So what if Zeke is a rookie? And they didn't draft him #4 overall, given that he's a prototype 3-down back, to have him in a timeshare with Morris or McFadden. Behind that line, coupled with his skills as a runner, receiver, and pass blocker, there's no way he should fall past the first round.
QB Rex Grossman, QB Dan Orlovsky, G Adrian Jones, DE Antonio Smith, DT Shaun Cody, OLB Cato June, OLB Khary Campbell, ILB Buster Davis, CB Cletis Gordon, CB Deltha O'Neal.
OLB Brian Cushing, DE Connor Barwin, C/G Antoine Caldwell, CB Glover Quin, TE Anthony Hill, TE James Casey, CB Brice McCain, SS Troy Nolan.
QB Sage Rosenchoker, RB Chris Taylor, RB Ahman Green, RB Ron Dayne, FB Cecil Sapp, TE Courtney Anderson, OT Ephraim Salaam, G Scott Jackson, G Fred Weary, DE Earl Cochran, DE Anthony Weaver, DE Dan Bazuin, DE Stanley McClover, DE N.D. Kalu, OLB Morlon Greenwood, CB DeMarcus Faggins, CB Jimmy Williams, FS Will Demps, SS C.C. Brown, S Glenn Earl.
2009 Houston Texans Offense:
If you ask casual fans to name some of the elite offenses in the NFL, you'll likely hear the Colts, Patriots, Saints, Cardinals, Chargers and Raiders (only if you ask Undead Al) as some responses. Unless you're questioning people in Houston, one team you won't hear is the Texans. But despite the fact that they're hardly on national TV and they've never made a postseason appearance in franchise history, they definitely to belong in that pantheon.
The Texans averaged 22.9 points per game in 2008, which isn't great (though it should be noted that the Colts weren't much better at 23.6). However, Houston has a number of playmakers and is consequently extremely underrated.
Andre Johnson is one of the best receivers in the NFL. A year ago everyone was questioning his durability because he played in just nine contests in 2007. But Johnson rebounded and started every game last season, accumulating 115 receptions, 1,575 yards and eight touchdowns. Meanwhile, Kevin Walter, an underrated No. 2 wideout, matched Johnson's touchdown total and caught 60 balls for 899 yards; the latter being a career-high. Tight end Owen Daniels also improved upon his career numbers, garnering 70 receptions for 862 yards.
Daniels saw a drop in production toward the latter stages of the 2008 campaign, but that coincided with the emergence of Steve Slaton. Flashing the elusiveness and top speed that made him such a great weapon for West Virginia, Slaton compiled 1,282 rushing yards, 377 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie. What's amazing is that Slaton hadn't received more than 18 carries in any game until Week 12. From then on, Slaton averaged 21.7 attempts and 96.8 rushing yards per contest. Slaton even reached the century plateau against Tennessee's vaunted defense in Week 15.
Of course, every elite offense needs a dynamic quarterback, and that would be Matt Schaub. Yet another underrated Texan, Schaub threw for 3,043 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 picks in just 11 games, maintaining a sterling 8.0 YPA in the process. If Houston wants to qualify for the playoffs for the first time, Schaub will need to stay healthy for a change. In two seasons with the Texans, he has missed 10 contests. This is especially important as ever because Sage Rosenchoker was traded to the Vikings, meaning Houston no longer has a capable backup quarterback, unless you want to count Rex Grossman or Dan Orlovsky.
One area the Texans have improved over the years is the offensive line. The days of David Carr getting sacked a dozen times per game are long gone; Houston's front allowed 32 sacks - not a great number by any means, but certainly a manageable one.
Nineteen of those 32 sacks came from the two offensive tackles. Duane Brown, who allowed 11, was just a rookie, so he'll be better by default. Winston, who surrendered eight, is a monstrous run-blocker. However, he's one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league, so he needs to go back to yielding 2.5 or 3.5 sacks, as he did in his first two NFL campaigns.
Chester Pitts is entrenched at left guard, but the other two interior positions had to be addressed this offseason; center Chris Myers and right guard Mike Brisiel just weren't getting the job done. Houston selected center Antoine Caldwell in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, who should be able to supplant Myers by Week 1.
2009 Houston Texans Defense:
Houston's defense has held the team back for years. The stop unit gave up 24.6 points per game in 2008, good for 27th in the NFL. The Texans were 22nd in yards allowed, 23rd versus the run (4.5 yards per carry) and 27th against the pass (7.6 YPA). They managed only 25 sacks.
Despite these horrendous numbers, however, I'm confident that the Texans will be much better defensively in 2009.
