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Houston Texans: Keke Coutee completes stellar receiving corps

Photo Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY

Little by little, the Houston Texans have built one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL. Andre Johnson terrorized opposing defenses for over a decade, but always lacked a running mate. Now Houston has concocted the perfect recipe with a variety of ingredients.

Three years after selecting “Nuk” in the first round, the Texans brought in his counterpart as they spent a top 25 pick on Will Fuller. A pure burner, Fuller’s deep threat prowess proved to be the perfect complement to Hopkins’ dominance in the intermediate range. The addition of Fuller forced opposing defenses to account for his vertical speed along with the imposing presence of Hopkins. Then last year they added the final piece to the puzzle. Enter Keke Coutee.

Keke Coutee’s role within the receiving corps

A prime breakout candidate for the Texans this year is the second-year receiver, Keke Coutee. With the ways and areas where Hopkins and Fuller prove most effective, Coutee is the perfect complement. He’s going to win underneath where he uses his 4.43 speed to eat up YAC. Coutee gives Houston legitimate threats in every phase of the field.

During Coutee’s rookie campaign, the Texans manufactured a fair amount of touches for him out in space. There he was able to maximize his skill set. While he has legitimate speed, his lack of play strength and size hinder his ability to beat defenders deep. Therefore, Houston relies on his ability to create for himself with the ball in his hands.

While Coutee was limited to six games in 2018, he averaged 35 yards after the catch per contest. On a full, 16 game pace he would’ve ranked top ten in the league in YAC, above guys like Tyreek Hill and Michael Thomas. As dynamic as he was with the ball in his hands, he stood out in other facets as well.

Coutee’s skillset

I was impressed with Coutee’s route running nuance. Due to his skimpy frame, he’s not going to win through contact or with physicality. Therefore, he leans on quickness and sharp cuts to force defenders off-kilter. Keke Coutee has some veteran savvy to him on his releases. He incorporates a head fake with an explosive fake jab step before cutting back into open space. Staying light on his toes, he showcases violent movements to create openings against coverage.

Looking to become more than just a gadget player, Coutee is more advanced than I’d expect from a second year, fourth-round wide receiver, which is astonishing considering he missed ten games last season. However, he is on track to establish himself as a big-time player in Houston.

Building on a short-winded rookie season

Coutee’s rookie year was full of flash although he was only on the field for six games. Despite the lack of experience, he was able to come back strong for the AFC Wildcard match-up against the Colts where he stole the show. Albeit in a losing effort, Coutee eclipsed 100 yards on 11 catches and caught the lone TD of the day for Houston. This performance came after sitting out for over a month due to a nagging hamstring injury.

Through OTAs, Coutee was already impressing and appeared to be at full strength. With a full offseason to heal and progress, it’s quite possible he takes his game to the next level in 2019. With nagging injuries throughout 2018, Coutee struggled to get in a consistent rhythm which in turn forced spotty production on a game to game basis.

The expectations are high for Keke Coutee and he must prove he can stay healthy for at least a good chunk of the season. It is also worth discussing the deficiencies in his game. For starters, Coutee sports one of the worst size profiles you’ll find on the gridiron.

Between his height, weight, wingspan, arm length, and hand size, Coutee scores below the 10th percentile among NFL receivers in each category. This is apparent on tape as he holds a minuscule catch radius. He doesn’t have the range to pluck balls away from his body. This forces Coutee to have to do a little extra and jump for routine passes.

For a player who relies on producing yards after the catch, I was underwhelmed with Coutee’s ability to make guys miss. Too often, he went down on initial contact, and his lack of play strength was evident. He’s only going to go as far as his speed takes him. This showed on other occasions as well. When fighting through contact Coutee was often outmanned and failed to win the ball. With his puny frame and short arm length, he’ll probably never excel as a contested catcher. Hence why Houston fashionably manufactures his touches in space.

Most of Coutee’s issues stem from lack of size, which obviously isn’t something you can exactly fix. Therefore, he must make up for that in other areas, which he proved he’s capable of as a rookie. If Coutee can stay healthy and show more consistency, he’s in line to be one of the top breakout receivers in 2019.

Dueling with Parris Campbell

An AFC South battle I’m interested in following over the next few years is how Coutee develops compared to Colts rookie Parris Campbell. Indy’s WR corps compares favorably to Houston’s in that they both feature a stud and trio of weapons who bring a different flavor to the party.

Like Coutee, Campbell is known for his speed and creating after the catch. According to Sports Info Solutions, Campbell’s 4.5-yard average depth of target was the lowest among qualified rookies. Meaning, his usage will be similar to what we’ve seen with Coutee. Manning the slot, the Colts will fabricate touches for Campbell and put that 4.3 speed to good use.

Comparing the two players, I’d take Coutee’s college tape over Campbell’s. However, that’s just a piece of the puzzle. Putting their athletic profiles head to head, Campbell blows Coutee out of the water. The former Ohio State standout blew up the NFL Combine and finished in the 90th percentile for the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and 20-yard shuttle. Campbell is a true athletic specimen with better size than Coutee.

Monitoring the growth of these two players is going to be interesting as this rivalry heats up over the next few seasons. We saw what Coutee was capable of in this match up. In two games against the Colts, he accounted for over half of his receiving production (counting the postseason). Let’s see if Campbell can pick up what Coutee put down and duel themselves into a rivalry.

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