2018 NFL Offseason: Houston Texans

Houston Texans (Last Year: 4-12)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Joe Webb, OT Seantrel Henderson, G Zach Fulton, G Senio Kelemete, CB Aaron Colvin, S Tyrann Mathieu, S Johnson Bademosi.
Early Draft Picks:
S Justin Reid, OT Martinas Rankin, TE Jordan Akins, WR Keke Coutee. Texans Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Tom Savage, OT Chris Clark, OT Derek Newton, G Xavier Su’a-Filo, ILB Brian Cushing, CB Marcus Williams, S Marcus Gilchrist, S Eddie Pleasant.

2018 Houston Texans Offense:
Houston’s scoring unit looked like it was going to be incredibly potent last year. Rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson was improving each week, and he had his best game against a healthy Seattle defense. He went 19-of-30 for 402 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions (one pick was at the end in desperation mode) to go along with 67 rushing yards. Watson made some mistakes with the other two picks, but he otherwise mercilessly torched the Legion of Boom, which was completely intact in that contest.

Unfortunately for the Texans, Watson suffered a season-ending ACL tear in practice the following week, so the Seattle game was his final one of the year. Watson, however, is expected to be 100 percent by the season opener. He’s been working extremely hard to get ready for 2018. It’s apparent that he has been putting in a ton of effort, as he has jacked himself up to look like one of the linebackers.

Watson finished his rookie campaign with 21 total touchdowns (19 passing, 2 rushing) and just eight interceptions in just six-and-a-half games. He should continue to post similar, or even better figures in 2018, given his great receiving corps. DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the top wideout in the NFL. Hopkins has been able to be extremely productive no matter who his quarterback has been, and it’s scary to think of what he could accomplish with a fully healthy Watson for an entire year. Will Fuller, meanwhile, is a dynamic speed threat who caught five passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the aforementioned Seattle game. The Texans also spent a third-round pick on tight end Jordan Akins, who should be able to offer an upgrade at the position.

Houston didn’t have many draft picks – none in the first two rounds – so the team didn’t have any sort of chance to upgrade the offensive line. The blocking unit figures to be an absolute mess as a result. The current starting tackles are expected to be the ultra-raw Julie’n Davenport and pedestrian Seantrel Henderson. A third-round pick was used on Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin, and given the state of the Texans’ offensive line, Rankin could start right away. It’s unclear if Rankin has the ability to play tackle in the pros – some see him as a guard – but he’s very intelligent, so he’ll be able to pick things up quickly. Davenport, meanwhile, has drawn rave reviews in practice, but it remains to be seen if that’ll translate to live action.

It doesn’t get much better for the Texans in the interior. The best of these three blockers is probably center Nick Martin. A second-round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft, Martin missed his entire rookie campaign and then struggled last year. However, he never seemed healthy because of a problematic ankle, so perhaps his play will improve if he’s at full strength. Martin will be sandwiched by guards Zach Fulton and Jeff Allen, in all likelihood. Fulton played in Kansas City last year. He wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t very effective either. Allen, meanwhile, is also a former Chief, but has struggled with injuries in recent seasons.

There are health concerns in the running back corps as well. D’Onta Foreman flashed at the end of last season, but tore his Achilles in mid-November. It’s unclear if he’ll be ready by the 2018 opener. If not, there’s always Lamar Miller, though Miller fell out of favor with the coaching staff late in the year. Miller lost touches to Alfred Blue, which wasn’t a surprise, given that he has completely worn down. Regardless, it’ll be difficult for any Houston back to run well, given the status of the offensive line.

2018 Houston Texans Defense:
Deshaun Watson was just one of several prominent Texans to suffer a season-ending injury last year. The other great Houston players to go down were on this side of the ball, as both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were lost for the year on the same drive of a Sunday night battle against the Chiefs.

The Watt injury may have been a blessing in disguise. He wasn’t completely healthy because of his ailing back, so when he hurt his knee, it allowed his back to completely heal. There’s optimism within the Texans organization that Watt will be 100 percent for the first time in a long while in 2018, which is obviously great news. Watt, aside from perhaps Aaron Donald, is the best defensive player in the entire NFL when completely healthy. Having him at full strength will be huge.

Watt will start along with D.J. Reader and Christian Covington on the defensive line. The Texans were stout against the run last year, despite their numerous injuries, because Reader and Covington clamped down on ground attacks very effectively. If the Texans had more resources this offseason, they could’ve added another defensive lineman to get after the quarterback, but they still have a good group.

