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PUT YOUR NAME ON IT: Predicting Texans Receiving Targets

Catch these hands.

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The third annual Houston Texans targets prediction is back and much later than ever. Bill O’Brien’s last-minute wheeling-and-dealing right before the 2019 season made last year’s predictions all but irrelevant. Combine those moves with several key injuries in the last preseason game, and you have a Texans offense that looked a lot different than what was expected.

From Darren Fells to Keke Coutee, the receiving corps was a double-edge sword throughout the year. For every surprise there was a disappointing performance. Who knew that Fells, a tight end brought in to block, would have seven touchdown catches last year and lead the league in blown blocks. Thats more than twice the amount of touchdowns he’s had in any single season before. Then, conversely, we all expected young prospects like Keke Coutee, Kahale Warring, and Jordan Thomas to unleash this offense. Unfortunately, most of them spent the season on injured reserve or in O’Brien’s dog house.

Editors note: players with less than 10 targets in 2018 are not included.

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Player 2019 Projected Targets Actual 2019 Targets
Player 2019 Projected Targets Actual 2019 Targets
DeAndre Hopkins 148 150
Will Fuller 93 71
Keke Coutee 73 36
Jordan Thomas 57 3
Lamar Miller 29 0
Kahale Warring 28 0
Jordan Akins 27 55
D’Onta Foreman 21 0
Vyncint Smith 18 0
Darren Fells 18 48
Duke Johnson 0 62
Kenny Stills 0 55
Carlos Hyde 0 16
DeAndre Carter 0 14

Though we’ll be more confident who is and isn't on the field this season, this year presents its own difficulties as the hierarchy of pass catchers is thrown out the window. We all assume Fuller is the odds-on favorite to receive the bulk of the targets, but there’s a reason Brandin Cooks has been valued as a first rounder and Randall Cobb has been in the league for so long.

Not only that, but both of the Texans top running backs are notorious for lining up as wide receivers and having legitimate pass catching abilities.

Even with only two weeks before the Texans play the Chiefs, I suspect at least one or two of these names not to be on the list. More specifically, I don't think Keke Coutee makes the roster, and I think Kenny Stills is traded for a safety.

Before we go into each player’s predictions, we have to consider the amount of attempts Watson will have. The past two seasons Watson has thrown 506 and 495 pass attempts respectively. Since he only played 15 games last year, he averaged 33 throws per game. I’ll expect that to tick up to 35 pass attempts per game, which means we have 560 targets to dole out for these pass catchers.

Brandin Cooks: 102 (6.4 targets per game)

Cooks is looking for a bounce back season after a disappointing 2019 campaign. Before last season, Cooks had four straight years with 110+ targets. He is used to being the primary option, and it would not be surprising if he assumes that role in Houston. Cooks is the best kept secret in Houston next to Goode Company BBQ. Not a single word has been mentioned about Cooks this training camp and I’m supposing that’s because O’Brien doesn’t want to give away any secrets about how they’re going to use him.

Will Fuller: 87 (5.4 targets per game)

It’s difficult to make any prediction without considering Fuller to be out for three to four games. From everything I’ve seen and heard from practice, Fuller will be utilized as a core part of the offensive scheme. But everything I know is that Fuller is a high-octane secondary option that the defense has to significantly compensate for. Not only that, defenses will force Watson to test and rely on receivers he has much less experience with. Shutting down Fuller will be a priority for most teams, but he will still receive a hefty work load.

Randall Cobb: 67 (4.1 targets per game)

Cobb’s reception totals will take a step backwards, but he’ll take a similar step forward in productivity and yards after the catch. He will be a valuable option for Watson in the middle and across the field. It wouldn’t be surprising if he has a similar amount of receptions as last year (55), even though his targets should decrease as the third receiving option.

David Johnson: 58 (3.6 targets per game)

When at his best in 2016, Johnson had 120 receiving targets, which is an insane amount for even a top tier receiver, let alone a running back. The past two seasons he’s had 76 and 47 targets, and it’s expected he stays within that range. He also hasn’t been in an offense with as many of weapons as the 2020 Texans have, so it will be interesting to see how Houston utilizes him.

Kenny Stills: 52 (3.3 targets per game)

Stills had 55 targets for 40 receptions and four touchdowns in 2019, and those stats seem appropriate for the wide receiver heading into his second season in Houston. Would not be surprised if he’s dealt to a different team in the next 14 days, but as of now he is probably the best WR4 on any team. He endeared himself to the Texans on two of the most memorable plays of the season; his last-minute catch against the Saints to take the lead and his fake-screen wide-open catch against the Chief in the playoffs. He’s a great middle of the field threat, but the Texans have a surplus of those right now.

Duke Johnson: 45 (2.8 targets per game)

Very causally Johnson was the third most targeted player in 2019. That may change as David Johnson will take a significant potion of the running back receptions in 2020. Johnson still serves as a high quality change of pace back who can be a mismatch in the open field, but will struggle to reach his same production in 2020.

Jordan Akins: 40 (2.5 targets per game)

Akins is a consummate Texan. Tough. Smart. Dependable. Versatile. He shined in the passing game by finding soft spots in the defensive zone and in play action. A solid blocking tight end, Akins was a key part of the offense and should be so again. I don’t like taking a chuck out of Akins targets, but with a legitimate slot receiver, there will be less opportunities for Akins to go long. Alternatively, with an improved offensive line, there may be less need for him to block on every running play.

Darren Fells: 37 (2.3 targets per game)

This is criminal, but I truly cannot find another target to offer Fells. We’re getting down to scheme fits and situational players, and Fells in the passing game is just that: a short yardage baller. With seven TDs in 2019, you’d expect an increase in production this season, but it’s expected that Jordan Thomas will be back and will steal plays from both Akins and Fells.

Jordan Thomas: 27 (1.7 targets per game)

Admittedly I could be very wrong on Thomas being the third tight end in terms of receptions. Depending on his health and fit with the new offensive scheme, Thomas could be either sitting or sitting pretty in 2020. His competition—Akins and Fells—both had stellar seasons last year and are better run blockers than Thomas. The 6’5” tight end should be a perfect red zone target, but that doesn’t amount to many overall targets.

Isaiah Coulter: 18 (1.1 targets per game)

The rookie receiver is going to be an emergency option for the Texans, but don’t be surprised if the Texans use him in the screen game or as a decoy to wear out opposing corners. He’s a talented kid who is soaking up a ton of knowledge from a veteran wide receiver room.

Kahale Warring: 15 (0.9 targets per game)

Fine, I’ll play nice. Warring has been on my [KITTEN] list like going to Europe has been on my dad’s bucket list. I don’t predict Warring will make the active roster and instead will be among the protected players under the new CBA. As the fourth wide receiver, he’ll be expected to come in as a mismatch against teams trying to run cornerback-heavy packages.

DeAndre Carter: 12 (0.8 targets per game)

Yes, I realize 12/16 is 0.75, but if you are this far into the prediction you’ll realize I’m rounding to the tenth. Carter is always good for a handful of receptions in the slot, especially with Coutee playing somewhere else in this scenario I’ve envisioned in my head.

Who deserves more receptions? Which player do you think will lift the Texans offense? Comment below!