FB Greg Jones, CB Alan Ball, S Ed Reed, P Shane Lechler.
Early Draft Picks:
WR DeAndre Hopkins, S D.J. Swearinger, OT Brennan Williams, DE Sam Montgomery, DE/OLB Trevardo Williams, OT/G/C David Quessenberry. Texans Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Justin Forsett, WR Kevin Walter, TE James Casey, OT Rashad Butler, DE/OLB Connor Barwin, S Glover Quin, K Shayne Graham, P Donnie Jones.
2013 Houston Texans Offense:
Matt Schaub doesn't have much longer to prove himself. Turning 32 at the end of June, Schaub was seen as the savior last year when the team's playoff chances were derailed by his own injury and T.J. Yates' subsequent mediocre play. However, Schaub was completely brutal down the stretch, tossing just one touchdown compared to four picks in the five weeks leading up to the divisional-round matchup against the Patriots. He managed to compile 343 yards and two touchdowns at New England, but that was a misleading stat line because most of his numbers were generated in garbage time. Schaub struggled to keep drives alive by hesitating and throwing short on third down. He did not resemble anything close to a franchise quarterback.
But was it Schaub's talent level or his lacking supporting cast? Andre Johnson was his only competent receiver last season, and Johnson is clearly not the same player he once was. Johnson, also turning 32 this summer, will continue to regress over the next couple of years. That's why Houston used its first-round pick this April on Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins is considered NFL-ready because of his route-running ability. He was already running with the first team in May OTAs, which is a great sign. He'll join Johnson and Owen Daniels as one of Schaub's top targets. Daniels, who had a 9-81 line in the aforementioned loss to New England, will be relied upon more because No. 2 tight end James Casey defected for Philadelphia. Garrett Graham will have a bigger role in the wake of Casey's departure.
Something else that will help Schaub is an improved ground attack, given that he uses play-action bootlegs to perfection. Houston has always been known for its strong running game, but that aspect of its offense disappointed in 2012. Arian Foster tallied 1,411 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, but he averaged a career-low four yards per carry. Some will blame Foster's vegan diet. Others will point to mediocre blocking ahead of him. That second issue has been taken care of with the addition of stud fullback Greg Jones.
Having said that, Foster may have another down year. He led the NFL in carries this past season, so he has to be exhausted. He suffered a calf injury in OTAs and will be out until training camp. These are not good signs. Ben Tate, who was too banged up to contribute last year, will definitely have a much greater role in 2013.
Meanwhile, the offensive line returns all five players from last year's unit. The best blocker in the group, left tackle Duane Brown, was signed to a 6-year, $53.4 million extension last summer. He was worth every penny, as he surrendered just four sacks in 2012. Brown will once again be bookended by right tackle Derek Newton, who isn't very good. Houston will be hoping that the athletically gifted Brennan Williams, chosen in the third round in April, will be able to beat him out. Fellow rookie David Quessenberry also has a shot.
The interior of the Texans' front is led by center Chris Myers, who was rightfully voted to the Pro Bowl. Flanking Myers could be guards Wade Smith and Ben Jones, who were both pretty average last year. Jones is still young though - he was a 2012 fourth-round pick - so he definitely has some room for improvement. Brandon Brooks, a 2012 third-rounder, could push Jones for the right guard job.
2013 Houston Texans Defense:
A defensive player hasn't won the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor in 1986, but a strong case could have been made for J.J. Watt. The second-year defensive end was a monster; he nearly broke Michael Strahan's single-season sack record by recording 20.5, a ridiculous number for a player at his position. In addition to forcing four fumbles, he broke up 16 passes at the line of scrimmage, earning the nickname "J.J. Swatt." Houston will always be competitive with Watt wreaking havoc on the line of scrimmage.
Watt's awesome 2012 performance overshadowed what some of his defensive teammates did this past season. For instance, fellow defensive end Antoinio Smith collected seven sacks, which is also a high number for someone at his position. Rookie rush linebacker Whitney Mercilus didn't do much in the first month and a half, but he finished with six sacks. That bodes well for this year because Connor Barwin signed with the Eagles. Mercilus will now be a full-time starter.
The other rush linebacker is unknown. It was supposed to be Brooks Reed, who was hobbled by a groin injury for most of 2012, but Reed has been taking reps at inside linebacker next to stud Brian Cushing. Reed could still start outside; it just depends on whether rookie rush linebackers Trevardo Williams or Sam Montgomery show lots of promise in OTAs and training camp. If defensive coordinator Wade Phillips feels comfortable enough starting either of the two, he'll move Reed inside to fill a glaring hole next to Cushing. Otherwise, the job will belong to the pedestrian Darryl Sharpton. He and Cushing will play in front of nose tackle Earl Mitchell, who is a decent run-stuffer.
Regardless of how that pans out, the Texans should be able to match or exceed last season's sack figure of 44. This will definitely be a big boost to a secondary that lost talented safety Glover Quin to the Lions in free agency. The Texans tried to replace Quin with former Raven Ed Reed, but the front office already has regrets about that, per a report by Charlie Campbell. "It turns out that Reed could be damaged goods, as he will miss the offseason program while rehabbing after hip surgery," Campbell wrote. "Houston used its second-round pick on safety D.J. Swearinger, and the talk out of the Texans offseason practices has been that Swearinger looks like he could start as a rookie."
