Who will start in Tim Kelly’s offense?
The Houston Texans surprised most by focusing on the offensive side of the ball with their first three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. The new decision makers, and the old decision maker, used free agency to focus on the defense, and the draft to focus on the next generation of offensive players. None of these selections appear to be immediate starters, but instead will supplant the current starters in a year or two once their contracts end. So if they aren’t starting right away, who will be on the field when the Texans begin the 2021 season?
Quarterback: Deshaun Watson
Backups: Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills, and Ryan Finley
Until he’s traded, Deshaun Watson is the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans. Understand there are a thousand reasons to support Watson never suiting up for the Texans, but considering a trade never materialized before the draft there is still reason to believe #4 will play for Houston in the future. What’s interesting about the Mills pick is that he’s a completely different style quarterback from Watson or Taylor. Mills represents a change of the guard for the future of the Houston Texans offense, but what that future looks like is still quite unclear.
Running Back: David Johnson
Backups: Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, Buddy Howell, Scottie Phillips, and Dontrell Hilliard
If this was 2018, the Texans would have the best running back group in the league. But three years later this mixed bag of expired produce is tough to swallow. This lineup represents the sixth most expensive running back room in the NFL at $13.5 million. The combination of Johnson-Ingram-Lindsay should provide a diverse and situationally effective assortment of talent, but this group remains a questionable investment until the offensive line learns to block downhill.
Wide Receiver: Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb
Backups: Andre Roberts, Nico Collins, Isaiah Coulter, and Donte Moncrief
If the running back group was tough to swallow, the wide receiver corps will make you squint. No DeAndre Hopkins. No Will Fuller. No Kenny Stills. Hard to read. Cooks had a stellar end of the season, but there is a concern for Cooks’ ability to recreate those performances if Watson isn’t throwing him the football. Cobb was an undoubted disaster last year. He’ll look to get back on track this season or look to call it a career. This aging group of receivers is supplemented by two young unproven talents in Nico Collins and Isaiah Coulter. Both must step up this season to bolster a highly suspicious group of pass catchers.
Slot Receiver: Keke Coutee
Backups: Chris Conley and Chris Moore
Coutee was the latest wide receiver to land in former head coach Bill O’Brien’s dog house. Coutee’s rotating success-injury-dog house carousel has also drawn the ire of Texans fans, which makes this season a do-or-die for his career. The Texans added Chris Conley and Chris Moore who will be primarily special teams players, but both put immediate pressure on the Texas Tech product.
Tight End: Jordan Akins
Backups: Kahale Warring, Jordan Brevin, Pharaoh Brown, Ryan Izzo, Paul Quessenberry, and Anthony Auclair
Jordan Akins has been a less than serviceable tight end for the past three years. He’s the utility player that O’Brien coveted, but was not above average in any one aspect. Warring represents one of many unanswered questions from the previous draft classes. He has only caught three passes in two seasons, but still remains an alluring option in the pass game if he can get healthy. Jordan Brevin’s selection received quite a number of dubious analyses, but considering Warring’s lack of production and Akins low ceiling, Brevin arguably has the best chance to start this season. Analysts say he is a body catcher, which is historically a red flag for tight ends in the league. Brown and Izzo are both interesting options, but they will struggle to find a roster spot unless they can embarrass Warring this preseason.
Tackles: Laremy Tunsil (Left) and Tytus Howard (Right)
Backups: Roderick Johnson, Charlie Heck, Jordan Steckler
Tytus Howard’s health has limited his ability to grow in to the starter and the elite talent he was selected to be. It’s difficult to imagine the Texans extending Howard in a year or two if he doesn’t improve upon last year’s mediocre performance. Tunsil’s ridiculous contract was restructured this offseason to create cap space for several much needed additions in free agency. It’s debatable if the Texans truly need Tunsil if Watson won’t be the quarterback for the Texans. Until then, Tunsil remains a vital piece in the Texans offense on the left side.
Guards: Max Scharping (Left) and Marcus Cannon (Right)
Backups: Taylor Lane, Justin McCray, Hjalte Froholdt
Max Scharping was disappointing in his second season in the NFL. He was supplanted by Senio Kelemente as the starting left guard, but was chosen over the veteran guard this offseason. He was not a favorite of many on this site (stares into mirror) in the draft process and remains an unproven option at the guard position. Marcus Cannon is assumed to be the starting guard and the best addition in free agency. Cannon is a former Patriot and will be a much more aggressive right guard than Zach Fulton. The right guard position has been a pain point for almost five years. Can Cannon break through and improve the much maligned run game?
Center: Justin Britt
Backup: Cohl Cabral
All of a sudden the center position appears to be a weak spot on this offensive line after years of below average yet consistent play. Nick Martin was let go as an immediate move under the new regime. Justin Britt missed the 2020 season after a long recovery from a torn ACL. Without much competition, Britt should be the starter heading into camp. Cohl Cabral was an undrafted rookie free agent last year out of Arizona State. He has yet to take a snap in the NFL, which should be fairly concerning considering Britt was expected to be retired before the Texans signed him.