Fantasy Football: How Does Tom Savage Affect the Outlook of DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller?
If you invested in DeAndre Hopkins or Lamar Miller in fantasy football last year, you know what true sadness is. Both were first-round picks who promptly fell flat on their faces when -- shockingly -- an offense led by Brock Osweiler sputtered mightily.
That doesn't mean it's all sunshine and daisies down in Houston, though. The team plans to start quarterback Tom Savage in Week 1 after he beat out 12th-overall pick Deshaun Watson over the course of training camp and the preseason. Savage has just two career starts -- both coming after a benching of Osweiler last year -- and 92 NFL pass attempts. Are we sure this is truly a better situation than last year? Miller and Hopkins may not be first rounders, but each is currently a third-round pick -- based on Fantasy Football Calculator average draft position data for 12-team, point-per-reception (PPR) drafts -- and still carries a lot of risk.
It's probably safe to assume that Watson will start at some point in the season, but in the interim, what is the outlook for the Texans' top fantasy assets with Savage at the helm? Let's check it out.
Comparing Savage to Osweiler
We don't have a ton of data on Savage, but that which we do have will be relevant given that it came with this same group of players. It's just not overly optimistic.
We can compare Savage to Osweiler by looking at numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to illustrate the efficiency of teams and offenses. NEP measures the expected points gained on each play throughout the season, meaning a four-yard completion on 3rd and 3 will be much more valuable than that same four-yard completion on 3rd and 5. Based on NEP, there wasn't a huge difference between the two passers last year.
Check out their numbers here side by side. Passing NEP shows how many expected points the passers gained (or, in this case, lost) on each drop back, meaning it does include deductions for sacks as well as incompletions and interceptions. Success Rate is the percentage of drop backs that led to an increase in expected points for the drive.
|In 2016||Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Passing NEP per Drop Back||Success Rate|
Although Savage's per-drop back efficiency was slightly higher, he coupled it with a lower Success Rate. For context, the league-average Passing NEP per drop back was 0.12, and the Success Rate was 47.00%. Both these guys were well below those numbers.
This has an effect on both Miller and Hopkins. Touchdowns represent a huge chunk of the scoring in fantasy, and more efficient offenses will naturally generate more touchdown opportunities. There weren't a ton of those in Houston last year as they finished 29th in points scored. Having Savage as the top option paints a grim picture here.
Still, Savage's presence did briefly revive Hopkins' 2016 season. Thanks to the RotoViz game splits app, we can see that Hopkins' fantasy output perked up in the three games Savage played.
|Hopkins in 2016||Targets Per Game||Receptions Per Game||Yards Per Game||PPR Points Per Game|
Does this mean that the two simply had a better connection than what Hopkins had with Osweiler?
Here are the NEP splits for Hopkins based on the quarterback on the other end of the pass. It's a small sample, and as a result, the data is a bit muddled.
|Throwing to Hopkins||Targets||Passing NEP||Passing NEP per Target||Success Rate|
Although Savage was a lot more efficient than Osweiler when targeting Hopkins, his Success Rate was also lower. This leaves things still a bit questionable about whether Savage actually presents an upgrade, especially on such a small sample.
So, in totality, it seems as if we don't have enough data to say that Savage is a clear upgrade. It's a change, and things couldn't get much worse, so that provides reason for at least some hope. But it's possible we're in for a repeat of the misery.
That isn't all to say we should expect another full season of poor performance out of the Texans' skill-position guys. Outside of the quarterback play, there's another factor here that would boost the value of Hopkins and Miller. That would be improved offensive-line health, and it may be the best argument in favor of assuming the two make strides this year.
Doomed From the Start
Things didn't get off to such a hot start for the Texans last year. Even before the year got rolling, they had big-time issues up front.
It all started in the final game of 2015, when left tackle Duane Brown injured his quad, a ding that wound up sidelining him for the first four games of the year. To be without a former All-Pro at such a critical position is killer.
They lost a guy at arguably the second-most important position on the line, too. Center Nick Martin -- the team's second-round pick and presumptive starter -- suffered an ankle injury in the preseason that forced him to miss the entire year. Being without either your left tackle or your center is one thing; missing both is bordering on impossible to overcome.
And this all did seem to have a big effect on the offense. In the four games before Brown returned, the team had a 37.04% Success Rate when rushing left. With Brown in the lineup, that number increased to 47.50%, which would have been the fourth-best mark in the league. Having Brown for a full season would seemingly benefit Miller in the form of increased efficiency.
Improved play up front would have a positive effect on Hopkins, as well. More efficiency and fewer sacks would allow the team to generate more touchdown drives, unlocking additional upside for Hopkins in that department. Everybody benefits when the big men up front are doing their job.
That figures to happen this year. Brown is currently holding out, but as last year illustrated, the team desperately needs his services. You would hope that situation would be resolved some time by Week 1.
As for Martin, he's back and healthy, having been named the team's starter back on August 7th. That's a big plus for the entire offense.
If you're looking for hope in Hopkins and Miller, this is where you should start. Savage's mediocre metrics last year came without Martin at center and after the team had lost right tackle Derek Newton for the season. It wasn't a great environment, and things figure to be better now, even with Newton out for 2017, as well.
Are They Worth Their Costs?
If Brown reports to the team, this offensive line has the potential to be much better. If that happens, you would assume Savage's efficiency would take a step in the right direction. So while the move to Savage in a vacuum may not improve the outlook for Hopkins and Miller, things are still likely better than they were last year.
So, are these guys worth their costs? They seem to be right around where they should be. Miller will likely lose volume to rookie running back D'Onta Foreman, but he could make up for that by having a healthy Brown for the full season. On top of that, there aren't many safe running backs going in the third round, so we have to accept some shortcomings.
As for Hopkins, it's largely the same scenario. As numberFire's Charlie Kleinheksel wrote last month, Hopkins' expectation should be somewhere between his 2015 and 2016 seasons, which is right around where he's priced. With a laundry list of injuries at wide receiver in the preseason, Hopkins' target market share should be massive, giving a steady boost to his floor.
On top of that, the Texans now have a better fallback in their back pocket should Savage struggle. Watson may not have won the job, but he was a first-round pick for a reason, and the team traded up to get him. If things start to be reminiscent of 2016, they can make the switch to Watson to see if that can right the ship.
Having Savage start is likely a wash for the Texans' high-cost assets. He didn't do well in a small sample last year, performing on par with Osweiler. But with other components in the offense trending in the right direction, we could see improved play from the team's signal callers this year, allowing us to justify both Miller and Hopkins as third-round picks.