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 Astros: The final piece (May Edition)

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It’s coming together now. This morning, the Astros announced a surprise move to call up in field (3rd base) prospect Colin Moran from the Fresno Grizzlies. Moran has been on a pretty nice streak in the AAA. He’s currently tied with the most RBIs on the Grizzlies roster and has been a much-talked about prospect rumored to be making a debut this year. Along with this call up is the designation for assignment for Fresno Grizzlies pitcher Asher Wojciechowski, previously on the 40 man roster, as well as assigning Carlos Gomez to the  15 day disabled list for a bruised rib cage.

The injury may be legit, after the hard slide back into 2nd on a base check in Sunday’s game, as well as further aggravation  after being hit by a pitch in the same game. Of course, the injury may be an excuse to give Gomez a much needed break to get himself back on track. His overall performance and regression this year has really put a big question mark on his overall health. The decline at bat can be chalked up to a slump, or even a failure to adjust (which has been an overall team issue, primarily at pitching), or even a decline in health. Add on his loss of speed in max throwing attempts, and you’ve got yourself a real theory.

Loss in throwing speed is symptomatic of injury (prolonged, improper rehabbing, new injury), loss of overall strength, or general wear and tear. This isn’t an issue that just happens because the player has lost his mojo. So, maybe there’s something to the injury. Or maybe a bruised ego is actually a legitimate injury to overcome. If there is a real, prolonged injury that has been affecting his game, I fear 15 days won’t bring him out of it. If he was rushed back too soon after last year’s stints, this will be a prolonged problem that won’t be fixed.

Or perhaps it’s just something new that’s been lingering, with Gomez wanting to work out of it and not cause another knock on his value in a contract year. Either way, we should all hope for an improvement when he comes back in June. What’s good for Gomez is good for the team. Let’s face it – he’s part of this team, a beloved part of the team, from the player’s perspective. What other outfielders would come together and do the dab after every win if they didn’t hold their fellow teammate in high regard? No team would do that. So, for a third time, get over it. He’s still going to be a part of the team in the short term.

Moran, though, brings some needed relief to the infield. Gonzalez has been run ragged, and this move opens up more options for Valbuena to cover other infield positions to give a rest in the interim. Kemp adds to that additionally, as well as OF relief, and both players called up are expected to improve the team BA. It’s a try out, with more moves expected later on in the year. AJ Reed is still expected to make his MLB debut in 2016, along with Joe Musgrove, RHP just recently making his debut in the AAA with the Fresno Grizzlies, and it’s possible that Alex Bregman will come up in the near future as well.

The bright spot in this season will be a lot of young talent coming up to fight for a spot on the team. This will be as exciting to watch as it is frustrating, as it may tell the tale of another season spent in a rebuilding phase. The Astros will soon find out if this is the case, with 3 tough series coming up in May. The first with the Chicago White Sox, 1st place in the AL Central, starts tonight. Right after, there’s another tough series with the Texas Rangers, and then following that, with a single day’s rest in between, another match up with a 1st place team in the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s 9 games that may very well tell the story of this season. That’s a stretch that the Astros desperately need a winning record against (especially when it comes to the league contending Rangers). These next 3 are almost must-win series if the Astros want to keep the hope of a playoff run alive. If they don’t come out with an overall win for this stretch, that doesn’t mean it’s over, but it does begin to make a playoff push border on insurmountable. The new team members will slowly be added into this mix, so we’re really looking at a grand experiment in a vital stretch of the season. Let’s hope it works well.

With Gomez being listed on the DL, I would expect Kemp to start making it into the OF rotation relatively soon. Neither new addition are expected to start tonight, because tonight is the start of a tough series. No need to be throwing the young to the wolves. However, both new additions will be added into the rotation in a tough stint, so their test will come soon and it will be abrupt. Hopefully the roster additions will breath some immediate life in this stagnating club, and hopefully we’ll see it tonight on the field. Overall the additions should spark that new life, and that new life couldn’t come at a better time.

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: 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.

Houston Texans: Offensive Line, part 2

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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.

