Houston Texans (Last Year: 10-6)
2020 NFL Season Preview:
RB David Johnson, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Randall Cobb, OT Brent Qvale, S Jaylen Watkins, S Eric Murray.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Ross Blacklock, DE/OLB Jonathan Greenard, OT Charlie Heck, CB John Reid. Texans Rookie Forecast
RB Carlos Hyde, RB Lamar Miller, WR DeAndre Hopkins, NT D.J. Reader, S Jaleel Addae.
2020 Houston Texans Offense:
Those who defend Bill O'Brien will point to the fact that the Texans regularly reach the playoffs. This, however, was initially because of a great roster one of the best scouting departments in the NFL assembled. Lately, it's all been Deshaun Watson, who has been able to carry the team to the postseason over the past two years. O'Brien, who was against the Watson selection when it happened, has made things more difficult for his elite quarterback this offseason by trading one of the top receivers in the NFL, DeAndre Hopkins, for just a second-round pick and a decrepit running back.
Hopkins' departure will limit the offense, though Watson will still be able to carry the team to some victories. He doesn't have a bad remaining supporting cast, as the two incumbent receivers, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, are both dynamic downfield play-makers. The Texans also acquired Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb this offseason. Cooks has plenty of talent as a former first-round pick, though he really struggled with the Rams last year and ultimately lost his role. Cobb, conversely, is very injury-prone and unreliable. While all four of these receivers have upside, they also have low floors. Fuller tends to get banged up often; Stills is inconsistent; and Cooks could continue to underperform and be toxic in the locker room.
O'Brien better hope that David Johnson ends up being worth it. Johnson was once one of the top running backs in the NFL, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy in recent years. He has also lost some of his explosion. He can still be a reliable receiver out of the backfield, so Watson will utilize him heavily, but there's no reason he should've been the player Houston acquired for a stud like Hopkins.
Watson didn't need a diminished supporting cast because he already had difficulty behind his poor offensive line. Aside from left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the Texans don't have any solid starters on their unit. There's a chance that 2019 first-rounder Tytus Howard becomes one because of his great upside, but he's still so raw that it might take him another year to even be a viable player.
The interior of Houston's front is in worse shape. Center Nick Martin is fine, but guards Max Scharping and Zach Fulton both performed poorly last year. Scharping is at least a young player - he was a second-round pick in 2019 - but he's not ready to be an NFL starter quite yet. A competent personnel man would've found at least one offensive line upgrade this offseason, but O'Brien was too busy conjuring up horrible deals.
2020 Houston Texans Defense:
The 2019 Texans season preview discussed how J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney were the three pillars of Houston's excellent defense. Things changed months after, as Clowney was foolishly dealt to the Seahawks for a minimum return. This was yet another horrible trade by O'Brien, and it was clear what sort of impact Clowney's absence had on the team. The Texans surrendered 25.3 points per game in 2019, compared to 19.8 in 2018.
With Clowney gone, the Texans had just Watt and Mercilus to rush the passer. Watt is obviously a phenomenal player and a future Hall of Famer, but he's not quite the same player as he was earlier in his career because of the injuries. Watt has missed 32 games in the past four years, including eight in 2019. He was still outstanding when on the field, but the Texans can't count on him playing for more than half the year. Mercilus, meanwhile, is coming off a bit of a down 2019 campaign, so the Texans had to use an early draft choice on Jonathan Greenard. The Florida product is a quick edge rusher with plenty of upside, but may need a year to develop.
The run defense would also be impacted if Watt were to suffer yet another injury. That's horrible news because the Texans also lost monstrous nose tackle D.J. Reader to free agency. Houston signed former Eagle and Raven Timmy Jernigan in response, though that acquisition was negated because Jernigan couldn't pass a physical. The Texans used a second-round selection on TCU defensive tackle Ross Blacklock, who is a well-rounded prospect with lots of promise. He should be able to start immediately.
The edge rush and defensive line aren't the only areas of weakness on this side of the ball. Cornerback has been a major issue ever since A.J. Bouye departed for Jacksonville. Bradley Roby can sometimes be a solid corner, but he's very inconsistent. Former first-rounder Gareon Conley also has some great potential, but hasn't quite lived up to it just yet.
The best player in Houston's secondary will continue to be third-year safety Justin Reid, who is coming off an excellent 2019 campaign. Eric Murray is the other starting safety, but he can be a liability.
