David Culley’s era in Houston was short-lived as ownership decided it was time to move on from him after just one season. Lovie Smith now gets his 3rd opportunity to head coach an NFL franchise as he becomes the 5th coach to helm the Houston Texans.
Smith made a name for himself learning the much-heralded Tampa 2 defense under Tony Dungy with the Buccaneers before getting his first head coaching gig for the Chicago Bears in 2004. He was able to take the Bears to a Super Bowl in just his 3rd season with the team but was only able to muster 3 playoff berths overall during his 9-year stint with Chicago. After taking a 2-year hiatus, he came back to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons and then left for the college ranks to lead the Illinois Fightin’ Illini.
Heading into the 2022 season, we know that Houston is not going to be a very competitive team. Regardless, fantasy owners know that it doesn’t matter how good a team is because you can find some players worth adding to benefit your roster during the season. Let’s jump into Smith’s plan for the Texans and how that might help your fantasy football draft preparations.
Smith is a defensive-minded coach and his offenses have historically not been tops in the league many times. In fact, during his 11 total years as a head coach in the NFL, his offense has finished top-15 in points just twice and one of those times his team made the Super Bowl. In this case, the offensive coordinator is going to take full responsibility for the offense and that will fall to Pep Hamilton.
The big thing that is a focal point for both Hamilton and Smith, is establishing the run. One of the things that Houston was bad at last season was running the ball. The Texans ranked 9th worst in rushing attempts, dead last in rushing yards, and tied for fewest rushing touchdowns with the New York Giants. Smith has said in his press conference when taking the job with the Texans, “…I’m from a little small town of Big Sandy that’s about winning football. We had a simple formula: play good offense. And our good offense helped, what we’ll be leading, is you need to be able to run the football.” So expect this offense to have a strong foundation of running the ball and building the passing game off of that.
Who Stands to Benefit?
Marlon Mack, RB
After much speculation that he would leave the Colts last offseason, Mack has now found a new home with the Houston Texans. The Texans ground attack was abysmal last season and Mack brings a proven track record to the Houston backfield. While Rex Burkhead and Royce Freeman were in the offense last season and might have a leg up, Mack has been more effective in his career. Prior to his injury in 2020, Mack had back-to-back 1,000 scrimmage yard seasons. One thing that Smith benefited from during his coaching career in the NFL was that he had running backs that were dual-threats (Thomas Jones, Matt Forte, Doug Martin). Mack fits that mold and should become the number one option in this backfield very quickly.
Take this with a grain of salt though. This is a big fish in a small pond situation. He may be the best running back in this backfield, but there are more solid options in the rest of the NFL. Still, draft Mack as an RB2 on your roster and you should be able to reap the rewards of a play that may go overlooked because he plays on a questionable offense.
Davis Mills, QB
We already discussed the plethora of young quarterbacks that benefited from having Hamilton coaching them up. Mills can be the next guy on that list and before you scoff at the idea, just look at his numbers in his first six starts of the season, and then his final five starts to close the season.
|First Six Starts
|Final Five Starts
You can see that he cut down on the interceptions and was able to limit the number of sacks taken as well. Now we’ll see if this can carry over into 2022, but the combination of Hamilton guiding him and the progress we saw at the end of 2021 can be a good sign for the Texans offense.
With that said, Mills will still go undrafted in most leagues and that’s fine. Mills is not expected to be a starter in 1-QB leagues, but he holds some value in 2-QB leagues and Superflex leagues. The big thing that Mills can be for you is a viable streaming option and once the bye weeks roll in, he can help you out as a BYE week replacement option.
Potential Break-Out Player
Dameon Pierce, RB
The rookie out of Florida was selected by the Houston Texans in the 4th round with the 107th overall pick. Pierce lands on a team that wants to run the ball and there are no established playmakers to worry about. Marlon Mack will be the lead running back in this backfield, but the touches leftover are up for grabs between Royce Freeman, Rex Burkhead, and Pierce. Pierce totaled 1,806 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns in a 4-year career as a Florida Gator. During his time in college, he was never the feature back and that’s not going to be his role in the NFL either.
The reason to have optimism about Pierce is that he probably can be the better runner in this offense compared to the others in the running back room. Mack is a great player for this offense, but he doesn’t have the stamina to handle 35-40 touches a game. Pierce can take more of the load in the running game with running the ball and can 100% be a red zone and short-distance back in this offense. The more touches he gets, the more you can see the potential with him but he still will be a complementary back instead of being the main guy. The combo attack of Mack and Pierce can be a dangerous force for opposing defenses to worry about.
For fantasy purposes, he’s worth stashing on your bench. Once we see more from him in the Houston offense, that’s when he’ll start garnering FLEX appeal and possibly RB2 appeal as well.
Dameon Pierce Will Finish as a Top-20 Fantasy RB
Pierce has shown that he can be a lead back in this offense and it was clearly evident with the release of Mack from this roster. While Pierce is not the same pass-catcher that Mack is, he clearly is the better runner and that was enough for the front office in Houston to let the veteran go. Pierce looked like a very capable running back during the preseason and all of training camp as well. He was finding the holes easily set-up by the offensive line and was able to gain extra yards with his bowling ball frame. As mentioned, he isn’t quite adept at catching the ball but that’s something that can easily be taught over the course of the season. Even if he doesn’t catch that many balls, Pierce is going to get the lion’s share of carries in the backfield and that should easily put him into the top-20 for fantasy running backs when the 2022 season comes to a close