2015 NFL Offseason: Houston Texans

Houston Texans (Last Year: 9-7)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Brian Hoyer, RB Chris Polk, WR Cecil Shorts, WR Nate Washington, NT Vince Wilfork, S Rahim Moore, S Stevie Brown.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Kevin Johnson, ILB Benardrick McKinney, WR Jaelen Strong. Texans Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Case Keenum, WR Andre Johnson, G Cody White, C Chris Myers, DE/DT Tim Jamison, DE/OLB Brooks Reed, S D.J. Swearinger, S Danieal Manning.

2015 Houston Texans Offense:
The Texans are in a very difficult position. They’re not good enough to currently make a deep playoff push, but they’re not bad enough to land a potential franchise quarterback via the draft. Rather than being able to select a Jameis Winston or a Marcus Mariota, the Texans have to try their luck with either Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer.

Having said that, Mallett and Hoyer aren’t terrible options, considering the circumstance. That happens to be the fact that head coach Bill O’Brien coached both when he was in New England. Mallett has the greater upside, and he looked pretty decent in his one, healthy start last year – he went 20-of-30 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Browns – before suffered a torn chest the following week that caused him to miss the rest of the season. Mallett has a tremendous arm, but the mental part of his game is severely lacking. Perhaps O’Brien, a quarterback guru, will help Mallett improve in that area. If not, Hoyer will get the nod. Hoyer was decent this past season until a multitude of factors – center Alex Mack’s injury, Josh Gordon’s return, which prompted Hoyer to force passes to the troubled wideout – ultimately led to his benching. Hoyer is currently the favorite to start because his accuracy is superior, but things could change in the preseason.

Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid supporting cast at his disposal. It all begins with Arian Foster, who is one of the NFL’s best running backs when healthy. Foster rushed for 1,246 yards and accumulated 327 receiving yards this past season despite missing three games. However, Foster’s durability is a major concern, as he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since changing his diet a few years ago. He has missed 11 contests in the past two years, and Houston doesn’t have a viable replacement if he goes down. Some consideration was put into drafting Todd Gurley, but the Georgia running back didn’t make it to No. 16 overall. Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk are just marginal backups. The good news is that Foster has had a strong offseason thus far, but history has shown that could change at any moment.

There were changes made elsewhere on offense, including the receiving corps. Andre Johnson is gone, but he showed some signs of slowing down and wasn’t the No. 1 option any longer. DeAndre Hopkins took over that role with a 76-catch, 1,210-yard sophomore campaign despite playing with terrible quarterbacks. O’Brien called Hopkins one of the best wideouts in the NFL, and the sky is the limit for the 23-year-old.

The Texans brought in Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington and Jaelen Strong to play along with Hopkins. Shorts is known as a decent receiver in fantasy circles, but only because he has posted a ton of garbage-time numbers over the years. Washington is a reliable veteran, while Strong is a rookie with upside. Strong was considered a late-first-round possibility by some, so the Texans wisely scooped him up when he dropped to the third frame. He’s not expected to make much of a contribution right away, however, because of a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, 2014 third-round tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is expected to become a greater factor in his second season.

Houston also made one change up front. Long-time center Chris Myers was released this offseason because of financial reasons; he still played well, so he could be missed. It depends on two things: First, whether Ben Jones makes the successful transition from guard to center, and second, if 2014 second-rounder Xavier Su’a-Filo lives up to his billing as a solid draft prospect in Jones’ previous spot. Su’a-Filo saw limited action this past season, but struggled. If he doesn’t improve his play, the Texans will definitely miss Myers.

The other three starters will return for 2015. The front line is anchored by stout left tackle Duane Brown, who surrendered only two sacks in 2014. Right tackle Derek Newton was re-signed this offseason to a contract worth more than it should have been. Newton is capable of blasting open huge running lanes, but he has major pass protection issues. Right guard Brandon Brooks doesn’t have that problem; he’s the second-best lineman Houston has behind Brown.

2015 Houston Texans Defense:
The big story concerning the Texans at this time last year was how dominant their front seven was going to be with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney both rushing the quarterback at the same time. That never came to fruition, as Clowney barely played because of a knee injury. The media released some pessimistic reports about Clowney’s progress, but the team has always been optimistic; Bill O’Brien even told reporters recently that has been “impressed” with Clowney’s conditioning.

Anything Clowney gives the Texans in 2015 has to be considered a bonus, and it obviously won’t keep Watt from being an absolute beast. Watt was so dominant in 2014 that many were considering voting him in as MVP despite the fact that he was a defensive player on a team that failed to qualify for the playoffs. Watt nearly broke Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record, notching 20.5 sacks, which is an absurd amount for a player at his position.

