Andrew Luck: Can we say it now?

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I’m not usually one to kick a player while he is down (unless he’s a Cowboys player and isn’t down because of injury). I also feel that some of Andrew Luck’s bad luck this and last year has a shared responsibility (GM and HC). This year, one can comfortably say that Andrew Luck isn’t great because his team isn’t great. He’s come back from 2015 showing he can play on par with his previous non-injury seasons. But, coming into his 5th year in the NFL, and into his big contract (being the highest paid QB in NFL history, with a 6 year, $140 million contract with an $87 million injury guarantee/$47 million guaranteed at signing, which levels out to $23.3 million a year average), Andrew Luck still has a lot to prove in the NFL.

Coming back from his terrible start and later injury-laden season, Luck has shown some improvement – albeit simply getting back to his previous play. 2015 worked a number on Luck, even before he was sidelined with a shoulder injury, and then later with a lacerated kidney (knocking him out for the rest of the season). In his first 3 starts, he threw for 7 interceptions – putting him on pace for a record incerception count. After a shoulder/rib injury sidelined him for 2 games (where the Colts actually went on a 2 game winning streak), he began to show some signs of improvement (can the “he was still injured” talk. He was cleared for play, and no results came from investigating his non-status on the Colts injury reports), but still fell short of an improved year.

The question is can Andrew Luck improve from what his 4 (and coming into 5) year stint has shown? Basically, he’s played the same with little to no improvement. In his 5th year, he’s beginning to learn how to slide. He’s still not learning to back off the linebacker mentality and takes hits he shouldn’t. He makes bad throwing decisions that has led to his interception count to be one of the highest counts in the league for a starter. There is a learning process, of course, when it comes into reading the field and making better decisions. Experience leads the way here. However, Luck is coming into his 5th year and he’s barely showing any progress here. The season is still early, though, so perhaps his banged up 2015 have taught him to take fewer chances.

One argument here is Andrew Luck has been carrying the team for the past 4 years and counting. During that same tenure, he was playing with a top 10 offense for 2 years (#3 in 2014), and a top 10 defense for 2 years (and coming into year #3). Unfortunately, they all happened in different years, with 2013 being the most balanced team (#15 in offense and #13 in defense). So, Luck’s had weapons. It hasn’t been JUST him the whole time. Truth be told, if anything carried the Colts through the Luck era, it has been the consistent mediocrity coming out of the AFC South. I’ll say it – it’s the same advantage that the Texans have had in the past few years of playoff appearances (especially in 2015). Outside of the overwhelming domination of the AFC South, the Colts are 22-21 under Luck.

So stop with that talk. If Colts were in another division, Luck would not likely have a single playoff win under his belt.

Only time will tell if Luck has learned from the past 4 years in the NFL to improve on his decision-making on the field. This is where his weakness lies. You can’t argue his talent. He’s got the arm and accuracy. He’s mobile. He is a prototypical NFL QB in terms of build and talent. What he lacks is decision making skills. This is what turns a good QB into a top 5 or elite QB. Currently, Luck sits at good. He is better than average, has the natural ability to succeed in the league, and could quite possibly take any well-rounded team far into the playoffs – even all the way to the championship. What gets him to the next level is all on him, though. Not the coach. Not the team. Not even the owner. What gets him there, and what will hold him back, is him. Until that happens, we can say it: he’s overrated.

Houston Texans: Buckle up

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One quarter of the season has been played, with the Texans sitting atop the AFC South and a 2 game cushion, at 3-1. Not a bad start, with a brand-spanking-new offense and some key injuries on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is still shaky, with Duane Brown hinted at coming back this week, after his season-ending injury last season, and the defense lost their top player, JJ Watt, for the season. O’Brien has taken play-calling duties over for Godsey, who couldn’t figure out a way to use the running game’s biggest weapon, Lamar Miller, in 3 games.

The team is finally showing some flashes of greatness, stalled by some bad decision turnovers from Osweiler. Hopkins hasn’t yet been utilized to his 2015 playtime, with most of the turnovers coming off of forced passes to him. The stumbles and stalls haven’t stopped the Texans from picking up a winning record so far, and gaining that 2-game cushion on the rest of the flailing AFC South (including what shouldn’t have been such a nail-biting game against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday). Each game brings a few signs of improvement (we’re not going to talk about that one game).

The Texans have a powerhouse defense that can keep the offense in the game. Even with the loss of JJ Watt, the Texans have bounced back with other key players like Mercilus, Clowney, Cushing, and Simon, with Wilfork putting in a heck of a season so far. The CB depth is enough to keep the passing game in check (although there are still some tackling issues being settled). The offense, however, doesn’t create a march down the field with the same ease, and has had some pretty rough turnovers in the interim. And special teams is finally figuring out that you get 25 yards on a return by taking a knee.

If you’re like me, you’ve been scratching your head at the ST kickoff return game plan in the first few games of the season, considering the new touchback rule that adds 5 yards to the line of scrimmage. In at least 1 game when we’ve seen turnovers after a returning from the endzone, you’d think the Texans ST coach is crazy. They’re not alone, though. Despite the rule’s intentions of lessening the chance of injury in those rough, full velocity return tackles, returns have actually increased throughout the league. That hasn’t worked well for the Texans, though, and it looks like they’re finally getting wise to this.