The Reed-Swearinger winner will start next to Danieal Manning, who is pretty solid. Elsewhere in the defensive backfield, Houston has a pair of talented cornerbacks in Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph. The latter is the bigger name, but Jackson had the better season in 2012. He surrendered an outstanding completion percentage of 47.7 to opposing wideouts.
2013 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
The Texans have developed a pretty strong homefield advantage at Reliant Stadium in recent years. They're 13-4 as hosts the past couple of seasons if a Week 17 loss to the Titans in which the starters sat is excluded.
Houston needs to work on its special teams. Opponents scored thrice on returns, while the Texans didn't find the end zone a single time. Keshawn Martin was good when taking back punts, but he struggled on kickoffs.
Randy Bullock, a fifth-round pick in 2012, drilled 29-of-33 attempts for Texas A&M in his final collegiate year. He didn't get to prove himself as a rookie, however, because he was knocked out for the season with a torn groin.
Shane Lechler is the team's new punter. No longer the player he once was, Lecher was 20th in net average and 27th in attempts placed inside the 20.
The Texans have a mixed schedule. On one hand, they'll be asked to play seven games against teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2012: Broncos, Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens and Colts twice. On the other hand, they get to beat up on the Titans twice, Jaguars twice, Raiders, Jaguars, Cardinals and Chiefs.
2013 Houston Texans Rookies:
Go here for the Texans Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Houston Texans Analysis: Houston has a decent chance to claim the AFC South again. The Colts will definitely provide some fierce competition, but the Texans still have to be considered the favorite. However, they haven't done enough to overtake the two elite teams in the conference. It's likely that Houston will have another second-round playoff exit.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: The Texans have such a limited offense because Andre Johnson is the only downfield option for Matt Schaub. They need to fix that. Finding help in the middle of their defense - safety, inside linebacker and maybe nose tackle - is something they must do as well.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: It was fairly obvious the Texans were going to target a receiver at No. 27 because their offense was so limited with nothing across from Andre Johnson. They wanted DeAndre Hopkins, with Justin Hunter being a fall-back option. They got their man without moving up, so they have to be commended for their patience.
Houston made a bunch of other quality selections. Second-rounder D.J. Swearinger will fill the void created by Glover Quin's absence. Trevardo Williams (No. 124) will do the same with Connor Barwin's. My favorite late-rounder was David Quessenberry, who can play every single position up front. Quessenberry could have easily be taken in the third round, so there was a ton of value with him at No. 176.
I really liked the Texans' draft overall, though there was one pick I wasn't a fan of whatsoever. I have no idea why Houston chose Sam Montgomery at the end of the third round. Sure, Montgomery has talent, but he flat-out quit last season and even admitted to doing so. The Texans value character very much, so it's quite puzzling that they drafted him.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
27. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson: A Grade
Charlie and I were told the Texans would draft Justin Hunter - but only if DeAndre Hopkins was off the board. Hopkins was discussed to be a candidate for No. 14 overall to the Panthers, so we figured that he wouldn't be available. Well, the Texans lucked out and got their man. Hopkins is a sound, pro-ready receiver who should be able to step in immediately as the starter across from Andre Johnson.
57. D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina: B+ Grade
The Texans wanted a safety who can play both the free and strong positions, and D.J. Swearinger definitely qualifies for that. He'll fill a big need vacated by Glover Quin's departure to Detroit. Swearinger was seen as a late-second-round prospect, so this is the right range for him.
89. Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina: B- Grade
Brennan Williams has tons of potential, but has never lived up to it. This is a high-upside pick though and it helps fill a need for the Texans, who are terribly thin at offensive tackle.
95. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: C- Grade
I have to say that I'm very surprised by this pick. The Texans are a team that is very high on character, so I'm not sure what they see in Sam Montgomery to make them change their mind. Sure, Montgomery is talented, but he flat-out quit for LSU this past season. He's not a guy you want to have on your team.
124. Trevardo Williams, DE/OLB, Connecticut: B+ Grade
The Texans lost Connor Barwin in free agency, so they had to replenish depth at the rush linebacker position. Trevardo Williams could have gone a bit earlier than this, so I like the value.
176. David Quessenberry, OT/G/C, San Jose State: A Grade
It's shocking to me that such a versatile offensive lineman fell this far. I thought David Quessenberry would be a Round 3-4 selection for sure. He can play anywhere up front.
195. Alan Bonner, WR, Jacksonville State: B Grade
It's no surprise that the Texans selected a second wideout considering their glaring need at the position. Alan Bonner was seen as a Round 6-7 prospect, so he makes sense here.
198. Chris Jones, DT, Bowling Green: C+ Grade
This is a slight reach for the Texans, but Chris Jones makes sense as the sort of undersized nose tackle whom Wade Phillips likes to have on his defense.
201. Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut: B- Grade
We were told that the Texans wanted to find some help at tight end after losing James Casey to the Eagles, so it's surprising that they waited this long. Ryan Griffin was considered a seventh-round prospect, so this is pretty much the right range for him.
There aren't any excuses left for Houston. In 2011, they advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but lost to Baltimore because T.J. Yates was starting in place of Matt Schaub. Well, most of the roster was healthy this past season - Brian Cushing being an obvious exception - but they were still blown out of the water in the second round. With Andrew Luck and the Colts becoming a threat, Houston's Super Bowl window is quickly closing.
Browns sign OT Rashad Butler
Browns sign K Shayne Graham
Texans re-sign ILB Tim Dobbins
Texans re-sign OT Ryan Harris
Titans sign WR Kevin Walter
Texans sign FB Greg Jones
Eagles sign P Donnie Jones
Texans sign P Shane Lechler
Texans sign S Ed Reed
Texans re-sign CB Brice McCain
Jaguars sign CB Alan Ball
Texans re-sign OT Andrew Gardner
Jaguars sign RB Justin Forsett
Eagles sign DE/OLB Connor Barwin
Lions sign S Glover Quin
Eagles sign TE/FB James Casey
Wide Receiver: The Texans have needed a deep-threat No. 2 receiver across from Andre Johnson for years now. Soon, they'll have to find a new No. 1 as well. Drafted DeAndre Hopkins
Inside Linebacker: Bradie James is not the answer next to Brian Cushing. Neither are Darryl Sharpton or Tim Dobbins. Kevin Minter and Alec Ogletree could be pursued in the first round this April. Re-signed Tim Dobbins
Right Tackle: Houston was thinking about drafting a right tackle in the first round last year. That still might be the plan because Derek Newton has to be upgraded. Drafted Brennan Williams
Right Guard: The team also had issues at right guard. Ben Jones and Antoine Caldwell both struggled at the position in 2012. Drafted David Quessenberry
Free Safety: Houston has some key free agents, including Glover Quin, who was outstanding this past season. He has to be retained. Signed Ed Reed; drafted D.J. Swearinger
Rush Linebacker: Connor Barwin is also a free agent, so depth will need to be added if he leaves. Drafted Trevardo Williams
Nose Tackle: Shaun Cody's contract expires in March. If he's not retained, the Texans will need another nose tackle to pair in a rotation with Earl Mitchell.
Fullback: James Casey is a nice pass-catcher, but Arian Foster misses a powerful lead back. Signed Greg Jones
Punter: Donnie Jones is also set to hit the market. Signed Shane Lechler
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Ed Reed, S, Ravens. Age: 34. Signed with Texans (2 years)
Ed Reed will turn 35 in September, but he still played at a high level for the Ravens this past season despite battling an injury.
Greg Jones, FB, Jaguars. Age: 32. Signed with Texans (1 year)
Greg Jones has been one of the top run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL, but at 32 (in May), his best days are behind him.
Shane Lechler, P, Raiders. Age: 37. Signed with Texans
Shane Lechler has been recognized as one of the NFL's top punters over the years, but he appears to be finished at 37. His net punting average ranked in the bottom 10.
Houston Texans Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Glover Quin, S, Texans. Age: 27. Signed with Lions
A converted cornerback, Glover Quin has starred in his new safety role over the past couple of years. He was particularly sound in 2012, so he deserves a nice contract.
Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 26. Signed with Eagles
Connor Barwin is coming off a very disappointing 2012 campaign. After registering 11.5 sacks in 2011, he managed just three this past season. He's talented, so there's a good chance this was just a fluky year.
Donnie Jones, P, Texans. Age: 33. Signed with Eagles
Donnie Jones ranked 13th in net punting during the regular season.
James Casey, FB/TE, Texans. Age: 28. Signed with Eagles
James Casey was a pretty pedestrian lead blocker for Arian Foster this season, but he served as an effective pass-catcher, logging 34 receptions for 330 yards.
Shayne Graham, K, Texans. Age: 35. Signed with Browns
Shayne Graham was a decent 31-of-38 last year with 4-of-9 from 50-plus.
Bradie James, ILB, Texans. Age: 32.
Wade Phillips probably wanted Bradie James to play fewer snaps during the year, but Brian Cushing's injury forced his hand. James did a solid job in run support, but wasn't very good in coverage.
Tim Dobbins, ILB, Texans. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Texans
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans. Age: 32. -- Signed with Titans
Alan Ball, CB, Texans. Age: 28. -- Signed with Jaguars
Shaun Cody, NT, Texans. Age: 30.
Quintin Demps, S, Texans. Age: 28.
Justin Forsett, RB, Texans. Age: 27. -- Signed with Jaguars
Rashad Butler, OT, Texans. Age: 30. -- Signed with Browns
Antoine Caldwell, G, Texans. Age: 27.
Brice McCain, CB, Texans. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Texans
Ryan Harris, OT, Texans. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Texans (1 year)
Barrett Ruud, ILB, Texans. Age: 30.
Stanford Routt, CB, Texans. Age: 30.
Jesse Nading, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 28.
Andrew Gardner (RFA), OT, Texans. Age: 27. -- Re-signed with Texans