Will Fuller, WR, Rookie, Notre Dame (HoustonTexans.com)
Prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, word on the street was the Houston Texans had their eye on Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman for their first round pick. Reports of head coach Bill O’Brien hanging around Coleman like some stalker outside the prom surfaced from a variety of sources before and after Baylor’s pro day.
However, once the draft arrived, as fate would have it, the Cleveland Browns selected Coleman with the 15th overall pick. The moans and groans of those who bought into the hype surrounding Coleman-to-the-Texans storyline could be heard around the globe. Whatever was Houston to do now that the savior of their receiving corps was doomed to a life in the Dawg Pound?
When Houston went on the clock with the 21st pick, they promptly used it to snatch up Notre Dame speedster Will Fuller. Those watching the draft were immediately treated to a variety of pundits panning the pick. The naysaying seemed to rise exponentially when Doctson and Treadwell went with the next two picks to Washington and Minnesota, respectively.
To hear the talking heads tell it, Treadwell was the more complete receiver and Doctson was more “pro-ready.” Fuller? He was a track star with butter all over his hands. He couldn’t catch a cold in a classroom full of snot-covered three-year-olds.
And so the narrative went. The woeful Houston Texans had misfired again, just as they had two years prior with once-in-a-generation-phenom-turned-injury-prone-bust Jadeveon Clowney (more on how that script has flipped in a later column).
Yet deep inside the cloud of noise, Bill O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith smiled and told anyone who would listen that they got their man.
When OTAs kicked off, news of Fuller’s ability to run routes crisply and with the sort of polish most track stars don’t possess surfaced. By training camp, video made the rounds of Fuller burning veteran defensive backs.
When the preseason arrived, Fuller not only lit up the New Orleans Saints, but the Arizona Cardinals as well before landing himself on the regular season depth chart across from All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins.
Amidst all this, the voices who looked down upon Houston for taking Fuller have, one-by-one, been silenced.
Now, we’re on the eve of kickoff for the 2016 season, and while the preseason doesn’t count anymore, let’s take a look at all the receivers drafted this year and how they’ve done so far.Corey Coleman played 31 snaps after a hamstring injury kept him out of the first two games of the preseason. In the next two games, he was thrown to five times, dropped one ball, caught another for ten yards and otherwise was unable to accomplish anything noteworthy.
Josh Doctson suffered an Achilles injury in the spring and has only recently returned to practice, having missed the entire preseason.
Laquon Treadwell was targeted 15 times, dropped two of those, caught six of them, and failed to do much.
How about Fuller? He played by far the most snaps of his fellow first rounders with 82. His first target was caught for 4 yards. In the second game, he had eight passes sent his way; he caught four of them for 72 yards and scored on what became one of the most electrifying plays of the Texans’ preseason. In Week Three, Fuller had one sure touchdown bounce off his hands, but caught three others and hauled in another touchdown.
While making assessments of how a draft class pans out in that same year is almost always an exercise in futility, as of this moment, it certainly seems as if Fuller and the Texans have proved their critics wrong. While we won’t know for sure until 17 weeks from now, it can be said with certainty that as of this moment, Fuller is the star of his wide receiver draft class.