But the meat of the schedule is about to start, and we’re left to wonder if they’re ready for it. The Texans are next facing the undefeated and rather mesmerizing Minnesota Vikings, who lost both Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson within a few short weeks. Despite losing their 2 top offensive weapons, they’ve managed to go 4-0 with Sam Bradford, now seemingly healthy and playing with a vengeance, without even a hiccup. Led by a top defense, the Vikings have capitalized on creating turnovers and then scoring on them, but can just as readily march down the field for a touchdown.

With Osweiler as a continuing work in progress (and I hate to break it to you, but this work in progress looks like it will be continuing throughout the season), are the Texans going to play conservatively to lessen the chance for turnovers, or keep forcing him into making better pressure decisions? I’d bet on a little bit of both. Duane Brown’s impending return will be a great help with keeping Osweiler out of such pressure situations, as it will open up the possibility of shuffling the line around to bolster it on both ends. This will open up the running game down the middle a bit more too.

That’s not likely to all click in place this Sunday, so I’d expect to see more conservative calls on offense to keep from giving the Vikings an opportunity to do what they do best – force a turnover and turn it into points. That may also mean that Hopkins will see a few more games without a target – which may work out best for him and the team in the long run. One of the keys to this offense is having limitless targets on field, and it seems to be working so far. That lingering if/when will Osweiler clean up his throws and make better decisions will decide what level the team will eventually play at this season.

Moving forward? Remain cautiously optimistic. Osweiler’s struggles with decision making under pressure are not an anomaly from a newer QB. I don’t care when he was drafted, he’s not even had a full season starting under his belt. That matters, because you don’t pick up experience to improve on the bench. He’s also got a brand new offense to work the kinks out with, as well. So, be prepared for this to be a season-long test. It should be, when you’re giving a new QB the opportunity to be the franchise QB. We’re well past the days of next QB up. It’s new territory, guys, and the rules are different.

And, at the end of the season if he doesn’t pan out, it’s really not as bad of a deal as you think. Osweiler is guaranteed for 2 seasons at 18 million per season. That’s the average pay for a starting QB in their second contract in the NFL. And if he still continues to have some of the problems under pressure, then the concentration in the free agency and draft for 2017 will beQB and o-line. He’s our guy for at least this season and next, so let’s get used to that. For the time being, recognize he’s in his 2nd year (and 1st full season) as a starter, and give him the room to improve.

Minnesota may not be a win, but it won’t mean the season is over. This won’t be an easy win for either team, and it won’t be another blow out embarassment for the Texans. I’ll put my predictions that far. What we’ll see from the Texans, hopefully, is an extension of the improvement on the running game seen last week, with some quick, up-tempo short passes to move the ball down the field. If Duane Brown returns, that puts a little more strength on the o-line (especially if Clark can slide down to RT for a few plays). I’d really like to see some movement on the o-line with Brown’s return.

Defense needs to keep being defense. They’ll have a tough time getting to Bradford, but should have some success shutting off the running game. Time to start forcing some turnovers, as well. The Vikings haven’t faced a defense like the Texans just yet, so that should shake up Bradford and co, and make them reach outside of the comfort zone. This will be another game where the defense will be counted on to carry the load, but I’ve got the confidence they can step up and do this. Secondary will have to make some leaps in this game as well, because Bradford can use his arm effectively.

And the Fuller on ST was a nice trick, but I wouldn’t use it for this game.

I predict the Texans will come out of this with their second loss, but still sitting on top of the AFC South in 1st place (and it’s quite possible to keep that same 2 game cushion). This is an early test for the readiness of the team, and it’s fine if they don’t pass. There’s still a lot of season left to improve on offense (which is the game changer), and like I said, it will take the season to vastly improve. The next few games should show whether or not Osweiler begins to make better decisions under pressure, and I’d expect him to. But if he does, and starts throwing it away, don’t scold him for that.

Sometimes, that’s all you’ve got.

In the long run, if the Texans can manage to dominate the AFC South (and currently signs point to that being quite possible) then they have some wiggle room to improve the offense overall. They’re actually quite fortunate with that this season. It’s the same circumstance that has put the Andrew Luck Colts in the playoffs practically every year, but the key difference is that the Texans have actually build a team. This next game may not be pretty, and the season may not be pretty, but it’s a season going on a learning curve that will eventually pan out.

Houston Texans: How Belichick emasculated O’Brien

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It began Monday morning, but we didn’t realize it. Reports that Garoppolo would sit the game out, 3rd string rookie Jacoby Brissett would start his 1st NFL game. Back up to Brissett would be WR, once QB in college Julian Edelman. He didn’t even bother the insurance of a FA QB signing in the interim. For once, Bill Belichick did not hide his game plan for the short week and Thursday night game, and this game plan told the story of what we saw unfold last night.

On Monday Belichick’s actions said, without saying a word, we don’t need to prepare for the Texans; the Texans need to prepare for us. It was a call to the Texans, and a challenge to Bill O’Brien. It was cocky, insulting, and downright genius. And it got in their heads. Belichick, with that small, yet bold, move, won the game before it even started.  And none of us realized it until the Texans hit the field and started crumbling before our (and the nation’s) eyes.

In those three days – that short week to prepare for the Patriots game Thursday night, it’s hard to really see exactly what the Texans did to prepare. Granted, they were at the slight disadvantage, having to face a rookie QB with half a game’s worth of NFL film on him. To the Texans advantage, however, they were facing a rookie QB in the 1st start of his professional career, so simplified play-calling to this rookie QB’s strengths would likely be the game plan.

