With their first winning season under their belts, the Texans are hoping to build on their 2009 success by securing the franchise’s first playoff berth in 2010.
With a middle-of-the-pack defense and a running game that struggled for most of the season, the Texans rode the coattails of the team’s passing attack to a 9-7 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. Despite losing tight end Owen Daniels in mid-season, quarterback Matt Schaub threw for just under 4,800 yards, with wide receiver Andre Johnson amassing 1,569 receiving yards.
Despite the team’s success last year passing the ball, head coach Gary Kubiak has spent the offseason emphasizing the team’s need to run the ball and move to a more balanced approach on offense. While the Texans finished 1st in passing offense, they struggled to run the ball, ranking 30th in the league and averaging 3.5 yards per carry (also 30th).
With that in mind, the Texans used a second-round pick on running back Ben Tate, who will compete with Arian Foster and Steve Slaton to be the team’s starter. While a running-back-by-committee approach may be the final option, Kubiak would prefer for one of the three to emerge and carry the load running the ball.
While Johnson has sat out some of the team’s OTAs as a way of showing his displeasure with his current contract, he is a solid citizen who is unlikely to let the situation affect his production this coming season. He is perhaps the league’s top receiver, able to use his speed to beat defenders deep and his size to shield them from passes on short and intermediate routes.
Kevin Walter will battle Jacoby Jones for the starting spot opposite Johnson, with Walter’s experience likely to win that battle. Whoever wins the role figures to benefit from the constant double teams that Johnson faces. At tight end, there is concern that Daniels will not be fully recovered on opening day from the torn ACL that ended his 2009 campaign. Daniels was one of the league’s top receiving tight ends before getting hurt.
With Kubiak guiding the team and entering his fifth season as head coach, the Texans are solid playoff contenders in 2010. However, the team’s rushing attack and defense are going to need to step up for that to finally happen for Texans fans.
QB Matt Schaub
Schaub is coming off a season in which he led the NFL in passing yards and was the 3rd-ranked fantasy quarterback. However, he will have difficulty matching his 2009 production in 2010. The team drafted running back Ben Tate in the second round, and he figures to fulfill the lead back role and be the inside runner the team has lacked in recent seasons. In addition, there are concerns about tight end Owen Daniels as he recovers from a torn ACL. Both factors could lead to the Texans having a more balanced run-pass ratio and lead to more running plays in the red zone. Look for Schaub to top 4,000 yards once again, but expect his touchdown passes to decline from the 29 he had in 2009.
RB Ben Tate
The Texans used a second-round pick on Tate with the expectation the rookie will carry the load as the team’s lack back. Look for Tate to get the goal-line work and to be spelled by Arian Foster on early downs, with Steve Slaton being used on passing downs. Tate could be a fantasy surprise if he can earn a significant role in the Texans powerful offense. However, for that to happen he will need to beat out Foster and earn the goal line work, and the Texans will need to avoid playing from behind. While Tate has an opportunity for fantasy success, there is likely too much competition for touches in the Texans offense for him to breakout in 2010. Expect a solid rookie season, but don’t expect him to lead you to fantasy glory.
RB Arian Foster
Reports out of Houston suggest that Foster is having a solid offseason and has earned the right to compete for the starting role in 2010. In fact, he has earned more starting reps during the offseason than any of the team’s other running backs. While your fellow fantasy owners gravitate toward rookie Ben Tate and toward Steve Slaton, it’s possible that a low round pick on Foster could turn into fantasy gold in 2010. It’s worth noting that in the Texans final two games of 2009 against the Dolphins and Patriots, Foster had 216 rushing yards to go along with 26 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, and that Tate missed extensive time during OTAs due to a hamstring injury. At 6’1” and 222 pounds, Foster has the size to be a feature back and be an effective inside runner. He is definitely worth monitoring during the preseason and worth taking a flier on.
RB Steve Slaton
Slaton suffered a sophomore slump during a 2009 in which he had fumbling problems and then a neck injury, which resulted in his being placed on injured reserve. Coming off an exceptional rookie season in which he had 1,282 rushing yards, 377 receiving yards, and 10 total touchdowns, the hope was that Slaton would solidify himself as one of the league’s top backs. However, that failed to materialize, as Slaton seemed to run tentatively, especially between the tackles. Entering 2010, the Texans plan is to use Arian Foster and rookie second-round pick Ben Tate in the lead back role, while using Slaton on passing downs. Slaton is a bit of a risk due to his neck injury but, if healthy, he should be solid as a change-of-pace and receiving option for the Texans. He’s more attractive in PPR leagues and could even reclaim his role as the team’s starter, although that seems doubtful at the moment.
WR Andre Johnson
Johnson will enter 2010 as the consensus number one ranked fantasy wide receiver courtesy of his exceptional and consistent production during 2008 and 2009. He has topped 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, and he should match that again in 2010. He is a big, strong, fast wide receiver with excellent hands who excels in every facet of the game. While the Texans will likely be more effective on the ground this year, Johnson will continue to get his fair share of targets and should lead the league in this category for the third year in a row (341 targets combined over the last two years). In redraft leagues, Johnson could be taken as high as fifth overall, after the consensus top four running backs are taken.
WR Kevin Walter
Walter is coming off a disappointing campaign in 2009 in which he finished with 53 receptions for 611 yards and two touchdowns. There were hopes he would build on his 2008 production of 899 yards and eight touchdowns, but he missed two games with a hamstring injury and never really seemed to get into a groove, even when tight end Owen Daniels was lost for the season. The Texans figure to run more in 2010, and Walter will compete for touches in the passing game with Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, and Steve Slaton—and for a starting spot with Jacoby Jones. He signed a long-term contract extension in the offseason, so he figures to hold off Jones and could benefit if Daniels is slow to recover from a torn ACL. However, a breakout season is unlikely at this point in his career.
WR Jacoby Jones
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak says he loves Jones’ potential; but if that’s the case, why did they sign Kevin Walter to a lucrative long-term contract? This is another case of a team putting a solid spin on a player who has failed to develop as they had hoped. Jones possesses blazing speed and certainly showed substantial improvement in 2009, but his upside seems to be that of a deep threat, given the other options on short and intermediate routes. Jones is a talented young wide receiver, but there are better breakout options at the position.
TE Owen Daniels
Daniels was having a phenomenal run in 2009 before he was lost for the season with a torn ACL. He had averaged 11.4 fantasy points per game during the first seven weeks, and he may have finished as the top-ranked fantasy tight end if he had not been injured in Week 8. He is clearly an injury risk heading into 2010, but the Texans figure to have a solid offense again in 2010, with Daniels getting plenty of opportunities in the passing game. Clearly there is some risk here given the injury occurred at the halfway point of last season, but if Daniels is fully recovered by Week 1, he will be in the top 5 in 2010. However, a full recovery by opening day seems unlikely, so fantasy owners should temper their enthusiasm.
TE James Casey
Casey showed some ability with the Texans as a rookie last year and could get some opportunities if Owen Daniels is slow to recover from a torn ACL. While Casey may be only somewhat useful in 2010, he is a decent option in deep keeper leagues given Daniels’ injury history and the fact the Texans have been slow to sign him to a long-term contract extension.