Houston Texans: Offensive Line, part 1

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Generally speaking, the offensive line is an intriguing and often misunderstood component to the offensive side of the ball. Consisting of offensive guards, tackles, and center, they are the first line of defense to protect the quarterback  on passing plays and create holes in the defense to allow rushing plays. Most often graded as a group, as opposed to individual strength, and done so for a reason, as the weakest link on the team determines the strength of the group.

That being said, the Houston Texans offensive line has been an enigma for a few years now, and merits some strong consideration for upgrades in the free agency and/or draft. However, I will go somewhat against the grain and grade the 2015 0-line as being a relatively consistent force to be reckoned with, despite a myriad of injury and position shuffling, and an outrageous season record number of sacks in the Texans 1st post-season game since 2012. Credit should be given where credit is due, and the fact of the matter is the Texans had a QB in 2015 that consistently took too much time in passing reads.

The Texans o-line has 2 distinctive weak spots; rush blocking and left tackle. Left tackle is the pinnacle position of the o-line, protecting the outside corner blindspot of the QB, and this position has been held by the heart and soul of the team: Duane Brown. Brown, although still a solid player in the LT position, has lost a step or two in 2015, but his season-ending quad tear in his right leg, which led to surgery and a lengthy recovery and a pretty large amount of uncertainty for the 2016 season. With Brown’s future somewhat questionable, LT should be aggressively shopped in the FA.

Rush blocking cannot be pinpointed to a single player, mainly due to the shuffling the Texans have seen on the o-line early on in the season, and throughout the year. When a relative consistency was reached on the o-line (starting players), the rush blocking did improve. However, star quality is still somewhat lacking with contract players, and a few of those contracts should be scrutinized before heading into the free agency. In essence, while it’s great to have formidable back-ups in every position, the o-line shouldn’t be saturated with them.

Duane Brown’s injury leaves a heavy hole in the o-line, and someone is likely needed to plug in at LT to at least start the 2016 season. Currently, our roster options are Derek Newton, Andrew McDonald, David Quessenberry, and Kendall Lamm. Do we have an answer at LT in the current line-up? Let’s take a look.

Derek Newton honestly lines up better as guard, but has shown a formidable stance at right tackle alongside current G free agent Brandon Brooks. Newton has a limited future, and while he has experience with both guard and tackle, he’s too inconsistent to be a viable plug-in at LT.

Andrew McDonald hasn’t touched the field with the Texans, and was signed as a post-season back-up due to Duane Brown’s season-ending injury. He brings some veteran knowledge to the team, and could be an assett if Duane Brown isn’t ready for the start of the season. If he’s kept, he’ll be filler.

David Quessenberry’s story can be found here, and I would expect him to finish out his final year on his contract in Houston. Before his cancer diagnosis and long term non-football injury designation, Quessenberry showed some spark and promise at tackle. He could make a case for himself as a formidable back-up at LT.

Kendall Lamm was an undrafted rookie who stepped in at RT with current free agent Jeff Adam’s season-ending injury. He’s a dual player, used both as RT and blocking tight-end, with an impressive rookie season for an undrafted player. He’s not a future LT, but his spot on the roster is in his to lose coming into 2016.

I guess we’ve got our answer there – we’ll need some help at tackle in the FA, and possibly in the draft as well.

Now, let’s take a look at our guards under contract. Currently under contract are: Oday Aboushi, Xavier Su’A Filo, Chad Slade, and Karim Barton. I’d also designate Derek Newton here, as well, moving forward, and his stock has already been discussed, so let’s look at the other guys.

Oday Aboushi was claimed off waivers at the beginning of the 2015 season, due to other team injuries, and played well at LG for the first half of the season. He shined in his first few starts, but was mainly relegated to back-up and plugged in as necessary, due to other player injuries. While a solid performer at LG, you have to consider that LG is the weakest player in the o-line. He may be back, but I predict he won’t be.