Through most of the 1st half, this is exactly what we saw from the Patriots on offense. Conservative plays, ball protection, and limited drives. Enough to manage the game, protect the young QB, and eliminate turnovers. Enough to take Texans strongest weapon – the front 7, out of the game. On defense, all they had to do was cover receivers. That’s it. The Texans o-line destroyed everything else, as well as Godsey’s terrible usage of Lamar Miller. Their game plan was simple, and almost relaxed.

After that relatively simple prepwork, all the Patriots had to do was to sit back and watch the Texans defeat themselves; overcompensating for how little Belichick and the Patriots took this match up seriously. Because that’s pretty much how predictable the Texans play-calling has already become this season. And defeat themselves they did. The bonus for the Patriots was the lousy Texans special team play, which allowed the Patriots to not only defeat the Texans, but humiliate them on National TV.

The good news out of this is that the Texans have a good core of veteran players that don’t give up, and can lead their team. This is 1 game, and 1 loss. The better news is that this core group usually comes back steaming mad and ready for revenge when they have a terrible game like this (see Falcons and Dolphins games in 2015). The best news is that the team has upgraded their talent since 2015, and the team and staff have a long week to start working to fix these issues.

The bad news is that our special teams unit has not improved over last year. Tyler Ervin has shown, in his special team appearances, that he may not be ready for the pros just yet. Charles James II has no margin for error moving forward. The whole unit needs to make some drastic improvements, and rely on conservative play in the interim. THIS MEANS TAKING THE DAMN KNEE IN THE ENDZONE. That’s 25 yards, every time. Take it. Please. We all beg you.

In the interim, Godsey’s got to take some time making plays that utilize Lamar Miller’s strengths, as it is clear that one of Miller’s strengths is NOT running up the middle. This should be obvious by watching him with the Dolphins, as well as recognizing his build. He’s got speed, use it. And use Jay Prosch on 3rd and short. That’s why he’s on the roster. The stalled running game needs to be worked out immediately – like in this long week ahead in preparation for the Titans.

Onward and upward.

Houston Texans:The time is now

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The 2016 NFL season is here, and with that brings a new and (hopefully) improved Houston Texans squad.

In the off-season, Head Coach Bill O’Brien heavily bulked up the offense during the 2016 NFL Draft, drafting and subsequently signing 4 out of 6 offensive positions (primarily WR/RB, and a necessary C to replace defector dearly departed Ben Jones) to add speed and versatility to a Texans offense that has struggled for years. The primary struggles were an ineffective QB, combined with a nearly non-existent passing game, and littered with constant running game injury. To summarize, the Texans offense has been largely one-dimensional, over-utilizing either/or since 2013.

In the pre-season, fans were dazzled (at times) with a promising starting QB with Brock Osweiler, a prolific WR corps, as well as some surprising TE production on offense, but very little showing for the running game.  Special teams came out and showed some notable structure and improvement, with a huge nod to new ST coach Larry Izzo. We also saw some intermittent struggles with the once-again heavily limping offensive line, as well as some customary missed blocked and tackles in the defense secondary. Most of this tightened up with each preseason game, and necessary cuts were made all around.

This had both fans and beat writers at odds with the new squad, wondering if we are going to face another year with a largely one-dimensional offense. Passing plays and attempts were made nearly 2-1 versus running, which made the RB corps seems slightly anemic. However, we can calm those fears by simply looking at all the roster moves in the off-season. The first, and biggest, news is signing Lamar Miller in the free agency. He’s an outstanding all around RB, who was brought in to replace Arian Foster. He wasn’t utilized much in the preseason because his history in the NFL speaks for itself.

This left primarily seasoned RBs and a single drafted rookie RB to compete for the 53. Among those were seasoned vets Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes, who essentially had to maintain their performance from previous years, 2nd season players Kenny Hilliard and Akeem Hunt, who had to show necessary improvements to justify a spot on the squad, and newly drafted rookie Tyler Ervin, who was specifically brought in for his speed and depth on both offense and special teams. What this translates to is 2 players trying out, and 1 player justifying why he was drafted.

On the other end, the Texans brought in 2 WRs in the draft, signed an additional 4 undrafted free agents, with 5 WRs already signed to compete for 5 spots on the roster, or a place on the practice squad. Additionally, an undrafted free agent TE was brought in, and specific priority was given to the TE corps which has been perpetually anemic since the loss of Owen Daniels in 2013 to see if O’Brien’s eventual goal to heavily utilize TEs could start coming to fruition. This still has yet to be seen, but undrafted FA Stephen Anderson has already made a name for himself among the Texans TEs.

Will this be enough to give the Texans a legitimate run this season? Only time and the upcoming season will tell. One notable deficiency and area of concern heading into the season is the offensive line. 2nd round draft pick C Nick Martin, who was penciled in as starter as soon as his draft number was called, suffered a season-ending ankle injury and underwent surgery to repair a high ankle sprain was a big blow to the line.  Additionally, T Duane Brown and Derek Newton’s injuries brought on a patchwork o-line in the preseason that struggled to hold a pocket for Osweiler at times.

The good news (I guess) is that Derek Newton is slated to start in the season opener, and Duane Brown has been put on the active roster, meaning that while there has been no timetable set for return, it’s likely that Brown will return within the first 3-4 games since the front office didn’t find it necessary to put him on the PUP list (which would mean 6 weeks, at minimum). Other good news is the return of DE JJ Watt. While it’s unknown how limited Watt will be, he is slated to start in the season opener as well, after an offseason in which basically Watt’s entire lower half was reconstructed.

