The Texans are entering Year Two of their multi-season rebuild with Head Coach #2. David Culley apparently made Houston a little more competitive than the front office wanted the team to be in 2021. GM Nick Caserio set Culley up for failure by purging the roster and signing mostly veteran players to short-term contracts to keep their books clean for the future, but Culley still squeezed out the same number of victories (four) with Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills at quarterback as the 2020 Texans did with Deshaun Watson. Caserio fired Culley at the end of last season for “philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program.” Caserio promoted DC Lovie Smith to be the team’s next fall guy for the next season or two until the team is ready to be competitive again in the distant future. The Texans also handed Tim Kelly his pink slip at the end of last season, and they promoted Pep Hamilton from within after Mills showed improvement under the well-respected QB coach. Hamilton first worked under Smith as a QBs coach for the Bears in 2007-09 before reconnecting on Culley’s staff last season.
The Texans selected Mills in the third round after just 14 appearances at Stanford, and he played well above the generally low expectations set for him as a rookie thanks to Hamilton’s tutelage. Pep’s work with Mills last season came a year after he helped Justin Herbert stun the league by resetting the NFL rookie record book with 31 passing TDs in 2020. Hamilton has developed into a bit of a QB whisperer over his 23 years of coaching experience, and he most notably worked with Andrew Luck at Stanford (2011) and Indianapolis (2013-15). Hamilton and Luck guided the Colts to their last AFC Championship Game during the 2014 season. Hamilton’s work with young quarterbacks has clearly been noticed around the league. Both the Bears and Jaguars interviewed him for their open offensive coordinator gigs this off-season, and those franchises notably have second-year quarterbacks coming off rough rookie seasons.
The Pep Hamilton File
Playcalling Experience: Michigan (2017-18), Colts (2013-15), Stanford (2011-12), Howard (1999-01)
Other Coaching Experience: Texans passing game/QBs (2021), Chargers QBs (2020), Browns assistant HC/QBs (2016), Bears QBs (2007-09), 49ers QBs (2006), Jets WRs (2005), Jets QBs (2004)
Offensive Coaches Worked Under: Anthony Lynn (2000), Jim Harbaugh (2017-18, 2010), Hue Jackson (2016), David Shaw (2011-12), Ron Turner (2007-09), Norv Turner (2006)
Notable: QB guru who’s worked with Andrew Luck and Justin Herbert among others, Howard QB (1993-96)
Potential Offensive Changes
Houston’s offense can’t get much worse than last year’s edition, which finished dead last in total offense (278.1 yards per game) and third-worst in scoring offense (16.5 points per game). There’s little reason to be optimistic for a dramatic turnaround this season with a lack of offensive talent and a defensive-minded HC leading the way. Lovie’s offenses have finished in the top half of the league in both scoring offense and in total offense a grand total of one time in his 11 seasons as a head coach, which came in 2006 when Rex Grossman led the Bears to a Super Bowl loss against the Colts. Hamilton guided offenses that finished in the top half of the league in both scoring offense and in total offense in each of his first two seasons with the Colts before the unit tanked in 2015 with Luck playing in just seven games.
Hamilton once described his system to the Indianapolis Star as the “No Coast Offense” back in 2013. He said he wanted his offense to run with power and to throw in rhythm while stressing early-down completions to help with third-down efficiency. Kelly, much like his mentor Bill O’Brien, had a propensity to skew too run-heavy on early downs as Houston ran the ball at the sixth-highest rate (54%) on early downs in all one-score games last season. Hamilton should be a little more aggressive with his early-down playcalling. His 2014 Colts’ offense notably led the league in passing yards per game (305.9), passing attempts per game (41.3), and passing touchdowns (42), albeit with an all-world quarterback at his disposal. Texans’ TEs should be prepared to see a little more love this season after Hamilton’s offenses in Indianapolis targeted TEs well above the league average at 22.0%. On the flip side, Indy’s RBs saw just 17.5% of the team’s targets in his three-year run as playcaller.
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on the playcaller changes.
Davis Mills (QB) — It’s tough to give out too many adjustments since the Texans don’t have many fantasy-relevant players. Houston’s personnel could also look drastically different in a couple of months, especially if Brandin Cooks is traded before the draft. Mills is the one player who stands to gain the most from Hamilton’s promotion to offensive coordinator given his work with quarterbacks like Herbert and Luck over the last decade. Mills made enough progress in the second half of the season to earn a chance to be the Texans’ top quarterback heading into 2022. He averaged 7.4 YPA and 251.6 passing yards per game with nine TDs and two INTs in his final five starts. Mills averaged just 6.6 YPA and 209.2 passing yards per game with six TDs and seven INTs in his first six starts. Mills and Hamilton share a common connection to Stanford HC David Shaw, who said that Mills would’ve been the top quarterback selected in this year’s weak QB class if he had stayed at Stanford for another season. Mills needs more playmakers on offense this season but the Texans seem poised to build around him for at least the 2022 season and potentially beyond. He’s being slept on a bit in Dynasty circles and as a late-round flier in Best Ball drafts.
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on playcaller changes.
Brevin Jordan (TE) — Jordan fell to the fifth round in last year’s draft because of size (6’3”, 245 pounds) and agility concerns (7.57 seconds in the three-cone), but he eventually carved out a role as the #2 TE late in the season. The Texans made him a healthy scratch for the first seven games last season but he started to gain some footing late in the season, seeing 36% of the snaps or more in his final six games — he led all Texans TEs with 18.9 routes per game in that span. Jordan Akins and Anthony Auclair are entering unrestricted free agency this off-season, which could leave just Pharaoh Brown as Jordan’s competition for snaps and targets if Houston goes with the status quo at the position. Hamilton last called plays for Luck and the Colts in 2013-15, and Indy targeted TEs well above the league average during that three-year span. Texans’ TEs saw just 19% of the offense’s targets under OC Kelly last season, which was below the league average of 21%. Add in the fact that Cooks could be traded this off-season and suddenly Jordan could have a path toward fantasy relevance with more targets potentially heading his way. He has an outside shot to break out as a second-year player if you’re looking for a TE3 in the final round of Best Ball drafts.