“I just need to find someone that’s good at what they do so they can help me out, figure out my body and everything I can do from the inside out,” Fuller said in January after the Texans lost in the AFC playoffs to eventual Super Bowl champ Kansas City.
Fuller missed 22 regular-season games in his first four NFL seasons and has never made it through an entire season healthy. There was a broken collarbone during training camp in 2017, a torn ACL in 2018 and injuries to his hamstrings in 2016, 2018 and 2019. He had groin surgery this offseason, but said he's recovered and the injury isn’t bothering him anymore.
“If I can play 16 games, which I believe I will this year, the sky is the limit,” Fuller said.
When Fuller is on the field, he makes a difference. That makes it even more frustrating for the Texans, who drafted the receiver with the No. 21 pick in the 2016 draft.
“Being injured sucks, but I’m confident,” Fuller said. “Every time I go back out on the field, I don’t think about what happened last week or if I was injured last week. I always feel like I’m going to have a big game or whatever. I don’t really dwell on injuries. I know they happen, but I always stay confident and just try to do my best to help the team win.”
During the 2019 regular season, the Texans had seven touchdown passes of 20 yards or longer, which was tied for ninth in the NFL. All but one came in the 11 games in which Fuller played. Two of Fuller’s three touchdowns last season were completions of 30 yards or more. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has had significantly better numbers when Fuller has been on the field, and that’s happened while Watson had three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.
Fuller had 49 catches for 670 yards in those 11 games, although 217 of those yards and all three of his touchdowns came in one game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5.
“He showed up and he’s in great shape,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He looks good. He’s been working out and working hard. He’s excited about the season and he’s excited about our offense. We’re excited about having him for 16 games. He looks as good as he’s ever looked and that makes us happy. It makes us feel like we’re going to get off on the right foot here.”
O’Brien said he can “definitely” see how much work Fuller put in this offseason, returning to Houston for training camp at 190 pounds with a “strong” lower body.
The biggest change to the 2020 Texans offense is that they will have to fill the void left by Hopkins, the team’s former No. 1 receiver. In 2019, Hopkins led the team with 150 targets; Fuller had the next most with 71 targets and Kenny Stills was third with 55. Hopkins was traded to Arizona in March, and the Texans are counting on Fuller, Stills, Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb to be productive.
“Obviously with Hop not being here anymore, that’s going to open up things for everybody," said Fuller, who turned 26 in April. “He had a lot of targets, so those targets have to be filled up with other guys. We all are going to be able to get it done and I feel like it’s going to be a great season this year.”
One of the things Fuller did in his quest to play a full season was work with a trainer who has helped him focus “on a lot of mechanical things,” including fixing the way he runs and his posture in the hopes it will help “fix a lot of lower-extremity injuries that I’ve been having.”
Fuller is playing on his expiring rookie deal, a $10.2 million fifth-year option, but said he’s “not going to worry about the contract.”
Even if he plays a full and productive season, Fuller might not be back with the Texans in 2021. That's because if he can stay healthy and plays as well as he is capable of playing, he will likely demand a higher price than the Texans can afford, as they are already up against the salary cap and Watson is in line for a huge contract extension. And if Fuller again misses significant time due to injury, it will be difficult for Houston to commit to him with a long-term deal.
“The contract is going to come depending on how you play,” Fuller said. “My focus has been to just be the best version of myself and I feel like I did that this offseason.”
Watson said he has no doubt the work Fuller did this offseason will lead to a huge season.
“Will’s going to ball out,” Watson said. “Will’s going to be one of the best receivers in the league. He came back a lot stronger, a lot faster. Will’s really good, very confident in himself and what he did over the offseason. I’m very confident in what he can do. We all are as an organization and as a team. There’s no doubt that Will can take that role and do great things with it.”