With the free agency signings, draft picks, current news with injury, along with the preseason performance of a newly-enhanced offense, the Vegas odds for the Texans to reach the Super Bowl have jumped from 40-1 in April to 16-1 in September.  This was the biggest offseason jump for any team considered to be a legitimate contender moving into the 2016-17 season. That’s promising. Looking at the season opener with a Chicago Bears squad that didn’t do much to bolster their roster in the offseason, analysts have pretty much unanimously given favor to the Texans.

My opinion is we should go with that, cast all doubt and worry aside, and let the team prove the hype. Osweiler has something to prove, and he showed us this in the preseason. Hopkins, Fuller, and Braxton Miller are ready to show the kind of versatile threat we want them to be. Lamar Miller is itching to have his breakout season.Special teams is streamlined and disciplined, and ready to be a productive side on the field, and the whole of the defense is ready to rank back up as a top 3 defense. I think they will. So, sit back, buckle up, and let’s all get ready for some football!

Houston Texans: Welcome to HTown, Fuller

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Meet Will Fuller, former WR from Notre Dame and future Texan. Fuller was picked #21st overall in the 1st round of the draft, after a quick 1-spot trade up from 22 with the Washington Redskins, at the price of a 2017 6th round pick.. Fuller adds speed and a vertical game downfield to complement DeAndre Hopkins on offense.

Fuller was 1 of 4 WRs taken in the 1st round, and the 2nd WR off the board. Others drafted in the 1st round include Corey Coleman, drafted 15th to the Cleveland Browns, Josh Doctson, drafted 22nd to the Washington Redskins, and Laquon Treadwell, drafted 23rd to the Minnesota Vikings.

Rounds 2-3 of the 2016 NFL Draft will commence tonight, followed by rounds 4-7 on Saturday. Texans will likely be in the hunt for some offensive line help, defensive end or tight end help this evening. Likely, safety and more o-line help will come on Saturday, and don’t be surprised if a kicker’s folded in as well. Full evaluation to come after the draft.

Congratulations, Will Fuller, and welcome to the NFL!

Houston Texans: Eight days away

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The 2016 NFL Draft is just 8 days out, and the FA moves before the draft are pretty much done, as far as the Texans are concerned. The latest move was to release QB Brian Hoyer, who was set to make $4 million in 2016. The move to remove Hoyer from the roster wasn’t a surprise, but the move to cut him instead of trading him had some people confused. Why not try to get something for the guy, even it if would be nothing more than another draft pick?  In short, because it wasn’t worth keeping him for a 6th or 7th round pick in 2017.

A lengthy discussion could point out the current situation in the QB free agency, with 2-3 QBs still waiting for signings, and the simple fact that these potential signings have stalemated any trades or deals for QBs in the current FA. The bottleneck is occurring between the San Francisco 49ers an the Denver Broncos, with not even free agent but likely to be traded Colin Kaepernick, and the reticence of either team to pick up the remaining value of Kaepernick’s contract.

Both teams hope to resolve this before the draft, but the whole situation is creating a real issue with other QBs left in limbo right now. What that means it the Texans holding onto Hoyer and tying up cap space that may be needed in the direct aftermath of the draft. Is all that worth the possibility of an additional 6th or 7th round pick in the coming years? Do the Texans really need to get caught up by the unneccessary stalemate that the 49ers and Broncos are willfully causing, over $4 million?

No. No they do not.

You have to look at the fact that every team knew Hoyer would be released, with the signing of Osweiler and the re-signing of FA Brandon Weeden, with Tom Savage still being on the roster at a much cheaper price than Hoyer. Potentially higher tier QBs like Kaepernick and even Fitzpatrick are still available and in limbo because of contract/trade negotiations, which means Hoyer would certainly take a back seat, possibly for months. And, knowing that Hoyer would eventually be released, there isn’t a team out there that would give a favorable trade to the Texans.

You can also look at the recent draft pick trades that have occurred with the top 2 picks. Last week, the Titans traded the #1 overall pick to the Rams for a quite ridiculous number of picks for this year’s draft alone. The Rams want a QB, and want the first pick. Today, the Browns and Eagles announced a trade of the #2 overall pick, with the Eagles coughing up a heavy number of picks, presumably for the 2nd choice of QB in the draft. The Eagles, who just spent $35 million over the next 2 years on 2 QBs. Head-scratching.

Instantly, you have 2 teams that are bowing out of the QB tussle in the FA, which leaves even fewer teams to negotiate and haggle with, when trying to dump a 2nd rate likely career back-up QB for any kind of return woth noting. That’s not to say that these trades shore up all the QB needs in the NFL, but it does lead to the notion that the little value that Hoyer may possess has diminished down to nothing. The money that was freed up in the salary cap is more valuable than a later draft pick in the next couple of years.

Now that he’s released, there may be some additional movement in unclogging that bottleneck of QB movement in the FA. He’s already visited with the Jets, and is set to visit with the Broncos. Whether either team is serious about the visit is debatable, but it could help both teams in their own negotiations with both Kaepernick and Fitzpatrick. All I can say is that I’m glad the cut’s been made ,so the Texans don’t have this hanging over their heads entering into the Draft. We should all be happy about that.

