DC Wade Phillips, FB Lawrence Vickers, DE/DT Damione Lewis, ILB Tim Dobbins, CB Johnathan Joseph, SS Danieal Manning, P Brad Maynard.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/DT J.J. Watt, DE/OLB Brooks Reed, CB Brandon Harris, CB Rashad Carmichael, SS Shiloh Keo.
DC Frank Bush, FB Vonta Leach, WR David Anderson, DE Mark Anderson, DT Amobi Okoye, OLB Zach Diles, FS Eugene Wilson, SS Bernard Pollard.
2011 Houston Texans Offense:
With all of the attention that quarterbacks and skill-position players frequently garner, it's kind of weird that Houston's fullback, of all players, would generate the most fuss this offseason regarding the team's offense.
Weird, but understandable. Vonta Leach is arguably the top fullback in the NFL, and his elite run-blocking paved the way for Arian Foster's league-leading 1,616 rushing yards. Leach signed with the Ravens this offseason, prompting many in the fantasy football realm to believe that Foster is due for a big decline. The Texans signed Lawrence Vickers as a substitute, but Vickers is nowhere near the fullback that Leach is.
Foster should be fine if he's healthy. That's the bigger concern. Foster has missed time in training camp with a hamstring injury, but reports indicate that he'll be OK. Houston's offensive line is tremendous in the run-blocking department, and Foster himself led the NFL in broken tackles last year. He'll survive with a mediocre fullback.
Foster will also continue to play a huge factor in the passing attack; Matt Schaub utilized him heavily, as Foster hauled in 66 receptions. His catch total should decrease a bit this year, as tight end Owen Daniels is finally healthy again. Daniels' next injury is always right around the corner, but he posted 271 yards and two touchdowns in the final four games of the 2010 campaign. Houston's front office seems convinced that he can stay on the field because it gave him a 4-year, $22 million contract in March.
Of course, the proven strength of Houston's offense is the Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson connection. Schaub has thrown for 9,140 yards and 53 touchdowns the past two seasons, with nearly a third of those going to Johnson. Johnson caught 86 passes in 13 games in 2010 despite the fact that he was playing on an injured ankle. He's completely healthy at the moment.
As noted, Schaub posts pretty numbers, but the concern is that he struggles when the game is on the line. In the past two years when playing in overtime or the fourth quarter within seven points, Schaub has thrown six interceptions to just three touchdowns. Otherwise, his touchdown-interception ratio is 50-21. Unlike Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and quarterbacks of that ilk, Schaub melts down in crunch time.
There are no excuses for this. As mentioned, Schaub has a great supporting cast and an elite offensive line. The quintet of Duane Brown, Wade Smith, Chris Myers, Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston returns intact, which is very important in this shortened offseason. The unit opened up massive holes for Foster and surrendered only 11 sacks in the final eight games last year.
2011 Houston Texans Defense:
Houston's secondary was such a running joke last year that the fans may have revolted if the front office didn't address this area in free agency.
The Texans made a bit splash by signing Johnathan Joseph to a 5-year, $48 million contract. Joseph, 27, is worth every penny, as he is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. He's not as good as Nnamdi Asomugha, but he's in that next tier - and he also happens to be three years younger. Joseph will play across from Kareem Jackson, last year's first-round pick. Jackson struggled as a rookie, but with better coaching and a new role as a No. 2 corner, he should be much better in 2011. Second-round rookie Brandon Harris provides needed depth.
Joseph wasn't the only prized offseason acquisition in the secondary. Houston also signed strong safety Danieal Manning to a 4-year, $20 million deal. Manning played really well with the Bears in 2010, and will easily be an enormous upgrade over Bernard Pollard. Manning will play next to free safety Glover Quin, who is making a positional change from cornerback. It's unclear how Quin will perform at free safety, but he was Houston's top defensive back last year, though that's obviously not saying much.
The Texans managed only 30 sacks last year, which also factored into the secondary's ineptitude. That's where new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips comes in. Phillips, a genius defensive mind, is making the switch to the 3-4.
The most intriguing aspect of this is that Mario Williams, who had 8.5 sacks in 2010, will be playing rush linebacker at 282 pounds. The move sounds questionable, but if anyone can help pull it off, it's Phillips. Besides, Tamba Hali has been exceptional at the position despite weighing 275 pounds, so it can be done.
