Sleeper Alert: Rob Housler

Sleeper Alert: Rob Housler

By John Paulsen (Director of Forecasting), last update Jun 10, 2013

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Let's talk some Rob Housler. Arizona's new head coach, Bruce Arians, likes to stretch the field vertically, and the third-year tight end has the speed (4.46 40-yard dash) to wreak havoc in the seam. Like the other Cardinals receivers, Housler had to deal with spotty QB play in 2012, and he should benefit from Carson Palmer's arrival if Palmer can even provide mediocre play at the position.

Here's a look at how Housler compared to other tight ends at the NFL Combine. The graph represents Housler's percentile at each combine event.

Housler finished in the 99th percentile in the 40-yard dash and in the 80th percentile in the 20-yard shuttle. He also has great leaping ability and arm length, and that leads to a good catch radius. If you click through to, you'll see that his closest comparison is Cameron, while other athletic TEs like Jared Cook, Greg Olsen and Kellen Winslow are also on the list.
According to the Arizona Republic, Arians is high on Housler. “A wideout playing tight end,” he said. “I think the sky is the limit as far as where he can get talent-wise.”
While Arians loves to throw it deep, he has not been one to utilize the tight end heavily in recent years. Take a look at his last three seasons calling plays -- notice that his last two tight ends (Dwayne Allen and Heath Miller) ranked in the bottom third at their position in targets per game (T/G):

Bruce Arians TE Usage

Year Team Position Top TE G Tgts Rec Yds TD T/G Rank
2012 IND OC/HC Dwayne Allen 16 66 45 521 3 30
2011 PIT OC Heath Miller 16 73 51 631 2 22
2010 PIT OC Heath Miller 14 65 42 512 2 22
      Total 15.3 68.0 46.0 555 2.3 24.7
      Prorated (16 games)   71.0 48.0 579 2.4  
This is certainly a concern, but Housler is more athletic than both Allen and Miller -- neither player has anything close to Housler's speed. Arians is a smart coach, so I'm reasonably confident that he'll take advantage of the athleticism that he has at the position. Of all of the players Arians has coached, only Coby Fleener has Housler's speed, and he averaged 4.0 T/G in 12 games in 2012.
There is also the matter of Palmer -- does he like to throw to his tight end?

Carson Palmer TE Usage

Year Team Top TE G Tgts Rec Yds TD T/G Rank
2012 OAK Brandon Myers 16 105 79 806 4 9
2011 OAK Kevin Boss 14 39 28 368 3 32
2010 CIN Jermaine Gresham 15 81 52 471 4 15
    Total 15.0 75.0 53.0 548 3.7 18.7
    Prorated (16 games)   80.0 56.5 585 3.9  
Over the last three seasons, Palmer has had three different #1 TEs: Brandon Myers, Kevin Boss and Jermaine Gresham. At best, Boss was a fringe starting TE in the NFL, so his low target numbers are not all that surprising. When Palmer had talent at the position (i.e. Myers and Gresham), he targeted them on average 6.0 times per game. That would have been good for the 11th-highest average in 2012.

