By Paul Wanecski
It wasn’t that long ago that the Houston Texans had the first overall selection after an awful year, specifically related to the quarterback position. Now, after yet another year of pretty poor quarterback play, they find themselves having made the playoffs. What you need to determine about Houston is if this is the year they think they are ready, given the depth in the draft.
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien
Offensive Coordinator (Rank):George Godsey
19th YPG, 18th Pass, 15th Run
Defensive Coordinator (Rank): Romeo Crennel
3rd YPG, 3rd Pass, 10th Run
With nearly $40m in estimated salary cap space, Houston can afford to make moves to cash in now while the defense is still pretty solid. Even with the major holes they have on the offensive side of the ball (since Brian Hoyer is the incumbent QB and they just released the franchise’s all-time leading rusher). General manager Rick Smith has done an excellent job with building and retaining the right talent…well…with exception to the quarterback position. Houston could be a dangerous team on draft day if they think the future is now, which they should.
CB Johnathan Joseph has half his base salary guaranteed this year. At $7m, he is about where you would want him and he is only signed until next year with the same figure, which is perfect position for Houston as Joseph is 31 years old.
CB Kareem Jackson is much the same story, the team invested in him young and you really don’t want to touch his contract. Yes, $8.4m is a cheap as he gets the next 3 years, but this was a great deal for the team.
Houston was right to add a roster bonus to ILB Brian Cushing’s contract, which isn’t paid unless he is actually on the team at the time. The oft-injured Cushing’s release would save the team only $2.2m but to be perfectly honest, they have always needed to handcuff him given his history. They snagged Cushing with the 15th overall selection in 2009, but with the 5th highest contract among ILB, he put up his first ever 100 tackle season of his career (this was also the first 16 game season of his career). The concern here is that he had only 6 tackles for loss all season (2 QB hits, no sacks, and 4 TFL). By comparison, 32 year old David Harris from the Jets grabbed 108 tackles in 16 games but was about to generate 17.5 tackles for loss (4.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, and 6 TFL).
Vince Wilfork is still at it. Will it still be with Houston? Well, saving $4m sounds more productive than what an aging Wilfork will bring this season.
Not many pressing needs here. They could look to resign Brandon Brooks, but they played the same game last year of waiting him out, which screams to me that they don’t love him.
After that, they COULD look to bring back Quintin Demps at safety, but again this is not really needed.
Quarterback is at the top of the board for Houston, without a doubt. They were the first team since 1950 to have four different quarterbacks win a game and still make the playoffs. They are in the worst possible scenario for a quarterback-needy team; they won last year, probably more than they deserved. With that, they slipped further and further down in the draft order. Now, Houston is ready to bank of them self, so they are a great candidate to try and jump someone in the draft for a new gun-slinger under center. They realistically need to jump up at least in front of Chicago, if not crawl in front of San Francisco by grabbing the 6th overall selection from Baltimore (who is likely willing to bet that the down year was driven by QB Flacco being out for the season). If they don’t try and trade up that high then they are banking on Chicago trusting Jay Cutler with another season, the 49ers trying to rekindle Kaepernick’ s production with new head coach Chip Kelly, and that the Jets and Rams are happy staying put. Houston would need to absolutely LOVE a QB who other teams don’t value enough to trade up to acquire. That is a recipe for disaster.
The list is long her. Jared Goff could go as early as #2 to Cleveland, Paxton Lynch looks like #15 with the Rams, Carson Wentz might end up with the Browns or as late as the 49ers (yeah, right, not a chance, some team will sell the farm if Cleveland passes to snag him). Houston would not be wise to try and grab Connor Cook on the turn in the 2nd round. If they really plan to wait, a 3rd rounder on Jeff Driskel might be a good bet, but aren’t they looking for a starter sometime sooner than 2017? No to Dax Prescott, Christian Hackenberg, and Cardale Jones.
Along with QB, they used a stable of running backs in 2015. Newsflash, Alfred Blue is not very good, neither is Chris Polk (although watching him destroy people in the hole is pretty fun). I don’t think the need for a running back overtakes the glaring QB issues. Derrick Henry or Ezekiel Elliot will be the names that you will know on the board early. Kenneth Dixon from Louisiana Tech is a nasty prospect outside of rounds 1-2; he has pass protection and fumble concerns but has excellent vision and could be a workhorse. If you are looking a name in the 4th-6th rounds, watch for Wendell Smallwood. He had some off-field troubles but talent always gets an opportunity in the NFL.
Looking at the constant need to backfill a position to guard against a Brian Cushing injury, Reggie Ragland fits here, as his 40 time in the combine might not let him slip this far down.
Speaking of Jaylon Smith, why not replace an injured player with another who will miss nearly all of the 2016 season due to injury! Smith could go anywhere in the first round.
Kentrell Brothers out of Missouri is a fun prospect because he is such a hammer in the middle. He has pretty good vision and awareness. He isn’t fast or particularly great in coverage given his lack of burst but he has the type of drive you want in a young player. True value in the middle round here.
We know Cover1.net loves Tyler Matakevich from Temple, so if the name isn’t super familiar, take a peak with this great in-depth article on him here. Thanks to Erik Turner for his great work with that site.
Robert Griffin III has yet to be released (or traded, but let’s not kid ourselves, at $16m for one season from an injury ravaged quarterback is the equivalent to him being a very expensive watch on an even more expensive time-bomb). I don’t think Bill O’Brien is in love with RGIII the way a lot of the media thinks he is. Unfortunately the options for Griffin are dwindling. The Eagles just invested way too much money in Sam Bradford, Cleveland is…Cleveland so you always need to be careful swimming in those waters, Buffalo has no commitment to Tyrod Taylor beyond next year but you are banking on him getting hurt, the Rams do have Nick Foles who is already ready to get his job stolen, and Griffin has the unfortunate luck that this draft may have 3 or 4 first round quarterbacks selected. Now, honestly, Houston will be adding QB depth, but it being Griffin is a mistake. Dallas makes WAY more sense for both parties. Even going to Carolina makes more sense. Houston isn’t just a QB away. Sure, they have a lot of tools but Griffin might be best served serving as a backup to a team that is likely going to win versus risking having an average year fighting on a below average team. Add Tennessee to this list, just because Zach Mettenberger is pretty awful, I think they are more in the market than people may think, not that they will have any form of success this year.
Insert QB Brock Osweiler rumor here, since he was fine and is a free agent (Denver would be insane to NOT sign him).
Kansas City has had a hoard of quarterbacks. Chase Daniels is finally leaving via free agency, so he can be mentioned here. Tyler Bray is very intriguing and Aaron Murray had a great college career. Kansas City knows that Alex Smith won’t last as a starting QB forever but both these players probably still retain some small trade value.
WR Travis Benjamin makes a lot of sense. Honestly, I have always thought Cecil Shorts Jr was a great compliment to DeAndre Hopkins, but the team could use the depth as Jaelen Strong was really unimpressive.
Watch the team go after another defensive tackle to couple with one that they will most definitely draft at some point. It won’t be a major name as they are just looking for a role player at or near league minimum.