Williams will have to succeed because the Texans don't have any other proven pass-rushers. Connor Barwin missed most of the 2010 season with a dislocated ankle. He'll battle rookie Brooks Reed for the right to play across from Williams. The veteran would normally have the advantage in a shortened offseason like this, but Barwin doesn't have the edge because he has to learn Phillips' defense from scratch - just like Reed.
While Barwin's injury was huge, it paled in comparison to DeMeco Ryan's torn Achilles tendon in Week 6. Houston's defense completely fell apart once its stud inside linebacker went down. Ryan has been cleared to play, and will start next to the talented Brian Cushing in the middle of the Texans' stop unit.
Houston's back seven should be really good this season, but the defensive line is a pretty big question mark. Defensive end Antonio Smith is a very good player and tailor made for the 3-4, while No. 11 overall pick J.J. Watt has already been penciled into the starting lineup. But what are the Texans going to do at nose tackle? Earl Mitchell, weighing in at only 290 pounds, will man the position. Phillips likes smaller nose tackles, but Mitchell has no career starts and wasn't very good in terms of handling the run last year.
2011 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
As mentioned earlier, Matt Schaub's play declines late in games. That's a microcosm for what happens to the team during the regular season. In the past two years, Houston is 8-5 before Nov. 1, and an abysmal 7-12 after Halloween.
The Texans struggled on special teams last year, as they were outgained by their opponents by 1.3 yards on punt returns and 4.4 yards on kickoffs. They failed to score a touchdown and allowed one to the opposition.
Neil Rackers did a great job replacing "Good Grief" Kris Brown, striking on 27-of-30 attempts, including 3-of-4 from 50-plus.
It didn't seem like it was possible, but Houston downgraded the punter position despite the fact that 43-year-old Matt Turk averaged just 42.1 yards per attempt for them last season. Turk signed with the Jaguars, so the Texans brought in Brad Maynard, who averaged 40.1 yards per boot in 2010 for Chicago.
The Texans will certainly be tested early on; three of their first four opponents are the Colts, Saints and Steelers. Things get much easier after that though, as Oakland, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Cleveland are four of the next five foes. Houston should also beat Cincinnati and Carolina in Weeks 14 and 15.
2011 Houston Texans Analysis: The Texans have great talent, which is why they've been a chic Super Bowl sleeper the past two seasons despite the fact that they've never made the playoffs in franchise history.
The problem is that while Houston looks great on paper, it just doesn't translate to the field. The team as a whole isn't tough and consequently struggles in crunch time, whether that's in an individual game or late during the regular season. Until the Texans become meaner and nastier - which doesn't seem likely under the stoic Gary Kubiak - they'll continue failing to live up to expectations.
Houston's goal for the 2011 NFL Draft was simple: Find as much talent for Wade Phillips' defense as possible. Mission accomplished.
The Texans made great selections throughout the entire weekend. J.J. Watt will function as Phillips' Phil Hansen, while Brooks Reed and Brandon Harris were steals in Round 2.
Houston's defense will no longer be the laughing stock of the NFL. This team just improved exponentially, and at this point, I think it'll be a huge upset if the Texans don't make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: A-
2011 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
11. J.J. Watt, DE/DT, Wisconsin
The Texans desperately need 3-4 personnel, and they're taking one of the top players at the position. I'm not giving this an A because I don't like the fact that J.J. Watt hasn't played defensive line very long in his career. I would have gone with Cameron Jordan, but then again, I'm not paid millions to make these sort of decisions. (Pick Grade: B)
42. Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona
Awesome pick. The Texans continue to add 3-4 pass-rushers to Wade Phillips' new defense. Brooks Reed had an incredible 10-yard split in his 40, falling a few hundredths of a second short of Clay Matthews. (Pick Grade: A)
60. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