Another player waived by the Texans was BJ Daniels, the QB/WR picked up from the Seattle Seahawks practice squad last year when both Hoyer and Yates were out with injuries. Daniels would be an interesting prospect to try out at WR, as he was in transition to WR in the Seattle Seahawks practice squad camp. I’m surprised he wouldn’t at least make it through some work outs to see the potetial before being released. Certainly he wouldn’t be kept around as a back-up QB, but it would be worth it to test his wings at WR.

Since that’s out of the way, the Texans have the next 8 days to focus on the 2016 Draft. This means evaluating their needs, picks, and back up plans. This also means evaluating the trades that are happening with other teams, and lining up similar needs to make the optimal choices for the team in 2016. This means days of non-stop evaluations for every single player in the positions they are looking for, whether they have made visits or not. It also means evaluating draft day trading scenarios based on the trend of the draft.

The Texans have always placed the priority of talent available in each round rather than order of need. That has paid off in the first round, given the Texans are the only team in the NFL to still have every 1st round pick on the roster since 2008. The 3-4 round picks have been less-than-consistent, however, with more bombs than stars. Remarkably, however, the Texans have pulled off some decent later round and unsigned FA draft picks, which almost balances it out.

There’s no question that the surest talent resides in the top 2 and 1/2 rounds, however, and the Texans have 2 picks in this stretch. The Texans draft picks currently fall in the following order: 22nd, 52nd, 85th, 119th, 159th, 166th, and 195th. That’s one each in every round, and an additional pick in the 5th round. The downside of the Texans hesitancy to get into top pick trades means that the Texans will always have the minimum number of top picks in each draft.

That’s not really a bad thing, though. All in all, the draft is a gamble. If it pays, then you’re a genius. If it doesn’t, then you’re a moron. The Texans have always been rather conservative in the draft, with bold moves going toward amazing talent potential over need. I see this trend continuing, especially with the bold FA moves that have happened. I’d rather the bold moves happen in the FA, too, since those moves are based on proof. Some may argue that Osweiler’s deal isn’t, but there’s more proof he can make it than any of the QBs in the draft.

I’d still like to see a veteran DE picked up to plug the hole Crick left behind. I’d also like to see Owen Daniels come back to Houston one more year, as the team could definitely use an upgrade and shake-up in the TE corps. The talk of Andre Johnson retiring as a Texan is a nice pipe dream, but I don’t see a humbled Johnson agreeing to that for more than a ceremonial 1 day contract (if even that, considering his feels toward the team’s decsision on his playing time last year). I expect no more pre-Draft movement, though.

So, sit tight, y’all, because it’s a waiting game til the 28th.

 

Houston Texans: Defensive End

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Defensive end Jared Crick officially ended his tenure with the Texans, signing a 2-year, $4 million contract with the Denver Broncos; a move that makes it sound like Crick wanted a spot on Denver’s roster in the FA. The contract isn’t a pay day (Denver can’t offer any more of those), and the Texans could have matched, but an over-payment was likely if they wanted to hang on.

Crick joins a former coaching staff that picked him up and reared him in his rookie years – Bill Kollar, Defensive Line Coach, Wade Phillips, Defensive Coordinator, and Gary Kubiak, Head Coach, and he’s headed to a defense where he’ll fit pretty comfortably in a spot left open by the departure of star DE Malik Jackson. Crick’s talent isn’t comparable – he’s certainly a downgrade, but he can fill the hole, and that’s what Denver can afford right now, with their current cap.

The Texans, though, have a more urgent need in the draft at DE, with the depth behind JJ Watt going to Jeoffrey Pagan, and then 2015 undrafted rookie Dan Petinato. Pagan has had some rotation in the line-up the past two seasons, and he’s the next man up, but not enough  to start confidently moving into 2016. DT depth isn’t deep enough to shuffle anyone either, without opening another hole.

Suddenly, DE has become a pretty high draft priority.

There is still some room in the cap to pick up a veteran FA to hold over for a season (Note: Hopkins can be picked up on his 5th year option or extend contract without affecting his 4th year, although Texans may want to shore it up early. Option deadline is typically the day after the conclusion of the draft). Is there anyone in the FA worth paying for a year to hold over the position? Possibly.

There are still half a dozen decent replacements left in the FA, with good experience to plug a hole at DE. Out of those, I would take a look at 3: Jason Jones, George Selvie, and Gorey Wootton. All three have multiple years of experience, wouldn’t demand a lengthy or costly contract, and are just under the age factor (30 and under). I honestly don’t have a favorite here, as I’d see it more as a plug in, and wouldn’t move much higher than Pagan’s current deal.

Another option would be to shuffle around on the roster. This isn’t likely, but I still wonder what would the current state of the defensive line be had Clowney been brought into play opposite of Watt at DE. Injury, I guess, but if there’s a plug-in that the Texans want to try on the roster at DE, that should be it. That, of course, relies heavily on health. I don’t know if I put too much stock in that these days. Time will tell.

Most likely, however, would be to draft relatively high. Maybe not the 1st round, but we can’t count that out. What a groan that would cause if another 1st round draft pick from the Texans was a defense player – right? Well, it may happen, depending on how the WR selection pans out. At this point, 1st/2nd round will possibly go to WR/DE, and that order is interchangeable. I’d still expect 1st round to go to WR,though.

So, who would be a good pick for the Texans?

I’ll take a look at the top 5 DEs coming from mainly from 3-4 college defense, with a single exception. If we’re looking for a guy to preen for a starting position in the draft, familiarity with a 3-4 defense is a good idea. A majority of our front 7 came out of a 4-3 defense in college, or in the pros. That does speak for the ability to turn around and shift players – a necessary skill – but these shifts were not always a smooth transition.

