Next Man Mentality

Let's identify Deshaun Watson's new No.1 target

Composite image by Jack Brame.

Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will be the butt of jokes until proven wrong. Walking away without a first-round pick in a trade sending All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was something of an enigma. However, in a way, perhaps Houston could come out the other side looking stronger.

With the 40th pick in place, O'Brien traded away their original 57th selection to the Los Angeles Rams for speedster Brandin Cooks. Add in the redefined Randall Cobb in the slot, perhaps their production gives Deshaun Watson more than just a single go-to weapon. However, in any high-risk scenario, best hope the cards fall your way.

Receptions yards and stud pass-catchers don't go hand in hand. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys — both of whom featured a top 10 receiver and both missed the postseason. Still, having a player who can change the game with a rising pocket passer should fare well.

"Since we [traded] and got him, we definitely kind of built that chemistry," Watson said. "We've been talking ever since. Working out with him has been good. He's just a great person. His family is awesome, amazing. A guy that you just want to be around. He's seen so much football, been around so many people."

Cooks must break free as the team's new top target. Hopkins had been the definition of consistency at NRG Drive, finishing the last three seasons with a minimum of 96 catches for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns.

Cooks, who will turn 27 this September, has been in the front line for concussion protocol, suffering a minimum of five in his six-year stint. Despite the concerns surrounding CTE and the impact of hits, the former Rams speedster has "zero" concerns about his history with the injury.

"For me, I'm not worried at all," Cooks said on Thursday. "If there is any hesitation or worry, I wouldn't be here right now. But at the end of the day, things happen in this game that you wish don't happen. But when you start to learn through this process, you really start to get an understanding on what this is. There's so much out there that people just don't understand that goes into it. I'm comfortable and I feel great and I look forward to continuing to just do what I have to do and go out there and give it my all."

When healthy, Cooks' 4.33 speed allows him to win in man coverage from a vertical standpoint. Starting his career with the New Orleans Saints, the former Oregon State product is one of four players to finish with four 1,000-yard seasons before their age-26 season.

Cooks' production diminished last season with 42 catches for 583 yards and two touchdowns. Should he find a natural balance between a constant casualty and supreme superstar, the Texans should remain confident in the passing game.

Outside of Cooks, Cobb could continue his comeback tour throughout the Lone Star State. The former Packer signed a cheap deal with the Dallas Cowboys last offseason and shined as the No.3 option, finishing with 55 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns.

Cobb signed a three-year, $27 million deal this season with the Texans. Houston's inability to find a reliable slot option has been well identified via free agency and the draft. In 2018, DeAndre Carter and former fourth-rounder Keke Coutee combined for 33 catches, 416 yards and zero scores.

Houston is hoping for a full season with Will Fuller as their new top target. Since entering the league in 2016, the former first-rounder has yet to play more than 14 games and has yet to surpass 50 catches on the year. Flashing the potential of a sound vertical threat, Fuller's health could decide if he's viewed as a long-term option entering a contract year.

"He showed up and he's in great shape," O'Brien told reporters on July 31. "He looks good. He's been working out and working hard. He's excited about the season and he's excited about our offense. We're excited about having him for 16 games."

Health will be the main concern for the Texans' passing attack. Should three of the four top options remain on the field, they should combine to replace Hopkins' overall value. However, concussion concerns and lower-body injuries will always be on the minds of the Bulls on Parade faithful.

Houston won't know if trading away a top-five target could look like a win until their season opener on Sept.10. Perhaps Rhode Island rookie Isaiah Coulter could shock the world and become the next big-time target.

Should concussion concerns and lower body injuries minimally factor into the Texans' season, this could be Watson's top unit since entering the league in 2017. If not, there are more questions than answers as the two-time Pro Bowler gears up for contract negotiations.

"We're working hard," O'Brien said on Watson's potential extension. "We feel so strongly about him in this offense, in this organization. We want him here for a long time. We'd love to have Deshaun here."

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome