Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #32 Houston Texans

Thompson’s In-Depth Power Rankings: #32 Houston Texans

by June 8, 2021 0 comments

We are now a touch under 100 days from the 2021 NFL season. The offseason has come passed, and we now know where the top free agents have landed. The draft has sent many new potential superstars to their homes for the next decade or so. Last year, this power rankings series came to life, and while some things didn’t go so well, like the Eagles being placed 6th, there were some good things, like the Jaguars being 31st and the Colts being 11th. This series is similar to what Marcus Whitman or That Franchise Guy does on YouTube. If you like this series, be sure to check it out as well.

To kick off our series, the Houston Texans come in at 32. Houston finished the 2020 season with a 4-12 record and would have had the sixth pick in the draft if Bill O’Brien wouldn’t have traded it to Miami a few years prior. O’Brien was fired early last season. A new staff has been brought in and will try bringing the Texans back to the playoffs. 

Be sure to check out all of my in-depth power rankings.

Offseason Recap

Despite being the first team to have an open head coaching vacancy, the Texans hired their new head coach last. David Culley was hired amid a general manager switch to Nick Caserio. The hiring of Caserio made Deshaun Watson quite upset, as he soon requested a trade for not being involved with the decision to hire him. Along with hiring Culley, Houston brought in Lovie Smith as the defensive coordinator while retaining Tim Kelly as the offensive coordinator and adding Pep Hamilton as the quarterback’s coach.

A few short weeks later, the Texans released their face of the franchise for the last decade by mutually parting ways with J.J. Watt. Houston saved over 17.5 million by releasing him. Now, Watt has moved on and will be a part of the Arizona Cardinals.

With Watt moving out west and Watson and the front office in a fight, the Texans tried to fix the seemingly huge culture problem in the building by signing a bunch of veterans in free agency. Houston added 30 players on the open market from other teams. Only seven got more than a one-year contract. Houston enters 2021 as the oldest roster in the league while also being the worst in these rankings. 

With only a handful of picks in the draft thanks to the O’Brien debacle, the Texans tried to make the most of their limited amount of picks. Houston had a few decent picks, and there will be more noted when we get to each position.

  • Overall – 68.92 (32nd) 
  • Offense – 66.75 (32nd) 
  • Defense – 69.09 (32nd) 
  • Coach and Culture – 65 (32nd) 
Quarterbacks – 67, 31st (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)

The Watson situation puts a hold on things. Recent reports have him still wanting out of Houston via trade, even with all of his legal drama ongoing. The ranking is under the assumption that Watson most likely won’t play a down in Houston, but including the tiny chance he does. If he were to play, Watson is a top-five quarterback in the league. With him likely not playing this season, the team added Tyrod Taylor on a one-year deal to be the placeholder.

After being the bridge quarterback to Justin Herbert in Los Angeles last season, Taylor comes back to a system that he is used to that Culley and Kelly will be implementing. Multiple players the Texans brought in seem to be on a mission to prove people wrong, and Taylor will once again try to prove people wrong and that he is a starter in the league instead of a bridge quarterback to a first-round selection.

The Texans only had five selections in the draft and used their first-round choice on Davis Mills. The selection of the Stanford quarterback signaled to the NFL world that the Watson situation is a bit more tumultuous than it seemed. Mills is an intriguing developmental piece, but the system doesn’t match his skill set the best. Houston added Jeff Driskel via free agency as well to compete for a roster spot. Since 2018, Driskel has started in nine games, including five for the Bengals in 2018.

Running Backs – 71.5, 29th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)

For the first part of last season, it looked as though David Johnson could go back to his old form. Unfortunately, injuries caught up to him once again, and he only played in 12 games. Johnson finished with 1,005 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. He will likely be the same player he was during the latter half of the season instead of the first few games.

Houston brought in a lot of reinforcements during the offseason to help ease the load off of Johnson. The Texans added Phillip Lindsay after Denver decided not to place a tender on him as a restricted free agent. After two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2018 and 2019, Lindsay’s production dove due to injuries. Along with his rushing production, Lindsay also had 35 catches in both of his first two seasons.

After spending his first eight seasons in New Orleans, Mark Ingram spent the last two in Baltimore. Last season, he was phased out due to the addition of J.K. Dobbins. In 2019, Ingram looked great in Baltimore as he totaled over 1,200 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns. If he gets back to that form, Houston could have a three-headed backfield.

Along with Lindsay and Ingram, Houston also brought Rex Burkhead to the team in the last week. Burkhead could have a hard time even making the roster and most likely won’t have a role this year. To round out the running back room, Houston also has Buddy HowellScottie Phillips, and Dontrell Hilliard.

Pass Catchers – 67, 31st (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense) 
Receivers

Lost in the Deandre Hopkins trade was that O’Brien made a good trade by snagging Brandin Cooks. He had 81 catches for 1,150 yards and six touchdowns in his first season in Houston. That was with Watson, who we still don’t know if he’ll play a down for the Texans or not. Randall Cobb returns as the weapon out of the slot and still comes with his injury concerns. The former Packer missed six games due to injury last year but still had over 400 yards and three touchdowns. It wouldn’t be a massive surprise if the Texans opted to move on from Cobb to see what some of the younger options on the depth chart could offer.

Will Fuller‘s departure to Miami opens up 75 targets for the offense. Keke Coutee could get a big chunk of those, but he also has his injury concerns similar to Cobb. Coutee had similar production to Cobb but only played in eight games. It would be wise to see what Coutee can do in a larger role in the offense. Another player that would get a big chunk of the vacated targets is Nico Collins. Houston traded up to snag him in the third round of the draft, and Collins could project as Houston’s number one receiver shortly. 

Veteran Additions

The Texans brought in a handful of veterans as well. Andre Roberts is now on his seventh team since entering the league in 2010 and projects as mainly a return man for the Texans after making the pro bowl as such last season. Of the six veteran receivers Houston signed, Chris Conley will make the largest impact in the passing attack. As a fifth option, Conley is perfect. Over the last two seasons playing for the Jaguars, he recorded 87 catches for over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns. Alex Erickson could battle with Roberts on the return front but will likely be the sixth and final receiver on the roster. Erickson had a good 2019 season but fell off due to the depth in Cincinnati’s receiving room last year.

Chris MooreDonte Moncrief, and Taywan Taylor were also brought in but shouldn’t make the roster. Marlon Williams and Isaiah Coulter are two youngsters that could surprise and snag a roster spot. 

Tight Ends

Houston’s tight end room is a bit of a mess. There are a lot of bodies, but none have stood out. Jordan Akins could be the best of the bunch and appears to be the starter after snagging 37 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown last year. Kahale Warring was once a third-round choice in 2019, that has only caught three passes. Pharaoh Brown could contribute some, but isn’t much of a factor. Brevin Jordan was once thought of as a second-round prospect during the season, but his pro day dropped him to the fifth round, where Houston was glad to pick him up. Jordan enjoyed a great junior campaign for the Hurricanes and could carve out a role early for the Texans. 

Running Backs

Houston has a few young pieces to work with within the receiving group. Collins could become a star this year and surprise people with how good he is and how much production he could receive. At running back, both Lindsay and Johnson should see a decent amount of targets out of the backfield.

Offensive Line – 70, 29th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense) 
Starters 

Outside of Watson, Laremy Tunsil is the best player on this roster. However, the trade for him has seemingly put the Texans in a horrific position. Along with that, Tunsil had all of the power to get himself an enormous extension since Houston paid a heavy price to get him in the trade from the Dolphins. He is a top-five left tackle, but the talent around him is severely lacking. At right tackle, Houston has a former first-round selection, Tytus Howard. The Texans got a lot of heat for taking Howard in the first round and saw it as a panic move, but Howard has done a decent job thus far.

Marcus Cannon was added via trade from New England for a swap of multiple draft selections. Cannon will likely serve as the right guard next to Howard and offers another veteran in the locker room. The other two spots on the interior are where things get interesting.

At left guard, there appears to be a three-man battle between Max ScharpingLane Taylor, and Justin McCray for the starting job. Justin Britt was added to play center but hasn’t played a down of football since Week 8 of the 2019 season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Scharping is replaced by Taylor if he struggles early in the season. 

