Will Fuller has track-star speed, explosive route-running prowess and elite pass-catching skills.
Fuller has painstakingly polished his technique years to build a sure-handed, reliable presence.
One of the most dangerous deep threats in the league, Fuller has become a complete wide receiver who’s capable of excelling at every aspect of the route tree.
What Fuller lacked until this breakthrough season, though, was durability and the kind of staying power that he has displayed during his first season as the Texans’ top wide receiver.
On Texas Sports Nation: Takeaways from Texans 41, Lions 25
Since the Texans’ controversial trade of All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals this offseason, Fuller has emerged as a capable replacement. For the first time in his career, albeit with six games remaining in the regular season, Fuller has played in every game for the 4-7 Texans.
The results of his increased targets and availability after years of dealing with various injuries, including undergoing double groin surgery this offseason, a torn anterior cruciate ligament two years ago, a broken collarbone three years ago and various soft-tissue problems, are obvious.
Just ask the Detroit Lions’ secondary, whom Fuller scorched for six catches, 171 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets during a 41-25 road victory on Thanksgiving. As Hopkins acknowledged Thursday on social media, Fuller “is a real number 1.”
On Texas Sports Nation: McClain: Another precision performance for Deshaun Watson
A pending unrestricted free agent playing under a $10.162 million fifth-year club option, Fuller has established career-highs with 53 receptions for 879 yards and eight touchdowns on 75 targets. He’s on pace for 77 receptions, 1,278 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Between Fuller and Brandin Cooks, the Texans have two formidable outside receivers.
Fuller now has 21 touchdown catches from Deshaun Watson in 33 career games. He’s tied for second in the NFL with five 100-yard receiving games.
One of the biggest reasons for Fuller’s improvement, besides Hopkins’ departure, is how he’s taken care of his body and maintained his offseason routine of stretching, strengthening, body mechanics and a healthy diet.
“Definitely, I’ve been getting a lot body work each week,” Fuller said. “I really appreciate Brandin being here and coming to this team. He taught me a lot about taking care of my body and introduced me to a lot of good people who have been helping me keep my body going.
“This is the best I’ve felt. It’s almost the end of the season, and I feel great. I feel like I’m getting better.”
After catching 49 passes for 670 yards and three scores last season on 71 targets, Fuller made some changes to his game and his approach to training. It’s paying dividends for the Texans.
The Texans contemplated trading Fuller but didn’t like the offers they got for him. The Green Bay Packers offered a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for the former Notre Dame star but wanted the Texans to pay half of Fuller’s salary for the remainder of the season, according to league sources not authorized to speak publicly.
The Texans asked for a second-round draft pick for Fuller but never were close to moving on from the former first-round draft pick. Ideally, they’d like to have him back and sign him to a long-term deal. It could get expensive with some industry sources predicting Fuller landing a contract somewhere between $15 million and $17 million annually on the open market.
Fuller has maintained his focus on the remainder of the season, not his financial future
Because of Fuller’s success and wanting to expand opportunities for younger players like Keke Coutee and Isaiah Coulter, the Texans cut veteran wide receiver Kenny Stills on Friday. Stills was out for the Detroit game with a quadriceps injury but has been used sparingly one year after being acquired in the trade with the Miami Dolphins along with Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil for two first-round draft picks and one second-round selection.
Stills has 11 receptions for 144 yards and one touchdown on 19 targets while playing under a $6.975 million base salary.
If Stills is claimed off waivers Monday by another team, the Texans get a credit of $2.05 million in salary-cap space and cash savings that can be rolled over to 2021. Stills also can collect termination pay one time in his career, and he’s eligible to do so. Signed to a four-year, $32 million contract by Miami in 2017, Fuller caught 40 passes for 561 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Texans.
“Thank you the Houston Texans for the opportunity, grateful for the family I formed in the building and the amazing people who welcomed me to the city,” Stills wrote on social media. “New chapter coming soon.”
The Texans are enjoying Fuller’s dynamic presence.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson found Fuller for touchdown passes of 40 and 34 yards in the fourth quarter, including a flea-flicker where running back Duke Johnson carried the ball into the line and threw it back to Watson, who found Fuller wide open for the score.
“Just give them a chance, throw it out there,” Watson said of Fuller and Cooks, who caught five passes for 85 yards against Detroit. “And those two guys, they are more of a let them go run and get it. With that Duke ball with Will, I just let it ride. Put it in the back of the end zone and let him go make the play.”
Fuller is capable of making a lot of big plays. He has 24 career touchdowns and an average per reception of 14.9 yards. He’s caught 70.7 percent of the throws directed to him this year. And he and Cooks have formed a good tandem.
“I think we complement each other a lot,” Fuller said. “Both of us have great speed. We both can run routes. I feel like we both put fear in DBs’ hearts. You really don’t want to get beat deep. We use that to our advantage.”
It compounded the Lions’ issues when cornerback Desmond Trufant left the game with a hamstring injury. Fuller already was torching Trufant, who he exploited a year ago for some of his 14 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Atlanta Falcons.
“We were attacking all game,” Fuller said when asked if Trufant’s absence got the Texans to press their advantage. “That’s our mindset. We don’t care who’s out there. Our job is to get open and catch the ball and make big plays.
“We scored 40-something points, and I felt like we left a lot out there. We’re going to keep getting better and keep attacking defenses.”