When Will Fuller V was taken with the 21st pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, it seemed like the Houston Texans finally had a suitable target to run alongside DeAndre Hopkins. The former Notre Dame star ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, a literal blink of an eye slower than the fastest ever 40 time (set by receiver John Ross at 4.22). While Ross hasn’t done as much as expected (he’s a Cincinnati Bengal, after all), Will Fuller V’s inability to remain healthy has made his stat lines look far less impressive than they would otherwise.
Had Fuller been available for all 64 games over the course of his NFL career, his per game averages would put him at 236 catches for 3,398 yard and 24 touchdowns. In reality, he’s caught 156 passes for 2,231 yards and 16 touchdowns. For those not keeping score at home, that’s a difference of 80 receptions, 1,167 yards and 8 touchdowns. While adding those lost stats are no guarantee the Texans would have advanced to the AFC Championship Game at some point over the last few years, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt the cause.
Many pundits are taking the leap in logic that since Fuller was clearly the WR2 in Houston’s offense when DeAndre Hopkins was here, Nuk’s departure makes Fuller the obvious choice to assume WR1 duties now. However, that might not be the case. Without further ado, here are some plausible predictions for the Texans’ passing game in 2020:
Kenny Stills Leads the Texans’ Receiving Corps.
In his first year sporting battle red, Kenny Stills caught 40 passes for 561 yards and 4 touchdowns. Not too shabby for a guy who was third on the depth chart and missed Houston’s training camp due to his presence on the Dolphins’ roster until the last day of August. For the sake of comparison, Fuller caught 49 passes for 670 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. Stills averaged 14.0 yards per catch in 2019; Fuller had 13.7. With a year under his belt, chemistry with Deshaun Watson, and a better track record of staying on the field, Stills is the logical choice to replace Nuk as the Texans’ top wideout.
Brandin Cooks Won’t Play All 16 Games, But...
While Brandin Cooks was literally a fraction of a second slower than Fuller V in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine (Cooks ran a 4.33), his skillset is similar enough to Fuller’s and his on-field availability is much better. Cooks has played in 88 of his possible 96 games over his NFL career, but he has suffered five concussions over the course of his career, with the last two coming only 25 days apart. With the violence of the NFL and certain defenders’ penchant for head-hunting, it’s not a matter of “if” Cooks suffers his next concussion; it’s a matter of “when” (as an aside, if it were up to me, Cooks would retire - risking his future with all that’s been uncovered regarding long-term affects of concussions isn’t worth it in my opinion, but that’s his choice to make). However, Cooks will remain out front of the Texans in receiving yards and SportsCenter highlights in 2020 before his campaign comes to an abrupt end, at which point Stills will take the lead.
Will Fuller V Ends Up As Houston’s Third-Best Receiver.
The proof is in. History repeats itself, and all the other cliches we’ve heard that predict future results based on past accomplishments, ring true. Will Fuller V won’t impact more than 10 games in 2020. From what we’ve seen so far, his own freakish speed will once again victimize the wideout, causing yet another hamstring, related leg ligament, or tendon injury and preventing Fuller from going 100% in every game he suits up for this season. When all the dust clears, Fuller will have less starts, less stats, and less highlight reel plays than Cooks or Stills in Tim Kelly’s “nu” offense.
Kahale Warring Will Be A Non-Factor.
The amount of hype around a guy who has never really done much of anything to warrant it, other than exhibit some freakish athletic abilities in college, is puzzling. NFL Combine and draft history is littered with athletic phenoms who never made a dent in NFL lore. The mystery surrounding Warring’s injury history and subsequent IR stash last season speak to a player the team believes in, a guy they’re trying to train quickly to overcome dramatic deficiencies in skill and knowledge necessary to play at the NFL level. Odds are that Warring finds himself out when the roster cuts happen. Maybe he’ll once again get IR’ed with a mystery ailment in the hopes that yet another season in the oven will fully bake his abilities.
Keke Coutee Will Suit Up For the New England Patriots.
Over the last ten years, the Houston Texans have had a litany of talented young wide receivers who never managed to break through into starting caliber NFL players. From Jaelen Strong to Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey to newly acquired Isaiah Coulter, there’s no track record of a receiver rising up in Bill O’Brien’s system. While Strong outright blames O’Brien, the reasons each of these guys, including Coutee, have failed to live up to their potential are probably unique to each player. With the influx of Cooks, Randall Cobb and Coulter, Coutee is on the outside looking in. Expect Houston to cut him since they never developed him well enough to merit a draft pick in return via trade. Then watch as Bill Belichick snatches him up and unlocks his potential. While Martin went to the Patriots via trade after exiting the Texans, he was primarily poised to be a capable return man, never having shown any real chops as an NFL reeiver. Coutee has the potential to be so much more.
What do you think? How do you see the receiver pecking order shaking out? Expect the Jordan Twins to shine? Think O’Brien still isn’t done shuffling the roster? Hope a receiver not on the current roster is a day one starter in Houston? Tell us what you know to be true in the comments.