The Texans surrendered a third and a fifth to move up to this spot. I'd say it was worth it. At one point, Brandon Harris was considered a mid first-round prospect. He had a horrible winter practice game, which may have been the catalyst for his Draft Weekend drop. Houston definitely lucks out, as Harris fills a big need across from Kareem Jackson. (Pick Grade: A)
127. Rashad Carmichael, CB, Virginia Tech
It's not surprising that the Texans are picking another cornerback. This is the right area for Rashad Carmichael, making this a decent pick. (Pick Grade: B)
144. Shiloh Keo, SS/ST, Idaho
Another much-needed upgrade in the secondary. Shiloh Keo is going to be a fan favorite as a blue-collar do-it-all safety/special-teamer. (Pick Grade: B)
152. T.J. Yates, QB, North Carolina
I would have wanted the Texans to add some more 3-4 personnel, but I won't ever berate a team for taking a developmental quarterback in the final three rounds of an NFL Draft. Maybe Houston can trade T.J. Yates in a couple of years for a Round 2-3 pick. (Pick Grade: B)
214. Derek Newton, OT, Arkansas State
Derek Newton doesn't really fill a need, but this is the right range for him. I know I had him going in the fifth round of my 2011 NFL Mock Draft, but that was because of Al Davis "great playa" purposes. (Pick Grade: C)
254. Cheta Ozougwu, DE/OLB, Rice
Nice! The Texans made a really good Mr. Irrelevant selection. "Cheddar Ogoozwoogo," as the old man said it, was a projected Round 5-6 prospect. He's yet another 3-4 player for Wade Phillips to work with. (Pick Grade: A)
Expectations were high for the Texans entering the 2010 season, but they disappointed, just as they always do. This franchise has existed for nine years, but still has never made the playoffs. If Gary Kubiak can't change that in 2011, owner Bob McNair will be forced to find a new head coach.
Texans sign ILB Tim Dobbins
Patriots sign DE/OLB Mark Anderson
Ravens sign SS Bernard Pollard
Texans sign FB Lawrence Vickers
Texans sign P Brad Maynard
Colts sign QB Dan Orlovsky
Ravens sign FB Vonta Leach
Texans re-sign G Mike Brisiel
Texans re-sign G Kasey Studdard
Bears sign DT Amobi Okoye
Texans cut DT Amobi Okoye
Broncos sign WR David Anderson
Texans cut WR David Anderson
Texans cut QB Dan Orlovsky
Rams sign OLB Zach Diles
Texans sign SS Danieal Manning
Texans sign CB Johnathan Joseph
Texans re-sign QB Matt Leinart
Texans sign DE/DT Damione Lewis
Texans re-sign WR Jacoby Jones
Texans sign WR Jeff Maehl
Texans re-sign OT Rashad Butler
Texans sign WR Terrence Toliver
Texans re-sign TE Owen Daniels
Texans re-sign NT Shaun Cody
Texans re-sign RB Derrick Ward
Texans tender RB Arian Foster
Colts sign DT DeMario Pressley
Texans cut FS Eugene Wilson
Texans cut WR Andre' Davis
Texans waive ST Isaiah Greenhouse
Texans waive DT DeMario Pressley
Texans waive OLB Darnell Bing
Nose Tackle: Wade Phillips is the new defensive coordinator, so the Texans will be moving to the 3-4. Their current nose tackles are Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody (a free agent), so they'll need to find help this offseason (perhaps Day 2 of the 2011 NFL Draft).
Two Rush Linebackers: Houston's first-round pick could be used on Von Miller. Connor Barwin is the only viable option at rush linebacker. The team will need a new starter across from Barwin and some depth. Drafted J.J. Watt (DE/DT) and Brooks Reed; Mario Williams to DEOLB
Free Safety: The Texans have needed an upgrade at this position for a long time. Eugene Wilson is not cutting it.
Strong Safety: Bernard Pollard probably won't be retained this offseason. Houston needs to upgrade its entire secondary. Signed Danieal Manning; drafted Shiloh Keo
Cornerback: A new starting cornerback could move Glover Quin over to nickel. Kareem Jackson will continue to start, but he really needs to improve next year. Signed Johnathan Joseph; drafted Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael
Wide Receiver: Jacoby Jones is an inconsistent free agent. Kevin Walter is a mediocre talent. The Texans have needed a legitimate No. 2 wideout for a long time. Re-signed Jacoby Jones; signed Terrence Toliver and Jeff Maehl
Punter: An upgrade is needed over 43-year-old Matt Turk. Signed Brad Maynard
Defensive Line Depth: Houston will be looking for 3-4 depth. Signed Damione Lewis
2011 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Johnathan Joseph, CB, Bengals. Age: 27. Signed with Texans (5 years)
An elite NFL cornerback, Johnathan Joseph will be franchised this offseason. Joseph has expressed interest in staying with the team, which is a major plus.