Depth 

If Tunsil were to get hurt, the offensive line is in shambles even more than it already is. Behind him and Howard, there isn’t much depth. Roderick Johnson isn’t a starting-caliber tackle, and Charlie Heck hasn’t played much. Geron Christian was signed after his release from Washington and could pressure Howard if he struggles. The offensive line is still a major concern.

Run Defense – 63, 32nd (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense) 
Defensive Line

Houston’s run defense was last in the league last year, and it isn’t much better this year. The Texans allowed 5.2 yards per attempt last season on the ground. It won’t get much better this year. Ross Blacklock returns for his sophomore campaign but is an undersized run defender that is more of a tweener than a defensive tackle. Houston brought in Maliek Collins right down the road from Dallas, but he is more of a pass-rusher than a run-stuffer.

Vincent Taylor is a solid rotational piece that would be on the roster bubble on most teams, but that’s not the case here in Houston. Brandon Dunn is another rotational piece that will get some playing time on early downs. Roy Lopez was the last selection Houston had in the draft and could produce an impact right away as an early-down run defender. Jaleel Johnson was brought in from Minnesota and could also find playing time right away. 

Edge Defenders

The best run defender on the Texans could be Shaq Lawson, who the team added via a trade for Benardrick McKinney from Miami, who was their best run defender last season. Jordan Jenkins was brought in to play as the run-stuffing edge defender opposite of Lawson, while Whitney Mercilus will likely play as a third-down pass-rusher to keep him healthier. Charles Omenihu was one of the better defenders last season, but it is a bit of a struggle to see where he projects at in the new 4-3 scheme under Smith. 

Off-Ball Linebackers

Zach Cunningham is the best linebacker of the bunch in Houston and is a solid run defender. Christian Kirksey, another former Packer, has been a good run defender throughout his career. Injuries have derailed his career over the last few seasons, including last year in Green Bay. In a division where six games are against Derrick HenryJonathan TaylorJames Robinson, and Travis Etienne, the Texans will once again struggle to stop the run.

Pass Rush – 66, 32nd (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)

Similar to their run defense, Houston’s pass rush is also lacking. Lawson only had four sacks last season for the Dolphins after his rookie contract expired with the Bills. Mercilus also only totaled four sacks last season and is far from the player he once was during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Jenkins could be a three-down player in Houston but projects favorably as a pure run-stuffer to get Mercilus and Omenihu on the field. Omenihu could be a player that gets a ton of playing time. Whether that is on the interior or edge is still a question.

Demarcus Walker is a player similar to Omenihu that can play in multiple different positions. Walker never lived up to his potential as a second-round pick in Denver but has shown some flashes. Jonathan Greenard was selected in the third round last year and only played on 25 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Duke Ejiofor has played sparingly due to injury but could provide a spark if he is healthy enough to play this season and make the roster.

For a team that only had 34 sacks with Watt last season, Houston projects to take another dive in sack production this season.

Linebackers – 78, 20th (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)

The best position group on the roster is the group of linebackers. Cunningham is a solid linebacker that the Texans paid mightily to keep him on the roster. He is the third-highest paid linebacker in the league, only behind C.J. Mosley and Bobby Wagner and ahead of Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith. Kirksey showed he still had something left at times last season for Green Bay, but once again, injuries cost him some playing time, and once he was back, he was losing time to Krys Barnes for the Packers. Kevin Pierre-Louis is likely the third linebacker and nickel-backer, thanks to his coverage skills. He isn’t great against the run by any means, leaving him as a pass-down specialist only.

Kamu Grugier-Hill is a swiss-army knife at the position and can play multiple roles. A player to keep an eye on is Garret Wallow, who Houston selected in the fifth round of the draft. Wallow is a former safety who made the transition to linebacker at TCU and succeeded. He is great in coverage and is a quick processor. Unfortunately, his athletic ability is capped. Wallow will be a big factor on special teams during his rookie season before possibly grabbing a spot as a starting WILL or SAM linebacker in 2022.