The team made a few significant additions this offseason. During free agency, they signed Antonio Smith to a 5-year, $35.5 million deal. Smith has just 11 sacks the past two seasons, but his forte is stopping the run. He's the bookend defensive end that the Texans have been searching for to complement Mario Williams. With Smith on the left side, Williams, one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL, will debacle opposing left tackles. Williams had 12 of Houston's 25 sacks a year ago.
On passing downs, Smith will move inside, and Williams will work with Connor Barwin at defensive end. Barwin, a second-round draft choice, had 11 sacks at Cincinnati in 2008. While rookie defensive ends frequently struggle in the NFL, Barwin could be an exception because all he'll be asked to do is rush the quarterback on obvious passing downs. And it's not like he'll be double-teamed or anything; Williams and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye will take those on.
Speaking of Okoye, the 10th-overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft just turned 22. Okoye saw his sack total drop from six in 2007 to one in 2008, but at age 21, he hadn't even come close to reaching his full potential. Now that he's 22 and entering his third year, I'm expecting Okoye to improve tremendously.
Meanwhile, the only hole up front is at nose tackle, occupied by Travis Johnson. The Texans will be better versus the rush with Smith at left end, but the lack of a solid nose tackle will keep Houston's run defense ranking in the teens.
If I'm right, and the Texans improve their pass rush and generate about 35 sacks, it'll make things easier for their mediocre secondary. Dunta Robinson, once considered one of the premier corners in the NFL, has missed 12 games in the past two seasons. He's fine now, but his injury history says he's unreliable. Jacques Reeves, the other starting corner, played pretty well for Houston after struggling mightily in Dallas. Houston is deep at corner with Fred Bennett, Antwaun Molden and Glover Quin all in the mix.
One thing I thought the Texans should have addressed in the 2009 NFL Draft is their lack of a playmaking safety. The injury-prone Eugene Wilson played well at free safety late in the year for Houston, while the coaching staff seems enamored with strong safety Dominique Barber, who has no career starts. However, neither Wilson nor Barber is even close to being a dominant safety like Indianapolis' Bob Sanders or Tennessee's Michael Griffin.
The linebacking corps is easily Houston's defensive strength. Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who had 112 tackles in 2008, is one of the top players at his position in the league. At strongside linebacker, Brian Cushing, the 15th-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, figures to get the job over Cato June, a talented player who was released by the Buccaneers because he no longer fit their system. At weakside linebacker, Xavier Adibi will compete with Zach Diles. Adibi is a promising second-year player, while Diles played extremely well last season before getting hurt.
2009 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
Since the franchise was born in 2002, Houston was 14-26 at home prior to the 2007 season. Two years ago, I said Gary Kubiak needed to develop a dominant homefield advantage like the Broncos had at Mile High, and that's exactly what he did. The Texans have been 12-4 at Reliant Stadium since 2007.
That's not the only thing that changed that year. In 2006, the Texans surrendered two returns for touchdowns and failed to score one themselves. In 2007 and 2008, the team has recoded six special teams touchdowns (two in 2008). They've given up just one score in the same time span.
One more thing that improved in 2007: Kris Brown hadn't nailed at least 80 percent of his kicks since 2003. Two seasons ago, Brown hit 25-of-29 (86.2 percent), including 5-of-5 from 50-plus. In 2008, Brown was 29-of-33, including 8-of-10 from 40-49 and 2-of-3 from 50-plus.
Punting is Houston's only minor weakness on special teams, as Matt Turk maintained a mediocre 42.3 average, hitting 17 kicks inside the opposing 20.
The Texans need to get off to a fast start because their schedule is very easy early on. Excluding a Week 2 battle at Tennessee, Houston has: Jets (home), Jaguars (home), Raiders (home), Cardinals (road), Bengals (road), 49ers (home) and Bills (road). Unfortunately, things get much more difficult after that. In Week 9, the Texans go to Indianapolis. Following their Week 10 bye, they host Tennessee and Indianapolis before traveling to Jacksonville. To conclude the season, the Texans go to Miami before hosting New England.
2009 Houston Texans Analysis: A year ago, I wrote that Houston would be in the playoffs in 2009. I stand by that prediction. I love the Texans this season; they have one of the better offenses in the NFL and they've improved their defense enough to make them postseason contenders.
As long as Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans stay healthy, I'm very confident that in addition to clinching its first postseason berth in franchise history, Houston will unexpectedly advance deep into the playoffs, prompting the clueless analysts on ESPN to exclaim, "No one saw this coming!" or "No one expect the Houston Texas to make the Doggone Playoff!" Well, you heard it here first.
Houston continues to edge closer to Indianapolis and Tennessee. I loved the early portion of the team's draft.
