HOUSTON -- On paper, the Houston Texans' receiver corps looks like a strength of the offense and one of the best groups in the league.
"We're very happy with the current group that we have," Texans general manager Brian Gaine said. "Obviously, with Hopkins, Fuller, we're optimistic a full return to health, and Keke Coutee having an inside presence in the passing game. Unfortunately, he dealt with injury last year, but we feel like we're ready-set-go as it relates to that.
"But ... depth at that position is critically important. You're one injury away, and we had to address that depth by trading for Demaryius Thomas this year."
The Texans' lack of depth last season was there for everyone to see after Fuller tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 8 against the Dolphins. After missing Week 1, Fuller caught 32 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. His connection with Watson continued to grow stronger until the injury.
After Fuller's injury, Houston immediately made the move for Thomas at the trade deadline, but the veteran receiver contributed only 23 catches for 275 yards and two touchdowns in seven games before he tore his left Achilles in Week 16 against the Eagles.
At the combine, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said Fuller has been in Houston rehabbing from his torn ACL all offseason and is "doing well" in his recovery, but O'Brien said he wasn't sure to what extent Fuller will be able to participate in spring workouts.
"Will is frustrated that he hasn't been able to be on the field," O'Brien said. "I think when he has been on the field, he has made a huge difference for our team. He's a touchdown-maker. He's working hard to get back to that point. He's been in there every day."
In addition to Fuller's injury woes, two effective slot receivers missed time last year as well. Coutee played in only six games because of injuries to both hamstrings, and Bruce Ellington, who started Houston's first two regular-season games as the slot receiver, was put on injured reserve after Week 3 because of a hamstring injury. He was later released and played well down the stretch for the Detroit Lions.
Though Houston ideally will have Fuller and Coutee back healthy at the start of next season, it might be difficult to count on the duo, whose history of hamstring injuries are worrisome moving forward. Gaine admitted the Texans needed to add depth at wide receiver, and there are capable veteran options available. Free agents Michael Crabtree, Donte Moncrief, Pierre Garcon and Terrance Williams are among the group that could contribute if something happens to one of Houston's top three, or just as a fourth receiving option. There is no marquee wide receiver this year in free agency, so any signing would not require the Texans to break the bank, and any deal probably would be on a short-term agreement.
In the playoffs against the Colts, without Fuller or Thomas, Hopkins suffered a first-half shoulder injury that slowed him the rest of the game. Watson's play suffered because of a lack of receiving options, and Houston's offense was ineffective. Expect the Texans to ensure that doesn't happen again and provide Watson another veteran receiver option this offseason.