Houston Texans Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Bernardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State – Round 2
If Brian Cushing doesn’t turn his play around in 2015, he can expect to be a cap casualty next offseason. In 2014, the play of the middle linebackers was the only repeat weakness on the Texans; defense. It was a bad sign when Mike Mohamed provided Houston with a boost in play in the middle of the defense. With that being the case, the Texans targeted an inside linebacker early in the 2015 NFL Draft as they traded up in the second round to land McKinney.

McKinney proved to be a real presence for Mississippi State over the past few seasons. He was a tough run-defender in the tackle box who also showed the ability to move around the field in pass coverage. The Bulldogs shifted McKinney around, and he had success rushing the quarterback as well. With his speed and athleticism, the 6-foot-4, 246-pounder could be a three-down NFL starter who helps in man coverage on tight ends.

McKinney will probably start next to Cushing as a rookie. Before long though, McKinney will probably take over as the lead middle linebacker in Houston. He has a ton of upside and should develop into a really solid starter in the NFL.

Most Likely To Bust

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State – Round 3
There were some teams that had a first-round grade on Strong, so the Texans moving up to land him in the third round makes a ton of sense. The team lost a big receiver in Andre Johnson but Strong could help to fill that void. With smart coaches guiding the Texans’ offense, Strong could easily pan out, but of first top three picks I see the most bust potential with Strong.

There are a few reasons why I have Strong as the most likely to bust. First of all, the 6-foot-2, 217-pounder could have a hard time separating from NFL cornerbacks. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he struggles to get open against man coverage. Strong is a raw route-runner who didn’t run a full route tree at Arizona State, so he is going to need development there. Off the field, Strong was known as a hard partier at Arizona State, so that brings into question how he will handle the fame and money of being an NFL player.

Obviously, Houston’s No. 1 receiver for 2015, and probably beyond, is DeAndre Hopkins. It wouldn’t surprise me if Strong has a hard time seeing the field as a rookie and doesn’t beat out veterans Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington for snaps. Strong will have to work hard and be focused to be a success in the NFL.

Potential Boom Pick

Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest – Round 1
If Johnson had attended Alabama, Notre Dame, USC, Michigan State or LSU, I think he would have been a top-10 pick. He was a great player on some bad teams at Wake Forest. As a result, I think Johnson didn’t receive the acclaim that he deserved. As a player, Johnson is a well-rounded prospect who didn’t display any weaknesses as a cover corner. In speaking with sources from a variety of teams, they feel that Johnson stands a good chance of emerging as a legitimate No. 1 corner and a Pro Bowler.

The 6-foot, 188-pound Johnson can do it all. He has shown the ability to play off-man and press-man coverage, plus has good height and length to match up against big receivers. With his quick feet and straight-line speed, Johnson also has the ability to run with speed receivers downfield. The only potential flaw is a slight frame, but he should be able to add weight in an NFL strength and conditioning program.

Johnson landed in a perfect situation. He is on a great defense with the best pass-rusher and defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. Johnson also has two good veteran corners ahead of him in Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph, so Johnson will be able to develop and not be under pressure to match up with No. 1 receivers until he’s ready. Joseph is a great teammate and leader who will help Johnson learn what it takes to be a Pro Bowler. I think Johnson could easily end up being a boom pick for the Texans.

Future Depth Player

Reshard Cliett, LB, South Florida – Round 6
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder is a very fast linebacker who can run sideline to sideline. Cliett was played out of position at South Florida, but a lot of teams were interested in him on the third day of the 2015 NFL Draft. He could prove to be a rotational linebacker for the Texans when they want a fast run-and-chase linebacker in the game. Cliett also should be a core special teams player. He may never be a featured starter, but he could turn into a valuable backup and teams standout.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft 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.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: A- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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