- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Hey, Houston Texans. This is what happens when everybody knows your name.
I used to revel in the relative anonymity of the Texans' offense. Heading into the 2009 season, I fought hard for Matt Schaub at our annual fantasy football rankings meeting, and was rebuffed because Schaub was "always injured." I made Andre Johnson a top-five fantasy wideout heading into '08 and the folks who drafted him were rewarded with a 1,575-yard season. Heck, I even put Arian Foster on my Super Deep Sleepers list for '09 and watched him produce a couple huge games late in that year. I certainly haven't gotten every call right when it comes to the Texans: There's no way in the world I saw Steve Slaton's insane '08 production coming, and I led the charge to supremely overvalue Jacoby Jones last year. But the larger point is: It used to be possible to say a Houston player's name in your draft and have everyone screw up their faces and go, "Really?" Now everyone goes, "Damn. I wanted him."
That's where we are. Schaub, Foster and Johnson are no-doubt starters in all leagues. Foster and Johnson are likely first-round picks in most leagues. There isn't much value in drafting them, which doesn't mean you shouldn't draft them. They're really good.
The question we should ask ourselves now is: Is there anyone on this Texans roster we can honestly qualify as a value pick?
My answer: I think there's one. Owen Daniels.
Daniels has missed significant action in consecutive years and caught only 38 passes in 11 games last season. And in his five-year career, he's never caught more than five TDs in a single season. But I think we're going to see Daniels set career highs in all meaningful stat categories this year.
Back in '08, his most recent fully healthy season, Daniels had 101 targets and 70 grabs. Each of those numbers put him fifth in the NFL among tight ends. He was also third among qualifying TEs in yards after the catch per reception, averaging 6.1 yards, and that wasn't simply a matter of a couple big plays skewing the stats, because while he had five plays of more than 30 yards during the season, none of them went for longer than 35. Entering 2009, Daniels was ESPN.com's consensus No. 5 tight end and he started the year very well, putting himself on pace for a 1,000-yard season and double-digit TDs. Then came a November Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, when Daniels tore his right ACL.
Obviously, he missed the rest of the '09 season, but his knee problems lingered well into 2010, and resulted in hamstring problems as well. Daniels wasn't himself again until December last season, when in Houston's final four contests, he racked up 22 catches for 271 yards and two scores. Prorate those games over an entire season (which, I'll grant you, is a dangerous game) and you've got 88 grabs for 1,084 yards and eight TDs. Ladies and gentleman, that probably would've made Daniels fantasy's No. 1 or No. 2 tight end, albeit in a year when many of the best guys at the position suffered serious injuries.
Training camp is underway this season, and Daniels is reportedly healthy and suffering no lingering effects from his now-2-year-old knee surgery. Foster is coming off a rushing title and will no doubt be foremost on the minds of opposing defensive coordinators. Johnson is (if you'll forgive the early-'80s TV reference) a Manimal, and requires near-constant safety attention. I believe Daniels is the guy who's cruising along under the fantasy radar here. True, we've got him rated sixth among tight ends at the moment, but when I hear some of our experts discussing the tight end position, I hear them say there's a clear "top-five tier" of (in whatever order) Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis, and then a big gulf until you get to everyone else.
I don't agree with this. I think Daniels belongs in that top tier, and I won't be surprised to see him crack the best five tight ends in the NFL this year, even if everyone else stays healthy. Yes, I still probably do have him ranked sixth at his position, because it's also possible that despite feeling good in mid-August, Daniels' knee could suffer a setback. But check out the average draft positions of TEs so far in ESPN.com drafts:
Top Average Draft Positions, Tight Ends
I don't see much difference between Daniels and some of these other guys, and if I can wait as many as three or four rounds to get him? Well, I think we've answered our question about whether there's fantasy value anywhere in that Texans offense.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.
2hEthan Sherwood Strauss