QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Andre Brown, ILB Akeem Dent, S Chris Clemons, S Kendrick Lewis.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, NT Louis Nix, QB Tom Savage, DE/DT Jeoffrey Pagan, RB Alfred Blue. Texans Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Matt Schaub, QB T.J. Yates, RB Ben Tate, WR Lestar Jean, TE Owen Daniels, DE/DT Antonio Smith, NT Earl Mitchell, DT Terrell McClain, DE/OLB Bryan Braman, ILB Daryl Sharpton, ILB Joe Mays, CB Brice McCain, S Danieal Manning.
2014 Houston Texans Offense:
No one could have predicted the Texans bottoming out like they did in 2013. The primary reason for that occurring was Matt Schaub's ineptitude. The long-time Texan quarterback self-destructed, setting the NFL record for consecutive games with a pick-six. He lost all confidence, and after Houston fans showed up to his house and harassed him, it was clear he couldn't return to the team. Both Schaub and Gary Kubiak left, giving way to former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien proved himself as an offensive mastermind in Happy Valley when he transformed the pedestrian Matt McGloin into a very capable quarterback. He'll have to work the same magic with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had an up-and-down campaign in Tennessee when he relieved an injured Jake Locker. Fitzpatrick has limited abilities, but has never been coached up like he will in Houston. There's a chance he could have the best season of his career. If not, it won't be long until fourth-round rookie Tom Savage takes the field. Savage is raw, but has a big arm and fits perfectly into O'Brien's offense.
O'Brien will need to do a great job with whichever quarterback he goes with because the supporting cast is a bit shaky. Arian Foster will be back from an eight-game campaign, but he has been an injury-prone player since he changed his eating habits a few years ago. The plan for Foster is to use him a bit less on first and second downs, so that the team can preserve him and use him on third downs. Andre Brown, who is also constantly hurt, will take some of the early work. Both figure to be highly effective if they can stay on the field, but that's been the problem for them.
Meanwhile, there were some trade rumors surrounding Andre Johnson this offseason. Johnson wasn't dealt, but he didn't show up to OTAs because he's dissatisfied with his contract. The concern is that Johnson, 33 in July, could be prone to injury, given that he's an older player skipping workouts. Johnson isn't expected to hold out, but if he gets injured, Houston's quarterback will have to rely on DeAndre Hopkins more often. Hopkins, chosen in the first round last April, accumulated 802 yards as a rookie, but was prone to mental errors. Learning a new offense won't make things any easier.
Speaking of young players, Fitzpatrick or Savage will learn to lean on C.J. Fiedorowicz, a third-round rookie. Owen Daniels is gone, and the other tight ends struggled last year, so Fiedorowicz, who fits O'Brien's offense perfectly, should be able to claim the starting job in no time. The problem is that he's a rookie, so he could also commit some blunders.
The Texans will at least be able to shield Fitzpatrick or Savage pretty well. They have three strong pieces up front in left tackle Duane Brown, center Chris Myers and right guard Brandon Brooks. The three combined to surrender just five sacks in 2013, an impressive figure considering that the team was constantly trailing.
Houston's other two offensive line starters will be left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo and one of Derek Newton and Brennan Williams. Su'a-Filo was the 33rd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and was seen by many - but not all - as the best pure guard in the class. Meanwhile, Newton struggled at right tackle last year, so the coaching staff will hope that Williams, a second-year player, will step up.
2014 Houston Texans Defense:
The big story with the Texans is what they did with the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. While the early thought process was that they might take a quarterback, they opted instead for Jadeveon Clowney, whom many consider to be the best pass-rushing prospect to come along in years. The concern with Clowney, of course, is his work ethic. He was out of shape this past season, refusing to work hard in practice. There are also major issues with his entourage, and it's quite easy to get into trouble in Houston. Clowney will be a perennial Pro Bowler if he gets his act together, but that's far from a certainty.
While Houston as a city may not be ideal for Clowney, the Texans were a great landing spot for him because he'll be able to learn from J.J. Watt, one of the hardest-working players in the league. If Clowney can pick up pointers from Watt, Houston could easily have one of the greatest pass-rushing tandems in NFL history. Watt, of course, is a tremendous talent who generated a ridiculous 21.5 sacks in 2012. The opposition now won't be able to just focus on him. It'll have to worry about Clowney as well - assuming he recovers from his current sports hernia - so Watt's sack total could approach 20 on several occasions over the next decade.