Rounding out the defense, the Texans have a pair of solid linebackers patrolling the middle of their defense. Both Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney are quality players, though Cunningham has the upside to make a big leap in his fourth season as a pro.
2020 Houston Texans Schedule and Intangibles:
The Texans have developed a pretty strong home-field advantage at Reliant Stadium in recent years. They've been 43-19 as hosts in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019. The 2013 and 2017 seasons should be discarded because of countless injuries.
No touchdowns were scored for or against the Texans' special teams, but they outgained the opposition on both punts and kickoffs.
Ka'imi Fairbairn was 37-of-42 in 2018, including 4-of-6 from 50-plus. However, he regressed a bit last year, going 20-of-25 with five missed extra points.
Bryan Anger finished second in the NFL in net punting average, only behind Jacksonville's Logan Cooke.
The Texans could be buried by their early-season schedule. They begin at Kansas City, and then have to play the Ravens, Steelers and Vikings. Following an easy game against the Jaguars, they'll have to battle the Titans and the Packers.
2020 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.
2020 Houston Texans Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2020 Houston Texans Analysis:
The Texans have reached the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, but it'll be a difficult task for them to make it three in a row. They need many things to go right for them. They'll need oft-injured players like David Johnson, Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks and J.J. Watt to remain healthy. They'll need someone on the offensive line to take a big step forward so that Deshaun Watson's pass protection is improved. They'll need some of their erratic defensive players, like their two cornerbacks, to perform up to their abilities. And, they'll also need Bill O'Brien not to conduct any other awful trades. There's a chance the Texans will reach the postseason again, but many things must go right for them.
7-9 (3rd in AFC South)
2019 Projection: 8-8. 2019 Actual Result: 10-6.
2018 Projection: 12-4. 2018 Actual Result: 11-5.
2017 Projection: 8-8. 2017 Actual Result: 4-12.
2016 Projection: 11-5. 2016 Actual Result: 9-7.
NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade
Goals Entering the 2020 NFL Draft: The true goal the Texans should have is to fire Bill O'Brien and then to re-hire their former great scouting department, which would routinely find steals late in the draft like Arian Foster, A.J. Bouye and Christian Covington. That's not realistic, however, so Houston fans should just pray that O'Brien recognizes that Deshaun Watson needs lots of help. Watson's protection must be upgraded. Defensive improvements at cornerback and the edge rush are also essential. However, the Texans have just two picks in the first four rounds because of O'Brien's incompetence, so Houston won't be able to upgrade its roster very much.
2020 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I couldn't believe my eyes when the Texans selected Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard with their first two picks. They actually weren't terrible decisions. I expected Bill O'Brien to trade one of those choices for Rex Burkhead, but he actually made some good moves to bolster a defensive line that lost D.J. Reader and improve a pass rush that missed Jadeveon Clowney. Even a blind nut finds a squirrel sometimes, as a Hall of Fame running back once said.
I really only disliked one pick of Chief O'Brien's, which was John Reid. That wasn't a big deal, however, and it pales in comparison to not really improving the offensive line. Houston snatched Charlie Heck in the fourth round, which was a decent choice, but the team needed to find more upgrades up front.
Still, O'Brien didn't completely embarrass himself, which is a victory for the franchise. I'm sure there will be more horrible transactions to come, but the Texans are saved from yet another poor grade on this day.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
40. Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU - A Grade
The Texans lost D.J. Reader, so I can see why they'd pursue Ross Blacklock. Reader's departure created a huge void on the defensive front, and Blacklock projects to be a similar player. He's a huge presence who will clamp down on the run, and he'll be able to offer some pass-rushing juice. I'm usually down on the moves the Texans make, but this is a very good selection. I'm shocked!
90. Jonathan Greenard, DE/OLB, Florida - B+ Grade
It's disappointing that the Texans aren't providing any sort of blocking for Deshaun Watson, but it makes sense that they would bolster their front seven. They needed to add another edge rusher to help replace Jadeveon Clowney. Greenard is a very quick edge rusher with upside, and he fits the range in the middle of the third round.
126. Charlie Heck, OT, North Carolina - B Grade
The Texans have finally upgraded Deshaun Watson's pass protection. Well, maybe. Charlie Heck is a better run blocker than pass protector, so I'm not sure if Watson's protection will improve. Still, Heck is a solid choice in the fourth frame.
141. John Reid, CB, Penn State - D Grade
Leave it to Bill O'Brien to select a seventh-round prospect in the fourth frame. John Reid is small and slow, so I don't think he'll make the cut in the NFL.
171. Isaiah Coulter, WR, Rhode Island - B Grade
Isaiah Coulter made a big mistake by declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft, though he couldn't have known that he wouldn't be able to help himself because of the pandemic. Coulter is very raw, but has some good athleticism and speed. He's a project, but he could pay off for the Texans.
The Texans made the playoffs once again, thanks to Deshaun Watson's brilliant play. However, it's evident now more than ever that Bill O'Brien stands in the way of Houston's success. The Texans will never reach their full potential until they find a better head coach.
Texans acquire WR Brandin Cooks from Rams
Texans sign OT Brent Qvale
Texans sign S Jaylen Watkins
Texans sign WR Randall Cobb
Texans sign S Eric Murray
Cardinals acquire WR DeAndre Hopkins from Texans for RB David Johnson
- Two Guards: Houston's offensive line is a train wreck. It can't protect Deshaun Watson. Improving this area is the team's biggest need, but not having early draft picks will make that difficult.
- Wide Receiver: Bill O'Brien is an idiot who traded DeAndre Hopkins for nothing. Traded for Brandin Cooks; signed Randall Cobb
- Right Tackle: Here's another area on the offensive line that must be improved. Signed Brent Qvale
- Cornerback: Once the Texans bolster their offensive line, they must look to upgrading the secondary. Their defense was atrocious against the pass all year. Re-signed Bradley Roby
- Safety: Adding a better safety to go along with Justin Reid is also a priority. Signed Eric Murray and Jaylen Watkins
- Running Back: The Texans have no running game. Lamar Miller is constantly injured, while Carlos Hyde is not an effective back. Traded for David Johnson
- Edge Rusher: Aside from J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, Houston doesn't have anyone to consistently rush the passer. Another potent edge rusher is needed.
- Nose Tackle: D.J. Reader is Houston's top free agent. He's due for a big contract.
- Kicker: Ka'imi Fairbairn is a much less-important free agent than Reader, but he'll need to be re-signed or replaced as well. Re-signed Ka'imi Fairbairn
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2020 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Randall Cobb, WR, Cowboys. Age: 30.
Signed with Texans (3 years, $27 million)
Randall Cobb had a solid first year in Dallas, catching 55 passes for 828 yards and three touchdowns. He played 15 games, which is a rarity. He also turns 30 this offseason, so his injury risk will only rise.
- Jaylen Watkins, S, Chargers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Texans
- Eric Murray, S, Browns. Age: 26. -- Signed with Texans (3 years, $20.25 million)
- Brent Qvale, OT, Jets. Age: 29. -- Signed with Texans
Houston Texans Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
D.J. Reader, NT, Texans. Age: 26.
Signed with Bengals (4 years, $53 million)
D.J. Reader is one of the top nose tackles in the NFL. He's a monster when it comes to stuffing the run, and he's also pretty decent at applying pressure on the quarterback. He won't be 27 until the 2021 offseason, so the sky is the limit for him.
Bradley Roby, CB, Texans. Age: 28.
Re-signed with Texans (3 years, $36 million)
Bradley Roby has experienced an up-and-down career thus far. He played well in 2015, struggled the year after, bounced back at a high level in 2017, then performed poorly once again the following season. He had a solid 2019 campaign, so that just means he's due to decline in 2020.
Ka'imi Fairbairn, K, Texans. Age: 26.
Re-signed with Texans (4 years, $17.6 million)
Ka'imi Fairbairn has been a steady presence for the Texans, connecting on 80 percent of his passes in each of his three seasons. However, he missed five extra points in 2019.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Texans. Age: 30.
Signed with Seahawks
Carlos Hyde was especially mediocre as Houston's starter last year. He ran for 1,070 yards, but that just proved that stats can sometimes be misleading.
Lamar Miller, RB, Texans. Age: 29.
Lamar Miller tore his ACL and MCL prior to the 2019 season, s it's unclear if he'll ever be 100 percent. The Texans were never big fans of his in the first place.
- Jahleel Addae, S, Texans. Age: 30.
- Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Texans. Age: 25. -- Re-signed with Texans (1 year)
- Mike Adams, S, Texans. Age: 39. -- Announced retirement
- A.J. McCarron, QB, Texans. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Texans
- Brandon Dunn, NT, Texans. Age: 27.
- Chris Clark, OT, Texans. Age: 34.
- Phillip Gaines, CB, Texans. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Texans
- Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, Texans. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
- Joe Webb, QB, Texans. Age: 33.
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