Watt could eclipse Strahan’s mark at some point if he gets more help around him. Clowney’s return would obviously help, as would the improvement of Whitney Mercilus and Jared Crick. The latter was an adequate replacement for Antonio Smith at defensive end, but if he doesn’t improve his play, the Texans should look into finding someone better. As for Mercilus, the former first-round selection signed an extension this offseason that paid him more money than he’s worth. Mercilus logged five sacks in 2014, but most of those came because the opposition was paying so much attention to Watt. Clowney’s return would help Mercilus collect even more sacks, but the Texans should have searched for a better option rather than giving him a $26 million contract over four years.

Houston will at least be better against the run, which was an area in which it struggled in last year. There are two reasons for this. The first is the signing of Vince Wilfork, who will quite literally provide a massive upgrade at nose tackle. Wilfork turns 34 in November and has lost his pass-rushing ability, but he’s still very stout against the rush. Second, Houston managed to obtain Benardrick McKinney in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. McKinney will currently be an upgrade next to Brian Cushing, and he’ll ultimately replace Cushing as the team’s three-down linebacker.

The Texans used their initial 2015 draft choice on a player to help the secondary. Cornerback Kevin Johnson won’t start right away, as the team still has Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph in the lineup, but Johnson will provide sorely needed depth that Houston lacked in 2014. Johnson, who has been impressive at OTAs, could work his way into the lineup sooner rather than later.

The corners will have better support from the safeties. The top three players at the position from last year – Kendrick Lewis, D.J. Swearinger and Danieal Manning – are all gone. The front office signed Rahim Moore and Stevie Brown, both of whom will be upgrades. Brown was a solid, but oft-injured player for the Giants, while Moore is the better of the two. Moore isn’t great in run support, but he’s fantastic in coverage, which is exactly what Houston was looking for, given that it has to go up against Andrew Luck twice per season. It’s also worth noting that 2014 seventh-rounder Andre Hal has looked great at OTAs and could end up starting next to Moore instead of Brown.

2015 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
The Texans have developed a pretty strong homefield advantage at Reliant Stadium in recent years. They were 18-7 as hosts in 2011, 2012 and 2014 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, and it continued to be that way in 2014. Houston was outgained by 6.3 yards on punts and 4.9 yards on kickoffs.

Randy Bullock, a fifth-round pick in 2012, missed several clutch kicks early during the 2013 campaign. He was nearly exiled from Houston, but he eventually found his way. He was a steady 30-of-35 this past season, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus.

Shane Lechler was once known as one of the NFL’s best punters, but he was just 22nd in net yardage last season.

The Texans play a fairly easy schedule. Their only extremely difficult games are against the Colts (twice), Patriots, Panthers (road) and Bengals (road).

2015 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.

2015 Houston Texans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Houston Texans Analysis: The Texans would be a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they had a second-tier quarterback. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have a capable, proven starter. They might have gotten away with this and made a deep push if this were still the 90s or early 2000s, but the NFL is now a passing league. Houston consequently won’t be going very far, though the team will be competitive in most games.

Projection: 7-9 (TBA in AFC South)

NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: I’ve slotted Todd Gurley in my 2015 NFL Mock Draft for a while now. Some haven’t understood it, but Gurley will probably be the pick if he’s available at No. 16. The Texans have no quarterback, so they need to make sure they run the ball as well as possible. Arian Foster is injury-prone, so Gurley would give Houston great insurance. Elsewhere, the team needs to add to the receiving and linebacking corps, as well as the secondary.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The medical reports on Todd Gurley were so positive that there was no way he was going to last until No. 16. The Texans were fine with that because they were able to obtain the No. 2 player on their realistic draft board for the 16th pick, Kevin Johnson. The tall Wake corner was generating a ton of buzz heading into the draft, as multiple teams told us to move him into the top 16 of our mock drafts. Johnson will start across from Kareem Jackson in 2016 and beyond, and he’ll provide needed depth this season.

The Texans traded up for a pair of players on Day 2. I’m normally not a fan of teams moving up, but both of Houston’s transactions made a ton of sense. The team coveted Benardrick McKinney, but he was not going to fall to them. Viewed by some as the No. 1 inside linebacker in this class, McKinney will be able to displace the disappointing Brian Cushing. Jaelen Strong, meanwhile, was an absolute steal in the third round, given that he was considered to be a fringe first-day prospect. He could emerge as the No. 2 receiver as a rookie.

Despite these two deals, the Texans still had four selections on Day 3. The best one was Christian Covington, who was a bargain in the seventh round. I wasn’t a fan of the team’s third-day choices before that, however.

