A look at the Texans roster before the draft begins on Thursday.
Nick Caserio broke the pool cue, tossed it among the roster, and walked out the backdoor. Competition. That was the mantra for the Texans free agency period. Bodies pushing against each other for roster spots in order to get the most out of each other. Rather than paying for good football players on cheap contracts, Caserio added digital shopkeepers and townspeople, with the hope that enough of them will become singles and doubles, in order to add a new layer of depth to an empty roster.
Caserio’s free agency strategy will match his draft strategy as well. Without a first or second round pick—thanks Laremy!!—Houston lacks the top draft capital to add immediate impact talent. Instead it will be about trying to find anyone who can contribute, and compete against the new and existing members of the roster. This draft probably won’t find cornerstones for the next good Texans team, but will instead hopefully find competent players who can solidify a starting position or two.
With that being said, here’s what Houston’s roster looks like entering the 2021 NFL Draft.
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Finley
The Texans went from a great football team with a bad quarterback, to a great team with a terrible head coach, to a bad team with a great quarterback, to now just a bad team, all in the span of six years.
Watson asked for a trade, and the sexual assault allegations have complicated an already complicated situation. There’s an infinitesimal chance Houston moves Watson on Thursday. If so, they’d probably be taking a lesser trade package to do it thanks to the uncertainty surrounding his playing situation. This can’t happen. A Watson trade has to be maximized. Trading him is what has to springboard the next good Texans team. Expect for him to stay here for another year.
It’s Tyrod Taylor’s team. Taylor is pretty boring. He doesn’t throw interceptions, he doesn’t make mistakes, but his deep ball is wonky along with his accuracy, and at his age, he isn’t the same sharp runner. David Culley will try to bring in what worked in Baltimore, because he knows what works, but Houston doesn’t have the quarterback or the offensive line to consistently pull it off.
The Texans should ignore the quarterback position. Third round quarterbacks are projects who rarely make it. There are too many holes on the roster to waste on something that usually maybe becomes a backup. Spending their best selection on the best player at a non-premium position to snag a starter would be the best mode of operation.
Runningback: David Johnson, Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, Dontrelle Hilliard, Buddy Howell, Scottie Phillips
As was previously described, keeping Johnson in Houston was the failure to admit failure, it was the clown readjusting his wig. Johnson is old and slow and bad, and his end of season resurgence was the result of the spread offense Tim Kelly was running with Watson. That’s gone. Taylor isn’t running five wide empty from the shotgun. Johnson is going to be bad again. They purposely thought trading DeAndre Hopkins for him was a good idea. There is no bottom.
Ingram can’t break tackles or drag defenders anymore. He was invisible in Baltimore last year. It’s a strange end of career blimp. That’s right, I completely forgot, Ingram played in Houston once before. This is something you’ll say in 2024.
I’d suspect Houston will run a more power-read offense this year. Hopefully they stick to one scheme to try and perfect it, instead of running a little bit of everything and being bad at all of it. The Lindsay signing looks to be a change of pace. He can run power if it’s blocked perfectly, like every running back in the league, but his best skill is his vision in the midzone game. Hopefully Lindsay is a change up, instead of a pursuit to build out a complete rushing attack that utilizes every scheme.
Houston could use a young running back who can break tackles. We’ve been saying this since Arian Foster blew out his Achilles.
Wide Receiver: Brandin Cooks, Keke Coutee, Randall Cobb, Chris Conley, Isaiah Coulter, Alex Erickson, Donte Moncrief, Chris Moore, Andre Roberts
There isn’t a worse wide receiver to pair with Taylor than Cooks. Most of Cooks’s downfield receptions were the result of deep crossing routes where Watson put it perfectly on him. Taylor doesn’t have this same precision. He’s fuzzy and wonky. Cooks isn’t going up and getting anything.
Maybe this is Coutee’s actual breakout season. Maybe the tantalizing becomes a foundational reality. I hope so. I really do.
Everything else is sad and depressing. The Texans went from Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins to this. After being jilted by Marvin Jones, a despairing thought, outside wide receiver is still a need. Houston may take a wide receiver in the third round.
Tight End: Jordan Akins, Antony Auclair, Pharoah Brown, Ryan Izzo, Paul Quessenberry, Kahale Warring
Brown can block. Akins can catch. Warring has beautiful biceps. Izzo catches the impossible, and drops the gimmes, and can’t block. Patriots South baby. There was no reason for Caserio to give up a pick for him. Quessenberry is a former Marine, a Jack Easterby wet dream.
The Texans have talent, but need solidified production and someone to step up and become a complete player at this position. They’ll probably skip it in the draft.
Offensive Tackle: Tytus Howard, Laremy Tunsil, Charlie Heck, Roderick Johnson
This is the Texans best position group, but they don’t have anyone to block for. If Howard can figure out how to run block he could develop into a top ten right tackle. If he doesn’t, he’ll just be a exoplanet, a complete pain in the ass to get around. Tunsil is a top five left tackle, but it doesn’t matter, nobody cares, there isn’t an offensive lineman in the world worth what Houston gave up to get him, and gave to keep him here.
