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2009 in Review: Beyond The Tackle Box

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Hit the jump if you're familiar with the series because the next couple of lines are review.

I'm going to look at every player who played more than 100 snaps for the Texans from a number of different angles.  I'll give their regular statistics from this year and last year.  Similarly, I will bring in Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders numbers (and projections in FO's case) for the last two years and compare them.  A glossary of FO terms can be found here, and Pro Football Focus operates on a strict +/- system.  Finally, I'll give my impressions on each of them as someone who has spent probably 100 hours each year watching the game tapes and filling in charting numbers for FO.  For players with less than 100 snaps, I'll just give a brief summary.  From this, I hope to give a balanced reading of each player's ability and relative value to the team.

Wide Receivers

Andre Johnson


Scouting: Andre Johnson is good at football.  

Overall: I want to throw in a couple of late cents on the Andre Johnson DVOA argument.  Remember a few things about DVOA as a statistical tool before you go "WHAT WHAT WHAT!" on the ranking Andre got this year.  DVOA does not separate a receivers performance from his quarterback, nor the quarterback from his offensive system.  Additionally, DVOA is a system built on efficiency.  Let me throw a few completely hypothetical examples at you.

Say you have this really excellent wide receiver named A., too obvious, Andre J.  Yes, that'll do.  You have another excellent receiver, lets call him Daniels, who doesn't play for half of the year.  Other than that, you surround him with respectable options who will never be confused as gamebreakers, except for another receiver named Jacoby, who only sees about a third of the snaps he probably should have.  Following this hypothetical, you may find that teams think "Hmm, let's double and triple cover this Andre J. a bunch, making it harder for him to catch the ball than it probably should be."  Additionally, say you have this quarterback named Matt S., who knows that Andre J. is his best receiver. Given the choice of throwing it short for 5-7 yards and almost no chance of a broken tackle or chucking it deep at a double-covered Andre J., Matt S. decided to continually target Andre J. deep, particularly on play-action passes.

Additionally, say this Matt S. has made a concerted effort to throw the ball away more often this year when he is rushed, so as not to pick up tons of interceptions, even though his offensive line can't pass protect to save their lives.  Some of these throw aways may be counted as "targets" for Andre J, even though they were never really intended for anyone but the secondary coach on the sideline.  .

Andre J. is a great receiver, but he's had his share of problems with drops, and there were a few miscommunications at the line this year as well.  Notice up on the stat table that Andre Johnson had a catch rate of 59%?  Lets say our friend Andre J. happened to be carrying the same rate.  It looks like a fluke of statistical noise: he took on a lot of double and triple teams, he was surrounded by receivers who had great hands but were unlikely to beat anyone in the open field, a lot more deep balls were thrown at him, and, yes, he did have some drop problems along the course of the year.  This statistical ranking does not mean that Andre J is any less of a great receiver, no more than it would if someone named Larry F. finished 29th in DVOA this year.  It just means that the circumstances made throwing to him a little less efficient then it was last year.  

So take heart, Texans fans, that everyone knows Andre Johnson, errr....I mean, Andre J., is a really great football player despite his poor DVOA.  If he went deep less and ran some more quick slants and in-and-outs, it would be a good thing for his DVOA rating, and probably for the Texans offense too.  It's not a problem with the stat, it's a problem with the boundaries of the stat.  This is why we have balanced looks at things.

Kevin Walter


Scouting: Walter is a prototypical slot receiver/your favorite team's WELKAAAAH!  He's a solid blocker, and he's got good hands.  He's not a deep threat by any means, though he can break free on play-action routes.  The Texans left him in to run block a little too much the last two years.  He's a good blocking wide receiver, the key words there being "wide receiver".  A good blocking wide receiver is great if you're looking to throw someone off-guard, but not quite so effective if you run the same play where he comes down off the block and helps 10 times a game, like a tight end.  For a tight end, Kevin Walter would be a very good wide receiver.  

Overall: Boy, 8th overall in DVOA!  Teams must be piecing together their big contract proposals for him right now, tampering be damned!    And here you see the yin-yang of the equation.  Andre Johnson draws the coverage, and Kevin Walter took advantage of it when he was looked to.  That 76% catch rate may be a bit of a fluke, by the way.

