There is no doubt that the Houston Texans need some significant upgrades at the wide receiver position. For one, their passing game was one of the worst in the NFL in 2022. They ranked 25th in receiving yards, 18th in touchdown passes, and 28th in net yards per attempt. Furthermore, their best receiver is likely to be traded before the draft. So, the cupboard is almost bare.
Evaluating wide receivers is an inexact science. If you go by catches, yards, and touchdowns that can be pretty deceiving. Some guys are the focal point of their offense while others are forgotten. Then, you have to evaluate how good the quarterback is that is throwing to them. We can evaluate them in the same way we evaluate quarterbacks. We can look at the percentage of targets that end up becoming catches and the number of yards you get per target.
As a team, the Texans averaged 5.8 yards per attempt and completed 60.8 percent of their passes. Obviously, that includes two disastrous Kyle Allen starts and whatever we might call the Jeff Driscoll experience. So, when we look at the top three receivers from last season we should expect similar numbers. Brandin Cooks caught 61.3 percent of his targets for 7.52 yards per target. If we trade him then it gets really awful. Nico Collins caught 56.1 percent of his targets for 7.29 yards per target. Chris Moore came actually led the team with a 64.9 catch rate. His 7.41 yards per target actually falls in line with his teammates.
When looking at free agents, it is usually instructive to look at their performance over multiple seasons. For one, larger sample sizes always gives you a more complex and accurate picture of what is going on. Sometimes there were forces around a player that skewed their 2022 season one way or another. So, we will go back three seasons on all of the profiled free agents.
Potential Free Agents
Robert Woods— Tennessee Titans (188 catches, 2,019 yards, 12 TD)
Woods has succeeded in the Shanahan/McVay system. On the one hand, his catch percentage sits at a healthy 65.1 rate. On the other hand, the 6.99 yards per target looks like it isn’t quite as good as the existing guys. Much of that was due to a 5.79 rate last year for the Titans. Between 2018 and 2020 he caught 225 balls for well over 1,000 yards a season. Can he return to those days?
Jakobi Meyers— New England Patriots (209 catches, 2,399 yards, 8 TD)
Meyers had a 69.0 catch percentage for the Patriots which is the second highest catch percentage of the available free agents. He had 7.92 yards per target. That’s a little better than what we saw with the current receivers. What is encouraging is that number got better last season (8.4) even though the team was worse. In fact, he has been over 8.0 in three out of the four seasons he has been a pro.
Juju Smith-Schuster— Kansas City Chiefs (190 catches, 1,893 yards, 12 TD)
Schuster is likely going back to the Chiefs, but anything is possible we suppose. He led all free agent receivers in catch percentage (73.9%), but he clearly is not a speed threat. He has averaged under ten yards per reception over the last three seasons and under 7.50 yards per target. He might be a bigger name than what he is worth.
Allen Lazard— Green Bay Packers (133 catches, 1,752 yards, 17 TD)
He had the best quarterback in the NFL throwing to him and his numbers weren’t all that special. He comes in with very similar numbers as Woods (64.6% catch percentage) but he has the highest yards per target rate of any of the free agent receivers. Add in his ability to find the end zone and he could be an interesting name.
Darius Slayton— New York Giants (122 catches, 1,814 yards, 7 TD)
He and his teammate Kenny Golladay both will hit the open market. He had an under the radar resurgence this year with 10.2 yards per target. That might not have led the NFL, but it is pretty close to the numbers that those elite receivers produce. That came with 46 catches, so he might be more of a deep threat than the other guys on the board. He might be an interesting name if they want to draft a more possession oriented receiver.
Odell Beckham— La-Z Boy Sofas (67 catches, 856 yards, 8 TD)
Beckham sat out the season because of an ACL tear he suffered in the previous Super Bowl. He might be living off the fumes of his early stardom. In this first three seasons he well over 4,000 yards receiving, 35 TD, and over nine yards per target. Since then, he has been remarkably ordinary. In his last season, he caught only 53.7 percent of his targets for less than seven yards per target. So, will he rediscover the early magic or have those ACL tears made him a shell of his former self?
The Final Verdict
Notable sources have linked Meyers to the Texans while others prefer Woods. If that ends up happening then it is certainly a decent add. Make no mistake, there isn’t a legit number one receiver on the open market. Those guys usually aren’t available via free agency. So, if you want the Texans to find one, they are going to have to find one in the draft. Both of those guys would likely just replace what Cooks provided.