This offseason we’ll take a look at all 32 NFL teams’ most pressing needs heading into the 2018-19 season. Next up is one of two teams without a first-round pick in the 2018 draft: The Houston Texans.
The Texans went 3-3 during Deshaun Watson‘s six starts last season, but they won just one game after their franchise signal caller suffered a torn ACL. The loss of J.J. Watt among others didn’t help the defense either, and the 4-12 result marked the Texans’ worst season since 2013. Head coach Bill O’Brien remains, but he’ll now be flanked by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel instead of Mike Vrabel, now head coach of the Titans.
The coaching staff and new general manager Brian Gaine face the reality of losing both starting offensive tackles, two starters in the secondary, and a plethora of backups on both sides of the ball to free agency. The team’s first two picks in this year’s draft as well as Brock Osweiler and his massive contract were sent to Cleveland last season for Watson and a Get Out of Jail Free card, so the Texans have just five picks to work with. The good news is that they currently have the sixth-most cap space in the league, but the clock is ticking for them to turn things around in the suddenly dangerous AFC South.
Need No. 1: Offensive Line
The Texans’ 30th-ranked offensive line in adjusted sack rate needs to be addressed at every position. Pro Football Focus ranked the unit as the league’s worst in pass-blocking efficiency and graded every qualified Texans offensive linemen as a bottom-10 player at his position. The team has drafted only four total linemen in O’Brien’s four seasons as head coach, so it’s tough to have much confidence in the group’s backups. Watson and Tom Savage were the only quarterbacks to be pressured on at least 45 percent of their pass attempts last season.
Watson is a magician, but even he can be reduced to a mortal signal caller when the big uglies get manhandled up front.
…Why did the Texans trade their LT Duane Brown again? pic.twitter.com/b714qsecDE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 15, 2018
The group was a little better when it came to run blocking, and it certainly dealt with its fair share of injuries last season. Still, even the apex version of the unit wasn’t good enough. Without a healthy Watson under center, the Texans were one worst teams in the league. Building some competency up front is a must with two dates against the Jaguars on the schedule in perpetuity. It would behoove the Texans to spend highly and wisely on the group as a whole.
Telling Stat: Lamar Miller averaged 4.8 yards per carry with an average of eight touchdowns per season in 2014-15. He’s averaged 3.9 yards per carry with eight total touchdowns since joining the Texans.
Need No. 2: Cornerback
The Texans defense was fifth against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average in 2016, but it fell to 25th last season. The loss of stud corner A.J. Bouye certainly didn’t help matters, but it’s been clear for a while that the Texans secondary isn’t the same monster when the defense is without one of its star pass rushers.
Next season’s group will bring back soon to be 34-year-old Johnathan Joseph. He was the group’s ‘best’ cornerback last season, although all three starting corners ranked among the bottom-20 defensive backs in most yards allowed per cover snap. While Kevin Johnson earned PFF’s single-worst grade among 121 qualified corners, Kareem Jackson was arguably a larger detriment considering the success he allowed out of the slot.
- Keelan Cole: 9 targets, 7-186-1
- T.Y. Hilton: 9 targets, 5-175-2
- Larry Fitzgerald: 10 targets, 9-91-1
- JuJu Smith-Schuster: 7 targets, 6-75-1
- Doug Baldwin: 10 targets, 6-54-0
They replaced Marcus Gilchrist with Tyrann Mathieu, and Johnson Bademosi provides additional cornerback depth. The unit undoubtedly still needs to be addressed throughout both the draft and free agency, as Johnson is the only corner on the team drafted during O’Brien’s tenure. Former Jaguars slot corner Aaron Colvin also has signed with the Texans and is an immediate upgrade given his status as one of just six cornerbacks to not allow a touchdown last season.
Telling Stat: The Texans allowed a league-high five games of 30-plus DraftKings points to wide receivers this season courtesy of Robert Woods, Hilton, Brandin Cooks, Cole, and Paul Richardson.
Need No. 3: Defensive Line
Watt is an all-world presence when healthy, but he’s suffered back-to-back season-ending injuries via a back vertebral disc hernia and most recently a tibial plateau fracture. The only player in NFL history with multiple seasons of 20-plus sacks, Watt has played a total of eight games since 2016 after not missing a game during the first five years of his career. The decision to move Jadeveon Clowney back to outside linebacker full time leaves the remainder of the line brutally thin.
The Texans ranked eighth in adjusted line yards allowed per rush, but they fell to 25th in conversion percentage of runs on third- and fourth-and-short. A talented group of linebackers can’t cure everything when the game moves to the trenches, and the defensive line finished the season with just one member graded within PFF’s top-80 interior defenders. The return of Christian Covington (missed nine games with a torn bicep) will boost the unit’s depth and overall ability, but the unit could use an overhaul to complement Watt and Clowney.
Telling Stat: Texans defensive linemen accounted for just 3.5 sacks all of last season.
- Quarterback: Watson’s overall impact on the offense cannot be overstated, as the Texans scored 30-plus points in five of his six starts last season. They’ve surpassed that threshold in just seven of their 58 games with anyone else under center since O’Brien took over in 2014. Savage and T.J. Yates are both free agents, so the Texans could theoretically target a veteran backup in free agency as well as a late-round signal caller. Given the offense’s total lack of success without Watson’s dual-threat ability, Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III should be considered.
- Tight end: C.J. Fiedorowicz has retired after suffering his fourth concussion in the past two seasons, while Ryan Griffin has surpassed 75 receiving yards in just one of his 63 career games and ranked outside of PFF’s top-25 run blockers at the position in 2017. Second-year Stephen Anderson showed the most upside of the group with an average of 13.7 yards per catch — the fifth-highest mark among 33 tight ends to catch at least 25 passes last season. Still, Anderson is just 6’2″ and 230 pounds and spent about as much time in the slot last year as he did as an in-line tight end.
Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
Our mock draft has the Browns using the Texans’ first-rounder to select defensive end Bradley Chubb at No. 4 overall. Check out Chubb’s player profile, and be sure to conduct offseason research yourself with our NFL tools!
Photo via Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports