Brown could steal goal-line work from Slaton in Houston's backfield

Fantasy owners who landed Steve Slaton last season fielded one of the top sleepers of the 2008 season. Slaton was considered too small to be a featured back at the NFL level and didn't receive a ton of attention in drafts behind veteran incumbent starter Ahman Green.

That turned out to be an enormous mistake.

Slaton finished with 50 receptions, 1,659 scrimmage yards with 10 total touchdowns good for seventh in fantasy points among running backs on NFL.com. Slaton is now considered a surefire first-round selection across the board. But could Slaton's value be falling?

Texans coach Gary Kubiak was impressed with the impact of veteran running back Chris Brown, who totaled 47 scrimmage yards and one touchdown in limited work in Saturday's preseason opener against the Chiefs. More importantly, Brown replaced Slaton when the offense got into scoring position.

"That was very exciting, and that's what he is," Kubiak told the Texans official website. "He's a big back in the red zone and gets the ball going downhill. That's what we need him to do, and he looked like his old self tonight, so I felt very good about his time."

Kubiak and the coaching staff have singled out Brown as one of the players that had a tremendous offseason, which could have been part of the reason the team decided not to pick up a running back in the NFL Draft or on the free-agent market. Brown was once a viable fantasy option with the Titans, but couldn't stay healthy. Various ailments limited his playing time and fantasy value, and back problems landed him on injured reserve for the entire 2008 season.

Brown's role in the offense isn't a complete detriment to the value of Slaton, who will continue to see most of the carries and receiving chances out of the backfield in an offense that could be one of the league's best in 2009. Kubiak's team finished third in total offense last season ahead of even Kurt Warner and the Cardinals.

Under the guidance of Kubiak and offensive guru Alex Gibbs, who is best known for his zone-blocking scheme, Slaton will be in a good position to find success in his second season.

However, owners who take Slaton in the first round will cringe when the Texans enter the red zone and Brown comes onto the field for the potential touchdown conversion.

While some owners might be a little more wary about Slaton's touchdown potential in 2008, it looks like the sky's the limit for his quarterback, Matt Schaub. He completed all seven of his pass attempts against the Chiefs this past weekend and looked like a player who's primes for a breakout season. While the running back will be an important part of the team's success, Kubiak will throw the football a ton. In fact, Houston's pass-attempt ranking has increased from 23rd in 2006 to fourth in 2008.

Schaub has missed 10 games over the last two seasons, but the veteran is coming off his healthiest offseason he's had since he was with the Falcons. The Texans are returning all five of their starting offensive linemen. The team is also expecting an improved second season from former first-round pick T Duane Brown, who shed 20 pounds in the offseason and will be looked on to help protect Schaub when he drops back to pass.

And it's hard not to love the cast of characters around him.

Andre Johnson has developed into one of the best wide receivers in the league and will be a surefire second-round selection in fantasy drafts. Kevin Walter posted career bests in yards and touchdowns last season and has become a nice complement in the pass attack. Schaub also has a strong safety net in tight end Owen Daniels, who has hauled in 133 passes over the past two years. The Texans also have speedsters like Jacoby Jones and Andre Davis, who can help stretch defenses in the vertical attack.

With a runner as talented as Slaton in the mix to keep defenses honest, the opposition will have a much harder time trying to contain Schaub and his arsenal of weapons.

Schaub, who has a current average draft position (ADP) of 59.20 on NFL.com, could become a solid bargain if he falls in the sixth or seventh round. In fact, fantasy owners who want to focus on the running back and wide receiver positions in the first four to five rounds can sit back, wait and target Schaub to be their No. 1 quarterback.

News and notes

  • » Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer reportedly might not play in the team's next preseason game due to an ankle sprain. While the team doesn't consider it to be serious, fantasy owners should still be sure to monitor Palmer's status in the weeks to come. The potential draft bargain looked extremely strong in his lone preseason start, but Palmer needs to avoid the trainer's room to make a serious impact.
  • » The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports quarterback Marc Bulger will miss at least two weeks with a small fracture in the pinkie finger on his throwing hand. He suffered the ailment during Monday's morning practice. Bulger hasn't made much of an impact in fantasy circles the past two seasons, and this news makes him even less attractive in 2009 drafts. Backup Kyle Boller will take over the offense while Bulger heals.
  • » Dynasty leaguers had to like what Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford showed this past weekend. He displayed a great deal of arm strength and poise in his preseason debut against the Falcons, throwing for 114 yards and one touchdown. His numbers would have been even better had it not been for a few Keary Colbert drops. Stafford remains in a "dead heat" with Daunte Culpepper for the top spot on the depth chart.
  • » The Charlotte Observer reports Jonathan Stewart has missed six consecutive practices due to continued soreness in his problematic Achilles' tendon. Coach John Fox admitted that team doctors have prescribed rest for the second-year runner, who hasn't participated in contract drills for over a week. If Stewart's health doesn't improve in the weeks leading up to Week 1, he could be a real draft risk.

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section below or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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