It’s the same reason why we’d look at more pro-style QBs than spread. The transition is simply easier to acclimatize to the already large learning curve of graduating to the pros if the transition is within a similar scheme. Clowney is a good example of this. While injury has been his major challenge, he’s also had the learning curve of switching from 4-3 DE to 3-4, 2-gap LB. Even without injury, Clowney had a lot of work before he could start. That doesn’t mean the Texans will focus on a 3-4 guy, but it should factor in.

DeForest Buckner:

Buckner is a DE coming out of Duck country – Oregon. He’s a 6’7 monster on the field with tremendous presence and speed on the front line. He was credited with 76 tackles, 16 for a loss in yards, 9.5 sacks, and 5 passes batted down. He was effective in both run blocking and highly skilled with the pass-rush. I could go on here, but Bucker will likely be a top 10 pick, battling Bosa for the 1st overall DE selected, and we’re not trading up for that.

 A’Shawn Robinson:

Robinson comes out of Alabama. He’s possibly within reach in the 1st round for the Texans, and would stack the front 3 with a great size, speed, and overall athletic ability. He’s had some problems with consistency – he’s hot and cold – so he’d need to develop his game before heading out as a starter. If drafted, he’d likely come out mid-season to get some playing time in, and share it with Pagan. Interesting to note: Pagan also hails from the Roll Tide roster

(two players ranking in the top 5, Robert Nkemdich from Ole Miss and Adolphus Washington from Ohio State come with some dubious criminal records – possession and solicitation, respecively. I don’t see the need for evaluation as the front office of the Texans boasts good character for their athletes, and criminal history is not likely to factor well in the draft selection process).

Jonathan Bullard:

Bullard comes out of Gator country, Florida State. He’s a litle on the small side (6’3, 285), but has some good speed and skill on the field. He’s a top run blocker, and his side does allow him to commit to inside pass rushing. He’d likely need some intensive strength training before hitting the field in order to be an all around compliment to Watt on the field. Currently, he’d work best in a 4-3, but improvements in strength could change that.

Carl Nassib:

Nassib comes out of Penn State. He was a monster with sacks in this 2015 year, recording a total of 15.5 before an injury set-back, but he’s bounced back and is healthy as ever. He’s got a similar story to Watt, as a walk-on for Penn State who – interestingly enough, was told by O’Brien (as HC) to forget about the pros. That could prove to be a bad evaluation, as Nassib’s one year as a DE proved to be explosive. He’s raw, but has great ability to develop. He’d need some strength and mass training for the pros.

Emmanuel Ogbah:

Ogbah comes out of a 4-3 defense from Oklahoma State. He’s got tremendous speed and skill, and garnered 13 sacks in his senior year, as well as 64 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. He could be a quick study and turnaround to be a prolific 3-4 DE to compliment Watt on the pass rush, and can catch players in the back field with his speed. He needs to be a little more consistent on the field, and would need some development before heading into a game in the pros.

There’s my round-up for possible DE picks in the top 2 rounds. I’d like to see the story on drafting Carl Nassib, a walk-on that was told no, similarly to Watt, if O’Brien would be humbled enough to eat his words. In all fairness, O’Brien is an offensive-minded HC, so they’d have to see Crennel and Vrabek’s evaluation on this guy, but what a duel fairy tale that would be for the Texans defense if it works out.

Houston Texans: Wide Receivers in the Draft

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The Houston Texans have spent the big money they are going to spend in the free agency, without picking up a WR. This means all signs point to the draft. In a draft that is a little light, talent-wise on WR talent outside of 1st round projections, what’s a team to do? The position is the top priority in the draft currently, and the Texans are expected to draft a WR in the first round? Trade up or sit still and see what’s available at 22?

Fortunately, there aren’t many teams in front of the Texans in the draft that have a top priority for a WR, so there will be some talent left on the board when the Texans draft at 22. To trade up, the Texans would have to take a nice leap to get the jump on other teams (probably in the top 10 -12), but there wouldn’t be a huge risk in sitting still and drafting a WR who is still available at 22.

One thing to keep in mind here is, even though drafting a quality WR is likely to be the top priority in the draft, the Texans will be looking for a solid, reliable slot receiver to compliment DeAndre Hopkins. That’s something to consider, both for the upcoming season and down-the-line potential. The premiere will still be Hopkins, so the Texans need to complete the package with a complimentary WR on the other side.

That’s not to say the Texans shouldn’t look for the best, but the Texans should look for the best compliment to Hopkins who will raise a duel threat with the Texans’ WR corps. I’m not cautioning picking the best available WR in the class, but that draft pick won’t be coming in to take over for Hopkins – he’ll be splitting and, more than likely, enhancing Hopkins’ game.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the top 5 prospects to see why the Texans don’t really need to trade up to pick up a WR in the 1st round.

Laquon Treadwell: Treadwell is a WR from University of Mississippi who is seen as the top overall WR prospect in the draft. Critics expected his less-than-stellar 40 run to drop him out of that spot, but that hasn’t made much of an impact. Treadwell has the size and decent vertical game to beat the catch down the field, but his breakaway speed doesn’t impress, and he shows some struggles breaking free for runs.

Will Fuller: Fuller is a WR coming out of Notre Dame who made the biggest impact in the NFL combine. His speed can’t be matched with any other prospect in the draft at WR, and he’s got a vertical game to give him some leverage over taller WRs. However, he is a bit undersized and underweight, which drops him down in the blocking and middle field plays, and he has a slight issue with dropped passes. 2015, anyone?