Of course, there are nine other positions on defense, and the Texans have several quality players to complement Watt and Clowney. Whitney Mercilus, who posted seven sacks in 2013, will benefit most from Clowney's presence. Meanwhile, Brian Cushing is a very talented inside linebacker, but there are injury concerns with him. He played in just five games in 2012 because of a torn ACL, and he took the field for just seven contests this past season, thanks to a broken fibula and a torn LCL. To say that Houston missed him in 2013 is an understatement; both Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays struggled in relief, and neither of them will be back with the team. Brooks Reed, a 2011 second-rounder, will move inside after being an edge rusher the past few years. There's zero depth behind Cushing and Reed, even after the acquisition of Akeem Dent.
The Texans also have a pretty sound secondary. Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson form a solid duo at corner. The former is coming off a great 2013 campaign. Jackson struggled a bit, but was dominant in 2012. There's no reason to think that he couldn't rebound. It's worth noting that the Texans are weak at nickel, but they at least have a strong tandem on the outside.
Meanwhile, Houston signed a pair of safeties this offseason in Chris Clemons and Kendrick Lewis. Clemons should be locked in as a starter, while the other position will be up for grabs between Lewis and 2013 second-rounder D.J. Swearinger. The former Gamecock struggled at times as a rookie, but had a few solid outings down the stretch. He'll be better with an improved pass rush aiding him and the other defensive backs.
As for the front line, the Texans didn't have a capable nose tackle in the wake of losing Earl Mitchell, yet they were able to land Notre Dame's Louis Nix in May. Nix was regarded as a first-round talent, but fell to the third frame because of some injury concerns. Nix and Watt figure to start with either Jared Crick or Jeoffrey Pagan, a sixth-round rookie who has been outstanding at OTAs. Antonio Smith occupied this spot last year, but he signed with the Raiders this spring.
2014 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
The Texans have developed a pretty strong homefield advantage at Reliant Stadium in recent years. They were 13-4 as hosts in 2011 and 2012 if a Week 17 loss to the Titans in which the starters sat is excluded. The 2013 season should be discarded because it was an anomaly.
Bill O'Brien needs to fix the special teams. This area was a mess under Gary Kubiak. The Texans were outgained on punt and kickoff returns in 2013.
Randy Bullock, a fifth-round pick in 2012, missed several clutch kicks early in the season. He was nearly exiled from Houston, but he eventually found his way. He was 26-of-35 overall, but drilled 12 consecutive attempts to close out the year.
Shane Lechler did a good job as the team's punter. He was 14th in net average, but managed to finish third in kicks placed inside the 20.
The Texans play the NFC East and AFC North, so their schedule isn't very difficult. They have some tough games on the slate (mainly the Colts twice and Steelers on the road), but most of their 2014 contests are winnable.
2014 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.
2014 Houston Texans Analysis: The Texans will not be going 2-14 again. Last year was an aberration. They were in many close games - they nearly defeated the Seahawks, Colts, Patriots, Chiefs, others - before things fell apart for them, the coach was fired and many of the players quit. Houston has enough talent to rebound. The team won't be good enough to unseat the Colts, but Bill O'Brien will be able to rebuild this organization to be a perennial playoff contender once again.
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Texans are starting over, so they obviously need a franchise quarterback. However, they're not taking one at No. 1 overall, and they may even pass on one at No. 33, per our NFL Draft Rumor Mill. They have a bunch of other needs to fill, including pass-rusher (Jadeveon Clowney), inside linebacker, nickel corner, safety and tight end.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Texans have been criticized for not using an early pick on a quarterback, but they managed to secure Tom Savage at the end of the fourth round when they were considering him atop the third. They had to pick Jadeveon Clowney - he was just too talented to pass up - and all of the top quarterbacks were gone by the second frame. Derek Carr couldn't be an option because of what happened to David, so Savage was the next-best choice, outside of perhaps Jimmy Garoppolo. The fact that Houston was able to wait, fill other needs in the process and still obtain him later is pretty impressive.
The Texans improved their front seven with Clowney and Louis Nix, who was a steal in the third round. Xavier Su'a-Filo was the second-best guard in this draft, so he'll bolster the offensive front. C.J. Fiedorowicz will replace Owen Daniels, giving Ryan Fitzpatrick a solid intermediate target. And then there's Savage, whom Bill O'Brien can develop. Savage has the physical tools, so combine those with O'Brien's tutelage, and the Texans may have obtained their long-term starting quarterback.
Houston made some decent choices toward the end of the draft, so its class is very solid as a whole. The front office deserves a high grade.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina: B+ Grade
I'm going to mark this pick in. Some believe Khalil Mack will be the choice, but that doesn't make much sense, and it goes against what we reported in the NFL Draft Rumor Mill today. The Texans are unwilling to move down from No. 1 unless they receive a Robert Griffin-type package. That's why the Falcons stopped trying to obtain the top choice. General manager Rick Smith is throwing a ton of crap out there to generate interest for this selection, but only because he wants multiple future first-rounders. He knows how great Jadeveon Clowney can be, so he's only willing to part with him if he can get a ridiculous deal. But that's just not going to happen for a non-quarterback. Besides, Mack over Clowney? The Texans can't be that incompetent. A trusted source of ours actually laughed off speculation that Houston prefers Mack.