The swing tackles are pretty alright. No problems there.
Guard: Marcus Cannon, Max Scharping, Justin McCray, Hjalte Froholdt, Jordan Steckler, Lane Taylor, Cole Toner
Cannon is going to start at right guard. He’ll be pretty good at it.
Don’t pencil Scharping as a starter. He isn’t. He didn’t know the playbook last year and was weak and listless. His sophomore season was embarrassing. In is McCray, Froholdt, Steckler, Taylor, and Toner to compete for his position.
The competition Houston has around Scharping is either young and bad, or older and injured. A midround pick who could compete at left guard would be worth a selection.
Center: Justin Britt, Cohl Cabral, Cole Toner
No one has watched Britt play football in two years. It may go poorly. It may lead to Toner taking over. Cabral is an undrafted free agent who lasted one season in L.A. Center is a position of need.
Defensive Tackle: Auzoyah Alufohai, Ross Blacklock, Maliek Collins, Brandon Dunn, Jaleel Johnson, Vincent Taylor
I miss D.J. Reader. Despite all the names, and the investment, the talent is still an issue as they morph to a 4-3. There’s too many question marks to feel good about this group still.
Defensive End: Shaq Lawson, Charles Omenihu, Derek Rivers, Demarcus Walker
Lawson is the Texans best pass rusher. He had the most productive season of his career in Miami thanks to the high blitz defense he played in. There’s still a staple pass rush move missing, and he isn’t quite there. He isn’t great at any one thing. You want him to be your third best pass rusher, not your best.
Hopefully Omenihu brings it for an entire season and has figured out his run keys. There’s still a ways to go from being a nice player, a solid contributor, to a no doubt every down starter.
EDGE: Duke Ejiofor, Jonathan Greenard, Jordan Jenkins, Jacob Martin, Whitney Mercilus
Maybe these guys will play Will linebacker, maybe they’ll be saved for pass rushing situations. Honestly, I don’t know. No one knows much about this group aside that Mercilus is finished, after they spent a year on the bench in Anthony Weaver’s crappy defense.
This draft has good EDGE defenders in the middle of it. Houston will probably skip on it since their move to a 4-3, and they probably feel better than they should about Lawson and Omenihu on the edge.
Linebacker: Zach Cunningham, Tae Davis, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Christian Kirksey, Hardy Nickerson Jr., Kevin Pierre-Louis, Joe Thomas
It’s similar to the defensive tackle position. A lot of names. Despite the investment, they still need talent.
Cunningham is paid to be a Mike linebacker who can carry a front seven, and as we learned last year, and as I said in 2019, he isn’t. He’s better off playing Will and chasing and tackling.
Kirksey is a shell of Benardrick McKinney, Pierre-Louis is fast but isn’t good, and Grugier-Hill is a coverage linebacker who can’t cover.
The Texans could use a standout Sam or Mike linebacker. Getting Cunningham back to what he’s good at doing is vital.
Cornerback: Cornell Armstrong, Keion Crossen, Vernon Hargreaves III, Desmond King, Terrance Mitchell, Bradley Roby, John Reid, Tremon Smith, Tavierre Thomas
Resigning Hargreaves III was an act of war against this fanbase. The funny thing about depth, is sometimes you have to use it. Just ask Houston. He started sixteen games outside last year, and every single start was ridiculous.
Roby is the Lawson of the secondary. You don’t want him to be your best cornerback. He’s great if he’s your third best one. In Houston, he’s far and away their best corner.
King is the perfect example of what making a player do what he’s great at. If he’s in the box and tackling, and playing zone coverage, he’s a difference maker. If he’s playing man coverage you are cutting off his wings. I’d like to see him play some Nickle linebacker this season.
The other outside cornerback position needs to be addressed. Mitchell can be a placeholder for a four win team, but the Texans would be wise to find someone outside who they can try to lean on in a year or two.
Safety: Terrance Brooks, Lonnie Johnson Jr., A.J. Moore, Eric Murray, Justin Reid, Jonathan Owens
Reid has the talent, but he hasn’t fully gotten there yet. The shoulder injury tapered his performance in 2019. Last year he didn’t make an impact in the deep middle of the field and was replaced by right fielder Lonnie Johnson Jr. His in the box his tackling struggles were still there. Maybe this is finally the year.
I guess Johnson Jr. is just going to play safety. His tackling improved last season, but he doesn’t have a feel for the position. The body is there though. It’s something that has a chance of becoming something.
Bill O’Brien gave Eric Murray 3-years $18 million, and was the only addition to the defense in 2019. Sometimes you just have to hate this team.
They’d be better off skipping on safety this draft.
Kicker: Ka’imi Fairbairn
Punter: Cameron Johnston
Long Snapper: Jon Weeks
Returner: Andre Roberts
Houston has their kickers in place, enough kick returners, and enough guys who only play special teams. Compete. Compete. Compete.