Speaking of applying pressure on the quarterback, Mercilus will return from his torn pectoral. Mercilus had 19.5 sacks in the two seasons prior to 2017, so his pass-rushing talents were missed. Mercilus will once again start across from Jadeveon Clowney, who has emerged as one of the top edge rushers in the entire league. There isn’t much depth behind the two, though sixth-round rookie Duke Ejiofor might have something to say about that.

Having Watt and Mercilus back was already projected to help a secondary that struggled mightily last year. Some important new additions will improve the aerial defense as well though. The big name was Tyrann Mathieu. This signing was absolutely enormous. Mathieu can play anywhere, but is likely to start at strong safety. He’s a dynamic play-maker and a huge problem-solver, and he’ll help Houston’s defense immensely. Mathieu will start alongside Andre Hal, who had a solid, but unspectacular 2017 campaign.

The other new addition to the secondary is slot cornerback Aaron Colvin, who is coming off a strong season for Jacksonville. Adding a second corner would’ve been ideal, as the Texans will have to once again count on Johnathan Joseph. The 34-year-old was once a great player, but he has regressed because of age recently. Houston will also need one of Kareem Jackson or Kevin Johnson to bounce back from dismal 2017 campaigns. Both have played well in the past, but Johnson’s career has been a roller coaster because of injuries.

Rounding out the defense is a linebacking corps that will move on without Brian Cushing. That’s perfectly fine for the Texans, as Benardrick McKinney and Zach Cunningham were both better last year anyway. McKinney wasn’t very good in coverage, but thrived in run support. Cunningham, on the other hand, was prolific as a rookie. The former second-round steal has great potential.

2018 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
The Texans have developed a pretty strong home-field advantage at Reliant Stadium in recent years. They were 31-13 as hosts in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The 2013 and 2017 seasons should be discarded because of countless injuries.

The Texans were even with teams on kickoff returns, but they really struggled in the punt-returning department, getting outgained by an average of four yards.

New kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn was average last year. He went 20-of-25, missing some short kicks, but he was 3-of-4 from 50-plus.

Shane Lechler continues to be one of the best punters in the NFL despite his age (42 in August). He was 10th in net average last year.

The Texans have a difficult schedule to start, as three of their first four contests are on the road, and one happens to be at New England. Things get much easier after that, however, as Houston will battle the Bills, Dolphins, Browns, Colts and Jets in a span of nine games.

2018 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.

2018 Houston Texans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Houston Texans Analysis: Excluding offensive line and running back, the Texans have Super Bowl-caliber players at every position of their roster. Deshaun Watson has been working extremely hard this offseason, and it should pay off. The defensive stars, meanwhile, are all healthy. Though blocking is a problem, Houston has one of the top overall rosters in the entire NFL, so a Super Bowl appearance is hardly out of the question.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in AFC South)

2017 Projection: 8-8. 2016 Actual Result: 4-12.
2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Texans don’t have a pick until the third round, so it’ll be difficult for them to make wholesale changes to their 2018 outlook. Luckily for them, their forecast is already bright because of Deshaun Watson. Houston needs to spend some energy finding better blockers for Watson. Some help in the secondary is needed as well.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Houston’s draft was a tale of two days, partly because they didn’t have a pick on the initial day of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Texans weren’t on the clock until the third round, when they obtained an absolute steal in Justin Reid. A versatile safety, Reid could’ve been chosen at the end of Thursday night. At the very least, he should’ve been taken in the top 50.

Houston’s next three picks were all about helping Watson. Martinas Rankin should provide an upgrade on the offensive line; Jordan Akins might finally fix the woes Houston has had at tight end since Owen Daniels left; and Keke Coutee could contribute as a slot receiver.

That said, the Texans didn’t make any late picks I liked, as their third-day choices weren’t nearly as strong as the ones they made on Day 2. They also failed to upgrade the offensive front outside of Rankin. I think this was a big mistake, as at least two or maybe even three selections should’ve been used on blockers. This is my primary problem with Houston’s haul; otherwise, the team did fairly well for not being able to pick until No. 68.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

68. Justin Reid, S, Stanford A+ Grade
This might just be the best pick in the third round, and it’s not a surprise, given that the Texans are making it. Houston has one of the top front offices in the NFL, and it’s getting an absolute steal in Reid, who could have gone at the end of the first round. Reid is a very versatile safety who will be able to play all over in Romeo Crennel’s secondary.

