury.  Jean did not get good reviews in the first preseason game.

Tight Ends

Owen Daniels, 30

2012 stats: 62 catches, 716 yards, 6 touchdowns

Before all the current hoopla surrounding tight ends, Owen Daniels was as productive as you could hope for on this side of Gates and Gonzalez. Now he's just ... your backup plan. It certainly seems like he could have been just as productive as Graham or Gronk, though. (Other than the fact that his name isn't Owen Ganiels, since apparently a good tight end has to have a last name that star's with 'G'.)

Daniels had 862 yards in 2008 and was on pace to destroy that the next season. In eight games, Daniels finished with 40 catches for 519 yards and five touchdowns, but Daniels tore his ACL against the Bills and that was it. He played in eleven games in 2010 and had just 471 yards, and he hasn't topped 50 yards per game since. Daniels is coming off of a Pro Bowl bid and has seen the likes of Joel Dreessen and now James Casey leave in free agency, but it seems like we've seen the best of him.

Which is still pretty good, just not as good as the G's.

2013 Prediction: 65 catches, 650 yards, 3 touchdowns

Rookie Ryan Griffin (UCONN, sixth round) will compete with Garrett Graham (28 catches, 263 yards in 2012) for catches and yardage behind Daniels. The Texans like to use their tight ends, especially around the end zone, so don't be surprised if someone besides Daniels emerges for 5 or 6 scores. Last year no team went with two-tight end, six o-lineman sets as often as Houston did.

Team Defense

2012 Rankings: 9th in scoring, 7th in yardage, 16th in passing yards allowed, 7th in rushing yards allowed, 14th in interceptions, 1st in rushing touchdowns allowed, 44 sacks led by 20.5 from JJ Watt.

The big additions on defense were D.J. Swearinger (FS, 2nd round), Sam Montgomery (OLB/DE, 3rd round), Ed Reed, and a healthy Brian Cushing. Cushing missed all but five games in 2012, and the Texans went 5-0 in those games with the most points allowed being 25 against the Broncos. Then they went 7-4 without him and allowed more than 25 points five times, and then gave up 41 to the Patriots in the playoffs.

The defense is significantly better with Cushing. If he's healthy and the same player he was in 2011, then the Texans should be a top five defense. Their early schedule has some soft landing spots like the Titans, Rams, Chiefs, Cardinals, Raiders and Jaguars but be wary of their schedule down the stretch -- Patriots in Week 13, Colts in Week 15, and Broncos in Week 16.

The Texans are a great defense to draft, but you may want to pawn them off for a good backup plan in the middle of the year.

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