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Juggernaut Index, No. 12: Deshaun Watson, back in business

Andy Behrens
Yahoo Sports
Deshaun Watson is back from injury and the fantasy community is convinced last year’s performance was no fluke. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

Let’s begin with a partial list of NFL records established or tied by Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in his first pro season:

Most touchdown passes by a rookie in a calendar month (16);
Longest streak of games with three or more touchdown passes by a rookie (4);
Most touchdown passes by a rookie in a single game (5);
Most touchdown passes by a rookie in a half (4).

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Last October, in a thrilling 41-38 loss at Seattle, Watson produced the only game in the history of the league in which a player has run for 50 or more yards, passed for 400 and thrown for at least four TDs.

After that performance, Richard Sherman had this to say: “My God, Houston’s so lucky. By next year, [Watson] is going to be a top-five quarterback in this league, and that includes the two big dogs. He makes you dig to the deepest part of your competitive juices to beat him.”

Watson was the top scoring quarterback in fantasy last season on a per-game basis, by a healthy margin. He threw eight interceptions in seven games, which isn’t great, but that’s only a minor nuisance in fantasy. Watson completed 61.8 percent of his throws at an impressive 8.3 yards per attempt. Plenty of analysts expressed concern about his arm strength and velocity entering the draft, but no QB threw more deep passes per game than Watson last season (6.9) and few passers were as accurate on deep balls (41.7 percent).

Going forward, there’s basically no chance that Watson can continue to throw TD passes on 9.3 percent of his attempts, as he did last season. No player in league history is anywhere close to that rate. (Aaron Rodgers has the highest TD percentage among modern quarterbacks at 6.4. Peyton Manning finished his career at 5.7, Steve Young at 5.6 and Tom Brady is at 5.5.) We would have expected regression from Watson even if he hadn’t suffered the ACL injury that ended his season in November. The league has had a full offseason to scheme for Houston’s offense.

It’s tough to nail down a proper draft-day price for Watson, because we need to account for both his immense upside and the near-certainty that his per-game production will slip. Early drafters are treating him as if he’s a no-doubt top-tier fantasy asset, selecting him as the second QB off the board behind only Rodgers, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. This, obviously, is insane. You have essentially zero chance to profit on Watson’s season if you select him near his ADP (39.2). The Yahoo fantasy crew is relatively bullish on Watson — no one ranks him lower than QB7 — but selecting a quarterback in the fourth round is not generally a winning approach.

As for the health of Watson’s right knee, there have been no worrisome reports to this point. He actually played a series in the preseason opener, which is a promising sign. He’ll be 10 full months removed from the injury when the regular season begins, so it’s not as if he’s racing to return on a tight timeline. Mobility is big a part of Watson’s game, but it’s certainly not his signature trait. Last year’s fantasy value was largely about his arm, his aggressiveness, his decision-making and his stellar receiving corps.

DeAndre Hopkins has some of the best hands in the business. He’s a no-doubt first-round receiver in fantasy. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

DeAndre Hopkins catches every damn thing

While Watson was passing for a record-setting 16 touchdowns last October, Hopkins delivered an absurd 402 receiving yards and six scores. Nuk was phenomenal last season, beginning to end. With Watson, he was borderline unfair. Hopkins finished as the No. 1 receiver in fantasy for the year, catching 96 balls for 1378 yards and a league-leading 13 spikes. He’s an easy first-rounder in 2018. Hopkins has topped 1200 receiving yards in three of the past four seasons, only missing the mark during the Osweiler plague. Nuk has a rare combination of strength, sure hands and body control. You want him on your fake squad.

Will Fuller is a dangerous complementary receiver who somehow managed to reach the end-zone on seven of his 28 receptions last season, a ratio that you won’t often encounter. It should go without saying that Fuller will not continue to score on 25 percent of his catches and/or 14 percent of his targets. However, it should also be noted that if Fuller can manage to remain healthy for a full season, he’s a solid be for 800-plus yards and 7-8 spikes. He’s missed eight games over his two NFL seasons, so durability is definitely the worry. Fuller has blistering speed (4.32), which pairs well with Watson’s eagerness to look deep. His ADP reflects the fantasy community’s reckless optimism about Houston’s offense (61.8, WR26); it’s tough to endorse Fuller at that price.