Overall, I really liked what Houston did in the draft. The team filled its biggest needs with talented players, and it’ll be better in 2015 as a result. Now, if only the Texans had a quarterback…

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

16. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest: B+ Grade
The Texans weren’t going to select Melvin Gordon because they targeted Kevin Johnson all along, once they realized that Todd Gurley was not going to fall to them. We were advised to put Johnson in the top half of our mock drafts by several teams leading up to the draft. Johnson didn’t get much buzz amongst the media because he wasn’t a sexy name, but he’s a very skilled cornerback and a very underrated prospect. He projects as a strong No. 2 corner across from Kareem Jackson once Johnathan Joseph moves on.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

43. Benardrick McKinney, ILB, Mississippi State: B Grade
The Texans really liked Benardrick McKinney heading into the draft, but never thought they’d have a chance to get him in the middle of the second round. That’s why they surrendered fourth- and sixth-round selections to move up for him. I’m not crazy about the trade because there are numerous other inside linebackers worth taking like Denzel Perryman and Eric Kendricks, but there’s no denying that Houston is getting good value with McKinney.

70. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: A+ Grade
As you can tell, I’m not a fan of teams trading up. Not unless it’s a special circumstance. I’d say this is a special circumstance. Jaelen Strong easily could’ve gone at the end of the first round. Watching him fall out of the second frame was shocking. The Texans had to be equally surprised, as they moved up to snag him. Strong should be able to develop into Houston’s No. 2 receiver across from DeAndre Hopkins.

175. Keith Mumphery, WR, Michigan State: C Grade
The Texans waited a while to make a selection on Day 3, and this one is a bit of a disappointment. Keith Mumphery is a strong receiver, but has major issues with drops. Besides, with Jaelen Strong on the roster now, it’s hard to figure out where Mumphery fits in.

211. Reshard Cliett, LB, South Florida: C Grade
I’m not sure Reshard Cliett will make Houston’s roster. He’s a poor fit for its defense, so he’ll be relegated to special teams only. I didn’t list him as a draftable prospect.

217. Christian Covington, DT, Rice: A Grade
I’ve consistently had Christian Covington going in the third or fourth round, so this drop is puzzling. He has a knee issue, but I didn’t think it was major enough to make him fall this far. The Texans aren’t complaining, as they’re getting a solid prospect late in the draft.

235. Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU: B Grade
Some viewed the other LSU running back as the better prospect, but the Texans, who excel at finding running backs late in the draft or as UDFAs, might have hit on another prospect. Kenny Hilliard is a tough runner who stands a decent chance of making the roster.

Season Summary:
If the Texans had an above-average quarterback, they would’ve made the playoffs. If they had a good quarterback, they’d definitely be a Super Bowl contender. That’s how important the signal-caller position is in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Texans, they don’t have one, and there isn’t much hope on the horizon in that regard.

Offseason Moves:
  • Texans waive S D.J. Swearinger
  • Texans sign S Stevie Brown
  • Texans sign RB Chris Polk
  • Texans announce retirement of G Wade Smith
  • Texans re-sign G Cody White
  • Texans sign WR Nate Washington
  • Texans re-sign ILB Akeem Dent
  • Texans sign WR Cecil Shorts
  • Texans sign NT Vince Wilfork
  • Ravens sign S Kendrick Lewis
  • Browns sign QB Thad Lewis
  • Texans sign S Rahim Moore
  • Colts sign WR Andre Johnson
  • Jets acquire QB Ryan Fitzpatrick from Texans for conditional pick
  • Falcons sign DE/OLB Brooks Reed
  • Texans re-sign ILB Jeff Tarpinian
  • Rams acquire QB Case Keenum from Texans for 2016 7th-round pick
  • Texans cut QB Thad Lewis
  • Texans cut WR Andre Johnson
  • Texans sign QB Brian Hoyer
  • Texans re-sign WR Damaris Johnson
  • Texans re-sign QB Ryan Mallett
  • Texans re-sign CB Kareem Jackson
  • Texans re-sign OT Derek Newton
  • Texans cut C Chris Myers

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: As mentioned the season summary, the Texans were a good quarterback away from contending for the Super Bowl. I don’t know how they’re going to land a franchise-caliber signal-caller; they may have to take a shot on a second-day prospect. Signed Brian Hoyer; re-signed Ryan Mallett

    2. Center: Long-time center Chris Myers was released because of financial A replacement is needed.

    3. Safety: Former second-round pick D.J. Swearinger has been a major bust. Perhaps he’ll turn things around, but the Texans will definitely be interested in Landon Collins if he makes it to them at No. 16. Signed Rahim Moore and Stevie Brown

    4. Wide Receiver: Andre Johnson was cut, so the Texans need to find a new No. 2 receiver across from DeAndre Hopkins. Signed Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington

    5. Right Tackle: The Texans have a good offensive line, but finding a right tackle better than Derek Newton is definitely on the agenda. Getting a franchise left tackle and moving Duane Brown over to the right side isn’t out of the question either. Re-signed Derek Newton

    6. Inside Linebacker: Brian Cushing was a big disappointment this past season, and even if he returns, an inside linebacker will be in play come Round 2 of the 2015 NFL Draft.