I wish the Texans could have traded out of the No. 15 pick, but taking Brian Cushing wasn't a bad alternative. Cushing, Connor Barwin and Antoine Caldwell will all contribute in 2009. Barwin should be a decent pass-rushing specialist on passing downs, while Caldwell could offer Houston with an instant upgrade at either center or guard.
I also liked that the Texans added secondary depth on Day 2. That's something they need if they want to beat the Colts.
The only thing I don't get, however, is going back-to-back tight ends. Anthony Hill and James Casey are both solid prospects, but what is Houston planning to do with both?
Grade given on 4/27/09: B+
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
15. Brian Cushing, OLB, USC
The Texans needed a linebacker, but Brian Cushing over Clay Matthews? Cushing was a two-down linebacker at USC. This pick makes sense, but it's somewhat of a reach in terms of value. (Pick Grade: C)
46. Connor Barwin, DE, Cincinnati
Some may not get this pick. I love it. How do you win in the NFL? You need a quarterback; you need to protect your quarterback; and you need to get to the other quarterback. Well, the Texans have Matt Schaub and Duane Brown. Now, they have their pass-rusher to play across from Mario Williams on passing downs. To beat the Colts, Houston needs to get to Peyton Manning. Connor Barwin should help the Texans do that. (Pick Grade: A)
77. Antoine Caldwell, C/G, Alabama
Another great selection by the Texans. Antoine Caldwell provides solid positional and draft value, and fills a huge need for the team. (Pick Grade: A)
112. Glover Quin, CB, New Mexico
You can never have too many corners when playing in the same division as the Colts. I'm not in love with this selection, but it makes sense. (Pick Grade: B)
122. Anthony Hill, TE, N.C. State
Anthony Hill is an outstanding blocking tight end. I think the Texans probably should have looked elsewhere, but I can't really argue this selection. (Pick Grade: C)
152. James Casey, TE, Rice
Back-to-back tight ends? James Casey provides great draft value in the middle of Round 5, but what is Houston going to do with all of these tight ends? (Pick Grade: D)
188. Brice McCain, CB, Utah
More corners to beat the Colts. I would have addressed the interior of the defensive line with one of these last few picks. (Pick Grade: C)
223. Troy Nolan, SS, Arizona State
I thought the Texans would look at a play-making safety earlier in the draft. Troy Nolan offers solid value here, so I like this pick. (Pick Grade: A)
Seven years, zero postseason appearances. Actually, make that zero winning seasons. On the bright side, you can see Houston inching closer to becoming a playoff-caliber team. They won five of six to close out the year, including a thrilling 13-12 victory over the 13-3 Titans; a 24-21 triumph in frigid Lambeau Field; and a 31-24 win over the desperate Bears in Week 17. Of Houston's eight losses, four were by a touchdown or less, so that tells you that they were competitive in all but four contests this year.
Texans sign CB Cletis Gordon
Texans cut DE Stanley McClover
Texans sign OLB Khary Campbell
Patriots sign RB Chris Taylor
Raiders sign OLB Marlon Greenwood
Browns sign G Fred Weary
Texans sign CB Deltha O'Neal
Texans cut RB Clifton Dawson
Texans re-sign DT Jeff Zgonina
Texans re-sign TE Owen Daniels
Texans sign QB Rex Grossman
Texans sign RB Clifton Dawson
Texans sign G Adrian Jones
Texans sign FB Boomer Grigsby
Texans cut TE Courtney Anderson
Texans re-sign OT Rashad Butler
Texans sign ILB Buster Davis
Texans sign OLB Cato June
Titans sign CB DeMarcus Faggins
Texans sign DT Shaun Cody
Bears sign S Glenn Earl
Texans re-sign SS Nick Ferguson
Texans cut DE Earl Cochran
Texans re-sign WR David Anderson
Giants sign S C.C. Brown
Texans sign QB Dan Orlovsky
Texans sign DE Antonio Smith
Vikings acquire QB Sage Rosenfels from Texans for a 4th-round pick
Texans re-sign DE Stanley McClover
Texans re-sign C Chris White
Texans tender TE Owen Daniels (1st, 3rd rounds)
Texans tender TE Joel Dreesen
Texans tender DE Earl Cochran
Texans re-sign FS Eugene Wilson
Texans cut FS Will Demps
Texans cut DE Anthony Weaver
Texans cut OT Ephraim Salaam
Texans franchise CB Dunta Robinson
Texans cut RB Ahman Green
Texans cut OLB Morlon Greenwood
Defensive End: Whether it's a stout left end or an explosive right end, the Texans need a talented player across from Mario Williams. Assuming he has a great Combine, Michael Johnson could be an option at No. 15. Signed Antonio Smith; drafted Connor Barwin
Strong Safety: The Texans have really needed a play-maker at strong safety for a while. William Moore could be their guy in Round 2. Drafted Troy Nolan; re-signed Nick Ferguson
Right Guard: The oft-penalized Mike Brisiel needs to be upgraded. Drafted Antoine Caldwell; signed Adrian Jones
Nose Tackle: Yet another position in need of an upgrade on the defensive line. Adding a power nose tackle would really improve Houston's bottom-10 run defense. Signed Shaun Cody
Power Running Back: I was pretty off on Steve Slaton; I didn't think he would pan out to be more than just a third-down back because of his questionable attitude and motivation coming out of West Virginia. Oops. At any rate, Houston needs a goal-line back to complement Slaton. One can be attained in the middle rounds.
