G/C Wade Smith, OLB Danny Clark, K Neil Rackers.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Kareem Jackson, RB Ben Tate, DT Earl Mitchell, ILB Darryl Sharpton, TE Garrett Graham, KR Trindon Holliday.
QB Rex Grossman, RB Ryan Moats, RB Chris Brown, G Chester Pitts, ILB Chaun Thompson, CB Dunta Robinson, S John Busing.
2010 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, Eagles, 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 24.2 points per game in 2009, good for 10th in the NFL. They were fourth in total yardage and first in passing yardage. What made Houston's offense so good was Matt Schaub's ability to stay healthy for a change. Playing more than 11 games for the first time in his career, Schaub totaled 4,770 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, with a 67.9 completion percentage and an 8.2 YPA. He was limited to fewer than 260 passing yards just three times - once against the Jets, once in a blowout against the Raiders that was over by halftime, and once when he missed nearly a half of action at Jacksonville.
Schaub is now an elite NFL quarterback and has arguably the league's top wide receiver at his disposal. In the past two seasons, Andre Johnson has tallied 216 receptions, 3,144 yards and 17 touchdowns. He's unstoppable.
Tight end Owen Daniels was also unstoppable before an ACL tear in the middle of the 2009 campaign. In the first seven games of the year, Daniels notched 39 receptions, 497 yards and five touchdowns before getting hurt at Buffalo. Daniels is expected to be ready by training camp, but he likely won't be 100 percent in 2010. With that in mind, Houston will need another wideout to step up. The front office drafted Trindon Holliday to be the new return specialist so that Jacoby Jones could focus more on his receiving duties. Jones had five catches, 65 yards and a score in the season finale, but if he can't be the guy, Kevin Walter will continue to serve as the No. 2.
Jones will be asked to improve, but the No. 1 guy the Texans need to thrive is left tackle Duane Brown. Brown has been horrific, allowing 19 sacks and 11 penalties in his two-year career thus far. If he can't get it together in Season 3, Houston must begin searching for a new left tackle. The right tackle and center positions are sound with Eric Winston and Chris Myers, respectively.
Both guard positions are also question marks. Antoine Caldwell, penciled in at right guard, has just three starts under his belt (albeit three half-decent starts). Left guard Kasey Studdard struggled at the beginning of the 2009 season, but played better toward the end.
The ground game was a huge weakness for Houston last year, but that figures to be much better in 2010. The front office spent its second-round pick on the talented Ben Tate, who fits the Texans' zone-blocking running style to a tee. Steve Slaton is coming off neck surgery, but he'll be utilized as just a third-down back.
2010 Houston Texans Defense:
Houston's defense made great strides last season. The team ranked 27th in points, 22nd in yardage, 23rd versus the run and 27th against the pass in 2008. Last year, those numbers improved to 17th, 13th, 12th and 18th, respectively.
The greatest enhancement was the ground defense, so that should be addressed first. The difference was strong safety Bernard Pollard. The Chiefs foolishly (and perhaps drunkenly) released Pollard to the bewilderment of everyone in the league. The Texans happily scooped him up and he immediately thrived in run support. With the luxury of having the opposing offense in more third-and-longs, Houston was able to improve against the pass.
Speaking of the secondary, No. 1 cornerback Dunta Robinson signed with the Falcons this offseason, prompting the Texans to select Kareem Jackson No. 20 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft as a replacement. Jackson is already running as a starting corner in minicamps. He's just a rookie, but Nick Saban's defense evidently prepared him for life in the NFL.
The rest of the defensive backfield is pretty sound. Glover Quin, penciled in as the starter across from Jackson, exceeded expectations as a rookie last season. Free safety Eugene Wilson is effective when he's in the lineup, but played just eight games in 2009 because of broken toes. Wilson's healthy again, but he can't be counted on; he has missed 29 games the past four years. Once Wilson gets hurt, Dominique Barber will step in. Barber has proven himself as a capable substitute.
With a rookie corner shadowing No. 1 receivers, the Texans will need to put as much pressure on the quarterback as possible, especially when battling the Colts. Mario Williams will be good for double-digit sacks once again, but the key will be Connor Barwin's progression. As a situational pass rusher during his rookie campaign, Barwin managed just 3.5 sacks. However, 2.5 came in the final five weeks of the season, and even then, Barwin was playing less than half of the team's snaps. Barwin will have a much greater role in 2010. He'll need to live up to expectations if the Texans want to finally knock off the Colts.
There isn't much to say about Houston's defensive tackle situation, as both Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody have been huge disappointments as NFL players. Cody may be a lost cause, but Okoye just turned 23. Per the Houston Chronicle, he lost 32 pounds this spring off his 315-pound frame in order to become more of a pass-rushing threat.