    7. Cornerback: Houston may spend one of its early draft choices on a cornerback if Kareem Jackson doesn’t re-sign with the team prior to the beginning of free agency. Re-signed Kareem Jackson

    8. Defensive End: J.J. Watt is the best player in the NFL, but he’s the only talented five-technique Houston has, as the team never found a replacement for Antonio Smith. Jared Crick was fine, but he’s just a rotational-type player.

    9. Rush Linebacker: Pass-rushing depth is needed, especially with Brooks Reed heading into free agency.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Rahim Moore, S, Broncos. Age: 25.
      Signed with Texans (3 years, $12 million)

      Rahim Moore nearly lost his leg a year ago because of lateral compartment syndrome and didn’t look like the same player in 2014. However, he’s still young (25 on Feb. 11), so perhaps he can get back to where he was. Moore didn’t play poorly this past season, but he wasn’t nearly as effective.

    2. Vince Wilfork, NT, Patriots. Age: 33.
      Signed with Texans

      Vince Wilfork is now a free agent because the Patriots declined to pick up his 2015 option. New England didn’t effectively cut him because he played poorly last year; the team simply needed cap space to retain Darrelle Revis. Wilfork can still play well as a run-stuffing nose tackle, though his age (34 in November) is definitely a concern.

    3. Stevie Brown, S, Giants. Age: 28.
      Signed with Texans

      Stevie Brown was benched early in the season, but he played well once he regained the starting job late in the year. Brown may not have been 100 percent coming off his knee injury.

    4. Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars. Age: 27.
      Signed with Texans

      Cecil Shorts, the King of Garbage Time Receiving Yardage, would be rated higher on this list, but he just can’t stay healthy. If he were more reliable, he’d be a decent No. 2 option.

    5. Brian Hoyer, QB, Browns. Age: 29.
      Signed with Texans

      Brian Hoyer began the year well, but things quickly fell apart for him when Alex Mack was lost for the season. Hoyer proved that he can be a very strong backup in this league, but he needs everything to be right for things to go well for him.

    6. Nate Washington, WR, Titans. Age: 32. — Signed with Texans
    7. Chris Polk (RFA), RB, Eagles. Age: 25. — Signed with Texans

    Houston Texans Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Kareem Jackson, CB, Texans. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Texans (4 years, $34 million)

      Kareem Jackson showed up to training camp overweight in 2013 and struggled as a consequence. He lost those pounds this past season and thrived as a consequence. He played well this year, though he missed a few games with a knee injury.

    2. Chris Myers, C, Texans. Age: 33.
      Chris Myers had been with the Texans since 2008, but he was released because of salary reasons. Counting $8 million against the cap, Myers just had to be let go. He’ll turn 34 in September, but he still played very well last year, particularly in terms of run blocking. Myers is just an average pass protector, and he’ll regress soon, but he should be a viable starter over the next two seasons.

    3. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans. Age: 34.
      Signed with Colts (3 years, $21 million)

      Andre Johnson gave the Texans so many great years of service, but he was dumped for financial reasons, as he was due $21.5 million over the next two seasons. Johnson, 34 in July, can still play, though obviously not as well as he was capable of in the past. He caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns in 2014, just one year after accumulating 1,407 receiving yards. Johnson might have one or two more solid years left in the tank, though he’s definitely not a No. 1 receiver anymore.

    4. Kendrick Lewis, S, Texans. Age: 27.
      Signed with Ravens (3 years)

      Kendrick Lewis got off to a strong start to his career in Kansas City, but managed to regress each season. The Chiefs eventually gave up on him, but he rebounded with a decent season in Houston.

    5. Brooks Reed, DE/OLB/ILB, Texans. Age: 28.
      Signed with Falcons (5 years, $22 million)

      Brooks Reed never became a consistent pass-rusher – he has 7.5 sacks over the past three seasons – but he can play the run well and is capable of lining up anywhere in a 3-4 linebacking corps.

    6. Derek Newton, OT, Texans. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Texans (5 years)

      Derek Newton played some of the best football of his career down the stretch in 2014, but it’s hard to trust him to remain consistent in pass protection.

    7. Ryan Mallett, QB, Texans. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Texans (2 years, $7 million)

      Ryan Mallett had one solid start before capsizing in his next game with a chest injury. He was then put on IR. Mallett has great arm strength, but the mental part of his game is a big question mark.

    8. Tim Jamison, DE/DT, Texans. Age: 29.
    9. Danieal Manning, S, Texans. Age: 33.
    10. Jeff Tarpinian, ILB, Texans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Texans
    11. Akeem Dent, ILB, Texans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Texans
    12. Thad Lewis, QB, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Browns
    13. Damaris Johnson (RFA), WR, Texans. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Texans
    14. Cody White, G, Texans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Texans


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