Cornerback: Given his injury history, Dunta Robinson could be difficult to retain based on the money he wants. If Robinson bolts for free agency, Houston will need a corner. Franchised Dunta Robinson; drafted Glover Quin and Brice McCain; signed Cletis Gordon and Deltha O'Neal
Wide Receiver: I don't think this is a big need because Kevin Walter had a decent season, but an upgrade at WR2 would make Houston's offense even more explosive. Re-signed David Anderson
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Cato June, OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 29. Signed with Texans (1 year, $1.5 million)
The Buccaneers released Cato June because they're transitioning away from the Tampa-2. June is still a very good Tampa-2 linebacker. The Bills could use his services.
Antonio Smith, DE, Cardinals. Age: 27. Signed with Texans (5 years, $35 million; $12.5 million guaranteed)
After looking pretty average at the beginning of the year, Antonio Smith has been lights out in the postseason. He's made himself a good amount of money during Arizona's improbable run.
Khary Campbell, OLB, Redskins. Age: 30. Signed with Texans
Not much of a factor on defense, but a very good special-teamer.
Shaun Cody, DT, Lions. Age: 26. Signed with Texans (3 years)
Perhaps saving himself from unemployment, Shaun Cody started the final three games of the year, filling in for an injured Cory Redding. Cody could be more effective in the 3-4.
Rex Grossman, QB, Bears. Age: 29. Signed with Texans (1 year, $620,000)
Can anyone believe that Rex Grossman is almost 30? I guess time flies when you're injured and/or committing turnovers.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions. Age: 26. Signed with Texans
Dan Orlovsky will compete as a No. 2 somewhere. Perhaps he can become a starter if they increase the dimensions of the end zone.
Cletis Gordon, CB, Chargers. Age: 26. - Signed with Texans
Adrian Jones, G, Chiefs. Age: 28. - Signed with Texans
Buster Davis, ILB. Age: 25. - Signed with Texans
Deltha O'Neal, CB, Patriots. Age: 32. - Signed with Texans
Boomer Grigsby, FB, Dolphins. Age: 27. - Signed with Texans
Owen Daniels has emerged as one of the top tight ends in the league. In his third season, he caught 70 passes for 862 yards. His numbers would have been even better if Matt Schaub didn't miss a handful of games.
Dunta Robinson, CB. Age: 27. Franchised by Texans
Dunta Robinson is a talented corner who played relatively well coming off a torn ACL. However, the question is whether or not he can stay healthy.
Eugene Wilson, FS. Age: 29. Re-signed with Texans (3 years)
Eugene Wilson was able to stay healthy for a change and revitalized his career, starting the final nine games of the season. Whether he can remain injury-free going forward should be a concern.
C.C. Brown, S. Age: 26. Signed with Giants (1 year)
A proud member of the WF.com message boards, C.C. Brown broke his arm and missed most of the 2008 season. He should be brought back as a very strong backup.
Morlon Greenwood, OLB. Age: 31. Signed with Raiders
A reliable, versatile reserve linebacker, but not much else.
Will Demps, FS. Age: 29.
Should be an OK backup somewhere. I have no idea how this guy made the Pro Bowl in 2007.
David Anderson, WR. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Texans (3 years, $4.5 million)
Joel Dreessen (RFA), TE. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Texans (3 years, $3.6 million)
Earl Cochran, DE. Age: 28.
DeMarcus Faggins, CB. Age: 30. - Signed with Titans (2 years)
Divisional Rival History: Indianapolis Colts: The Texans have existed now for seven years. In those seven seasons, they've only beaten the Colts once out of 14 times. It would have been twice if it wasn't for Sage Rosenchoker's epic self-debaclation. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Texans still give the Jaguars problems. They crushed them at home on Monday Night Football and took them to overtime in Jacksonville. Houston seems to have Jacksonville's number. Tennessee Titans: The Titans have won six of the previous seven matchups, though they lost the last one, 13-12, in Houston.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)