As for this actual grade, I'm not in love with this selection, but I don't know what else Houston could do. There's no sure-fire quarterback prospect, so that's not really an option. The Texans can't allow the greatest pass-rushing prospect in a very long time to slip through their fingers, so they shouldn't take minimal compensation for this pick. Clowney is not ideal for the 3-4, but then again, neither was Mario Williams, and he still played great in that scheme. If motivated, Clowney will be dominant.
Clowney's motivation is the big issue though. I don't trust him to stay clean. There are major questions about his work ethic and his entourage. Perhaps J.J. Watt can help him with the former, but Clowney could still get into trouble because of the people he hangs out with - especially in a city like Houston. Still though, it's a chance the Texans have to take because they don't have any other realistic options.
33. Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA: B+ Grade
The Texans had to address their offensive line, and they're doing so with a player who fits the exact range. I've had Xavier Su'a-Filo in the first round of my mock, but the caveat was that the Chiefs would trade into the top of the second round for him. This is a solid choice.
65. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa: B- Grade
So, the Texans either think they can land a quarterback they really like much later, or they're in love with Ryan Fitzpatrick. It's strange that they didn't take a quarterback at this spot, but the C.J. Fiedorowicz pick makes sense. Houston lost Owen Daniels, so a tight end was needed. It's a bit early for Fiedorowicz, but it's not a major reach.
83. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame: A+ Grade
Wow. How the hell did Louis Nix fall this far? Nix was seen as a possibility at Nos. 25 and 29 to San Diego and New England, respectively, and no one would've had an issue if Houston chose him with the 33rd pick. The Texans had to find a new nose tackle, and they may have secured an instant starter with the Notre Dame prospect.
135. Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh: A Grade
Wow. I thought the Texans would pick Tom Savage in the third round. The fact that they were able to obtain him here is ridiculous. Savage was never the second-round prospect the media made him out to be, but he has good skill and could emerge as a solid starter, especially with Bill O'Brien coaching him up. Nice job by the Texans.
177. Jeoffrey Pagan, DE/DT, Alabama: B Grade
A five-tech was needed in the wake of Antonio Smith's departure this offseason. Jeoffrey Pagan fits the range as a sixth-round prospect, so this is another solid choice by Houston.
181. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU: B- Grade
The Texans signed Andre Brown this offseason, but both of their running backs are injury-prone. They had to take a running back at some point, and I actually thought they'd do so a bit earlier. I don't love this pick, but it makes sense.
211. Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn: B Grade
The first and best fullback is off the board. The Texans needed a player at that position, so why not take Jay Prosch at this point? This is a pretty logical choice, and Arian Foster has to be thrilled.
216. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt: A- Grade
The Texans wanted a cornerback earlier, but couldn't get around to it because they had too many needs. They waited until Round 7, but they managed to obtain a prospect who could have gone a round or two earlier. Not bad.
256. Lonnie Ballentine, S, Memphis: A- Grade
A solid Mr. Irrelevant pick. Lonnie Ballentine received lots of attention during the pre-draft process, so I'm surprised he didn't go earlier than this. The Texans hadn't taken a safety yet, so this makes sense.
Many things have to go wrong for a team to go from winning a division to picking first in the draft. The Texans lost 14 in a row to close out the season, as they were even swept by lowly Jacksonville. There is hope on the horizon, however, as Bill O'Brien replaces Gary Kubiak. O'Brien will undoubtedly find a solution at the quarterback position, which should help Houston return to playoff contention sooner rather than later.
Vikings sign WR Lestar Jean
Texans sign RB Andre Brown
Ravens sign TE Owen Daniels
Bengals sign S Danieal Manning
Steelers sign CB Brice McCain
Texans cut S Danieal Manning
Texans sign S Chris Clemons
Texans sign S Kendrick Lewis
Raiders acquire QB Matt Schaub from Texans for late-round pick
Texans sign QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Browns signed RB Ben Tate
Raiders sign DE/DT Antonio Smith
Redskins sign ILB Daryl Sharpton
Texans re-sign TE Garrett Graham
Cowboys sign DT Terrell McClain
Chiefs sign ILB Joe Mays
Eagles sign DE/OLB Bryan Braman
Dolphins sign NT Earl Mitchell
Texans cut TE Owen Daniels
Texans cut CB Brice McCain
Texans hire HC Bill O'Brien
Quarterback: Matt Schaub was once seen as the answer for Houston's quarterbacking woes, but only because he was so much better than the inept David Carr. That's not the case anymore, as the fans cheered Schaub when he was injured and threatened him at his own house. The Texans will move on with a new signal-caller, and they can fix this position by spending the No. 1 pick on Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel. Signed Ryan Fitzpatrick
Rush Linebacker: Brooks Reed has been a disappointment in terms of being a pass-rusher, though he could find a home if moved inside. The Texans need someone on the exterior who can put heavy heat on opposing quarterbacks.
