DeAndre Hopkins is undoubtedly one of the best receivers in the NFL. In 15 games last season, “Nuk” hauled in 96 passes for 1,378 yards and an NFL-high 13 touchdowns—despite Tom Savage throwing him the football for the majority of the season. Furthermore, Hopkins has missed only one game in his 4-year career—when the Texans sat him in week 17 last season in order to avoid injury. Hopkins’ combination of route running, body control, catch-radius and durability make him a massive weapon for the Texans. The question is, who is going to consistently produce beside him? The Texans faced this problem for most of Andre Johnson’s career—and are starting to face a similar situation with Hopkins. Having a consistent running-mate creates many opportunities for an offense, as can be seen with JuJu Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh, and Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta. Heading into Deshaun Watson’s second season—the Texans need one of their young receivers to step up in a big way to take some pressure off of DeAndre Hopkins. Let’s look at Houston’s options behind their superstar receiver.
The Texans know that Hopkins needs help. They used the 21st overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft to select the speedy Will Fuller out of Notre Dame. After running a 4.32 40-yard dash at the combine, Fuller was expected to come in and take the tops off defenses from the get-go, however, Fuller has struggled to stay healthy in his first two years in the league. In his first two seasons, he has put up 75 catches for 1,058 yards and 9 touchdowns. Concentration drops have been a real issue for Fuller as well. After bulking up this offseason, there’s hope that he’ll be able to stay healthy for 16 games in year three. It should be noted that Will Fuller’s production with Deshaun Watson under center was incredible. In just 4 games with Watson under center, Fuller managed 13 catches for 279 yards and 7 touchdowns. That translates to a 52 catch, 1,116 yard, 28 touchdown season over 16 games. If the chemistry is still there between Fuller and Watson, this could be an exciting tandem in 2018.
Ellington was an under-the-radar waiver pickup by the Texans last offseason. After finding little success with the San Francisco 49ers, Ellington established a nice role for himself on the Texans. In 11 games, Ellington caught 29 passes for 330 yards and 2 touchdowns. When he was healthy, Ellington was a consistent option for Deshaun Watson in the slot. He was re-signed by the Texans this offseason—and will face competition for playing time from Braxton Miller and KeKe Coutee.
Braxton Miller has contributed next-to-nothing in his first two seasons with the Texans. Miller is still making the transition from quarterback to wide receiver, however, and is heading into a make-or-break year in Houston. In the past two years, Miller has managed only 34 catches for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns. His 7.7 yards-per-catch is a very disappointing mark for someone who excels in open space the way Miller does. That can partially be attributed to the Texans’ offense scheme, but Miller hasn’t been able to stay healthy and hasn’t added much in the return game. In two years, Miller has only played in 21 games. It would not shock me to see Miller as a final cut before the season begins.
The Texans selected Coutee in the 4th round of April’s draft to compete for the starting slot position in Bill O’Brien’s new offense. In four years with the Texans, the slot position has never been adequately filled. Coutee is an explosive athlete with speed that will be able to throw defenses off—especially when Will Fuller is also on the field. Coutee will add value in the return game, and will likely be featured all over the offense. Coutee’s ability to step in on day one will be vital to the Texans’ success on offense.
The Texans have one of the best players in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins—but have had little success finding other useful receivers. With Will Fuller returning and slot options in Bruce Ellington and KeKe Coutee, the biggest obstacle the Texans face is health. Behind Hopkins, each of the Texans receivers have struggled to stay healthy over the past few seasons. If they can stay healthy however, and Deshaun Watson is the man under center, the wide receiver corps should be ranked in the upper-half of the league in 2018 despite lacking a bigger receiver who can absorb hits over the middle.