Andre Johnson had a career-high eight touchdown catches in 2007.
Heading into the 2007 season, wide receiver was among the most scrutinized position groups on the Texans' roster. The big question: Who would be the second receiver to complement Pro Bowler Andre Johnson?
After a season in which both Kevin Walter and André Davis proved to be potent weapons, head coach Gary Kubiak won't have to hear any more questions about his receiving group in 2008. It's now one of the deeper, more dangerous units of its kind in the NFL.
Johnson had a stellar season despite missing seven games with a sprained knee, leading the Texans with 851 receiving yards and setting a career- and franchise-high with eight touchdown catches.
The Texans' offensive captain averaged 94.6 receiving yards per game, the highest per game average in the NFL.
For the first time in five seasons, the Texans found ample support for Johnson. Walter, with 65 receptions for 800 yards, became the first Texans receiver besides Johnson to finish a season with at least 60 catches or 700 yards. Including tight end Owen Daniels, the Texans were one of four NFL teams to have three receivers with more than 700 receiving yards.
A third capable starting receiver emerged in Davis, who started seven times in place of Johnson and had a career-high 533 yards on 33 catches.
That gave the Texans three wideouts with more than 500 yards receiving for the first time in team history.
Jacoby Jones, in his rookie season out of Lane College, battled for the number two receiver spot in the preseason. Although slowed by a separated shoulder in Week 3, he started three games and showed signs of playmaking potential with 15 catches for 149 yards.
The wide receiver corps transformed from one of the team's most pressing question marks in the preseason to one of its biggest strengths heading into 2008.
The season started with a veritable bang for Johnson. A year after leading the NFL with 103 receptions in 2006, he looked better than ever in helping the Texans to a 2-0 start thanks to his instant chemistry with new quarterback Matt Schaub.
In the season opener against Kansas City, Johnson scored the Texans' first touchdown on a career-long 77-yard strike from Schaub. He finished with seven receptions for 142 yards as the Texans won 20-3.
In Week 2 at Carolina, he hauled in seven more passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Texans to a come-from-behind road win at Carolina. The Texans were 2-0 for the first time in franchise history.
Johnson, however, left the Panthers game late in the fourth quarter with a sprained left knee after making a catch over the middle.
What the Texans hoped would be a minor injury (Kubiak initially listed Johnson as day-to-day) turned into a seven-week recovery process as Johnson rehabbed a sprained posterior cruciate ligament.
Suddenly, the question became not who would be Johnson's running mate, but who would step up in his absence.
Enter Walter, and another André
It didn't take long for the Texans' remaining receivers to answer that question with a response far more emphatic than few observers would have imagined.
Davis, signed to a one-year deal prior to the season, had been inactive in the Texans' first two wins. Suddenly, he was a starter in the Week 3 showdown versus the Super Bowl champion Colts.
He delivered an instant spark, grabbing four catches for 70 yards and showing the ability to stretch the field with long and acrobatic receptions.
Jones made his first professional start against Indy, notching three catches for 26 yards. But he separated his shoulder on a 74-yard punt return, which would force him to the sidelines for the next two games.
At Atlanta in Week 4, Davis had his best output of the season with five catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, while Walter totaled six catches for 77 yards after catching only four passes in the first three games.
Davis added four catches for 79 yards in the win against Miami, combining with Walter's five catches for 67 yards to give the Texans a formidable one-two receiving punch for the second consecutive week – without Johnson in the lineup.
Walter cemented his status as the team's number two receiver with a Week 6 explosion at Jacksonville. He had the second-best receiving day in franchise history with 12 catches for 160 yards, behind only Johnson's 12 catches for 170 yards against Minnesota in 2004.
Even second-year pro David Anderson, signed off the practice squad for depth, contributed 10 catches for 103 yards and a TD in Weeks 6-8.
Johnson returns with a flurry
Johnson returned in Week 10 in time for the home matchup against New Orleans and wasted little time reestablishing his place among the elite receivers in the game.
On the Texans' first offensive play, Johnson burned a defender for a 72-yard touchdown bomb from Schaub that put the Texans up 7-0. He finished with 120 yards receiving.
The Texans' two-time Pro Bowler also had nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown at Tennessee in Week 13.
Although limited to one catch a game in the final five weeks of the season, Davis made huge contributions on special teams and led the Texans with 17.7 yards per catch in 2007, which was third-best in the NFL.
Walter had three touchdowns in five games from Weeks 12-16, giving him a career-high four on the season.
A promising future
Had he played all 16 games, Johnson was on pace for 1,517 yards and 16 touchdowns, franchise records that almost assuredly would have landed him in the 2008 Pro Bowl.
The Texans were 6-3 with Johnson in the lineup, and he gives Texans fans plenty to look forward to in a healthy 2008. Before the season, Johnson had only missed three games in his career.
His injury, though devastating, may have been a blessing in disguise as it allowed for the emergence of both Davis and Walter.
Prior to 2007, Walter had four career starts with 47 catches, 456 yards and one touchdown in his four years in the league. Davis had spent each of the past three seasons in a limited role on three different NFL teams.
And then there's Jones, who tied for the NFL lead with four total touchdowns in the preseason. With his injury well behind him, he will be hungry to improve in his second season.
"We'll go to camp and there will be a great competition," Kubiak said. "Kevin earned a spot this year, but Kevin also knows that he's going to have himself, Jacoby and those guys breathing right down his neck at camp.
"It's interesting how that's worked out, because last year we went to training camp and everybody was scared to death. Now, if we stepped back on the field tomorrow, that position would be about as competitive as you can find in this league, so it's great growth from that standpoint."
Davis is the lone receiver with an expiring contract. He heads into unrestricted free agency with sky-high value after his career receiving season and spectacular special teams play in which he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in December.
He has said he would like to say in Houston, and general manager Rick Smith has said the Texans will try to retain his services. If they can, the Texans will have a formidable receiving group for years to come.
"André, Kevin, Jacoby, I think they went out and cooled a lot of people out this year," Johnson said. "We have a lot of guys now that can make plays for us. Hopefully, we can have all those guys here, like I said, and just keep it going."