2012 Housler Target Breakdown

Watching Cameron's targets was a valuable exercise, so I did the same thing with Housler. Here's a week-by-week breakdown of what I saw. I've underlined his key plays throughout the season:
Week 1 vs. Seattle (0 targets)
Was not targeted in the first game.
Week 2 vs. New England (1-7, 1 target)
Ran a route in the flat over to the sideline and showed good awareness to get his feet in on the catch -- seven-yard gain.
Week 3 vs. Philadelphia (2-18, 2 targets)
Ran an out route from the slot for an 11-yard gain. Made a one-handed grab in the flat after coming in motion. Turned it into a seven-yard gain.
Week 4 vs. Miami (2-48, 3 targets)
Ran a deeper dig route from the slot and stayed with it when Kevin Kolb got into trouble. Made a nice adjustment on the pass to stop and catch it as he fell to the ground for a 15-yard gain. Had another target batted at the line of scrimmage. His play of the game was a seam route that went for 33 yards. He showed good speed to avoid a tackle to pick up extra yardage.
Week 5 vs. St. Louis (3-45, 6 targets)
Kolb missed Housler on a go route up the seam that would have been a TD had the QB led his receiver. They just missed on another big gainer as the CB caught up to make the play. Another missed play by the quarterback. Housler made a nice catch on the next play, turning an out route into a 25-yard gain after he broke a couple of tackles. Later in the quarter, Housler lined up in the backfield and caught a little swing pass. He made one guy miss and broke another tackle for a 13-yard gain. His last catch was a seven-yard stop route over the middle. He probably should have caught his last target but the ball was on him really quickly.
Week 6 vs. Buffalo (2-12, 3 targets)
Lined up in the backfield, laid a chip block on the rusher before making a nice one-handed catch in the flat for a gain of six yards. He later stuck with a dig route to make himself available for a seven-yard catch. He was the intended target on an overtime interception, but it was QB John Skelton's fault as he failed to see Jairus Byrd.
Week 7 vs. Minnesota (5-54, 7 targets)
Gained nine yards on a stop route over the middle. Gained 22 yards on a post route from the slot. He once again was slow to turn his head on a stop route, but Skelton probably should have waited for Housler to separate from the defender. Slipped a tackle on another stop route over the middle, gaining seven yards on the play. Made a nice catch that was behind him as he was falling down to gain another seven yards. He was unable to catch a seam route due to good coverage by the linebacker. Gained nine yards on a TE screen for his last catch/target.
Week 8 vs. San Francisco (4-32, 5 targets)
Had a miscommunication with Skelton on his first target; the ball sailed out of bounds. It wasn't clear who was at fault. Made a nice catch on a bad throw for a three-yard gain after chipping a rusher. Made another nice catch on a high ball on a little out pattern for five yards. Made a defender miss on a short stop route for a gain of eight yards. Gained another 16 yards on a nice slant route from the slot.
Week 9 vs. Green Bay (5-55, 9 targets)
Dropped a pass that was behind him. Could have been caught but it would have been a tough catch. Was targeted on a pass that was deflected for an interception, but it was Skelton's fault. Dropped a 12-yard out that would have been a first down. Made a nice 11-yard grab for a first down where he absorbed contact on the catch but stuck with it. Caught a little three yard pass in the flat, but turned up field and made a defender miss to turn it into a 10-yard gain and a first down. Ran a middle dig route and made a catch that was slightly behind him for a 22-yard gain.
Week 11 vs. Atlanta (0 targets)
No targets, but was flagged for offensive pass interference.
Week 12 vs. St. Louis (8-82, 11 targets)
Caught eight passes for 82 yards with multiple short catches. The highlight was a 28-yard catch-and-run on a seam route where Housler made a defender miss. He was also able to disengage with a defender to make a short catch in the Cardinals' two-minute drill. He was open on a deep corner route but Ryan Lindley missed him. The duo also missed on a seam route that would have gone for 20+ yards. The ball was catchable, but not perfectly thrown.
Week 13 vs. New York Jets (4-15, 6 targets)
Caught a few short passes, but the Cardinals didn't send Housler deep against the Jets.
Week 14 vs. Seattle (7-36, 10 targets)
Housler caught seven passes for 36 yards, so most everything was short. Looked like he dropped a catchable ball on a 10-yard out. Broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage to turn nothing into a 12-yard gain and a first down.
Week 15 vs. Detroit (2-13, 2 targets)
Caught two passes for 13 yards so nothing really stood out.
Week 16 vs. Chicago (0-0, 3 targets)
Saw three targets -- one pass went through his hands and he nearly made an acrobatic one-handed TD grab but landed out of bounds.

Bottom Line

Considering the QB situation in Arizona, Housler's second season (45 receptions for 417 yards) was a success. He didn't score a TD, but the Cardinals only had 11 passing TDs on the season -- that number should at least double in 2013. He only dropped three catchable passes. He is very capable of making plays when given the opportunity, and he should see a bump in targets. He is scary down the seam and capable in the flat, over the middle and on TE screens. He played 58% of his teams snaps in 2012, and that percentage should increase as well as he develops as a blocker.
I am more confident in Cameron's usage due to the new regime's long history of utilizing the TE position. Housler figures to see an increase in targets as well, but Arians hasn't been on the forefront of TE usage in his career, so Housler is not a shoe-in for top 15 targets. He has similar upside (low-end TE1) but probably a lower floor given his circumstances. We currently have him ranked as our #17 TE in standard formats and #16 in PPR. One thing's for sure -- he's unlikely to see any double teams with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts on the field. This is a talented receiving corps, and it's the main reason that I also like Carson Palmer as a sleeper QB2.
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