The Texans finally have an arsenal of weapons among the most versatile and lethal in the league. From speedsters like Will Fuller V and Keke Coutee to red zone targets like Stephen Anderson and Bruce Ellington to potentially the best pass catcher in the league in DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans can really spread the field in 2018.
In the six full games that featured Deshaun Watson under center, the Texans averaged 30.2 pass attempts per game. Watson will become the centerpiece of head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense, so giving him as many opportunities as possible to create for this offense is well within the team’s game plan. For the sake of this article, we will cap Deshaun Watson’s attempts per game at a round 32 each week. This small increase from last year’s average stems from a lack of confidence in the run game to move the ball effectively. Let’s see how Watson will distribute his passes this season.
Editor’s note: Total targets assumes each player will play in all 16 games.
DeAndre Hopkins Projected Targets: 155.2 (9.7 per game)
Nuk averaged exactly 10 targets per game when Watson was the starting QB last season. That number does include an outlier of four targets, created when the Browns in Week 6 relentlessly double-teamed Hopkins to force Watson to look elsewhere. The second half of the 2017 season saw Hopkins’ targets increase, but that may be due to less pass catching options being available. Hopkins finished the 2017 season with 176 targets and led the team in all pass catching categories by a significant margin. He will still be the leading receiver on the team this year, but more mouths to feed may mean a tad fewer targets.
Will Fuller Projected Targets: 100.8 (6.3 per game)
100 targets strikes you as an impressive number, but when stretched out over 16 games, it’s not really that shocking. Fuller has yet to play an entire season in the NFL, missing six games with collarbone and rib injuries last year. That said, his ridiculous output of 7 TDs in four games gave us a glimpse of the potential Fuller has as a deep threat with Watson as his quarterback. According to Football Outsiders, Fuller’s DVOA (“Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average,” a great way to evaluate a receiver’s value) was 12th in the NFL last year. Fuller is at his best when he is not the focus of a defense’s attention. His speed could be the biggest weapon on the Texans offense this next season, and managing Fuller’s targets is a vital part of keeping him both healthy and deadly.
Bruce Ellington Projected Targets: 60.8 (3.8 per game)
In a season that was mostly doom and gloom, Ellington’s resurgence in the slot was a great extension of Houston’s offense. He brought a different skill set and allowed Bill O’Brien to get creative. Ellington will have a ton of competition for targets this year as Keke Coutee, Braxton Miller, and TEs Stephen Anderson and Jordan Akins will battle for the third pass catching option. Last year, Ellington turned into Deshaun Watson’s favorite hot route option, catching most of his balls over the middle when Watson began to improvise. Ellington had 57 targets over eleven games last year, which equates to a little over five targets per game. The diminishing amount of targets in 2018 will be a result of a slower start to the season as Ellington recovers from injury and deals with more competition to get on the field.
Keke Coutee Projected Targets: 52.8 (3.3 per game)
Hype and praise by the media does not correlate to immediate production. Coutee is going to have to get used to not being the primary target on the field, so it will be interesting to see how quickly he can climb up the depth chart in Houston. Additionally, Coutee may get more touches and opportunities than just catching balls as a wideout; from punt returns to end-around runs, Coutee’s big-play ability is going to be a spark on this offense. The Texans have been searching for that one player who puts opposing offenses in a tizzy because he can appear anywhere on the field. Three targets per game is not a lot, but Coutee should have a high catch rate because of solid hands and advantageous matchups he will create.
Lamar Miller Projected Targets: 38.4 (2.4 per game)
I like the idea of Lamar Miller more than the running back he is. A zone scheme, patient player who can catch the ball out of the backfield is a solid definition of a 21st century running back. However, Miller has never been able to utilize his talents in this offense. Maybe it was simply a bad fit after losing Arian Foster, but the Texans really have no better option to run the ball than Miller. As a receiver, Miller can get good looks from screen plays and quick catches out of the backfield. He is only 27 years old and definitely has some good years left, but his production is predicated on Bill O’Brien finally using him correctly.
Stephen Anderson Projected Targets: 36.8 (2.3 per game)
Entering his third season, Anderson must show some major progress if he wants to fight off the two tight ends the Texans drafted in April. Anderson is an average mid-field option and needs to gain better route running abilities to get on the field more. He plays mostly in the slot as a stand-up tight end; his best routes are a curl and 10 yard out-route. I would love to see him learn to box out smaller nickel corners in the red zone and on third down. He had a great game against the Titans being Tom Savage’s first option when under pressure. It would help Watson out tremendously to have a reliable option on roll out plays for short to mid-level options; that could be Anderson’s niche.
Ryan Griffin Projected Targets: 32 (2.0 per game)
Say what you want about the NFL becoming soft, but concussions suck, man. Not much is worse than getting hit so hard you feel like the Liberty Bell. After ending the season on IR and watching the Texans select two guys who play his position in the draft, Griffin may be on the chopping block more than we realize. As end-line blocking goes, Griffin is historically average and finds most of his value down field as a pass catcher. When he is available, he is one of the more consistent options the Texans have. But reliable hands may not be enough to keep Griffin on the field anymore as the Texans have stocked up on pass catchers. 32 targets in 2018 feels right for Griffin as the Texans start to change their offense and spread the field.
Braxton Miller Projected Targets: 17.6 (1.1 per game)
I do not want Braxton to become the player who is stashed on some team’s roster for his entire career and never realizes his potential. He’s a real talent on this roster - a guy who utterly dominated the college football ranks for a period.
The transition to WR has definitely not gone as smoothly as hoped. Whether he is in BOB’s dog house or not is unknown, but a player like Miller deserves more than this projection. This is where I had to make the biggest adjustments on targets due to overallocating targets early on in the process of this article. If Miller becomes the Swiss Amy knife of the Texans’ offense and completely terrorizes opposing defenses, I will be happy. He will most likely do this if BOB is willing to work with Braxton to give him the creative opportunities he needs to make plays.
D’Onta Foreman Projected Targets: 11.2 (0.7 per game)
Tearing an Achilles has to be one of the more painful ways athletes get injured. Foreman’s road to recovery will hopefully end right as the regular season starts. As a Longhorn myself, nothing would make me happier than to see Foreman return to form. Before he got hurt, Foreman demonstrated a knack for catching the ball that was not really emphasized at Texas. If he gets healthy, he could push Miller for starting reps, and if this happens, his targets will surely go up. This is a conservative number of targets as I am wary that he will be fully healthy come the regular season.
Jordan Akins Projected Targets: 6.4 (0.4 per game)
This feels low for a third round pick. As you can tell, there are a lot of mouths to feed, and I just do not see Akins being more than a red zone threat in his first year in the NFL. A third-string TE who has to learn to block must create opportunities for himself to get on the field and be effective when given those chances. Akins’ two touchdowns in the red zone in college this past year were completely wide open, so we will still need to see if he can catch with a defender draped on him. A 6’3” pass catching threat is exactly what the Texans need, so hopefully Akins can fill the role designed for him.
There are only so many passes to go around, and it turned out to be a tough task to divvy up targets to all the options at the Texans’ disposal. Realistically, there could be some targets for players like Tyler Ervin, Sammie Coates and Jordan Thomas that were not included in this article purely for their limited role in this offense.
Also, because I try to be transparent when I am wrong, I will write an article at the end of the season to see how close (or far off) I was on these predictions.
Did I snub any players who deserve more targets? Will Nuk get more than ten targets a game? Add your thoughts in the comment section.