The Houston Texans continued their interesting offseason as general manager and head coach Bill O’Brien traded for Brandin Cooks, giving up a second-round pick in exchange for Cooks and a 2022 fourth-round pick. Cooks is the latest offensive playmaker acquired by Houston this offseason, as the Texans also traded for running back David Johnson in the deal that sent DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Texans offense will look completely different in 2020, giving quarterback Deshaun Watson plenty of new weapons to throw to under the revamped unit. Whether the offense will be better than the 13th-ranked unit from 2019 is up for debate (especially without Hopkins), but the unit looks impressive on paper if all the skill players can stay healthy.
Here is the projected Texans offense in 2020 after the addition of Cooks:
Watson is heading into the last year of his rookie deal (until Houston picks up his fifth-year option), but the Texans may have done enough this offseason to make their franchise quarterback happy (even though they traded Hopkins). It helps that Watson is only getting better, especially coming off a season where he completed 67.6% of his passes for 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns while also rushing for 413 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Texans traded Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick for Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 fourth-round pick. Based on the depth chart, Johnson will be the No. 1 running back in Houston — coming off a season which he was relegated to the No. 3 running back after rushing for 345 yards and averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Johnson hasn’t averaged over 4.0 yards per carry since his All-Pro season in 2016 when he led the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage. He has just 2,101 yards from scrimmage the last two seasons, yet is owed $20,156,250 over the next two seasons.
The Texans are taking a big gamble here.
Duke Johnson Jr.
Johnson may be the Texans’ best option at running back, even though he’s never been a featured back in the NFL. He had 820 yards from scrimmage and averaged 6.5 yards per touch last season (the lowest since his rookie year). There will be more pressure on Johnson to perform with David Johnson’s injury history and Hopkins not available as a security blanket. Would help the Texans if they could get Carlos Hyde back, even though he declined a contract offer from the team last month.
Concussions have contributed to the decline in the production of Cooks — he suffered five concussions in his career and two in a 25-day span last season. Cooks is still the most proven receiver on the Texans’ roster after catching 402 passes for 5,730 yards and 34 touchdowns in his six-year career — including four 1,000-yard seasons.
Cooks will be the No. 1 wideout in Houston, and the primary target for Watson.
Fuller has been incredibly productive when healthy. He has also missed 20 games over the past three seasons, yet has 109 catches for 1,596 yards and 14 touchdowns in 28 games (57 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game). The Texans have their deep threat when Fuller is healthy — he just has to prove such.
The Texans pried Cobb away from the Dallas Cowboys with a three-year, $27 million deal in free agency, as he will be the slot receiver in Houston. Cobb had an excellent comeback season in his lone year with Dallas, catching 55 passes for 828 yards and three touchdowns. The 15.1 yards per catch was the highest of Cobb’s career, while the 828 yards were his most since 2015. The 10.0 yards per target was Cobb’s highest since his Pro Bowl season in 2014.
That was with Dak Prescott as Cobb’s quarterback and Cobb played the slot with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the outside. Cooks and Fuller aren’t at that level, but Cobb should still be productive in the slot as the underneath option for Watson.
Still is another deep-ball receiver for Watson to throw to, even if his role will be reduced in the offense. Stills averaged a career-low 14 yards per catch last season, but he had to learn a new offense on the fly. You can expect some improvement in year two with Watson as the Texans hope he can return to the player that averaged over 16 yards per catch in three of his first four seasons.
Watson’s go-to target in the red zone, Fells caught a career-high seven touchdowns last season (34 catches, 341 yards). Fells is the No. 1 tight end in Houston after signing a two-year, $6.3 million deal last month. He’ll be relied upon as a red-zone target again, especially since Houston doesn’t have a bunch of big body wideouts inside the 20.
Thomas caught just one pass in five games last season, but he is listed as the No. 2 tight end. He had 20 catches for 215 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie season, giving the Texans a look in “12” personnel if they choose to run that in the red zone.
The Texans offensive line isn’t the greatest of units, despite Bill O’Brien’s drastic attempts to improve it for Watson. After being sacked a league-high 62 times in 2018, that number reduced to 44 in 2019 — signaling some improvements. Houston was ninth in the NFL in rushing and eighth in yards per carry, but that was with Hyde and Duke Johnson in the backfield.
No changes on the line is a good thing, but Howard needs to take major strikes at right tackle if Houston intends to keep Watson upright. David Johnson is no Carlos Hyde either, which will impact the Texans’ running game.
The Texans offense looks more versatile on paper, but the injury-prone unit will greatly miss Hopkins. If Houston’s skill players can stay healthy, the Texans can make another playoff run.
If Watson gets hurt, this is all for nothing. The Texans have a second, third, fourth, fifth and three seventh-round picks in the 2020 draft and seven picks in the 2021 draft (with no picks in the first two rounds). Trading for Cooks and Johnson are “win-now” moves, similar to what O’Brien has been doing with this roster over the past nine months.