Join the Footballguys Daily Update
Start your morning with our roundup of the most important stories in football - with the fantasy insight you need to make league-winning decisions. Delivered straight to your inbox, 100% free.
Welcome back for year 29 of the Eyes of the Guru column. Last summer, I started a new tradition with the EOTG, posting team-by-team rather than a division at a time. The goal here is to give our customers a more steady diet of information in smaller doses.
These teams have been covered so far:
There is another step in the evolution of the column this year as well. I have talked about the need for positional realignment among edge defenders and interior defensive linemen for several years now, and the True Position format has finally arrived. Not every league host site has come to see the light, but many have. The rest are eventually sure to follow.
Going forward, I will be treating and labeling all edge defenders as defensive ends. This will include 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers, and anyone else in the new hybrid schemes of today's NFL that makes a living by chasing quarterbacks off the edge. Likewise, the defensive tackle position will include all interior defensive linemen in 4-3 schemes and all down linemen in 3-4 alignments. As a result of this approach, we have eliminated the constant arguments and flip-flopping of positions among these players.
For reference, when mentioning where players finished in the rankings last season, my model will be the standard Footballguys scoring system. This is the basic stuff:
- Tackles = 1.5
- Assists = .75
- Sacks = 4
- Forced fumbles = 3
- Fumble recoveries = 3
- Interceptions = 4
- Passes defended = 1.5
- Touchdowns = 6
When tackle numbers are mentioned, solo stops and assists are generally not lumped together. Unless there is a reference one way or the other, tackles refer to solo stops. When talking about the total number of takeaways for a player, I am counting interceptions, fumble recoveries, and fumbles forced since all of these are scored very similarly in most leagues. Keep in mind that based on scoring systems, rankings will vary (sometimes greatly) from league to league.
From time to time, the rookie corner rule will be referenced. For those who are new to IDP or the EOTG, the rookie corner rule is the basic fact that in the NFL, starting a rookie on the corner is like throwing chum to the sharks. Offensive coordinators will target young and inexperienced players as weaknesses. Thus, these guys have an accelerated number of opportunities. Often these players are the cream of the crop at the position (which is why they are starting so soon), and their numbers will begin to drop steadily after their rookie seasons.
Looking just at the numbers for the Texans’ pass defense might make someone think they were pretty good in 2022. Their 16 interceptions were tied for seventh, Houston was eleventh in passing yards allowed, and no one gave up fewer points through the air. If we look at the defense as a whole, it changes the perspective greatly.
The Texans faced the fifth-fewest pass attempts because no one had to throw on them. The run defense was dead last at 170 yards per game, they gave up five yards per rush and only the Bears allowed more rushing touchdowns. At least they were middle of the pack in sacks with 39 and their 27 turnover were more than 25 other teams.
This is a team that is in the first stage of rebuilding mode. They have a long way to go on both sides of the ball personnel-wise. The foundation was laid with their most important addition, the hiring of DeMeco Ryans as head coach. They got a jump on player personnel as well, landing both their franchise quarterback and a cornerstone for the defense within the first three picks of the draft.
The Texans didn’t have the cap room to go get a bunch of great players in free agency, so like most teams in similar situations, they went for quantity over quality, adding eleven bargain-priced veteran free agents. None of the guys they just signed will be there in two or three years, but they can help the team play competitive football until reinforcements arrive.
Ryans will bring new energy to the entire team, but as a defensive-minded head coach, he brings a little extra to that side of the ball. One tangible example of that is the hiring of Matt Burke as coordinator. Burke and Ryan share the same defensive philosophy and will build an aggressive one-gap, 4-3. Both coaches agree on the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage so the defensive line will be an early focus.
Those of us that have been at this for a while will remember 2006 when the Texans were criticized for passing on Reggie Bush to take defensive end Mario Williams first overall. That decision worked out well for them, especially when they were able to get Ryans in round two. This time around, they had to take the franchise quarterback at two but still managed to get the best defender in the draft and a cornerstone for their defense by trading up to three for Will Anderson Jr.
Anderson was arguably the closest thing to a can’t-miss prospect that this draft had to offer. He is a chiseled six foot three and 253 pounds with long arms, speed, and quickness off the edge. He is even a sound technician with great footwork and the ability to beat blockers by overwhelming them with power on one snap and exploding upfield on the next. He checks the box for experience as a three-year starter for Alabama, where he constantly faced the best competition in college football. Anderson puts two checkmarks in the production box to emphasize just how good he was for the Crimson Tide. In three years there, he accumulated 204 combined tackles (58.5 for loss), 34.5 sacks, and 3 turnovers. Most rookies start slowly in year one; Anderson could be the exception.
For all their shortcomings, the Texans were not without good players on the defensive line last year. It feels like Jerry Hughes has been in the league forever. He is entering year fourteen and will be 35 years old in August. He is no longer a player that can stay on the field for more than 60% of the snaps, but as long as he stays fresh, Hughes can still get it done.
The nine sacks he recorded in 2022 equals the highest total of his career, a mark Hughes set back in 2013 and matched in 2014. He could retain the title of starter but there is a chance his role will be reduced to that of a pass-rush specialist. It has been a long time since Hughes was an IDP factor. Even with the nine sacks last year, marginal tackle numbers landed him outside the top 35. IDP managers can look at him as a matchup-based by-week flier with the hope of getting a sack at the right time.
If he can stay healthy, Jonathan Greenard should be in the mix for the starting job opposite Anderson. A third-round pick of the Texans in 2020, Greenard was in the midst of a breakout season in 2021 when a chest injury kept him from finishing strong. That year Greenard had 19 tackles, 4 assists, 4 batted passes, and 8 sacks over a seven-game span. He recorded a sack and a half in the first three games last year before missing several games with an ankle injury.
Patriots 2019 third-round pick Chase Winovich and fourth-round rookie Dylan Horton could also get their names in the hat, but they will more likely see limited action unless someone ahead of them is hurt.
In Maliek Collins, Sheldon Rankins, Roy Lopez, and Hassan Ridgeway, the Texans have a quartet of good veteran contributors to rotate on the inside. Both Collins and Rankins move well for being north of 300 pounds. Both guys have tasted some statistical success during their careers as well.
In 2018, Rankins totaled 41 combined stops and 8 sacks while with the Saints. The second-best numbers of his seven-year career came with the Jets last season at 43 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. He is not going to blow up for big production, but in a penetrating scheme like the one Houston will run, he could excel.
At 27-10-3.5, Collins saw the best production of his career last year. Those numbers are short of impressive but it is worth mentioning that most of them, including all of the sacks, came over the final nine games. Unless your league has a lot of teams or deeper than normal rosters, neither Collins nor Rankins is roster worthy at this point, but keep an eye on their production in the first couple of games.
- DE Willie Anderson Jr. – Future star with the potential to post strong numbers as a rookie
- DE Jonathan Greenard – Sleeper with a fairly high ceiling and a pretty low floor
- DE Jerry Hughes – Matchup-based spot play with a limited ceiling
- DE Chase Winovich – Deep sleeper at best
- DT Maliek Collins – Possible depth in leagues starting two tackles
- DT Sheldon Rankins – Possible DT2, probable DT3
- DT Ryan Lopez – No impact
- DT Hassan Ridgeway – No impact
- DT Booker Washington – Second-year man that could make a little noise
Continue reading this content with a ELITE subscription.
An ELITE subscription is required to access content for IDP (individual defensive players) leagues. If this league is not a IDP (individual defensive players) league, you can edit your leagues here.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE