Fantasy Beat – Texans Preseason
Mike Clay has taken to the airwaves to host a Pro Football Focus fantasy football show on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio (10 a.m. ET weekdays – Sirius 210 & XM 87). In addition to his strategy and insight, Clay has had the opportunity to bring in beat writers around the nation to provide an insider fantasy spin on the teams they cover.
Earlier this week, Clay had a chance to speak with ESPN NFL Nation Houston Texans beat reporter Tania Ganguli. She gave us a few tidbits on some of the position battles and even dropped a few deep sleepers that you’ll want to get on your radar in dynasty leagues. You can find her on Twitter @taniaganguli
Oh No, Not Foster!
Our projections were high on Arian Foster heading into the 2015 season, but on Tuesday we learned that Foster suffered a severe groin injury and he is expected to be placed on I.R./designated to return. Unfortunately, Clay had the opportunity to talk with Ganguli before the injury news broke. His first question focused on Foster, and Ganguli’s analysis focused on his full-season outlook. However, Ganguli dropped an interesting nugget about how the Texans planned to keep him fresh for the stretch run.
“They’re going to be smart with him because he is going to be 30 and they want to have him available when they might need him,” Ganguli said.
Who’s Up Next At RB?
Clay transitioned and asked Ganguli to expand on who might emerge as the second back. As we know now, this player may end up in a situation where he will need to emerge as the lead back following the Foster news.
“Fantasy people are not going to like this answer, but it’s going to be a combination of the people,” Ganguli said. “I anticipate the Texans going heavy at running backs on their roster this year. They’re going to need different guys to do different things. They don’t have any back on the roster who can do all of the things Foster can.”
As Clay researched and alluded to during Wednesday’s show, in the games Foster missed, Alfred Blue handled 160 snaps and that included 83 runs and 10 targets. Houston ran the ball on 57 percent of his snaps. Jonathan Grimes was the No. 2 and he handled 111 snaps. He carried the ball only 27 times and was targeted seven times. Houston called a run on only 24 percent of his snaps. Blue had more targets despite being the early-down guy.
Blue’s yards per carry was just under 4.0 in these situations. He had 319 yards and caught nine passes for 57 yards, which was good enough to make him the RB13 in these weeks when Foster was out. Grimes was the RB34 during this span, so he flirted with FLEX numbers.
Of course, the Texans have already started flirting with the free agent running back market as well. On Wednesday, they flew in Pierre Thomas, but didn’t end up signing him. They also signed Chris Polk from the Eagles in late April – he owns a 4.7 yards-per-carry career average. The Texans’ running back situation seems like a mess given their quarterback situation, and none of the four names above are anything more than a flier.
New System, New Start
Clay moved on to the Texan’s most heated camp battle – will the starting quarterback be Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett?
“Well Ryan Mallett had his first day yesterday working mostly with the ones,” Ganguli said. “From everything I’ve heard and seen, this battle has about a week left to go in it. My projection was Brian Hoyer based on minicamp and OTAs. I think that he’s someone that Bill O’Brien is very comfortable with. I think he’ll be better in this system than last year because it fits him better, and that’s what the coaching staff looked into this offseason.”
Hoyer’s skill set may be suited for this offensive scheme, and head coach Bill O’Brien has a history of developing quarterbacks, but it’s hard to imagine he returns any fantasy value in 2015. However, a better version of Hoyer will be key for the Texans’ skill position players to realize their potential.
This Makes Him A Strong Flier
The Texans moved on from veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson this offseason, and while that means Deandre Hopkins is the de facto No. 1 option, the Texans have a few options to emerge as the No. 2 target in the passing game. They added Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington in free agency, and they drafted Jaelen Strong. Strong has arguably the most fantasy upside, so Clay wanted to find out how long it will take before he emerges as the No. 2 option.
“That is an interesting battle to watch during training camp,” Ganguli said. “Strong came in really out of shape for rookie camp. He lost 20 pounds since then and they’ve been hoping to see the light come on for him, and it sounds like they have seen that. He had a really good practice yesterday, he looks really smooth, and he’s catching the ball really well. Right now it does seem like Nate Washington has the inside track there. They like what Washington has done in their system. I think that he will be the Week 1 starter, and Strong will take over in the season.”
It sounds like Strong could provide value in the stretch run and this makes him a value as a late-round flier redraft leagues. In keeper leagues, Strong is an even stronger flier. According to College Football Focus, Strong finished with a top-5 overall grade at wide receiver and he was dominant in the slot, where he racked up 4.06 yards per route run against Power 5 opponents. Talent tends to win out, and it shouldn’t take long for Strong to jump Washington. He could evolve into a PPR chain mover in the slot.
Here’s A Dynasty Stash At Tight End
Fantasy football managers couldn’t find any value at tight end from the Texans in 2014, but O’Brien has a history of developing tight ends. Clay wanted to know if there was any reason to believe tight end targets will rise, and he asked Ganguli to provide insight on which Texan tight end could emerge.
“I think they have to rise because they were so bad last year,” Ganguli said. “I think they were the lowest tight end targets in the league, which is astounding for this offense because it should be a very tight-end-friendly offense. C.J. Fiedorowicz is a guy to keep an eye on. He’s gotten a lot better. He’s a guy that the staff really likes. Fantasy-wise you think of him as a blocker, but they’ve done a lot to get him open and use him in the passing game. That’s a guy that I think can really help the tight end group get a lot better.”
Fiedorowicz is a prospect I was very high on coming out of Iowa last season, and the Texans clearly shared that opinion based on the draft investment they made in him. We know what Garrett Graham is at this stage of his career, but there is still untapped potential with Fiedorowicz. It’s too early to consider him an option in redraft or best ball leagues, but he is certainly an interesting buy in dynasty leagues.
An Even Deeper Dynasty Dig
Anyone deep on the depth chart who can emerge as a force?
“Keith Mumphery … fifth-round pick,” Ganguli said. “He had a really good early run in their rookie minicamp and then even when the veterans came in. He’s an interesting guy because they took him as a fifth rounder and the Texans were the only team that worked him out.”
Mumphery wasn’t heavily utilized in college at Michigan State, but he’s an explosive prospect who could add big-play potential to the wide receiver corps. According to College Football Focus, he gained 19 yards per catch and 22 of his 26 receptions resulted in either a first down or touchdown. With no definite long-term options on the depth chart behind Hopkins and Strong, Mumphery might be worth your final roster spot in dynasty leagues.
Is Hopkins Set To Become A WR1?
Clay finished by asking Ganguli to divulge her opinion on Deandre Hopkins. The talented 23-year-old is finally the man in Houston with Andre Johnson gone. This means he is going to see more focused defensive coverage in 2015. Clay asked Ganguli to talk about how Hopkins will handle with his new workload and circumstances.
“He is very good in contested situations,” Ganguli said. “Yes, I think he will [handle his new workload well]. He’s definitely a guy that you can count on, and contested situations are his strong suit. I think he’s going to be able to get open, but even if he’s not able to get open, he’s going to make some really good catches.”
Our projections have Hopkins finishing just outside the WR1 range, but his ability to make contested catches on a team that should be feeding him targets makes him a fantasy option with a high floor.
Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he covers the NFC East beat for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.