Year FIVE of this column and the longest running segment of my writing tenure. To put things into perspective, in 2019 the greatest source of consternation was whether Lamar Miller would steal the bulk of the targets from Ryan Griffin...
This year has as many question marks as any. An unproven QB, a new offensive coordinator, two young WRs, two young TEs, and no premier RB amalgamate to a spin-the-bottle level of scientific hypothesis.
As always, let’s review last season’s prediction and where we netted out. Note that some players with less than 10 targets weren’t included in the chart.
Texans 2021 Receiving Targets Prediction
|Player||2021 Projected Targets||2021 Actual Targets|
|Player||2021 Projected Targets||2021 Actual Targets|
No one could have guessed Brandin Cooks would become the SOLE source of productivity on the offense. The biggest misses were projecting Anthony Miller to become the WR2 and Keke Coutee to finally put it together in the post-O’Brien Era. Miller was released after two games and Coutee was waived in late August training camp.
Nico Collins recorded twice as many targets as projected even with a stint on IR. He should be a larger part of the offense this season.
To project this upcoming season’s targets, we need to evaluate the new offensive system and current weapons.
In 2014 and 2015 under Pep Hamilton, Andrew Luck threw close to 40 times per game. Considering the Texans will be down most of the season, the improved offensive weapons, and new offensive system, we predict Mills will throw the ball 34 times per game, equating to 578 attempts.
Brandin Cooks: 128 Targets
Impressive enough, Cooks became the best weapon in the depleted arsenal of Texans receivers. With 134 targets last season, Cooks was the 13th most targeted player in the league last season. His targets should decrease in 2022 with the ascension of Nico Collins, introduction of John Metchie, and promise of Brevin Jordan. Cooks’ ninth season will have him as the most productive member of the Texans offense and another a shot at a 1,000 yard season.
Nico Collins: 82 Targets
Collins enters his second season as the designated WR2. His upside is ultimately limited but he has a genuine connection with Davis Mills. He produced above his expectations last year by notching 73 targets, 31 of which coming in the last five games. Collins should continue to improve this season as he is a red zone target and big play maker, but may be stymied by the introduction of John Metchie.
John Metchie Jr.: 61 Targets
Speaking of which, the Texans new slot receiver will be a revelation in the Texans offense. They’ve been looking for a legitimate slot receiver for honestly a decade. Bruce Ellington was the best slot receiver they’ve had, but Metchie is a different talent. He’ll produce Hunter Renfrow-like numbers in due time, but his ACL injury will limit his rookie season’s productivity.
Chris Conley: 57 Targets
The Texans least known target, Chris Conley will benefit from a more consistent season both in health and quarterbacks. Conley couldn’t find his footing in the Texans offense and routinely was only targeted a handful of times a game. Conley could be a roster casualty or the Texans second best receiver. He’s past his prime and limited in his downfield targets, but the Texans can use him across the field and that’s what they need.
Brevin Jordan: 47 Targets
Jordan projects to primarily a slot receiver-third down target. You could see him grow and mature through the second half of the season. He’d be an amazing asset as a safety valve. Though that moniker has been a scarlet letter in this series of articles. He needs to define his role and purpose in the offense to avoid getting lost in the mix of new faces.
Rex Burkhead: 38 Targets
Here’s where I’ll most likely be wrong. Burkhead finished the season off strong and wedged a role for himself in the offense. He caught a total of 25 passes on 32 targets, most of which occurred late in the season. His willingness to block and do the dirty work will keep him on the field again this season regardless if he’s the ‘best’ pass catcher out of the backfield. If Marlon Mack doesn’t take over the RB1 role entirely, Burkhead will receive the most plays and targets to begin the season.
Marlon Mack: 37 Targets
Mack is projected to be the starter, but his injury recovery and run-focused offensive scheme will see his pass catching capabilities limited. In the Colts offense, Nyheim Hines caught the majority of passes out of the backfield. Mack is a powerful running back and capable receiver, but there’s too many unknowns to lean into a higher projection.
Pharaoh Brown: 31 Targets
Brown overachieved last season tallying 34 targets but that’s mired in the late arrival of Brevin Jordan who stole much of the TE targets. Brown was brought into be a blocking TE, but has been better in the passing game.
Phillip Dorsett: 28 Targets
Dorsett featured late in the season as Mills’ favorite deep target. Dorsett is a speedy and talented receiver who never found hit footing in Indianapolis or New England. He may not find the field as often as he could with the Texans shifting to a two-tight end set, but if he renews his connection with Mills he’ll find a more suitable target total.
Dameon Pierce: 26 Targets
Here’s where we get interesting. Currently the RB3, Pierce easily could notch 50+ targets if he assumes the starting role early. He’s shown he can catch out of the backfield and knows how to move when the ball in his hands. Depending on Mack’s health and Burkhead’s true capability to play at a starting level, Piece’s potential to rack up a ton of targets must be noted.
Chris Moore: 25 Targets
Moore didn’t play well last season and easily could be cut. He’s a smart and athletic receiver who was supposed to excel last season with Tyrod Taylor, but that never occurred. If the Texans young bucks don’t command the offense, Moore could work his way into a consistent role in the offense. Or, he won’t make it past August.
Teagan Quitoriano: 18 Targets
The rookie tight end will be difficult to predict. He’s a functional blocking tight end with potential to be a red zone target or short yardage third down player. However that doesn’t equate to a significant amount of targets...particularly on this offense. He was skilled in the East West Shrine Bowl catching quick passes, but he’s third on the tight end list and lowest on the expected targets for the season.