Michael Thomas: Thomas is a WR – from Ohio, not the Ole Miss variety – coming out of a strong program with a lot of talent around him, including QB-turned-WR Braxton Miller. He’s got great physical size which gives him an upper hand in the vertical game, and can separate quickly down the field. He’s got some trouble with footwork and stuck to simpler routes, so it’s questionable if he’d adapt to the Texans complicated offense.

Corey Coleman: Coleman is a WR from Baylor who had the speed and vertical game to be a real threat against opposing teams. Coleman was coming off a hernia surgery, which slowed him down at the end of his season, but impressed with speed at his pro day.. He’s undersized, which limits his mid-field and blocking stock,  has some issues dropping passes, and was limited to simpler routes at Baylor.

Josh Doctson: Doctson is a WR coming out of TCU with a good height and vertical game, as well as consistent speed on the field. He’s got good footwork and body control when going up in the air, and good hand strength to keep and control the ball. He’s a little leaner for his height and needs to bulk up, which limits his ability to break out of pressed plays and to be utilized in the run block.

One note: I didn’t evaluate Braxton Miller, even though he’s one of the higher prospects as a WR in the draft. Simple reason is I feel he’s too much of a project, after switching from QB to WR in his final year in college. He needs more than one good season to levy a chance at one of the Texans’ top draft picks, in my opinion. He’d need to turn around and be an NFL caliber player within the next season, and I feel it will take longer than this.

While I don’t believe there is a single, stellar got-to-have pick in this batch of WRs in the draft, there is some pretty equal talent and potential with the above-mentioned prospects. Again, the Texans are seeking a #2 WR who can play in the slot and compliment Hopkins. I’d caution against players like Coleman and Fuller who are both undersized and have trouble holding onto the ball mid-field when pressed.

As far as Treadwell, he’s most likely going to be picked up before 22, and his value doesn’t override the need to hold onto later picks, which would have to be traded to move up to nab him. Doctson seems like a decent fit for the Texans, but not in the 1st round. I’d put him at late 2nd/early 3rd, but as a reliable #2. He’d still need to add a few pounds to be reliable in the slot.

In my opinion, Michael Thomas is the most well-rounded WR in this group. He’s got the size and vertical game, can break away when under coverage, and can shuffle around to get 1st down yardage. He’s not afraid to step up for the run block, either. He had an impressive pro-day, improving on his footwork and 40 time (unofficially clocked at 4.40), but it’s still yet to be seen how well he can pick up a complicated offense.

I’m not sure what direction the Texans are going on this, and don’t honestly expect them to go for Thomas. If rumors are correct, they’ve got some great interest in either Will Fuller or Braxton Miller. My hope is that neither are true, as Fuller has some real issues mid-field, and Miller seems like an extensive project. My preference would be Miller over the two, however. Like I said, though, #2/slot receiver is what the Texans are searching for, not a Hopkins replacement.

Competition is good, and it’s been a staple of the O’Brien offense (for better or worse), but I feel there is a certain ceiling on this year’s WR pick in the draft, and reliable is the key trait this year.

 

 

Houston Texans: Loose ends and 2016 Draft

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Now that the excitement has died down from the explosive first day of the Texans free agency, it’s time to settle down and look at where the team stands, which FA signings may still be necessary, and what to look forward to in the draft.

Going into the free agency, the top needs for the team were primarily offensive players; Quarterback, Running Back, Guard, Center, and Tackle. Other primary concerns on offense were Wide Receiver, and possibly an upgrade at Tight End. Defense needs, while relatively solid as it stands, needed to upgrade at Safety, Defensive End, possible add some speed to Cornerback and look to the future for Inside Linebacker.

Three solid (and possibly four) needs have been checked off the list: QB, RB, G, and possibly C. Texans also signed former Jets Safety Antonio Allen – while that’s not exactly a big upgrade at S, it plugged in a hole that still is lacking for the team, with Rahim Moore being cut before the FA, as well as Quentin Demps moving into the FA. It’s possible Demps may be re-signed before the draft, but Allen’s signing make that implausible.  If Demps comes back, it’s because the Texans couldn’t find what they want in the draft.

Texans also re-signed Jonathan Grimes, which is a slight surprise given the stalemate and no tender before hitting the FA. He’s a good addition to 2016’s pretty solid RB team, to be led by Lamar Miller. Fullback Jay Prosch, a key member on special teams, and valuable blocker to clear up lanes for the RBs. It’s kind of interesting that Prosch actually wasn’t utilized a bit more in 2015, considering the combined injuries and deficiencies of RB and O-line. He should get a bigger role in 2016.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye also re-signed with the Texans in the past week, which keeps a pretty solid CB team, although still lacking a bit of speed and skill. Texans have been in a perpetual need to add weapons on secondary, and the CBs are shaping up to be just what they need. It’s a relatively young crew, led by Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson – both, at times, explosive players, but the latter of the two needs to trim down the penalties.

Interesting to note, before heading into loose ends and further potential FA signings, is that David Quessenberry has quietly moved onto the 2016 Texans active roster.  Let’s hope that’s good news for Quessenberry, and that he finally gets to participate in these reindeer games. Quessenberry, as previously noted, came in and made a case in 2013 for a future starting position at T or G. He’s still got an uphill battle after 3 inactive seasons, but he could very well be a huge asset to the Texans O-Line in 2016.

