If you're looking for fantasy production, Houston is the place to go.
Last season, the Texans led the entire league in passing, racking up 290.9 yards per game through the air. That was the primary reason they finished fourth it total offense. After such a successful campaign, it would make sense that the players who excelled in 2009 would be the same ones who star in '10. In Houston, however, that doesn't appear to be the case — and fantasy owners need to take notice.
Sure, the two offensive stalwarts who were so effective last season — QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson — are set for another monster year. All Schaub did was throw for 4,770 yards — an '09 high and the sixth-most in NFL history — and Johnson is coming off his second consecutive 100-catch, 1,500-yard campaign. It's safe to say they form one of the most lethal QB-WR combinations in the league. But after that pair, things could look fairly different.
That's because the Texans have discovered a hidden gem in their receiving corps: Jacoby Jones. Now entering his fourth season, Jones showed flashes in ’09, grabbing six TD catches and gaining 16.2 yards per catch. But he didn't get a whole lot of opportunities playing behind Johnson and Kevin Walter, only twice catching more than three passes in a game. Then this offseason, head coach Gary Kubiak realized the untapped potential of Jones and decided to give him a shot at a starting job. Thus far, the results have been very positive.
Adding a speed dimension that Walter lacks, Jones was one of the offense's standouts in training camp, and his stellar play has carried over to the preseason; he snagged five passes for 63 yards and a score against the Cowboys in the third exhibition contest. Whether or not he's technically second or third on the WR depth chart, the 26-year-old is going to play a lot this season, and it looks like he's going to be a prime deep threat for Schaub. Barely on the fantasy radar a year ago, he now appears to be a No. 4 fantasy wideout with definite upside. Walter, meanwhile, has lost much of his luster and is merely a late-round pick at this point.
Another reason Jones could be a major part of the passing attack is because of the health of Owen Daniels. The highly productive tight end was on pace for a huge '09 season when he tore his ACL in Week Eight, an injury that has sidelined him ever since. While Daniels is expected to suit up for the club's big Week One meeting with the Colts, Kubiak already has said that Daniels isn't likely to play more than 15-20 snaps. In addition to that making Daniels a risky fantasy choice, it also means that the Texans will need someone to pick up his slack early on, and Jones very well could be that guy.
But enough about the passing game. What about a Houston rushing attack that ranked a measly 30th last season? More than maybe any area on their squad, the Texans saw a clear need to upgrade the running game, which is why they let Chris Brown and Ryan Moats go and took Auburn RB Ben Tate in Round Two of April's draft. What they didn't know at that time was that their answer was already on the roster.
Kubiak and Co. didn't deploy undrafted rookie Arian Foster until Week 14 of last season, but it didn't take long for him to get going. The Tennessee product had 39 carries for 216 yards and three TDs in the final two contests, proving that he could carry the load and be effective doing so. The Texans surely took notice of his abilities back then, but it wasn't until later this offseason that they fully saw the complete package that Foster is. At 6-1, 229 pounds, he not only can run with power and speed but can also catch passes out of the backfield. He's exactly the player the team has lacked for years, which is why it's ready to hand him the reins.
After his hype built for weeks during the preseason, Foster had a coming-out party against the Cowboys, running for 110 yards and a TD on 18 attempts. It was a performance that instantly shot him up fantasy draft boards and now has him looking like a borderline No. 2 fantasy back. With Tate (leg) out for the season and Steve Slaton relegated to third-down duties at best after flopping big time in '09, Foster is in line to be Houston's bell cow and deserves to be drafted as such.
Not only is it a season of high hopes for the Texans to make their first-ever playoff appearance, but it's also a year in which their offense is expected to be as good or better than it was in 2009. For that to happen, the team will need other skill players besides Schaub and Johnson to emerge. If the preseason is any indication, Jones and Foster are going to be those guys.
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