The Texans have a really strong linebacking corps, led by DeMeco Ryans, who just inked a well-deserved 6-year, $48 million deal. Strongside linebacker Brian Cushing claimed the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and was voted as a second-team All-Pro last season, but will miss four games in the wake of a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Zach Diles, manning the weak side, is the weakest of the three players, but only by default; Diles is a very good defender who excels in coverage.
2010 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
Houston was 14-26 at home prior to the 2007 season. The Texans have since developed a solid homefield advantage, owning a 16-8 record 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. Between 2007 and 2009, the team recoded seven special-teams touchdowns (one in 2009). They've given up just one score in the same time span (none last year).
Good grief, Kris Brown. Houston's kicker was an abomination in 2009, posting the worst season of his career. Brown was 21-of-32, including 2-of-6 from 40-49. Even worse, he whiffed on two potential game-winning field goals that cost the Texans victories against the Colts and Titans. Houston signed Neil Rackers this offseason. Rackers also has a history of choking in the clutch, but at least he was able to drill 16-of-17 attempts in 2009.
Matt Turk is a pretty mediocre punter; he averaged 42.8 yards per boot in 2009, with 24-of-67 kicks sailing inside the opposing 20.
The Texans will certainly be tested this season. Excluding the Chiefs and Raiders, check out their first six opponents: Colts (home), Redskins (road), Cowboys (home), Giants (home), Colts (road), Chargers (home). It doesn't get easier after that. Between Nov. 21 and Dec. 19, Houston battles the Jets (road), Titans (home), Eagles (road), Ravens (home) and Titans (road).
2010 Houston Texans Analysis: The Texans had a winning record for the first time in franchise history in 2009. However, things could have been much better. Two of Houston's losses last year were the result of missed Kris Brown field goals as time expired (at Colts, vs. Titans). Two more defeats (vs. Jaguars, at Cardinals) occurred because the team couldn't punch the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line despite multiple attempts late in the fourth quarter. In another contest, the Texans lost at Jacksonville, 23-18, because Matt Schaub missed most of the first half with an injury.
All but one of the Texans' losses were by eight points or fewer. Furthermore, Houston outgained 11 of its final 13 opponents in total yardage - including the Super Bowl-bound Colts twice.
Unless Houston is once again plagued by inexplicable bad luck in 2010, the team will make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And going one step further, the Texans are undoubtedly talented enough to make a Super Bowl run.
The Texans usually have very need-oriented drafts, and that's exactly how they pursued things this time. They fixed their two biggest holes, cornerback and running back, in the first two rounds.
Kareem Jackson was an underrated corner going into the 2010 NFL Draft. Ben Tate, meanwhile, is a perfect fit for Houston's offense. In fact, Michael Lombardi predicts that Tate will win Offensive Rookie of the Year and rush for 1,500 yards this season. Tate will definitely be high in my 2010 Fantasy Football Rankings.
While Houston's first two rounds were strong, nothing else jumped out at me. The free safety position was never addressed and a couple of reaches were made. Also, what's with all of the tight ends? I know Dorin Dickerson will be converted to receiver, but what's Garrett Graham's purpose? Didn't Houston draft two tight ends last year?
I like the direction the Texans are headed. I might even have them making the playoffs in my 2010 NFL Season Previews. But I just wish their Day 3 was stronger.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: B
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
20. Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama
Kyle Wilson was the consensus pick after Ryan Mathews, but that doesn't matter because Kareem Jackson is a very good prospect and fills a huge need. (Pick Grade: A)
58. Ben Tate, RB, Auburn
I mocked Ben Tate to the Texans for months (and in my re-draft) because he's such a natural fit for the offense and fills a huge need. Great pick. (Pick Grade: A)
81. Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona
The Texans had to find another defensive tackle; getting as much pressure as possible on Peyton Manning is vital. I think Earl Mitchell is a slight reach, but Houston could have just been really high on him. (Pick Grade: C)
102. Darryl Sharpton, ILB, Miami
Doesn't really fill a need and is not a good value in Round 4. I don't hate this pick or anything, but other needs probably should have been addressed. (Pick Grade: C)
118. Garrett Graham, TE, Wisconsin
Didn't the Texans draft two tight ends last year? I know Owen Daniels is coming off a torn ACL, but this doesn't show too much faith in last year's picks. (Pick Grade: C)
144. Sherrick McManis, CB, Northwestern
You need as many corners as possible when trying to defeat Peyton Manning. Sherrick McManis is an OK value in the middle of Round 5. (Pick Grade: B)
187. Shelley Smith, G, Colorado State
The Texans were expected to address the interior line on Day 2 or 3 of the 2010 NFL Draft. Shelley Smith fits the scheme and range. (Pick Grade: B)
197. Trindon Holliday, KR/PR, LSU
Houston has its new kick returner. Trindon Holliday will be fun to watch. Nice pick. (Pick Grade: A)
227. Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pittsburgh
As Texans beat writer John McClain tweeted, "I think Texans TE coach Brian Pariani must have pictures. They drafted two TEs last year and two this year. Wow!!!" Houston sure loves its tight ends, but I can't blame them for taking Dorin Dickerson here. What a great value. (Pick Grade: A)
Think Houston shot itself in the foot enough in 2009? Two losses (Jacksonville, Arizona) were the result of horrible play-calling at the 1-yard line. Two other losses (Indianapolis, Tennessee) came by way of a Kris Brown missed field goal in the final seconds. Another defeat happened because Matt Schaub got hurt and Rex Grossman screwed things up. In another loss (Indianapolis), Schaub screwed things up himself. In all, the Texans were outplayed in only one game this year.