80. Martinas Rankin, OT/G, Mississippi State A- Grade
No one should be surprised that the Texans are addressing their offensive line, as they absolutely need to protect Deshaun Watson. It’ll be interesting to see if the Texans use Martinas Rankin at offensive tackle or guard, as he could play in both spots. Rankin could’ve gone in the second round without any qualms, so I like this selection.

98. Jordan Akins, TE, Central Florida B- Grade
The Texans wanted to add a new tight end, as they’ve struggled at the position since Owen Daniels’ departure. Jordan Akins has his fans and haters, however. Akins has extreme potential with some great athletic ability, so he could become a dominant pro. However, he has motivational and health issues, so there’s a good chance he flops as well. I would’ve liked this pick better in the fourth round, but it’s not a bad one.

103. Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech C Grade
I’m not a big fan of this pick. Keke Coutee seemed like a solid fourth- or fifth-round prospect to me, but I would’ve liked to have seen the Texans go after their offensive line or secondary. There were plenty of solid prospects available for those positions, and someone of Coutee’s caliber could’ve been taken a bit later.

177. Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest C+ Grade
I’m curious about this fit. I thought Duke Ejiofor would be better off in a 4-3. I don’t like him too much in Houston’s scheme, and I also worry about his consistency and motor. That’s why he dropped to the sixth round. I don’t hate this selection, but I don’t think it’ll pan out.

211. Jordan Thomas, TE, Mississippi State C Grade
Jordan Thomas looks like an NFL starting tight end, but he hasn’t played like one at all. Thomas is incredibly inconsistent who will need to be coached up and motivated. There were better options available.

214. Peter Kalambayi, DE/OLB, Stanford C Grade
The Texans are taking several players on Day 3 who never lived up to their potential. When I was planning a 2018 NFL Mock Draft two years ago, Peter Kalambayi was one of the names I was considering. Unfortunately, he never played well in Stanford, and it’s not like he was being coached up. He has potential, but will likely continue to slack off.

222. Jermaine Kelly, CB, San Jose State C Grade
Jermaine Kelly transferred from Washington to San Jose State because he was benched. If he couldn’t start for the Huskies, how will he make it in the pros? I did not see Kelly as a draftable prospect, or even a priority UDFA.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Texans looked like they were going to make a playoff run with their rookie quarterback, Deshaun Watson, after his brilliant performance against the Seahawks. Unfortunately, he got hurt after that, joining J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on the injury report. All three will be back next year, and Houston certainly will have Super Bowl aspirations.

Offseason Moves:
  • Texans sign QB Joe Webb
  • Texans sign S Tyrann Mathieu
  • Texans sign S Johnson Bademosi
  • Texans sign G Senio Kelemete
  • Texans sign G Zach Fulton
  • Texans sign OT Seantrel Henderson
  • Texans sign CB Aaron Colvin

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Offensive Tackles: Houston’s No. 1 priority is protecting Deshaun Watson. The team had a talented tackle in Duane Brown, but dealt him to Seattle. Two offensive tackles are now needed, and they’ll have to be obtained in free agency because the Texans don’t have picks in the first two rounds. Signed Seantrel Henderson

    2. Guard: The Texans’ guards are also weak. Jeff Allen and Xavier Su’a-Filo were both disappointments in 2017, and the latter is an impending free agent. Perhaps Allen will rebound, but he is also expensive and could be cut. If so, Houston will need two guards. Signed Zach Fulton and Senio Kelemete

    3. Two Cornerbacks: Houston’s defensive priority is to bolster the secondary. Two cornerbacks need to be acquired, especially if Johnathan Joseph isn’t re-signed. Joseph turns 34 this offseason anyway. Signed Aaron Colvin; re-signed Johnathan Joseph

    4. Safety: Marcus Gilchrist played well for the Texans in 2017 despite tearing his patellar tendon, but he’s set to hit free agency in March. Signed Tyrann Mathieu and Johnson Bademosi

    5. Edge Rushing Depth: Houston needs an insurance policy in case Whitney Mercilus or Jadeveon Clowney gets hurt this upcoming season. The team missed John Simon, who left for Indianapolis last spring.

