2018 NFL Season Preview: Houston Texans
After two years of being AFC South Champs, Houston fell to the bottom of the division in 2017. After a string of injuries and a key suspension, the Texans lost nine of their final 10 games to limp to a 4-12 record.
Player Notes: Offense
- Quarterback Tom Savage was an inconsistent mess before a severe concussion ended his season.
- Running back Lamar Miller wasn't dynamic, and his longest run was only 21 yards.
- Alfred Blue is a solid backup running back, and Andre Ellington was a nice addition late.
- Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz's career future is hazy as he suffered at least three concussions on the year.
- Ryan Griffin has the ability to stretch the field down the middle, but he also dealt with multiple concussions during the season.
- Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is as skilled as any receiver in the game, finishing with 93 receptions for 1,378 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns.
- Will Fuller's season was looking bright with seven touchdowns, but multiple injuries hampered him, and he had to have knee surgery after the season.
- Braxton Miller is improving as a converted quarterback, and Bruce Ellington is dangerous after the catch.
- Tackle Chris Clark was capable of filling in for Duane Brown, who held out over a new contract and was later traded to Seattle.
- Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo has been a major disappointment.
- Nick Martin is one of the best young centers in the league but underwent ankle surgery for the second year in a row.
Player Notes: Defense
After finishing first in points allowed in 2016, the defense fell to dead last in points allowed in 2017.
- Defensive end J.J. Watt fractured his shin early in the year. He's expected to make a full recovery, but thanks to this injury and multiple back surgeries, he has barely played the last two seasons, and he may never return to his three-time Defensive Player of the Year form.
- Nose tackle D.J. Reader was a suitable replacement for Vince Wilfork as he can occupy the middle and rush the passer.
- The linebacker corps is one of the best in the league. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney had a career-high 9.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney is a hard hitter and a great blitzer up the middle.
- Brian Cushing's future with the team is in doubt thanks to his 10-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
- Whitney Mercilus was lost for the season after he tore his pectoral muscle in Week 5.
- Cornerback Johnathan Joseph struggled in single coverage in his 12th season.
- Kareem Jackson is a good tackler and solid in coverage, but his contract is a bit larger than his worth.
- Kevin Johnson is both injury- and penalty-prone and hasn't lived up to his first round hype.
The Rookie Class
The rookie class caught the injury bug but should bring a lot of excitement for the future.
- Quarterback Deshaun Watson was on pace for over 50 total touchdowns before he tore his ACL.
- Linebacker Zach Cunningham was fast and productive, and he made fans forget about Brian Cushing.
- Running back D'Onta Foreman is a hard-hitting runner with deceptive speed, but an Achilles injury ended his season.
- Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins got off to a slow start, but he got in shape and improved as the year went on.
Pro Bowlers and All-Pro
Despite the poor year, the Texans produced two Pro Bowlers: DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney. Hopkins made his second Pro Bowl and was named to his first, first team All-Pro squad. Clowney also made his second Pro Bowl and may develop into the leader of the defense if J.J. Watt doesn't return to form.
Deshaun Watson Rookie Highlights
Opposing Passing YPG
Opposing Rushing YPG
Despite the downward spiral, the Texans decided to retain head coach Bill O'Brien with a contract extension.
On December 31, 2017, Rick Smith announced that he was taking a leave of absence to be with his wife, who has breast cancer. On January 1, 2018, it was also reported that he would be gone for a year and that the Texans will hire a new general manager to take his place. However, Smith will retain his position as the team's Executive Vice President of Football Operations. The team hired former Buffalo Bills vice president of player personnel Brian Gaines to be the new general manager in Smith's absence.
Notable Additions: QB, Joe Webb, WR Sammie Coates, CB Johnson Bademosi, CB, Aaron Colvin, S Tyrann Mathieu
Notable Departures: QB Tom Savage, QB T.J. Yates, RB Andre Ellington, WR Braxton Miller, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, T Chris Clark, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, LB Brian Cushing
2018 NFL Draft
What the Texans Needed
Thanks to trading up to draft Deshaun Watson and trading away Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, the Texans didn't have a draft pick until the third round. With such a late pick for their first selection, Houston has to be wise with their selection in order to fill voids at tight end, offensive linemen, and defensive back.
- Tight End: C.J. Fiedorowicz was forced retire due to concussions, and Ryan Griffin also dealt with them in 2017. A healthy tight end is needed for Bill O'Brien's offense.
- Offensive Linemen: The offensive line gave up a lot of sacks and pressure and didn't run block well. Center Nick Martin might be the only keeper of this group.
- Defensive Back: Johnathan Joseph is nearing the end of his career, and Kevin Johnson has been disappointing. The secondary needs young bodies that can cover consistently.
What Happened on Draft Day
When it finally came time for them to pick, the Texans selected Stanford safety Justin Reid and Mississippi State offensive tackle Martinas Rankin with two of their three third round picks. Reid has the smarts to last in the NFL and has bloodlines with his older brother Eric playing safety with the San Francisco 49ers, but he needs to clean up his footwork and technique in coverage. Rankin has explosive punches off the snap but may struggle against speed rushers.
Houston also notably drafted two tight ends in UCF's Jordan Akins in the third round and Mississippi State's Jordan Thomas in the sixth. Akins has the ideal H-back frame, but he will be 26 when the season starts. Thomas has a great combination of size and speed, but he hasn't been able to translate that to the football field.
Justin Reid Highlights
What to Expect
On paper, this is as talented as any team in the league.
Assuming Deshaun Watson is back healthy, this offense can be dangerous. Seeing how he was injured last year during practice, I don't see him holding back when it comes to scrambling when the play breaks down. There are three running backs who can make an impact on this team. Lamar Miller's success will depend on a consistent offensive line; Alfred Blue will always come in and give it his all; and D'Onta Foreman can be a bruiser on the goal line and late in games.
DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller have a nice rapport with Watson, and both can put up big numbers if they can all stay healthy. The offensive line will be the concern with Nick Martin's injury history and the uncertainty of the rest of the line.
Defensively, they should see much improvement. I'm not sure if J.J. Watt will ever be the player he was, but having him in the lineup is better than not having him at all. With a healthy Whitney Mercilus, the linebacker corps has the potential to be the best in football. Adding Johnson Bademosi, Aaron Colvin, and Tyrann Mathieu drastically helps the secondary, which won't have to rely on an aging Johnathan Joseph.
In the Division
Given the level of defensive talent Jacksonville has, I don't see Houston reclaiming the AFC South crown just yet, but they do have an outside shot of taking a wildcard spot.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 9-7