The Houston Texans offensive line is in need of some upgrades beyond the current roster. The current roster stock isn’t exactly weak, but with a key injury and empty hole in the LT position, the Texans will have to secure a few of their own free agents, go shopping elsewhere, and pick up some younger talent in the draft. There are 2 free agents necessary to procure, and a lot of potential talent in the draft to choose from.
The Texans have 4 offensive linemen as free agents to start 2016. Let’s take a look at each player to see where we can bolster the o-line heading into 2016.
First, and most important, is Brandon Brooks. Brooks has been a productive RG with the Texans, especially when lining up with Derek Newton (who the Texans could stand to lose but likely won’t) at RT. He’s got the experience the Texans need on the 0-line, as well as productivity that will likely send him into the FA to shop around. He’ll require a payday, but the Texans can afford it.
Second, there’s Center Ben Jones. Jones was a pivotal force for the Texans in the past 2 years, keeping the consistency under center with the carousel of QBs that have started behind him. He’s the top rated FA C in the league, and a necessary component to re-sign. Touting his top spot rates his value a little higher than it is, but with the back-up Mancz coming off his rookie season with just 3 games and off injured reserve, Jones will likely be an automatic re-sign.
Jeff Adams started as LG in 2015 with the Texans, plugged in primarily due to an injury plagued o-line, and went on season-ending IR in his first season to start. Adams is at the end of his 2 year contract with the Texans, after spending his pre-Texans NFL tenure bouncing around on practice squads. LG isn’t a position the Texans need to fill, and I don’t see the justification in re-signing him, with the depth already present in the current roster.
Chris Clark is the final Texans FA, and served primarily as the back-up plug in at LT for Duane Brown. Experience at LT alone gives Clark some stock with the Texans, although he may not be a permanent solution. Texans could get another 2 years out of him with a per game bonus to keep his cost down and head into 2016 with an experienced LT that can hold his own on the Texans o-line. He’s also an almost-necessary re-sign, due to Duane Brown’s injury and uncertain future.
The FA market outside of the Texans players simply isn’t impressive enough to comb through. A few players worth plugging in, primarily at LT, wouldn’t be a smart move for the hefty price when the draft is relatively deep with OL talent. Cordy Glenn, tagged today by the Bills, would be the only LT worth going after as a veritable improvement, and since that has now been rendered moot with a franchise tag, let’s take a look at some of the o-line prospects in the draft.
The o-line draft depth is pretty deep in 2016, so I would not be surprised at picking up some talent in some of the later rounds – primarily due to all over the board needs in the draft for teams to bolster their o-line. The Texans – but I wouldn’t be surprised if OT was looked at in round 2-3 (depending on where the eventual QB pick lands). The top picks – 1st round picks, will be off the board by the time #22 rolls around (Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Stanley will be long gone by then) but for a 1st round pick, let’s look at a few.
First up is Michigan State starting LT Jack Conklin. Conklin started his college career basically as a walk-on for the Spartans in 2012, but eventually landed a scholarship and the LT starting position. He’s earned First Team All Big Ten and All American honors during that time. He’s got a wide base, but is sometimes a slow starter. He put in an incredible combine performance, and may still be on the board when the Texans draft at #22. Worthy of some scrutiny, depending on how the FA goes.
Second, we’ll look at Ohio State’s starting LT Taylor Decker. Decker certainly helped Ezekiel Elliot become one of the top RBs in the draft, and moved up to LT after starting RT in 2013. He’s got experience over the Junior declared Conklin, with a similar build and reach. His biggest downside is he’s slow to start at times, and at the swing position, a player has to be on time all the time. This can be worked through, and he’s another prospect that could still be available for the Texans in the later round.
If Texans sink the LT position down in the draft to a later pick, there’s a number of decent players to pick from. I’d like to highlight a potential steal and project out of this. This is a best-case scenario quick Duane Brown return with formidable development from Chris Clark project, but it could pay off heavily.
That is Texas Tech starting LT Le’Raven Clark. Why Clark? Size, speed, and footwork. He has the potential as an immediate starter on the o-line, as a guard, and the hand and arm span to make him a formidable option at LT in a few years, with some work. Clark may be a high 3rd round, or even graduate up to 2nd round stock. However, if he’s still on the board past that, the Texans shouldn’t think twice. This is entirely possible, considering the depth at the position (o-line and LT) in the draft. Keep a look out for him a a possible late round bonus.
Overall, we’ll see a LT pick-up in the FA, as well as a draft pick-up that can work through the line and be considered eventual starter. Depending on how the FA plays out overall, I believe the Texans will keep a strong option open for Conklin (one of the several players the Texans met with at last week’s combine). His performance during the combine may raise his stock just out of reach, or within reach with a trade for the 1st round. I think it would pay off to strongly look at this option in the draft.