Kickoff: Sunday, September 18th at 4:25 PM ET
Location: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Betting Odds: HOU +10, 46 total via Oddsshark
Writer: Ryan Kruse (@ryanpkruse on Twitter)
Davis Mills (Sit)
Davis Mills had a decent performance last week when he threw for 240 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. But it’s going to be tough to rely on Mills this week in what should be a challenging road game for the second-year quarterback. The Broncos’ defense allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks last year. Mills is just outside QB2 territory this week and shouldn’t be starting in any standard-format leagues.
Dameon Pierce (Sit), Rex Burkhead (Sit)
It seems like the Dameon Pierce hype train has already derailed. Pierce, fantasy football’s worst-kept secret over the off-season, put up a measly 4.9 fantasy points last week after everyone expected him to be the lead back in Houston. To the surprise of many, it was veteran Rex Burkhead leading the backfield in Week 1. Burkhead had 14 carries to Pierce’s 11, but the passing game is what truly separated these two backs. Dameon Pierce only saw one target through the air last week, while Rex had eight and hauled in five of them.
Last week’s game was concerning for several reasons. First of all, is the game script. The Texans were arguably in a great position to utilize Pierce on the ground in Week 1 while they had a 17-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Head coach Lovie Smith said the Colts’ defense did a great job of forcing the Texans into passing situations, which is why Burkhead was utilized more. Be that as it may, if Pierce isn’t getting the ball when the Texans are ahead, and he isn’t getting the ball while they’re behind and forced to throw more, then when the heck will the rookie get a chance to prove himself?
With all the confusion and uncertainty in this backfield, I’m finding it extremely difficult to trust either of these backs right now and ranking both outside of Flex territory for Week 2. The match-up is decent (the Broncos had an average rush defense last year), but that won’t be enough to trust either of the Houston backs right now.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Brandin Cooks (Start, WR2), Nico Collins (Sit), Chris Conley (Sit), Brevin Jordan (Sit), O.J. Howard (Sit)
At this point, Brandin Cooks is the only Texans player you can actually trust in your fantasy lineup right now. Houston’s WR1 should be a fairly reliable fantasy option throughout most of the season, thanks to his massive target share. Cooks averaged 14.5 PPR points per game in 2021 and had 15.2 PPR points last week, so it’s looking like he’s on pace to be the consistent fantasy WR2 option many managers expected him to be this year. There will be some good weeks and some disappointing weeks ahead for fantasy managers, but Cooks will likely remain in the fantasy WR2 discussion for most of the year if Houston keeps hyper-targeting him. I’m ranking Cooks in the WR2 range this week despite Denver’s impressive secondary.
Nico Collins and Chris Conley will not be in the starting conversation until they’ve earned a bigger role in what is already an unappealing offense. Besides Brandin Cooks, no other wide receiver in Houston saw more than three targets last week. These wideouts will have to prove themselves before fantasy managers can trust them.
O.J. Howard had an impressive stat line last week with two touchdowns, but the glaring issue was that he only saw two targets. The Texans don’t utilize their tight ends that much, and expecting Howard to maintain such insane efficiency would be foolish. If last week’s performance creates more opportunities for Howard going forward, then he might be worth a speculative add for fantasy managers desperate for TE production. For the time being, I wouldn’t even waste the bench spot on O.J. unless you absolutely have to. If Howard and Brevin Jordan continue splitting only a handful of passes each game, it’s unlikely either will reach weekly fantasy relevance this year.
Russell Wilson (Start, QB1)
The fantasy football world was excited to see Russell Wilson on the Broncos, but the veteran quarterback had a mediocre QB2 performance in Week 1 against his former team. Still, it’s only been one game. We saw some impressive offensive potential from Denver in Week 1 and I’m confident that will translate to better fantasy performances for Wilson. “Let Russ cook” as they say.
I’m expecting a lot more from Russell this week especially considering the match-up. The Texans were top-10 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks last year, gave up the 11th-most passing yards in the league in 2021, and didn’t seem to have improved much when they tied the Colts last week.
Javonte Williams (Start, Low-end RB1), Melvin Gordon (Start, Flex)
I believe Javonte Williams proved he was worth the high fantasy draft pick against the Seahawks last week. Sure, Melvin Gordon led the team in carries and will continue to be heavily involved in this backfield, but Williams looked explosive in the passing game with 11 receptions on 12 targets last week. Gordon and Williams both had costly fumbles at the goal line, but one could argue that Javonte’s fumble was more the fault of a blown play and his interior offensive lineman immediately backing into him.
Either way, it’s clear Williams will be a big part of Denver’s passing game and I’m confident Wilson will look his way often. Wilson didn’t throw one target to his receivers until well into the second quarter of last week’s game, so it seems he will be comfortable spreading the ball around with the Broncos. This week’s match-up is enticing as Williams and Gordon take on a putrid Houston run defense that allowed the second-most rushing yards last year and gave up 161 ground yards to Jonathan Taylor in Week 1. (I mean, it’s Jonathan Taylor, but still.) I believe Javonte is primed for a breakout performance this week, while Gordon is still worthy of Flex consideration.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Courtland Sutton (Start, WR2), Jerry Jeudy (Start, WR2), Albert Okwuegbunam (Start-able High-end TE2), Andrew Beck (Sit)
Many debates were had during the off-season over which Broncos receiver would hold more fantasy value, Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy. Those debates will continue after both receivers had seven targets and four receptions in Week 1. The chief stat separating the two was an impressive 67-yard touchdown from Jeudy. I believe these two talented receivers will likely share the spotlight for most of this season. There will be weeks where Jeudy outperforms Sutton and weeks where Courtland is the one finishing in the WR1 tier. Both of these wideouts deserve a starting spot in your roster, and both have WR1 upside this week against a bad Houston secondary.
Albert Okwuegbunam had a decent TE2 performance last week, but I’m not expecting much from the third-year tight end this year. The six targets were encouraging, but it’s unclear if Okwuegbunam will have a consistent target share going forward. The Broncos had four active tight ends on Monday night, and Russell Wilson targeted Andrew Beck three times on the first drive and gave tight end Eric Saubert a target in the end zone. Still, I believe Okwuegbunam will be a viable streaming option this week for TE-needy fantasy teams. He should be capable of a solid performance against a Houston defense that allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends last year.