This team snagged sleeper rookie Keke Coutee in the fourth round of the draft, but he’s currently sidelined by a hamstring injury. Coutee was a monster at Texas Tech last season (93-1429-10), and should see slot snaps immediately. He was plenty buzzy this summer, prior to the hamstring malfunction. Braxton Miller, Bruce Ellington and Sammie Coates are fighting for depth chart position as well. No player mentioned in this paragraph needs to be drafted in standard 10 or 12-team leagues, but Coutee is an obvious dynasty asset.

Tight end is an exceedingly deep position in 2018, so you probably don’t need to look to Houston for help. But those of you in supersized leagues should get to know Jordan Akins, a rookie third-rounder from UCF who scored a pair of TDs in the preseason opener. Akins is ancient by rookie standards (26) because he spent four years playing minor league baseball in the Texas Rangers system (modest speed and power, zillions of strikeouts). He caught 32 balls for 515 yards and four TDs last season for the Knights, delivering a 4-66-1 line in that crazy/classic conference title game. He’s a deep sleeper of interest.

Lamar Miller, forgotten fantasy weapon. (Austin Anthony/Daily News via AP)

Lamar Miller, still the RB to own in Houston

Miller is one of those boring draft choices who excites absolutely no one, yet can help you win a league. You’re gonna have to grind out a few 88-84 fantasy wins along the way, and, in those weeks, you’ll appreciate owning dudes with respectable floors. Miller is guaranteed a significant workload and he’s tied to a potentially explosive offense. It’s tough to dislike his setup, even if he’s let you down in prior seasons.

Last season, Miller continued his downward trend in terms of efficiency — his per-carry production has slipped from 5.1 YPC in 2014 to 3.7 last year. He’s gained over 1200 scrimmage yards in each of the past four seasons, however, and he’s made a dozen trips to the end-zone in his two years with the Texans. Miller is still just 27, so you wouldn’t expect him to have entered the decline phase of his career. He reported to camp at the weight he maintained with the Dolphins, toward the goal of regaining some of the explosiveness that was absent last season. Miller returning to form would be a huge win for Houston, no question. But even if he spends another season shuffling along at three-point-something yards per carry, he’s a near lock to handle 270-plus touches if healthy.

D’Onta Foreman produced a few impressive moments last year, but he’s still attempting to work his way back from an Achilles tear suffered in November. Foreman is on the active/PUP list as of this writing, and he’s hardly a lock to play in the season-opener. Achilles injuries are particularly brutal for running backs and linebackers, unfortunately. Foreman is not the preferred handcuff to Miller. Here’s hoping he manages to return at some point as a useful piece for the Texans. Alfred Blue is again second on the depth chart in Houston’s backfield, ready to unleash his 3.6 YPC talents as needed.

J.J. Watt again leads a defense that appears to be loaded. (AP Photo/Chris Tilley)

Houston’s D can be dominant when healthy

J.J. Watt is one of the league’s all-time disruptive defensive playmakers, but injuries have limited him to just eight games over the past two seasons. He’s healthy at the moment, which clearly makes a huge difference for this team. Jadeveon Clowney has been curiously slow to recover from a January knee scope, so Texans fans will need to continue tracking his camp status. Watt, Clowney, LB Benardrick McKinney and DB Tyrann Mathieu are the key IDPs on this defense. Houston opens the season at New England, we should note, so this D/ST won’t rank as a playable option until Week 2 (at TEN) rolls around.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 21.1 (17th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 204.9 (21)
Rush YPG – 115.1 (14)
Yards per play – 5.0 (20)
Plays per game – 64.2 (13)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit, 13) Carolina, 12) Houston

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