Houston Texans 2021 Team Previewby Jonas Clark August 21, 2021 0 comments
As bad as the season went for the Houston Texans (4-12 last season), the early offseason period was worse. Relationships with franchise players J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson completely fell apart, causing both players to ask to be traded. Watt was ultimately released, and Watson has become one of the offseason’s biggest stories, facing accusations of sexual assault from 22 women.
All things considered, new head coach David Culley seems to have settled the rocking ship, and general manager Nick Caserio’s veteran acquisitions are part of that stability. With the Watson situation still playing out, the offense won’t look as explosive as years past, but after one preseason game, the defense looks strong. Will it be enough for the Texans to contend in the AFC South in 2021?
Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.
Without a draft selection until the third round, it was hard to expect the Texans to make a major addition there. Time will tell, however, as the team wisely didn’t draft them with the expectation for them to contribute much this season. Instead, Houston was active in the offseason, constructing an intriguing defense that now features former all-pro Desmond King II in the secondary and former first-rounder Shaq Lawson coming off of the edge. Recognizing the need at quarterback, Tyrod Taylor was signed in free agency and is in a position to start Week 1. Jeff Driskel also brings NFL experience to the position, wisely decreasing the chance that rookie Davis Mills sees the field. Not a bad start for Houston.
Tim Kelly remains in charge of the offense for the third season, now under Culley after holding the position under Bill O’Brien. Taylor isn’t the pro bowl dual-threat that Watson is, but he should still be able to produce. The personnel looks set to be run-heavy to open up short routes, paying to Taylor’s strengths. Anthony Miller is a solid addition to the offense, providing a threat in the slot that made Randall Cobb expendable. Dealing with a “slight dislocation” of his shoulder, Miller is missing some time in the preseason but is expected to be ready for Week 1. Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead are interesting additions to the backfield, joining David Johnson.
Caserio comes to the Texans by way of the New England Patriots, and Culley was most recently with the Baltimore Ravens. It should come as no surprise then that the two personnel managers seemed to have re-tooling the defense in mind after taking over in Houston. Meanwhile, with Jadeveon Clowney and now Watt in the rearview mirror, new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith is at the helm of this rebuild. Armed with a mismatch of former first-rounders that never fully lived up to expectations, often-injured talents, and King. A so-so head coach, Smith made a name with his defenses and looks to rebuild his reputation alongside that of the Texans.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
Taylor is the starter for this team and Driskel is cemented as the backup, allowing Mills to carry the clipboard; Watson is still in a murky situation and still wants out. If one were to bet on a quarterback change in the season, look at Mills. Call it a coincidence, but in two of the last three seasons, Taylor has been replaced by a rookie quarterback by Week 4 in Baker Mayfield and Justin Herbert. Both went on to break the rookie passing touchdown record too.
Whether the quarterback is Taylor, Driskel, or Mills, the running game figures to loom large in this offense. Lindsay can handle lead back duties but was hampered by injuries last season. Ingram is a quality, but aging running back, as is Johnson, and both could share the RB2 role, though Ingram is first in the pecking order should something happen to Lindsay. Quessenberry brings up the rear as the Texans’ fullback.
Houston has an interesting group of receivers that has the potential to produce. Collins is a massive target at 6’4”, which is valuable in the red zone. Conley and Coutee should push each other to the best versions of themselves behind Cooks, while Miller is a lock to start in the slant. Cooks had over 1,100 yards last season with Watson under center, and while that number is likely to dip, he’s still the primary target. Roberts is here for kick returns.
The team surely saw something in Akins when they released Darren Fells earlier this offseason. Fells was the primary starter each of the last two years, and now Akins is. Brown had a career year in 2020, catching the first two scores of his career while setting a new personal best in yardage. Familiarity puts him as the second tight end on the depth chart ahead of Izzo. Acquired in a trade with New England, Izzo is a strong blocking tight end who will have a home on special teams.
The starting offensive line is close to set in stone for Houston. Health pending, Tunsil is the anchor of this unit. A fellow first-round selection, Howard will start on the opposite perimeter again, while Sharping returns at left guard. Britt and McCray are the two additions to the trenches and they bring some starting experience. Heck and Toner are the backups, bringing depth at left tackle and center.
Playing in the 4-3 scheme, the Texans aim to be nasty upfront, but lacked experience early this offseason. That issue was addressed with Collins and Johnson signing on. Not to mention Taylor as well. Blacklock, a second-round pick by Houston in 2020, played 15 games as a rookie, totaling four tackles. Lopez, the sixth-round draft selection, looks to spend most of his time on special teams.
The last remaining piece from one of the nastiest defensive fronts on paper with Houston, Mercilus is still productive, now entering his 10th season. New blood joins him atop the depth chart on the edge with Jenkins and Lawson coming in. Omenihu still can turn into the playmaker that he has the potential to be. Greenard could pass him up by the end of the season if he has a healthy season.
Cunningham set new career-highs in 2020 with 106 solo tackles (164 total) and three sacks. He is a talented holdover from last year that is now surrounded by new faces. Kirksey brings in some leadership in the middle but has a history of injuries. Thomas is a strong pass-defender at the position and looks to compete for a starting role with Houston after failing to take one of the top sports in Dallas the last few seasons.
On paper, the Texan’s cornerback room is solid. Roby and Hargreaves are former first-round picks, and King had standout moments with the Los Angeles Chargers. Mitchell has a bright spot in the secondary for the Browns last year as they dealt with injuries. He comes in with Thomas from Cleveland, who earned a contract with Houston after making the pro-bowl last year on special teams.
Murray had a career year in his first year with Houston in 2020 and will start with Reid at safety. Sitting behind him on the depth chart, Johnson had more tackles than his rookie year but failed to register a pass defense after recording seven in 2019. The 54th overall pick that year, there are high hopes for him. Carter is his rookie year out of Alabama and looks to contribute on special teams.
A lock last year from inside of the 40-yard line, Fairbairn has no competition on the depth chart. He also hit four from beyond 50 yards, and only missed four field goals all season. Johnston is also the only punter on the roster, joining Houston after three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He averaged 46 yards per punt last year, landing 26 inside the 20-yard line. Snapping the ball for both specialists, Weeks, has been with the team since 2010, earning pro-bowl honors in 2015.
One Player to Add
With just $6 million left in cap space, it’s hard to imagine the Texans signing anyone else, but they do have one of the biggest trade targets in the NFL, at the right price. Watson will not be traded for anything short of a first-round pick, plus a starting-caliber player. The Eagles have continued to show interest in acquiring Watson, but the legal issues paused the talks. A deal with Philadelphia would be ideal, as it should land Houston Jalen Hurts, a promising young quarterback. Should that happen, the Mills era will end before it begins. The Texans would be better off for it.
2021 Outlook & Odds
The Texans’ win total this season is set at four, which feels a bit low. Taylor is a capable quarterback, with low risk and low reward. The benefit of a quarterback like that is that his safe play allows the skill players to make a difference. Playing in the division against the Jaguars is worth a game, and the defensive potential under Smith is interesting. With a new staff debuting, Houston shouldn’t be on any preseason “hot seat” lists. The thing to watch with the Texans, rather than young players, is how the veteran cast-offs perform. This is a low-stress place for them to rebound their careers. If that motivates them, Houston could even win more than five games.
Season Prediction: 6-11 and Miss the Playoffs
Follow Jonas Clark on Twitter @jarkclonas
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