Xavier Su’A-Filo is the 2014 2nd round pick that was expected to hit the ground running, but didn’t. He couldn’t get any consistency going in 2014, and was constantly beat out by veterans where youth should have been on his side. There have been questions to his physical strength, and he started off the 2015 offseason behind the curve, being relegated to drills because he wasn’t in shape.

Injury sidelined him in the first few games of the season, but he did start to make headway and eventually became a consistent starter, in place of Aboushi, as LG toward the end of the season. With his contract, no doubt he’ll be back, and if he continues his improved streak. he’ll finally be a good payoff for the Texans in 2016 and beyond. If he shows up to training camp in peak condition, it’ll be a good start.

Chad Slade was an undrafted rookie signed on in 2015, and showed a lot of promise in the preseason. An injury and back surgery sidelined him for the 2015 season, so much is still left to be learned about his potential. He’ll get his chance in the offseason to show what he can do, and if he keeps his momentum going from the 2015 preseason, it would be great to have a young talent back-up on the o-line in 2016.

Karim Barton was an undrafted free agent signing in 2014, with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was eventually signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad for that season. After failing to make the final roster in Cleveland in 2015, he was signed to the Texans practice squad. This year is the year to prove he’s got the talent for a roster spot, but he fails to have the developmental backround in the pros to equate success. I see him being cut before the season starts.

After this, we’ve got the Centers, Ben Jones and Greg Mancz. Jones is the top free agent center, and a player we’ll need to re-sign in the FA. He had a pretty decent first year as the Center, taking over for Chris Myers, who was questionably and uncerimoniously released in 2015, and then announced his retirement after being approached again by the Texans. This is how you don’t restructure a contract. Lesson learned? Jones has been the most consistent guy on o-line, and he’s a pretty solid bet for the next few years.

Mancz has been a quick study, and has a lot of knowledge of the o-line play coming in as an undrafted rookie signing in 2015. He’s a formidable back-up for Jones, and has shown some decent capabilities when plugged in as guard. He’s a pretty safe pick for the roster as a reliable back-up for C and a plug in at G.

So, after taking a look at the roster, the Texans have some work ine the free agency and draft, primarily at tackle.  We’ll take a look at where the Texans can get some help here coming up.

Houston Texans: #DQStrong

Before we go into discussion about the Houston Texans Offensive Line and the FA/Draft discussion, I want to take a moment to talk about Houston Texans 2013 6th round draft pick, who’s never played a down in the NFL.

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David Quessenberry, the 176th overall pick in the 2013 draft, was an offensive lineman coming out of a prolific college football career at San Jose State. His rookie season with the Houston Texans was cut short due to a season-ending foot injury, which placed him on IR. In 2014, after fatigue and a persistent cough during OTAs, David Quessenberry was given a diagnosis that changed his future in the NFL: non-hodgkins lymphoma. That diagnosis shook both Quessenberry and the team to the core. He was placed on the non-football illness list and began his fight.

In 2015, shortly after the end of the 2014-15 season, Quessenberry announced that he was officially in remission. He soon got back to conditioning and preparing for his eventual return to the NFL, with an unknown timetable for when that would happen. Quessenberry was placed on the non-football illness list again in 2015, showing the uphill battle he still had to get back into form. Quessenberry has taken the 2015 season to continue building back his weight, strength, and conditioning in order to increase his chance of landing a roster spot in 2016, and it looks like he may as close as ever to getting that chance.

I, for one, am championing for Quessenberry to get a roster spot for 2016. He is in his last year of his contract, and deserves the chance after a rather promising show in the 2013 preseason. His weight and upper body strength will be the question of whether or not he can handle the duties of offensive tackle, or even guard, but his determination thus far speaks loudly. Coming up on 2 years since initial diagnosis and 1 year in remission, Quessenberry has steadily added both strength and weight back into his form. If officially cleared to return by the OTAs, he’ll be out there playing his heart out.

The offensive line is a slightly weak link going into 2016, with some injuries and free agents to look at. Quessenberry will definitely be a conversation for the Texans in the near future. So, let’s give him a chance, and hope for a Quessenberry jersey to be spotted out on the field soon.