PRESSURE COOKER

Why it's all on the line for this Texans receiver in 2020

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

During the Houston Texans 53-32 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Will Fuller's numbers seemed like a replica performance from Madden 20. He recorded a career-high 217 receiving yards (15.5 AVG) on 14 catches, to go along with three touchdowns in the win. After the home victory, Fuller credited his performance as a result of playing alongside his All-Pro colleague, DeAndre Hopkins.

A few weeks later, Fuller had another breakout performance, this time during the Texans' 20-17 victory against their AFC South rival, the Indianapolis Colts. Although he failed to find his way into the end zone, Fuller recorded a team-high 140 yards (20.0 AVG) on seven receptions in a Week 12 win inside NRG Stadium in Houston. Again, following his performance, Fuller acknowledged Hopkins as the reason for his explosive play on the field.

Since his arrival to Houston in 2016, Fuller has entrenched himself as one of the most talented receivers in the league. The Notre Dame product has recorded a total of eight career games with 100 or more reception yards while becoming the first Texan to catch 10 touchdowns in his first 25 games.

In most circumstances, a franchise would normally consider Fuller as their No. 1 option, but playing alongside Hopkins for four seasons has categorized him as a hidden gem for the Texans — due to the amount of coverages the four-time Pro-Bowler demands on the weekly basis.

As he enters his fifth season, Fuller can no longer reap the benefits of playing next to Hopkins following his departure to the Arizona Cardinals. Houston will rely heavily upon Fuller's ability to fill an enormous void left by Hopkins — as James Palmer of the NFL Network reported, many believe Fuller will become the Texans No. 1 receiver in 2020.

Although he has the skill set to step in as the Texans' primary target, the conditions surrounding the Philadelphia native may create an immense amount of pressure for Fuller to live up to.

"Playing with Hop, like I always say, is easy," Fuller said. "He gets a lot of coverages thrown his way, and I feel like that's why they brought me here, to help him out. It took me a while, but I finally had this big game, so I'm just trying to help ... out." — Fuller via ESPN.

In a year when he will be taking on more on-field responsibilities, the Texans are asking Fuller to do so in his contract season — the most important year of his career. At 26-years-old, the 6-foot receiver is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. The calculated market value for a player of his caliber is worth 50 million over the next four years, which signifies next spring as Fuller's largest payday of his career.

When taking a look at his next deal, one must wonder whether Fuller has done enough over past four seasons for the Texans reward him with a new contract in the likes of his contemporaries Stefon Diggs, Alshon Jeffery and Allen Robinson — whose current contract resembles what Fuller may receive come next offseason.

Talent-wise, yes. production-wise, no.

Each of the previous three receivers has recorded 1,000 or more receiving yards at least twice in their respective careers, with Jeffery leading the way with 1,421 yards as a member of the Bears in 2013. Fuller has yet to register a season posting over 1,000 receiving yards. In fact, his career-high came after he posted a total of 670 receiving yards during the 2019 season. Certainly, Fuller has never been in a position to record over 1,000 receiving yards for a season, but the absence of the milestone goes far beyond playing in the shadows of Hopkins.

The most significant amount of pressure surrounding Fuller next season is his ability to stay healthy. Hall of Famer Bill Parcells once stated, "The best ability is availability," and for Fuller, his availability is rare.

After appearing in a career-high 14 games as a rookie, Fuller has only been active for 29 out of a possible 51 games since 2017 (including the postseason). Last season, he barely appeared in 11 games, as an abundance of ailments kept Fuller in and out of the Texans lineup. Despite the addition of Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, the Texans cannot afford for Fuller to miss a significant amount of time given his importance to the team's success this year.

If not for the constant groin, hamstring and knee-related injuries, the burden Fuller is carrying into the new season would be little to none. There would be no concerns about Fuller's ability to step in as the Texans' top option, and a new contract would be inevitable to remain in Houston. However, this is the reality of the situation. Health and living up to the high expectations in the midst of a contract season are all the ingredients to create the perfect pressure situation for Fuller entering the 2020 season.

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RAVENS 33, TEXANS 16

5 observations from the Ravens win over the Texans

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Let's be honest; the Texans were not going to beat the Ravens. Baltimore has better players, a better quarterback and a better coaching staff. (And oh, a better kicker). All of that was on display in the Ravens' 33-16 win.

The Ravens move to 2-0, while the Texans dropped to 0-2 after facing the AFC's two best teams.

The Texans will still likely contend for a playoff spot, but nothing the last two weeks indicates they are anywhere near contending in the AFC. A look at five things from the Ravens win:

1) Oh, Brien...It did not take long for Bill O'Brien's goofy coaching to rear its ugly head. Down 3-0 at their own 34 as the first quarter was running out, O'Brien chose to go for it on fourth and one. The play was predictably blown up, the Ravens quickly scored to make it 10-0, and the Texans were instantly in a hole against a superior opponent. You can't give points away against the Ravens. They might have scored anyway with a punt, but there was no stopping them with a short field.

2) Some positives on defense. Despite the score, The Texans looked much better on that side of the ball against an explosive offense. J.J. Watt had two sacks, the team had four total, and they kept Lamar Jackson from destroying them. Seven of the points were scored by the Ravens defense, and O'Brien's gaffe led to seven more. The Ravens wore them down in the fourth quarter, but they played well enough until then to keep the team in the game had the offense been better. They did not force any turnovers, however, and that was one of the differences in the game. They were also blown off the ball on a fourth and one in the fourth quarter that led to the Ravens' 30th points and could not stop the run at all in the fourth quarter. But that's what the Ravens do with a lead, and the Texans offense gave them no breaks by being unable to stay on the field.

3) The difference between real contenders...The Ravens were just so much more skilled on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they focused on taking away the run. David Johnson averaged 3.1 yards per carry. Will Fuller had as many catches as you did. The Ravens forced two turnovers on just really good football plays. The Texans don't make plays like that. They might against lesser teams, but if your goal is to compete with the best, it's just not good enough.

4) Deshaun Watson needs to be better. His numbers looked so so on the surface (25 of 36, 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception). He was sacked four times and added 17 rushing yards on five carries. He did not make plays late when they needed one here or there to maybe get back in the game. With his big contract, it's time for Watson to stop being close to elite and take the next step. His interception was more of being fooled by Marcus Peters than throwing a bad ball, but the Texans were just 3 of 9 on third downs. Throw in the ill-advised fourth down play, and they were just 3 of 10 extending drives. Give the Ravens a lot of credit, but again, to compete with the best, you have to be better than that.

5) Now what? The Texans travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have not been impressive in their two wins. Still, it's hard to see Houston as anything but serious underdogs. They are last in the AFC South, and have a lot of work to do. The defense showed some promise at times, but will have to continue to improve. The offense has a long way to go. They match up better with the Steelers than they do the Ravens and Chiefs, but that does not mean they can win. If you were hoping they would give you some indication they can be more than just also-rans, they failed to do that on any level against either the Chiefs or Ravens.

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