Houston seems to have adopted the idea that this year is "playoffs or bust." That won't be a goal easily attained. The Texans will have to beat the Colts and Jaguars in their division, and to do that they will need their below-average defense to improve quite a bit.
An improved running game could also help them reach that goal. Reuniting head coach Gary Kubiak with offensive line guru Alex Gibbs was a great first step. The additions of running backs Chris Brown and rookie Steve Slaton will also help, and could be what ultimately makes their running attack worth mentioning.
Let's look at what other changes they made and how it will affect their fantasy value.
Matt Schaub/Sage Rosenfels
Houston has invested in Schaub and he will be the clear-cut starter this year, but that doesn't mean that he won't be kept on a short leash. Rosenfels filled in for an injured Schaub well last year by throwing for 15 touchdowns and producing very similarly to how Schaub did before he was injured. All that means for this year is that coach Kubiak should feel safe with his quarterback situation and Schaub shouldn't get too comfortable.
Schaub was on pace to have a great year before an injury to his non-throwing shoulder sidelined him. Other than that, he has shown little proof that he can be a top-20 quarterback.
The coaching staff has faith in the inexperienced signal-caller, and some of that trust may come from his great chemistry with top receiver Andre Johnson and his ability to avoid sacks. He's an interesting option, but nothing more than a No. 2 fantasy quarterback at this point.
Rosenfels, on the other hand, has proven to be a professional, better-than-average backup with a killer deep ball. He will be ready to go if Schaub goes down or struggles significantly. He's a solid quarterback, but even if he takes over the starter's role he won't be a solid fantasy option.
Chris Brown/Ahman Green/Steve Slaton
The top-two running backs in Houston can be described in two words: injury prone. Brown and Green just can't seem to stay healthy, and, as a result, will be used in a running back by committee-type of system with fellow backs Steve Slaton and Darius Walker.
Brown is my pick to be the opening-day starter, as he has the most experience outside of Green and fits Houston's zone-blocking, one-cut running scheme. Brown is a power runner who runs inside well and will have his hot streaks, but will more than likely end up with a cast or two on the sidelines by the end of the year.
He makes for an interesting option late in the draft because, if he stays healthy, he can be effective, but that's a big if. He is a No. 5 fantasy back, mostly because of injury concerns.
Green looks to be at the end of his career and Houston will be trying to get one last go out of the banged up veteran. He is coming off of a knee injury last season and most likely won't even be as fast as he was last year. He hold little fantasy value and may end up losing his primary backup job to Slaton.
Slaton is the best back on the team that hasn't been voted "most likely to be on injured reserve." Injuries could put him into the starter's role later in the season. He fits the running scheme at least as well as Brown does and has excellent cutback ability.
On the other hand, he isn't known for breaking tackles and may need to bulk up to fit the starter's role. He could be a good waiver-wire pickup late in the season, but not much else.
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Andre Johnson/Kevin Walter/Owen Daniels
Johnson is a legitimate No. 1 fantasy wide receiver if he can stay healthy. A knee injury cut his season short last year, but in the games he did play, he flashed the ability to fit in with the NFL's elite receivers. I imagine the chemistry he developed with Schaub hasn't gone away, which means his production over an entire season could be scary. His injury history is what holds him back from being a household name.
Walter will be catching the passes Schaub doesn't throw to Johnson or Daniels. Too bad for him there won't be too many of those. In contrast to Johnson, he isn't an injury risk, which helps his value to the team.
The 6'3" receiver is the starter opposite of Johnson now, but he will have to compete with Andre' Davis and Jacoby Jones to keep the spot. He probably shouldn't be drafted, but if Johnson goes down he could be a nice pickup.
Daniels has reliable hands and earned the trust of both quarterbacks last season. He's the No. 2 option in the passing game, but won't get as many red-zone looks as Johnson will. The only thing that could hold him back is his below-average blocking ability and above-average amount of false starts. He is probably the best No. 2 fantasy tight end and could make the jump to No. 1 fantasy tight end this year.
Last year Brown become a long-distance phenom, and will be trying to prove last year wasn't a fluke. His perfect 5-of-5 from beyond 50 yards was his career-best, as was his 57-yard field goal completion. He's an above-average kicker, but isn't more than a No. 2 kicker at the moment.
Mario Williams established his self as a top-flight defensive end toward the end of last year, and, if this defense is going to be effective, he needs to be. Their secondary is their week point and a good pass rush could help to hide that. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye also has to do his part against the pass. The rest of their line consists of role players and adequate gap-fillers.
Young middle line backer Demeco Ryans will also play a pivotal role on the defense. He has the ability to be a solid MLB, but the outside linebackers are a different story. The additions of Kevin Bentley and Chaun Thompson could fix that, as could their decision to draft Xavier Adibi. He has a good motor and was very productive in college, but is undersized.
Fred Bennett stepped up when Dunta Robinson got hurt and played like a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback. If he can repeat that performance, he will greatly improve a bad Texans secondary. Their safeties are below average, and C.C. Brown often gets lost in coverage and needs to improve his tackling ability.
Andre' Davis was the second most effective kickoff returner last year and should continue his success this year. Their return coverage unit has also been upgraded and that could lead to even longer returns on kicks and punts.
The unit holds little fantasy value now, but, if certain things fall into place, they could enjoy a hefty fantasy value gain. Don't jump the gun and draft them, but they may be a unit to watch.
Top-Five Houston Texans Fantasy Players
1. Andre Johnson
2. Matt Schaub
3. Chris Brown
4. Owen Daniels
5. Ahman Green
Bye Week: 8
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