Is Kevin Walter worth, say, Nate Washington money (6/27 with $9 mil guaranteed)?  Probably not, especially to a team that has 2 perfectly acceptable wideouts and a franchise guy already under contract for next year.  Is he worth, say, Bryant Johnson money (3/9)?  Absolutely.  The Texans will be helped by the perception that he had a down year after 2008.  If there's no collective bargaining agreement, that could be good or bad, depending on whether one of the 8 or so owners who actually will spend something thinks he's an upgrade for them.  My gut feeling is he stays and takes much closer to 3 years/$9 mil.  I just hope that him staying doesn't mean he's guaranteed the second-most wide receiver snaps again simply because he's a good blocker.  

David Anderson


Scouting: Anderson brings most of what Walter brings to the table, but he's not anywhere near as good a blocker, as you might have guessed by his size.  I think he gets cleaner breaks than Walter and is a step faster coming out of them.  Again, not the kind of guy who is going to beat anyone deep, but a perfectly capable option in the short game.  Generally reliable over the middle.

Overall: I think Anderson's best fit is as a fourth wide receiver.  He's got good hands, he can play the underneath route excellently, and he takes a good hit.  It's easy to get attached to players like Anderson and want to root for them, particularly after his excellent Ron Jaworski impression.  But the best sign the 2010 Texans offense could have, if Walter is back, is for Anderson to be on the field for less than 1/4 of the teams snaps.  He's adequate as a third wide receiver.  Any higher than that and his limitations will start to show.

Jacoby Jones


(FOA didn't run a projection for Jones in 2009)

Scouting: Jacoby is an impressive physical specimenl; that's something that we've always known.  Up until this point, he never really got on the field as a wide receiver, both due to his acumen in the return game and because the coaching staff was scared of his mental mistakes.  He really put it together after the first five games or so, at least when he wasn't busy being inactive for missing team flights.  He's got the speed to beat corners deep, the moves to get open one-on-one, and the hands seem to come and go.  

Overall: There are two topics to get into with Jacoby. 

If you move him to a full-time wide receiver, you're pretty much obliged to go get a new kick returner.  I'm not saying Jacoby has been anywhere near as good as Devin Hester was in his prime, but he's a very big asset to the return game (PFF: +2.7 on punts in 08, +2.7 on kickoffs in 09, +4.8 on punts in 09), which has buoyed our special teams for a few years now (7th by FO in 09, 17th in 08, 3rd in 07) and Andre Davis no longer shows the same burst to me.  If you make him a full-time receiver, it seems likely that he will struggle to contribute the same amount to the return game.  Do you trade an already excellent kick returner for the potential of a second awesome wide receiver next to Johnson?  For me, the answer is yes.  For others, maybe not.

Secondly, this is exactly the type of player who is incredibly hard to project.  He has all the classic enigma qualities: the outstanding body and raw tools, getting in trouble with the brass on multiple occasions (and was almost cut before the season), the great production in limited opportunities (best DYAR of any player to not qualify for a ranking by FO).  A time traveler from 2011 could tell me that Jacoby makes the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a receiver or that he was cut and out of the league by Week 10 and I wouldn't be surprised either way.  All I can say is that I'm going to be incredibly disappointed in the brass if he isn't playing 60% of the snaps next year.  He's earned the opportunity, and the Texans need to see what they have here.  This is also why I think the Texans will re-sign Kevin Walter, who at least gives them some semblance of a backup plan if Jacoby flames out.

Andre Davis


Scouting: I don't think too highly of Davis anymore.  He got on the field for the offense about 100 times but I can't remember any of them aside for plays where Andre Johnson was hurt, and in those cases I was thinking more about Johnson's health than Davis' skills.  Davis is a deep threat, in theory, but didn't take that into practice much last year.  He's not going to catch the ball very often, but when he does it should go for a big gain.  He looked a lot slower and less decisive on kick returns this year as well.  

Overall: The money that Davis commands probably precludes him from being cut outright, since it'd be about a $1.8 million cap hit.  Still, this is exactly the kind of player smart teams find a way to let other teams wind up with before they are completely toast.  Davis has his special teams uses even if he's not a great returner anymore, but those sorts of players aren't exactly hard to find around the league.  Especially since it seems the gentle aging curve of Davis, 31 before the season starts, came to an end last year.  If the Texans could find some way to get Al Davis interested again and finagle even a late round pick for him, it'd be a huge coup for everyone except Raiders fans.  Those poor souls.  We'll always remember 2007, Andre.

(F*** it, I'm ) Going Deep

Glenn Martinez: A decent replacement level wide receiver/special teamer.  No one is going to mistake him for even a fourth receiver, but he should continue to have a few good preseason games every year as long as he has his footspeed.  If one of Houston's receivers got hurt, they'd probably intentionally drop whatever package it would be that would force Martinez onto the field on offense.  Interestingly, they ran him onto the field as a tight end for a few plays this year.