Inside Linebacker: This area needed to be addressed even before Brian Cushing went out for the season. Houston actually wanted to select Arthur Brown in the 2013 NFL Draft, but the Ravens snatched him off the board.
Cornerback: The Texans expected nickel Brice McCain to progress, but he was atrocious this past season. They'll have to obtain depth at this position at some point during the draft.
Tight End: Owen Daniels has been released, so a replacement is needed. Re-signed Garrett Graham
Right Tackle: This position was a huge problem area for the offensive line, as Derek Newton failed miserably. Houston will draft a right tackle on Day 2 unless it signs someone capable in free agency.
Running Back: Ben Tate is a free agent, so the Texans will need to bring in a second option at running back. Texans sign Andre Brown
Safety: Ed Reed was a predictable bust signing. Houston has to upgrade Shiloh Keo and hope that D.J. Swearinger improves. Chris Clemons and Signed Kendrick Lewis
Left Guard: Here's another spot the Texans have to address up front. Wade Smith, now 33, is past his prime and no longer effective. He was a liability this past season.
Defensive Line Depth: Antonio Smith will hit the free-agent market in March. Jared Crick will get the job, but Houston will have to bring in some depth.
Chris Clemons, S, Dolphins. Age: 28. Signed with Texans (2 years)
Chris Clemons is a very good coverage safety who has missed only three games in the past four seasons. He'll be missed if the Dolphins can't re-sign him.
Andre Brown, RB, Giants. Age: 27. Signed with Texans (1 year)
Andre Brown is a strong runner who happens to be a solid pass-catcher. He also blocks well. Unfortunately, he had a fumbling problem down the stretch.
Kendrick Lewis, S, Chiefs. Age: 26. Signed with Texans
Kendrick Lewis got off to a strong start in his career with two solid seasons, but has regressed since. Perhaps he'll be able to recapture what he had in 2010 and 2011.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Titans. Age: 32. Signed with Texans (2 years)
It's strange that the Titans cut Ryan Fitzpatrick when he was much better than Charlie Whitehurst, the new backup they just signed. Fitzpatrick handled himself well this past season, throwing 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions while completing 62 percent of his passes.
Houston Texans Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Ben Tate, RB, Texans. Age: 26. Signed with Browns (2 years, $7 million)
Ben Tate suffered a season-ending injury prior to his rookie campaign in 2010, allowing Arian Foster to take over as Houston's primary running back. Had this never happened, Tate probably would've been an occasional Pro Bowler. Tate is a very talented runner, though he's not nearly as effective on third down as Foster happens to be. He's also injury-prone, which is why he's not rated higher.
Greg Jones, FB, Texans. Age: 33.
See what happened to Maurice Jones-Drew without Greg Jones? The long-time Jaguar is one of the top run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL.
Antonio Smith, DE/DT, Texans. Age: 32. Signed with Raiders (2 years, $9 million)
Antonio Smith will be 33 in October, but he can still get after the quarterback. He can be a 4-3 left end who moves inside on obvious passing situations, but he's best off staying in the 3-4.
Daryl Sharpton, ILB, Texans. Age: 26. Signed with Redskins (1 year, $2 million)
Daryl Sharpton took over as Houston's three-down inside linebacker following Brian Cushing's season-ending injury. He's solid versus the run, but a bit of a liability in coverage.
Owen Daniels, TE, Texans. Age: 31. Signed with Ravens
Owen Daniels just can't stay healthy. He has missed 26 games in the past five seasons. Given that he turns 32 in November, his career probably won't last much longer.
Danieal Manning, S, Texans. Age: 32. -- Signed with Bengals (1 year)
Bryan Braman (RFA), DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 27. -- Signed with Eagles
Joe Mays, ILB, Texans. Age: 29. -- Signed with Chiefs (2 years, $6 million)
Wade Smith, G, Texans. Age: 33.
Ryan Harris, OT, Texans. Age: 29.
Earl Mitchell, NT, Texans. Age: 26. -- Signed with Dolphins (4 years, $16 million)
Garrett Graham, TE, Texans. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Texans
Lestar Jean (RFA), WR, Texans. Age: 26. -- Signed with Vikings
Brice McCain, CB, Texans. Age: 27. -- Signed with Steelers
Terrell McClain (RFA), DT, Texans. Age: 26. -- Signed with Cowboys (3 years)