It’s now become a yearly offseason tradition. As the season gets closer, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell ranks the skill position groups across the NFL. He has a few caveats when formulating his rankings.
These rankings are attempting to consider a team’s skill-position talent without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme. Let me repeat that again. These rankings are attempting to consider a team’s skill-position talent without including the impact of the quarterback, offensive line or scheme. It’s not possible to totally extricate one from the other, but this will be an educated guess.
These rankings don’t include contract value. I might mention a contract here or there, but this analysis is strictly about on-field performance.
I’m solely considering how these players will perform in 2018. Long-term value beyond this upcoming season doesn’t matter. It’s impossible to project injuries, so I’m using each player’s recent injury history as an estimate of his availability for this year.
The arsenals are weighted more toward receivers. All you have to do is take a look at contracts to see how the league values wideouts versus tight ends and running backs. The largest active annual salary on an extension for a running back is LeSean McCoy, at $8 million per year. That’s what Trey Burton and Kenny Stills average on the deals they’ve signed over the past two offseasons.
Top-level talent wins out over depth. These rankings are weighted heavily toward each team’s top five weapons, given that each squad will line up five skill-position players on most snaps. Organizations with truly remarkable depth at the skill-position spots will get a slight bump, but no team has an Antonio Brown lurking on its bench.
Finally, I didn’t mention everyone. Every team has a rookie midround pick or a veteran with some history of success lurking as their sixth or seventh option. Most of them will have only a modest impact. Mentioning all of them would turn this into an even longer piece.
This year, Barnwell has the Texans ranked 12th in the league. Hey! Pretty good! It’s also the highest ranking of any of the AFC South teams. Barnwell had the following to say.
In the fever dream that was DeShaun Watson’s six starts for the Texans in 2017, his weapons unfurled into a terrifying hydra. The Texans ranked third in offensive win probability added per game from weeks 2 to 8 and 30th from then on, which is both a credit to what DeAndre Hopkins & Co. can do with the right quarterback and a reminder of how most of those weapons (Hopkins aside) were anonymous with the wrong passer and a dismal offensive line.
Naturally, any 2018 projection for the Texans’ weapons would find them somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Hopkins has a reasonable case -- given his quarterback play -- for being the best wide receiver in the league at the moment. After that, though, the Texans don’t have a second star. Will Fuller has been wildly inconsistent, and he won’t score seven touchdowns in four games again, as he did last season. Lamar Miller has lacked explosion since joining Houston in free agency and has just three plays of 30 yards or more in two years as a Texans back, down from seven during his final two years in Miami. Backup D’Onta Foreman might have taken over a larger share in 2018, but an Achilles injury might delay his ascent until 2019. And the brain injury-induced retirement of tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz leaves the position bare behind Ryan Griffin, who missed most of the season with a concussion of his own.