The deadline to franchise tag a player has passed and the Houston Texans have decided not to use it on Will Fuller. The last time they used the tag was in 2009 on CB Dunta Robinson. They seem to be allergic to it ever since then, passing on the opportunity to use it on talented homegrown players with some question marks like: Jadeveon Clowney, Kareem Jackson and DJ Reader.
3 Free Agent WRs who can try to replace Houston Texans Will Fuller
While I have many arguments for why the Texans should have tagged Will Fuller, I won't dive into them as it makes my blood boil and I've personally had enough of that this offseason. However, I explain them in this video and talk about why Fuller is an elite talent, if you'd like to see what I have to say.
Before I get into the 3 WRs, I want to say that there is NO SINGLE WIDE RECEIVER in this free agent class who can replicate Will Fuller’s skillset. No, not Allen Robinson (who got tagged anyways), not Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin (also tagged), TikTok Smith Schuster or Corey Davis. Not one.
I think Fuller's expression in the thumbnail of this article is a perfect response to the idea of replacing him - a sly smirk, accompanied with the thought of just how special of a unicorn he has proven to be.
Fuller has a rare combination of elite speed and elite route running that none of the aforementioned WRs possess. He separates from CBs with ease and even beat CB1s like JC Jackson and Jaire Alexander last year. He was the go-to weapon that QB Deshaun Watson could trust to convert 3rd downs as well.
There is no hole in Fuller’s game on the field (he even improved his hands). However, there are some WR options who provide a similar skill set in terms of stretching the field and/or being a chain mover. So, let’s begin.
1.) Nelson Agholor, Las Vegas Raiders
The Texans offense benefited greatly from having an elite deep threat weapon in Will Fuller. Deshaun Watson’s statistical splits with and without Fuller are eye dropping, and whoever is behind center for the Texans in 2021, would benefit from a deep threat to stretch the field as well.
Enter Nelson Agholor - he’s rebuilt his injury prone/drop riddled reputation from Philly and had a breakout season with the Las Vegas Raiders. He totalled 48 catches for 896 yards and 8 TDs. Very solid production especially considering a run-heavy approach from Jon Gruden and Derek Carr throwing the ball.
Tim Kelly loves using Will Fuller to stretch the field and put stress on defenses. He's created an offense that ranked first in the NFL in explosive play percentage (12%). Nelson Agholor was used similarly for the Raiders, having a 10.9 Yards/Target and an insane 18.7 Yards/Reception, proving to be a big play threat while also adding YAC (5.1 per reception).
Agholor was more than a “just run a GO” type of guy for the Raiders, as he became David Carr’s most trusted target behind TE Darren Waller. Agholor amassed a career high 37 first downs and 77% of his catches earned a first down.
The talent has been there all along for Agholor, he just needed to get consistent and have the right opportunities. I am confident in Tim Kelly being able to utilize his skill set properly in his West Coast offense with Vertical concepts.
Overthecap measures Agholor’s production and talent to be worth 8m on the open market. As the WR class slims down due to many franchise tags being used, I could see Agholor fetching that this offseason. He’s worth it, but is that a bit out of the Texans price range? I don’t think so, and would be happy with a 2-3 year deal for 8m APY.
2.) John Ross III, Cincinnatti Bengals
The second potential Will Fuller replacement is a player who might remind fans TOO MUCH of Fuller. Ross ran a blazing 4.22 40 yard dash and looked to be a legitimate game changer for whichever team drafted him. He paired that speed with detailed routes that allowed him to be one of the most dangerous college WRs. In his senior year at Washington Ross put up 81 catches for 1,150 yards and an absurd 17 TDs. Adding 102 rushing yards on just 8 attempts and another TD. However his promising NFL career has been HEAVILY impacted by injuries.
Meniscus, ACL, Labrum, even something called a Sternoclavicular joint, you name it, and unfortunately Ross has injured it. I’m really rooting for the guy and hope he can turn his career around because when he’s been on the field, he makes a strong impact.
In 13 games in 2018, he only amassed 21 catches for 210 yards but had 7 TDs. In 8 games in 2019 he was on pace for a great year. Earning 28 catches for 506 yards and an insane 18.1 Yards/Reception. If he had stayed healthy for all 16 games Ross would’ve put up 56 catches for 1,012 yards and 6 TDs.
But again, signing Ross is boom or bust. He only played in 3 games in 2020 and this looks like it could be his last year to make it work in the NFL. Due to his severe injury history, I can’t see him getting more than a one year deal for 3 million dollars. At that price, it’s hard to hate that deal for the Texans. Prove yourself John Ross!
3.) Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers
The final WR who I think could help replace Will Fuller’s skillset is definitely a less heralded name. Lazard enters his fourth season with the Green Bay Packers and is an exclusive rights free agent, however hasn’t been given his tender. If the Packers don’t decide to keep him, he’d be extremely intriguing to me.
At 6’5, 227lbs, Lazard also boasts a 4.55 40 yard dash and 38” vertical jump. The dude is an ATHLETE in the mold of D.K. Metcalf and Chase Claypool. The NFL is seeing more of these tall, physical, speedy WRs dominate, and Lazard could follow in their footsteps, if given a bigger opportunity.
In his past two seasons Lazard has put up nearly identical statlines:
2019: 35 catches, 477 yards, 3 TDs, 13.6 Y/R, 67% catch rate
2020: 33 catches, 451 yards, 3 TDs, 13.7 Y/R, 72% catch rate
Looking at these stats you might ask, “Okay, well he didn’t improve at all really” but Lazard played in all 16 games in 2019 and just 10 in 2020. If you project his 2020 stats over a full season he’d have: 53 catches, 722 yards and 5 TDs.
Keep in mind that Lazard was the Packers 3rd option (12.1%Target Share), behind Davante Adams (28.9%) and Aaron Jones (12.3%). With an expanded role in the Texans offense, Lazard could benefit from more opportunities. He always made the most of the looks he would get, with 45% of his total yards (200) coming via YAC.
That’s an element the Texans’ offense has lacked, and add it to his speed and size and damn it you’ve got an intriguing WR. If the Packers do let him go, I can’t see him breaking the bank whatsoever. Maybe a deal worth 3.5m APY, and since he’s young at 25, a 3-4 year deal would be great for the Texans.
I would like to reiterate that there is not a single WR in this free agent class who can completely replace Will Fuller’s skillset. Neither Agholor, Ross, nor Lazard are the well-rounded WR that Fuller is. However, they are young, fast and promising players who the Texans could sign and look to surround our future QB with.
WR is always an easy position to ignore when you’ve been spoiled by Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, but the Texans don’t have an alpha guy anymore. While they likely won’t find another this year, it doesn’t mean they should ignore the WR group entirely. If you enjoyed this article or want to yell at me because you hate it, hit me up on Twitter @Texans_Thoughts