The FA is far from over, but the signings, at least for the Texans, have trickled down to a slow drip. I wouldn’t expect much more action before the draft, although a big question is whether or not Jared Crick is brought back on at DE. DE is an upgrade needed, even with Crick, but without his re-signing, that leaves DE pretty bare on the weak side (cough, Clowney, cough). But, seriously, Pagan moves up to the top spot currently, with no back-up. Additionally, I’m not certain Demps is going to be back at S.

So, current top needs for the Texans heading into the draft are WR, DE, T, SS, TE, ILB, and C.

I’m placing C at the end primarily due to the fact that Bergstrom is currently penciled in at C, but has more playing time at G. At TE, I’m simply not impressed with what’s on the Texans current roster. O’Brien wants that position strongly utilized, so there’s going to be a need to bulk up the TE position. Currently, top dog Ryan Griffin and C. J. Fiedorowicz are the only 2 TEs coming back with substantial game time, with Anthony Denham and Eric Tomlinson, neither who have seen the field, heading up the back.

Seven needs on the team, and seven picks in the draft. Could the Texans be so brilliant in the 2016 draft to form what could be the most well-rounded team in franchise history? I seriously doubt it. Nobody’s that good. However, Texans don’t need to be brilliant in the draft to get there. A few solid picks will do, and we’ll take a look at each position in the coming weeks. With less than a month to go til the 2016 draft, the Texans are on the clock.

Houston Texans: Free Agency

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The Texans had a hefty to-do list coming into the new season, including re-signing some free agents from the 2015 squad, as well as evaluating potential veteran talent to add to the roster. Earlier in the year, I discussed my hopes that the Texans would go big and bold in the free agency, something they’ve rarely done in the past. A lot of moves the team has made in the free agency have been to pick up older “mentor” veterans of the game. Most of the time, the Texans play it conservative and stick to retaining talent on the roster.

Before the free agency period, the Texans had some inevitable cuts to make. The first cut, and biggest loss, was RB Arian Foster. Foster’s given the Texans the best years of his career, and a healthy Foster could have possibly stayed on the roster. Unfortunately, even his successful years have been plagued with injury, and at the time of his release, he still wasn’t healthy. Cuts like Foster’s remind us all that above all else, the NFL is a business, and sometimes it’s not personal.

Also cut were TE Garrett Graham, and S Rahim Moore. Graham, drafted in the 4th round in 2010, showed some promise as a starter in 2012, and was one of the few shining players in the 2013 season. He was re-signed in 2014, but quickly dropped off the shelf. Moore was a S signed as a FA out of Denver, who did not pursue him. Moore’s was a questionable signing, but he could hit hard. However, he lasted just over half the season as a starter before being benched. One year was more than enough for him.

Rumors swirled around in the past week  as the FA approached; about Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Brock Osweiler as possible signings at QB, Chris Ivory, Lamar Miller, Doug Martin as rumored RBs on the radar, the need to keep Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks, and little to no actual movement. Well, technically the free agency didn’t open up til Wednesday, March 9, at 3 pm Texans time, but the “legal tampering” period, as they call it, was producing some unofficial signings and commitments.

Throughout the week, the Texans secured contracts with a few of their own FAs and negotiated with others. Among the signings were T/G Jeff Adams, T Chris Clark, SS Eddie Pleasant, CB Charles James, P Shane Lechler, and K Nick Novak. Two restricted FAs LB Jon Simon and LB A.J. Bouye were tendered, and restricted FA RB Jonathan Grimes and the Texans could not reach a deal, thus Grimes would go into the free agency as an unrestricted FA.

As Tuesday drew to an end, C Ben Jones, one of the top priority signings, unofficially hammered a deal out with the Tennessee Titans, so he would be lost. As Wednesday rolled around, G Brandon Brooks, another top priority, reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’d be lost in the FA. These were two starters on the offensive line, and two of the most consistent staples on the Texans offensive line. Both were rather unexpected departures, and fans began to worry.

However, just as soon as brows began to furrow the Texans struck, and they hit hard. QB Brock Osweiler was stolen from the Denver Broncos, and signed to a franchise QB-sized contract – 4 years, $72 million. Soon after, Miami Dolphins RB Lamar Miller followed suit, with a 4 year, $26 million contract. Losing Brooks still hurt a little, until a third big signing, Kansas City Chiefs G Jeff Allen inked a 4 year, $28 million offer. Also signed was Raiders G/C Tony Bergstrom, contract details still unknown.

In a matter of half an hour, the Texans plugged in 2 lost FA holes, and knocked out their two biggest priorities. Texans, for the first time in several years, went big in the FA, and strengthened their offense by unknown depths. There’s no argument that the offense improved on the first day of the 2016 NFL season, but how much is the big question. We’ll go over each signing in the next day or two, and add anything else that comes to fruition, although the monumental day will likely be the biggest show of the FA.

With that, we also said goodbye to some Texans FAs not offered a new contract. Those include QB Brandon Weeden, QB T.J. Yates, RB Chris Polk, RB Jonathan Grimes, WR Nate Washington, DE Jared Crick, and SS Quintin Demps. Also available without tender are restricted FA LB Justin Tuggle, and restricted FA CB Darryl Morris. Exclusive rights FAs are WR Josh Lenz, DE Brandon Dunn, and FS Corey Moore. A few more moves may be made, and a few more may be lost. Time will tell in the coming days.

One thing’s for sure: The Texans 2016 season is off to a great start.