Danieal Manning, SS, Bears. Age: 29. Signed with Texans (4 years, $20 million; $9 million guaranteed)
In addition to being a solid strong safety, Danieal Manning averaged 24.7 yards on his kickoff returns this year.
Lawrence Vickers, FB, Browns. Age: 28. Signed with Texans
Lawrence Vickers had a poor season in 2010, as he wasn't used very much down the stretch. Maybe he'll rebound next year.
Tim Dobbins, ILB, Dolphins. Age: 28. Signed with Texans
A quality reserve inside linebacker who is decent in run support.
Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU. Age: N/A. -- Signed with Texans
Jeff Maehl, WR, Oregon. Age: 22. -- Signed with Texans
Brad Maynard, P, Bears. Age: 37. -- Signed with Texans
Houston Texans Free Agents:
Salary Cap: No cap.
Arian Foster (ERFA), RB, Texans. Age: 25. Re-signed with Texans ($525,000)
As I said in my fantasy preview this summer, Arian Foster - Australian for stud running back. Foster will be tendered.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans. Age: 27. Re-signed with Texans
Clearly over his ACL tear, Owen Daniels caught 22 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns in the final four weeks of the season.
Vonta Leach, FB, Texans. Age: 29. Signed with Ravens (3 years, $11 million)
Vonta Leach is one of the NFL's top run-blocking fullbacks. Arian Foster's stats will plummet if Leach isn't retained.
Mike Brisiel, G, Texans. Age: 28. Re-signed with Texans
Mike Brisiel played pretty well for the Texans at right guard in 2010. The problem is that he has always been injury-prone throughout his career.
Jacoby Jones, WR, Texans. Age: 27. Re-signed with Texans (3 years, $10.5 million; $3 million guaranteed)
Jacoby Jones has been inconsistent throughout his career, but caught 22 balls for 287 yards and a touchdown in the team's final four games. Perhaps a sign of things to come?
Amobi Okoye, DT, Texans. Age: 24. Signed with Bears (1 year)
The No. 10 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Amobi Okoye has never developed into a consistent pass-rusher. He's only 24 though, so perhaps he can be a late bloomer with a better defensive line coach.
Bernard Pollard, SS, Texans. Age: 26. Signed with Ravens (2 years)
Bernard Pollard is a tremendous run-stuffer, but really struggles in coverage at times.
Kevin Bentley, ILB, Texans. Age: 31.
Kevin Bentley did a decent job filling in for DeMeco Ryans in the second half of the season. He could be brought back as a reserve 3-4 inside linebacker.
Mark Anderson, DE, Texans. Age: 28. -- Signed with Patriots
Shaun Cody, NT, Texans. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Texans
Zach Diles, OLB, Texans. Age: 26. -- Signed with Rams
Derrick Ward, RB, Texans. Age: 31. -- Re-signed with Texans
Eugene Wilson, FS, Texans. Age: 31.
Jason Allen, CB, Texans. Age: 28.
Rashad Butler, OT, Texans. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Texans
Matt Turk, P, Texans. Age: 43.
Jarvis Green, DE/DT, Texans. Age: 32.
Matt Leinart, QB, Texans. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Texans
Kasey Studdard, G, Texans. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with Texans
Tim Bulman, DE, Texans. Age: 28.
Andre' Davis, WR, Texans. Age: 32.
Dan Orlovsky, QB, Texans. Age: 28. -- Signed with Colts
David Anderson, WR, Texans. Age: 28. -- Signed with Broncos
Justin Griffith, FB, Texans. Age: 31.
Darnell Bing, OLB, Texans. Age: 26.
DeMario Pressley, DT, Texans. Age: 25. -- Signed with Colts
Divisional Rival History: Indianapolis Colts: The Texans have existed now for nine years. In those nine seasons, they've only beaten the Colts twice out of 18 times. Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars have won four of the past six, including that crazy Hail Mary game. Tennessee Titans: There are no historical trends here, but these matchups will be very entertaining to watch going forward because of the Andre Johnson-Cortland Finnegan rivalry.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2011 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)
Walt needs to change some of his mock picks. Denver will go O-Line in the first round. RB Alvin Kamara will definitely go to someone in the first round. Walt also has Fabian Moreau going in the mid-2nd round. Isn't he aware that Moreau injured his pectoral at his pro day and may not play until 2018?