Secondary – 70, 29th (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
Cornerbacks

Houston’s secondary isn’t great either. At the number one cornerback spot is Bradley Roby, who isn’t the same player he used to be. Terrance Mitchell was added via free agency to potentially serve as the starter opposite of Roby but will likely battle with Vernon Hargreaves for that role. Mitchell was a massive hindrance to the Cleveland defense last year, as he was targeted 99 times and allowed over 58 percent of those passes to be completed while giving up 825 yards and six touchdowns. In comparison, Hargreaves was targeted 107 times and allowed a completion percentage of over 68 while giving up over 900 yards and six touchdowns.

An area that isn’t a concern is slot cornerback. Desmond King will play in that role after spending last season with the division-rival Titans following his trade from the Chargers. King was a big reason why the Chargers’ defense was as good as it was a few seasons back.

After those four, the cornerback room is even more lacking. John Reid saw some playing time last season and secured 13 tackles and a pass deflection. Tremon SmithShyheim CarterCornell Armstrong, and Tavierre Thomas will battle for the final cornerback spots. 

Safeties 

Like Tunsil, Justin Reid is one of the best players on the roster. Reid doesn’t get enough attention around the league due to being on the Texans. Opposite of Reid is Lonnie Johnson, who hasn’t played like the Texans thought he would when he was selected with the 54th pick in the 2019 draft. Many had him as a mid-day three pick, but Houston thought differently. Throughout his career, Johnson has 117 tackles and seven pass deflections.

Johnson could compete with Eric Murray for the starting role, while Murray will have enough playing time as it is anyways; being the third safety. Terrence Brooks and A.J. Moore round out the safety room. If it weren’t for King and Reid, the secondary would be even worse.

Coach and Culture – 65, 32nd (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
Offense

Offensively, things won’t look that different with Kelly returning as the offensive coordinator. Of course, Watson not being with the team will cause the organization to be worse. The overall handling of the last few seasons has been awful, and now the front office is paying for it. Their star quarterback, who just got a massive extension, doesn’t want to play them and is now in a legal situation, conveniently right as he wants out of town. While the team added many different veterans offensively, the fact that they were the last team to hire a coach despite being the first to start their search says enough about what people around the league think about the ongoing situation between the organization and Watson. Houston ranks 32nd in offensive coach and culture.

Defense

Bringing in Smith was a bit of a head-scratcher. His defenses were never really top-notch, and he hasn’t been a coach in the NFL since 2015 with the Buccaneers. The departures of Watt and McKinney are big for a defense that needs leadership. Yes, Mercilus is still there, and tons of other veteran additions, but Houston is accounting for at least half of their defensive starters being brought over from other teams, and that’s not a great stat. Defensively, Houston ranks 32nd in defensive coach and culture. Overall, the whole team has an “underdog” or “unwanted” type of status around them, and while they have that going for them, the uncertainty surrounding the front office and Watson is a big cloud over the whole team right now.

Season Outlook

Of course, if Watson doesn’t play for the Texans, the season is over before it starts. Sure, Taylor could win Houston some games but the surrounding roster around him isn’t what he had in Buffalo, Los Angeles, or even Cleveland when he has had opportunities to start. This season is likely about finding which players on the roster are the best to keep around for the long run while establishing a culture.

Houston opens the season at home against the Jaguars, who happens to be with a new quarterback, coaching staff, and multiple other pieces on the roster that have come from other teams. Following Jacksonville, the Texans have a murderous row of games against Cleveland, Carolina, Buffalo, New England, and Indianapolis in Weeks 2-6. After that streak is an easier stretch, but not any easy games against Arizona, the Rams, and Miami.

Following a Week 10 bye, Houston returns at Tennessee, followed by a home game against the Jets. In Weeks 13 and 14, the Texans stay home but have difficult games against the Colts once again, as well as a game against the Seahawks. To close out the season, Houston plays Jacksonville once again, along with the Chargers, 49ers, and wrap up the season at home against the Titans.

According to Odds Shark, the Texans have an over/under of 4.5 wins. The number is the lowest total in the league, and for good reason. The schedule is a tough one for a team with many new players and new coaching staff. Ultimately, Houston is poised for a rebuild and doesn’t have many pieces to trade away to gather resources other than Watson. It will be another long season for Texan fans. If there are any left, that is.

Season Prediction: 1-16

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