It's great to have friends in the journalism business, and that's why Fantasy Source readers are in for a treat today.
Megan Manfull, one of the beat writers covering the Houston Texans for the Houston Chronicle (and a graduate of one of the finest universities in the land, the University of Iowa), has agreed to give her insider view on some of the Texans' most important skill players, all in an effort to give fantasy owners some great information as the season nears.
So my thanks go out to her for agreeing to help me unlock the secrets of the Texans. The bottom line is that the Texans' offense is on the rise, and it all starts with the new face under center, Matt Schaub.
Projected draft round Player Round Matt Schaub, QB 11-12 Ahman Green, RB 5-6 Ron Dayne, RB 10-11 Andre Johnson, WR 3-4 Kevin Walter, WR DND Owen Daniels, TE DND Kris Brown, K DND Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: RB Ahman Green, QB Matt Schaub. Key losses: QB David Carr, WR Eric Moulds, RB Domanick Williams.
DeMeco Ryans, LB. Even as a rookie, Ryans quickly catapulted to IDP starter status and showed down the stretch that he is an elite performer. He recorded double-digit tackle totals in seven of his last 10 games, and had two sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception in that span. Even though the Texans' offense will be better this season, which will mean less time on the field for the defense, Ryans still will be in on his share of plays and remain a stud at his position.
Andre Johnson, WR. Johnson started 2006 with four 100-yard performances in the Texans' first six games and had three touchdowns, but his production tailed off because of David Carr's struggles. However, Johnson still ended the season with his first 100-catch campaign of his four-year career. Manfull says with the Texans' other weapons and Matt Schaub's ability to spread the ball around, it may mean fewer catches for AJ. However, it's very possible he makes more big plays -- as in TDs -- than the five scores he had a year ago. It's a good time to be a Johnson owner, especially when you can get potential No. 1 production from a player ranked as a high No. 2 in fantasy.
Ahman Green, RB. Even though Green has changed uniforms, he sees some familiar sights in Houston. There's a zone-blocking scheme like he played in with Green Bay, and Mike Sherman (his former coach in Green Bay) is the offensive coordinator. Despite missing two games last season, Green proved pretty durable otherwise, carrying the ball at least 20 times in eight of his 14 starts. Green is now 30, but the Texans will rely on his running. Manfull says Green "will share some carries with Ron Dayne, who will be used in short-yardage situations, but Green will get the bulk of carries and see his share of the end zone." Sounds like a decent No. 2 back to us.
Ron Dayne, RB. Dayne filled in well down the stretch for the Texans, scoring five touchdowns in a four-game span in Weeks 13-16. That may make Dayne look pretty enticing to owners speculating that Green could get hurt again, but let's also remember that in that span Dayne faced three defenses ranked in the bottom quarter in rush defense. Dayne's lack of a second gear makes him a handcuff pick with not as much upside as you'd think.
Matt Schaub, QB. Schaub looked great in the Texans' third preseason game against the Cowboys, completing 12-of-16 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. What fantasy owners need to be pleased with is the fact he has been sacked only once this preseason. (While he was in Houston, David Carr was on his back more than a capsized turtle.) Manfull on Schaub's preseason performance: "He showed the ability to go through his reads very quickly and find the open man. He isn't afraid to spread the ball around between five or six guys." Schaub is starting to creep up the rankings, and you may need to draft him as your No. 2 QB if you want to get him. His upside appears great, especially with a last-place schedule.
Owen Daniels, TE. Of Daniels' 34 receptions last season, five went for scores. Only 10 other tight ends had five or more TDs last season, which would put Daniels into potential starting consideration. In order for that to happen, Daniels needs to catch more balls than the two per game he averaged a year ago. If you miss out on the top tight ends and are scouring the waiver wire for help, Daniels is a guy to remember, especially if he starts the season as quickly as he did in 2006.
Dunta Robinson, DB. Despite a rookie season that saw him make six interceptions and get three sacks, Robinson has just three interceptions and one sack the since then. His tackles total has remained steady, but the lack of big plays makes Robinson a No. 3 DB at best.
Mario Williams, DE. Williams should change his name to "That guy who's not Reggie Bush." Yes, the No. 1 overall pick didn't have the rookie season Bush did (or even Shawne Merriman, for that matter), but a career is not made on one season. Williams has plenty of time to improve, but because the rest of the defense still has holes, this second-year performer isn't on fantasy radars yet.
Kris Brown, K. Brown is in his sixth season with the Texans, and only once has he broken the 100-point barrier. He has a great chance at notching No. 2 this season, but there are plenty of other kickers who score 100 points. Brown would have to really start fast to warrant a pickup.
Texans defense/special teams. Even with alleged super sack talent Mario Williams, the Texans had just 28 sacks last year. Only four NFL teams had fewer last year. This unit ranked in the bottom third of nearly every defensive stat known to man last year, so not even a year of added maturity and the addition of Jacoby Jones on punt returns will elevate this group to fantasy starter status.
Kevin Walter, WR. Walter is currently starting opposite Andre Johnson, but it's hard to expect much from him, especially when he has yet to establish himself in four previous NFL seasons. Maybe the reason why he's starting is that he has the same hairdo as coach Gary Kubiak. Hey, it's a thought. At best, Walter looks like a bye-week fill-in, and even that might be a stretch.
Jacoby Jones, WR. Jones looked really good in the preseason, catching seven passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns in three games. That doesn't even include the two touchdowns on punt returns he had. If Jones overtakes Walter as the starter and demonstrates productivity, the Texans' third-round draft choice will be worth adding to fantasy rosters.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: If you're looking to fill a QB spot cheaply, Matt Schaub is available for $5.75 million. The Chiefs' defense isn't that scary, and the Panthers' can be exploited, too. Schaub's value will rise dramatically if he gets off to a great start.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: Being from the Mike Shanahan coaching tree, Gary Kubiak will have the Texans reliant on running the ball, and taking shots in the passing game when things start opening up. The run-first mentality should mean good things for Green if he can stay healthy. Defensively, the team has to stress getting more pressure in the face of opposing QBs. Can defensive coordinator get Amobi Okoye to help Williams and Anthony Weaver achieve that goal? We will see.
Offensive line: This unit allowed 43 sacks last year, but Manfull says the Texans' goal is to get under 30, and the team thinks it can do it because of Schaub's ability to get rid of the ball quickly. The line remains virtually unchanged from last year, so its added cohesion as a unit also should help keep this offense going. It also would be nice to see this unit stay healthier than in years past.
Schedule analysis: The AFC South is not overly ferocious, especially considering the Texans have owned the Jaguars in recent seasons, and the Colts' defense can be beaten, as well. What owners have to like seeing best is the Texans' relatively easy finish to the season. Following their bye in Week 10, the Texans face the Saints, Browns, Titans, Buccaneers, Broncos and Colts - and only the Broncos' defense is scary in that span. Trading for Andre Johnson in the middle of the season looks like a great idea. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: Ninth easiest (or 24th toughest).