When Keke Coutee was selected by the Texans in the fourth round (103rd overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft, initial reactions among fans were positive. Based on the scouting reports of Coutee’s rise to prominence at Texas Tech, it appeared that the Texans had found a quality player with plenty of potential.
Keke Coutee was an exceptional slot + vertical-threat receiver at Texas Tech, using his 4.43 speed to his advantage to gain separation and catch plenty of deep passes. Many scouts said he would have immediate ability as a deep-threat specialist and kick returner, but his record setting debut (11 receptions for 109 yards) and similar performance in the 2018 Wild Card loss to the Colts (11 receptions, 110 yards, 1 TD) whetted the appetite of the Texans’ fanbase and revealed that he could be more than just a specialist. While Coutee’s rookie campaign was fairly mediocre when viewed from afar (partially due to hamstring injuries), the occasional electric performance was more than enough excuse for excitement on a team desperate for more speed at receiver. 2018 was a transition year; in 2019, Keke Coutee was going to build upon these flashes and establish himself as a starting caliber slot receiver with speed to boot. Of course, things are always a little more complicated.
While my hopes for Coutee may have been a bit over the moon, they were not unfounded and not unpopular. Yet, as the 2019 season stretched on, Coutee was not performing. He was either not on the field or causing a game-losing interception when he was. These mistakes and a lack of “focus[ing] on the details” lead to his benching and intermittent play for the remainder of the 2019 season. His mistakes at the beginning of the year significantly curtailed his ability to make up for it in the later months; when he was given a shot, he wasn’t exceptional.
The electric rookie we thought we saw in 2018 was either suffering a sophomore slump or just gone, and now the Texans have to either bank on him to improve for 2020 or seek a replacement. To make matters even worse, he’s already off to a poor start after developing a “minor stress fracture” in his foot, preventing him from practicing at all in the past few days. Now the ripple effects of Coutee’s lack of progression has led to tangible roster analysis the Texans have to make, with a further career-altering decision potentially imminent. I imagine the Texans’ goal after the 2018 season was to develop Coutee into a quality slot receiver with the speed to constantly threaten the defense down the middle and force them to stretch out. This, coupled with Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and DeAndre Hopkins, would create mismatch nightmares for opposing teams as they tried to compensate for speed all over the field and deal with Hopkins at the same time.
Unfortunately, this never came to fruition, leading the Texans to chase a slot guy in 2020 free agency since they didn’t have the draft capital to risk taking another wideout anytime before the fifth or sixth rounds. This likely led to the signing of Randall Cobb and may have potentially led to the trade of Hopkins in order to pay for another deep threat veteran in Brandin Cooks without creating a cap nightmare in the following seasons (although dealing with the cap is still certainly going to be a headache for the Texans soon). The Texans clearly already had a plan to get faster before Coutee’s development stalled, but his failure to inspire meant having to pay a veteran so Houston’s 2020 offense can operate without a hitch. If Coutee had improved, Randall Cobb would likely not have been signed, as his position in the slot would already be filled. This would have freed up cap space that could have been spent on defense to bring in cornerbacks like Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib or to dramatically improve the line by signing Emmanuel Ogbah or Shaq Lawson. Or, if we really wanna get crazy, Coutee’s development could have prevented Hopkins from ever leaving in the first place since that money could have gone to a pay raise for Nuk. I find that hard to believe since the Texans would have still attempted to bring in Brandin Cooks in this dream scenario anyways.
Just imagine, a Houston Texans team made up on offense with Duke/David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and a starting caliber Keke Coutee, and then a defensive line of J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, rookies Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard, and Shaq Lawson! While this is not a legendary roster, having one rookie fourth round pick develop into a starter would have freed up room to spend elsewhere. Bringing in just one solid defensive end in free agency could have improved Houston’s defensive line dramatically and would have eased the workload on a relatively young defensive backfield.
While playing the what-if game is not necessarily productive, examining the ripple effects of what looks like a failed prospect reveals how much one player can alter the trajectory of an entire franchise. Not only that, but during an offseason of questions and confusion, speculation is one surefire way to keep us entertained. Personally, I’ve been attempting to mold Coutee into a star receiver on my Texans franchise in Madden, and it’s going just about as well as it did in real life.
What do you think would have happened if Keke Coutee developed into a solid slot receiver? What would the Texans be doing this offseason instead? Do you think Coutee even has a future in Houston now that this latest injury has happened?