Tight Ends

Joel Dreessen


(PFP 2008 did not run a Dreessen projection)

Scouting: Dreessen is a perfectly capable tight end in just about all areas of the game.  If you had to give him a label, it'd be a blocking tight end, but if he's about a 6.5/10 at blocking, then he's about a 5.5/10 at receiving.  Dreessen is at his best pulling in the blocking game, and I continue to be stunned that the Texans rarely ever put him behind Duane Brown and protect 6 there.  He looked adept in the H-Back role in shotgun this year, which was also a much better option than having Chris Brown back there.  I'm sort of amused that between Dreessen, Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, and Arian Foster, Kubes and Baby Shanahan couldn't figure out that Dreessen is the best blocker (and worst receiver) of the lot.  

Overall: While this was probably a bit of a fluke year, Dreessen has proven that he can be a capable fill-in at tight end.  I really doubt that he sees the field quite this much next year, but he's got quite a bit of versatility and guys like that are useful as long as they stay cheap.  He also gives the Texans a lot of flexibility with regards to the Owen Daniels contract situation because he gives a decent bridge to the two rookies.

Owen Daniels


Scouting: Daniels is easily a Top 5 tight end in every area of the passing game.  I don't think you need a scout to tell you that.  The big question with Daniels lies in his blocking.  While I don't think he's a net negative as PFF's stats seem to, he's a terrible blocker who gets bad leverage and is good for a few false starts a year.  Subjectively, I think he fits much better in the Dallas Clark role, spread outside in the slot most of the game.  That's not to say he should never be on the line, but it'd be a better use of his skills and draw whoever takes him in coverage away from the line of scrimmage.

Overall: Daniels is probably the Texans player with the largest split between perceived value and actual value.  He's a tick overrated by those who don't tune in to the blocking numbers, and since he has all those catches and is a great fantasy tight end, people seem to think we should just hand him whatever contract he wants.  I'm in lockstep with those who would trade a 1 and a 3 for him, and coming off a major knee injury, I don't think he has the kind of leverage he'd like this go-round.  As long as there is no new CBA, I think you have to slap him with the RFA tag unless he'll agree to take a contract somewhere in the $4-5 mil range with some opt-outs.  If the NFL miraculously does come up with a CBA, he probably will be franchised.  There are just too many questions about Daniels coming off the injury to justify a big deal right now, in my opinion.

James Casey


(Casey didn't have a projection in FOA 2009)

Scouting: Casey fits the Owen Daniels mold, although he's a bit more versatile.  He's much better catching balls than he is blocking; in fact, I'm a bit puzzled as to why exactly he had such a rough time getting on the field in passing downs after Daniels went down.  Casey's season in a microcosm came in a Week 15 play against the Rams.  The Texans ran a play-action pass, Schaub came out on the bootleg, Andre Johnson was double or triple covered deep, Vonta Leach was one-on-one in the flat, and Casey was wide open about 10 yards downfield.  Schaub throws to Leach, who catches it and goes nowhere, and Casey looks around after the play trying to figure out who was covering him, only to find no one near him.  

Overall: You have to think Casey's role will grow next season, right?  But I really can't see it happening.  It's not that he's not talented, but he doesn't bring anything to the field right now that the Texans don't already have.  If he's going to be split off the line, the Texans have better receivers and he's not as good as Daniels.  If he's going to be on the line, he can't block, and Daniels is again better.  If I were him, I'd spend the whole summer learning to block and show I can do that better than anyone else on the team during training camp, because right now, that is his ticket onto the field.  Well, that or Daniels holding out or getting hurt again.  

(F*** it, I'm) Going Deep

Anthony Hill: I'd love to sit here and say I learned a lot about Anthony Hill from his 20 snaps this year, but really he just alternated good with bad.  You could see flashes of why the Texans thought he was worth a fourth rounder; he's got a really impressive body, he gets a push, and he has the skills to be a receiving tight end, if not the hands.  Whether he turns those talents into a football player is an open question.  A whole year of offseason activities couldn't hurt.    

Dezmond Sherrod: Practice squad member, ex-Steeler practice squad member.  I know nothing about Dezmond Sherrod, but from what I've been able to dig up on Google, I am thinking he may be a blocking tight end first.  My clues were sentences in his college bio like "Appeared on the stats sheet for the first time in Week 3 against Tulane," and "Added another catch (4 yards) in Week 9 vs. Kentucky".