Seahawks sign G Chester Pitts
Vikings sign RB Ryan Moats
Texans re-sign TE Owen Daniels
Texans waive RB Ryan Moats
Texans sign OLB Danny Clark
Texans re-sign OT Rashad Butler
Texans re-sign G/C Chris White
Texans re-sign RB Ryan Moats
Texans sign K Neil Rackers
Texans re-sign SS Bernard Pollard
Texans re-sign DE/DT Tim Bulman
Redskins sign QB Rex Grossman
Texans re-sign G/C Wade Smith
Texans re-sign WR Kevin Walter
Falcons sign CB Dunta Robinson
Texans re-sign P Matt Turk
Texans tender ILB DeMeco Ryans
Texans tender DT Deljuan Robinson
Cornerback: Dunta Robinson is not expected back; unless he's franchised, he'll likely take a giant offer elsewhere. Assuming this is the case, Houston will have to spend an early-round selection on a cornerback. Drafted Kareem Jackson and Sherrick McManis
Running Back: After a brilliant rookie year, Steve Slaton couldn't handle the workload on his own. Houston's front office and coaching staff has announced that acquiring a running back is a priority. They'll look at Jonathan Dwyer or Anthony Dixon in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Ben Tate
Free Safety: Surprise, surprise - Eugene Wilson was placed on injured reserve in the middle of the season. Wilson has now missed 29 games in the last four years. The Texans won't be able to depend on him going forward. There will be plenty of safeties to be had in Rounds 2-5.
Defensive Tackle: Houston needs a consistent option next to Amobi Okoye. Of course, Okoye isn't playing that well either, but that's another story. Dan Williams and Brian Price will be targeted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Earl Mitchell
Guard: The Texans need to upgrade the interior of their offensive line. Running the ball is a major challenge for them right now. A Round 2-4 selection can be used on a guard. Signed Wade Smith
No. 2 Wide Receiver: Jacoby Jones will probably be given the chance to start across from Andre Johnson next year. I'm not a big fan of this, but the Texans have other needs to address.
Backup Quarterback: The Texans are very fortunate that Matt Schaub played all but 18 snaps in 2009. In those 18 other snaps, however, Rex Grossman showed everyone just how dreadful he is. A solid backup for Schaub is needed.
Kicker: Kris Brown can make any kick - unless it's in the final two minutes. Brown is a choke-artist who cost Houston two potential victories in 2009. Signed Neil Rackers
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Neil Rackers, K, Cardinals. Age: 34. Signed with Texans (2 years, $4.1 million)
Neil Rackers missed a big kick in the playoffs, but he's 41-of-45 the past two seasons. He's one of the top place-kickers in the NFL.
Wade Smith, G/C, Chiefs. Age: 29. Signed with Texans (4 years, $12 million; $6.25 million guaranteed)
Wade Smith played well down the stretch. He can fill in at both guard and center.
Danny Clark, OLB, Giants. Age: 33. Signed with Texans
Danny Clark can be a solid backup going forward, but his starting days should be over.
Divisional Rival History: Indianapolis Colts: The Texans have existed now for eight years. In those eight seasons, they've only beaten the Colts once out of 16 times. It would have been four times if they didn't shoot themselves in the foot thrice in the past two years. Jacksonville Jaguars: Remember when Houston gave Jacksonville fits? Well, the Jaguars have won three of four in this rivalry. Tennessee Titans: The Titans have won seven of the previous nine matchups.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)