HOUSTON -- While the Houston Texans' offense was dynamic with rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson last season, in order for the offense to take another step forward in 2018 they need to make sure Watson has more weapons, especially at wide receiver.
Watson’s No. 1 receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, is one of the best in the NFL, and his No. 2, Will Fuller, was efficient catching touchdowns when healthy. But last season, the Texans didn’t have much pass-catching depth and the team cycled through wide receivers as those on the roster dealt with injury. In Week 13, receivers Braxton Miller and Bruce Ellington were ruled out for the rest of the game with injuries, and less than two weeks after he signed with the team, running back Andre Ellington had to play in the slot.
When Fuller was healthy last season with Watson under center, the Texans quarterback was electric. In the first three games of the season without Fuller (one of which Watson played just one half in a season-opening loss against the Jaguars), the quarterback threw three touchdown passes and three interceptions. In four games with Fuller, Watson threw 16 touchdowns and five interceptions and the Texans' offense averaged 40.5 points per game.
Houston tried bolster its receiving corps through the 2016 draft by choosing Fuller in the first round and Miller in the third. Miller has played in just 21 games in his first two seasons -- he was a healthy scratch for three games in 2016 -- and totaled 34 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
Ideally, Fuller is able to put his injury woes behind him and he and Watson feature for the entirety of the 2018 season. But if the Texans want to add some insurance, there are options available, and they have money to spend.
Without a first- or second-round draft pick, the Texans are likely to add depth to their receiving corps through free agency. While Houston has several holes to fill that are of greater need than receiver, the team enters free agency with more than $56 million of cap space and should have enough left over for a veteran pass-catcher who could provide a boost to a relatively young group on a short-term deal.
“It’s clear that we have to put some players around [Watson] to help him succeed,” Texans general manager Brian Gaine said in January. “We’re going to be looking for ... players on offense that can stress the defense vertically and horizontally relating to speed.”
Mike Wallace fits that bill. He spent the past two seasons with the Ravens, and in 2017 he played more snaps than any other receiver on the team last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Wallace did however only average 1.64 yards per route run and saw his production dip in 2017 after a 1,000-yard season in 2016. Still, Wallace, 31, is a vertical threat who can provide depth on the outside for the Texans.
Eric Decker, 30, played in all 16 games for the Titans last season but fell behind Rishard Matthews and rookie Corey Davis on the depth chart and caught 54 passes for 563 yards and a touchdown. For comparison, in 11 games before he got injured, Ellington, the Texans’ No. 3 receiver, had 29 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns.
A more pressing need could adding be a slot receiver, given Miller's struggles through two seasons in Houston. Adam Humphries and Kendall Wright are two top slot options available in free agency. Humphries played in all 16 games and caught 61 passes for 631 yards last season for Tampa Bay, while Wright caught 59 balls for 614 yards in Chicago.
The options to improve at receiver aren't flashy, but they present veterans who could provide short-term aid to the Texans' passing game and help Watson in what will be his first full season as a starter. With Watson progressing well in his rehab from a torn ACL and the return of coach Bill O'Brien, the Texans appear poised to feature a potent offense in 2017. Still, they would be well-served by adding a dependable wide receiver through free agency or a trade.