    6. Slot Receiver: Bruce Ellington is an impending free agent, and Houston may not trust him because of his injury history. Re-signed Bruce Ellington

    7. Defensive Line Depth: The Texans could use some depth on their defensive front.

    8. Punter: Shane Lechler, 42 this offseason, has an expiring contract as well. Re-signed Shane Lechler

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Tyrann Mathieu, S/CB, Cardinals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Texans (1 year)

      Wow, this is a stunner. The Cardinals wanted Tyrann Mathieu to take a pay cut, but when he wouldn’t budge, they just cut him. Mathieu was one of the top defensive players in the NFL in 2015, but tore his ACL. He struggled the following year because he returned way too early. He was better this past season, but not quite himself yet. There’s a very good chance, however, that Mathieu will finally be 100 percent in 2018, and if so, he’ll arguably be a top-five defensive back. Mathieu can play anywhere you ask him in the secondary, and he’ll turn only 26 in May, so he still has a very bright future ahead of him.

    2. Aaron Colvin, CB, Jaguars. Age: 26.
      Signed with Texans (4 years)

      Aaron Colvin fell in the 2014 NFL Draft because of a torn ACL. It paid off for the Jaguars, as Colvin has served as a very effective slot corner. Just 26, Colvin should continue to improve.

    3. Zach Fulton, G, Chiefs. Age: 26.
      Signed with Texans

      Despite being a sixth-round pick in 2014, Zach Fulton started at guard all year for the Chiefs, handling himself somewhat well in pass protection. At just 26, he still has plenty of room for growth.

    4. Johnson Bademosi, S, Patriots. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Texans (2 years)
    5. Senio Kelemete, G, Saints. Age: 28. — Signed with Texans (3 years)
    6. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with Texans
    7. Joe Webb, QB, Bills. Age: 31. — Signed with Texans
    8. Brandon Weeden, QB, Titans. Age: 34. — Signed with Texans

    Houston Texans Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Shane Lechler, P, Texans. Age: 42.
      Re-signed with Texans (1 year)

      Shane Lechler has been one of the greatest punters in NFL history, and he continues to rank among the league leaders in net punting. He turns 42 in August, however, and could decide to retire.

    2. Marcus Gilchrist, S, Texans. Age: 29.
      Signed with Raiders

      Marcus Gilchrist is coming off the best season of his career, which is a surprise because he tore his patellar tendon the prior December. Gilchrist could have a couple more solid years remaining in the tank if his knee issue doesn’t resurface.

    3. Johnathan Joseph, CB, Texans. Age: 34.
      Re-signed with Texans (2 years)

      Johnathan Joseph has enjoyed seven terrific years with the Texans, but he turns 34 right before the 2018 NFL Draft, so the end of his career is coming in the near future.

    4. Greg Mancz (RFA), C, Texans. Age: 26.
      Tendered by Texans (original round)

      Greg Mancz did well as a backup center for Nick Martin in 2016, but didn’t fare nearly as well at guard this past season.

    5. Bruce Ellington, WR, Texans. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Texans (1 year)

      Bruce Ellington has displayed some nice potential as a potent slot receiver, but he’s had major trouble staying healthy throughout his young career.

    6. Brian Cushing, ILB, Texans. Age: 31.
      Brian Cushing should probably have a 1.5-star rating, but he’s a former prominent player, so I’ll give him a write-up. Cushing used to be a terrific linebacker, but has struggled in coverage the past three years. Injuries haven’t helped, as he’s missed 38 games in the past six seasons. With Zach Cunningham and Benadrick McKinney thriving, Cushing was very expendable.

    7. Eddie Pleasant, S, Texans. Age: 29.
    8. Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Titans
    9. Tom Savage, QB, Texans. Age: 28. — Signed with Saints
    10. Marcus Williams, CB, Texans. Age: 27. — Signed with Cardinals
    11. Chris Clark, OT, Texans. Age: 32.
    12. Alfred Blue, RB, Texans. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Jaguars
    13. Andre Ellington, RB, Texans. Age: 29.
    14. Kendall Lamm (RFA), OT, Texans. Age: 26.
    15. MyCole Pruitt (RFA), TE, Texans. Age: 26.
    16. Taylor Heinicke (RFA), QB, Texans. Age: 25.
    17. Brian Peters (RFA), ILB, Texans. Age: 29.
    18. Derek Newton, OT, Texans. Age: 30.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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