Houston Texans Offense: Fear the Beard?
Now that we’ve finally had our fill of laughing at Houston for not prioritizing a quarterback early in the draft, it’s time to move on to what it means for 2014. It’s been fun marveling at Tom Savage’s rocket-esque arm and Scud-like accuracy. We’ve enjoyed wondering what exactly Andre Johnson’s temper-tantrum holdout is supposed to accomplish. But most hilarious of all has been imagining what a team of Texans will look like when led by an Amishman.
Okay, maybe we haven’t had our fill.
The biggest joke, however, will be on those that dismiss what Ryan Fitzpatrick can do for his teammates, and for fantasy owners. Not only does he have a history of facilitating strong seasons from others, but his own performance hasn’t exactly been awful. Is Fitzpatrick going to win you your league? No, not directly. Will he be anything more than a streaming option in (1-QB) fantasy leagues this season? Again, no. Will he outperform his current average draft position (ADP), and help his teammates do the same? It’s a much stronger bet than you might think.
Is FitzMagic Real?
Fitzpatrick’s overall PFF grade last season was an unimpressive +0.4, which was good for 21st among passers who played at least 25 percent of their teams’ snaps. However if we dig deeper, things improve. According to Pro Football Reference, he ranked 14th in completion percentage (62.0 percent). That’s not excellent, but it doesn’t support his reputation as an inaccurate passer and matches a career high established in 2011. In fact, PFF’s Accuracy Percentage (Acc.%), which factors dropped passes, throwaways, and spikes, ranked FitzMagic eighth-best at his position. He beat out Tony Romo, Tom Brady, and Andrew Luck (by a good margin) in the metric.
PFF’s own quarterback rating, which also takes drops, throwaways, and spikes into account, incorporates the work receivers do after the catch. Last season Fitzpatrick ranked 12th, in front of Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and Luck. When faced with a pass rush, Fitzpatrick was fifth in Acc.% among passers with 25 percent of his teams’ snaps.
Now contrast Fitzpatrick’s Acc.% with that of his predecessor in Houston. Matt Schaub ranked 29th out of 41 qualifiers. Case Keenum, also mucking things up for the Texans while behind center, finished 37th in the metric. Schaub was the 38th graded quarterback by PFF (-15.9), and Keenum the 33rd (-7.6).
Johnson would have been lucky to have Fitzpatrick throwing him passes a year earlier. Yet, despite the signal-calling suckitude that he had to deal with, Andre still finished as the 12th highest scoring wideout in standard fantasy leagues (10th in PPR). If he’s worried about what he will be able to accomplish now that the Shell of Schaub is a Raider, Johnson should study Fitzpatrick’s previous work.
The Lovely Assistants
|Receiver (year)||Final Rank||Weeks w/ Fitz||16-gm FP Pace w/o Fitz||16-gm FP Pace w/ Fitz|
|L. Evans (’09)||WR 34||WR 27||71.9||125.6|
|T. Owens (’09)||WR 26||WR 15||82.3||130.1|
|S. Johnson (’10)||WR 6||WR 3||76.3||186.5|
|L. Evans (’10)||WR 47||WR 40||54.4||115.1|
|S. Johnson (’11)||WR 21||WR 21||N/A||142.4|
|D. Nelson (’11)||WR 48||WR 48||N/A||95.8|
|S. Chandler (’11)||TE 22||TE 15||N/A||86.5|
|S. Johnson (’12)||WR 21||WR 21||N/A||140.6|
|D. Jones (’12)||WR 55||WR 55||N/A||89.1|
|S. Chandler (’12)||TE 14||TE 12||N/A||96.9|
|K. Wright (’13)||WR 31||WR 26||121||118.9|
|N. Washington (’13)||WR 35||WR 28||92.5||115.6|
|D. Walker (’13)||TE 12||TE 9||88.5||101.1|
*- Standard fantasy points
**- hat-tip to the RotoViz Game Splits App
A few things stand out about the above data, although perhaps none more so than the reminder that Terrell Owens spent his (pretty productive) 36th year in Buffalo. During the 10 games that both he and Fitzpatrick played, Owens was the 15th best fantasy wideout. Perhaps the soon-to-be 33-year old Andre Johnson should take note.
Fitzpatrick played every game in 2011 and 2012, hence the single 16-game pace listed. In both years, Scott Chandler missed games. His rankings in the “Weeks with Fitz” column take into account where he placed only during the weeks he played. Add those borderline TE1 finishes to the work that Delanie Walker did with Fitzpatrick last year in Tennessee, and there is hope for the multiple-tight end offense that Bill O’Brien figures to implement in Houston. There were no tight ends of note on the Bills in 2009 and 2010, unless you’re a Jon Stupar or Shawn Nelson fan. Which is possible.
The gulfs in receiver performances between when Fitzpatrick played, versus a different quarterback, are admittedly extra pronounced because the other signal-callers have stunk – Trent Edwards and Brian Brohm in particular. The gaps from 2013 are smaller mainly because Jake Locker performed adequately when he was healthy. The main takeaway is that Fitzpatrick’s targets, even the mediocre ones, have had a fighting chance at success while catching his passes.
Not An Illusion
Since June 1st, Fitzpatrick is being drafted as the 33rd quarterback in MFL10 drafts. That is most indicative of his true ADP at this stage, since there is actually money on the line and the drafts have taken place over the last few weeks. He is typically selected in the late 19th round, presumably as a team’s third quarterback. Chances are he will not be drafted in many standard 1-QB leagues in the coming months.
During the 11 weeks that Fitzpatrick played last season, he was the 10th highest scoring fantasy quarterback. He supplemented his totals with 3.7 fantasy points per game on the ground, an unheralded aspect of his game. He will be playing in an offense that suits him well. It will be ground-based, but with plenty of simple passes to running backs and a litany of the short throws on which he excels. The routes that Brady throws most often in New England’s offense will be similar to what Fitzpatrick is asked to execute. He has the wherewithal and the weaponry to be far more successful than he is being given credit for.
Fitzpatrick will be a worthy streaming candidate considering that along with the Raiders and Bills, he faces the weakly-defensed NFC East, six games within his own pathetic division, and the AFC North. 2QB-leaguers need to consider him higher than 33rd at his position (I have him ranked 25th), and the rest of Fantasyland should not discount Houston’s pass catchers due to their quarterback. Last season was a floor that will not repeat itself with FitzMagic behind center.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman