It seems that every year, the Houston Texans have a wide range of record predictions, and it is consistently because of the quarterback position. Being a Houston native, the Texan’s quarterback position has been the most frustrating part of being a Houston fan. Even though I already predicted the Tennessee Titans to win the AFC South, I still believe that the outcome of this rising division rests on the performance of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. Well if he plays, that is.
The Offensive Line
Injuries have haunted the Houston offensive line in recent years. Early second round draft pick, C Nick Martin, went down in the preseason last year. Premiere left tackle Duane Brown hasn’t been completely healthy since 2014, and RT Derek Newton is still recovering from tearing BOTH patellar tendons early last season. Even so, they were still ranked as an average offensive line by Pro Football Focus at number 18. The rest of the offensive line saw mixed performances. New center Greg Mancz played great last year given the circumstances. Guards Jeff Allen and Xavier Su’a-Filo were outstanding in one facet of blocking, while they struggled greatly in the other. Newton’s replacement, Chris Clark, was one of the worst tackles in the league last year, but if the starters can stay healthy, the offensive line could be above average in 2017.
WR Deandre Hopkins
The arrival of Cam Newton in Carolina marked the revamping of Steve Smith Sr.’s career in 2011. Hopefully, Deshaun Watson can be just that for Texans’ star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins. For Smith Sr., the jump from Jimmy Clausen to Cam Newton was the difference of 554 yards to 1,394 yards and a catch percentage from 46% to 61.2%. Even though I still question drafting Deshaun Watson, I think him replacing Brock “Lossweiler” will refurbish D-Hops’s career, at least in the long run.
WR Deandre Hopkins: 85 Receptions, 1,200 yards, 6 TDs
Will Fuller showed Desean Jackson-like flashes in the beginning of last season. After eclipsing 100 yards in both of the first two weeks of 2016, Fuller only eclipsed 80 yards once. 13.5 yards per reception is awful for a field-stretcher, and that may speak to Brock Osweiler’s inaccuracy downfield last season and Fuller’s difficulty getting open. Whether it was injury or defensive schematic adjustments, Fuller needs to overcome both in 2016 and become the field-stretcher Watson needs. That isn’t starting off so well though as he has already broken his collarbone before the start of the preseason, but he should return early in the season. Braxton Miller is now being mentored by the likes of new Wide Receiver Coach Wes Welker, which will help him overcome his rookie struggle of diagnosing coverages from the slot. Jaelen Strong has lost weight, and hopes to overcome injury and finally arrive as a receiving weapon. Tight End C.J. Fiedorowicz began to blossom last season, and he looks to establish himself as one of the top young tight ends in the league in 2017. Watson could surely use a security blanket and red-zone target in the form of a tight end.
WR Will Fuller: 50 receptions, 730 yards, 3 TDs
TE C.J. Fiedorowicz: 70 receptions, 740 yards, 6 TDs
Whether Texans’ fans like it or not, Deshaun Watson is a couple years away from being even close to the quarterback he can be. He’s a great leader and a proven winner, but his mechanics and decision-making need work. Mechanical issues have made his accuracy streaky, and his deep ball and crossing placements NEED work. His decision-making led to the far-too-many interceptions he threw at Clemson in 2016. Although this stuff is very fixable, it takes TIME. Bill O’Brien is known for his ability to get the most out of quarterbacks, and he definitely did with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer, and Tom Savage. He needs work, but if Watson can rely on the defense and run game, the Texans can win this division. If you want to read more, here is a link to my recent article on Deshaun Watson:
QB Deshaun Watson: 12 Starts, 2,550 Passing Yards, 60% Completion, 15 Passing TDs, 12 INTs, 200 Rushing Yards, 2 Rushing TDs
I don’t expect Tom Savage to be the starter once Week 1 comes around, but I am hearing more and more that he will. Apparently, Deandre Hopkins currently prefers Tom Savage, and the team sees him as the leader of the offense right now. With the massive investments the Texans have put into this kid, there should have been a “win now” mentality when drafting Watson. The defense is aging, and the window is smaller than ever. If Tom Savage starts in 2017, Texans fans may need to prepare themselves for a long season of more poor quarterback play.
Bill O’Brien loves to run the ball, but the Texans haven’t been very good at it since the reign of Arian Foster. It’s fair to say that Lamar Miller was a disappointment in his first season with the Houston Texans. Averaging 4.0 yards per carry is comparable to Terrance West from the Baltimore Ravens, which is never a compliment. Miller also needs to do more after the catch to really become a force from the backfield. Alfred Blue was one of the better backups in the league last year, and Rookie D’Onta Foreman adds immense running talent to the offense. If the offensive line can stay healthy, this running game should find more success in 2017, especially if Deshaun Watson can become a run threat as well. This is one of the deeper groups of running backs in the NFL, but one of them needs to step up in 2017 to take pressure off of the quarterbacks.
RB Lamar Miller: 275 Carries, 1150 Rushing Yards, 4.2 YPC, 7 TDs
Bulls On Parade
The Houston front 7 has the making of the best front 7 in football. Pair Jadeveon Clowney’s breakout season at defensive end with the return of JJ Watt, and this is the best defensive end duo in the NFL if healthy. DJ Reader had a good rookie season rotating with now-retired Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, and I expect him to hold his own at the nose this year. The middle linebackers are great with the outstanding Benardrick McKinney and field general Brian Cushing. Rookie Zach Cunningham will come off the bench right behind them, and he will be a stout inside linebacker for a long time. Whitney Mercilus is one of the most underrated outside linebackers in the NFL, and he plays his best football with JJ Watt on the field. The clear weak spot is the other outside linebacker position, but the Texans have always done a great job filling that spot with decent talent. John Simon and Brooks Reed were both surprising talents opposite of the likes of Whitney Mercilus and Connor Barwin.
The cornerback crew lost a breakout piece in A.J. Bouye, and they may be starting to run thin. Thirty-three year old Johnathan Joseph had another age-defying year in 2016, but don’t expect this trend to continue for seasons to come. Former 2015 first round pick Kevin Johnson took a big step forward last season, and Kareem Jackson surprisingly played decent as the number three corner. It will be interesting to see how these talented cornerbacks fall into place. The safeties are the weakness of this defense. KJ Dillon and Andre Hal are scheduled to start. Andre Hal should be enough, but youngster KJ Dillon has something to prove when replacing Quintin Demps. I fully expect this secondary to play well behind such a dominant front seven.
As with every other team in the division, I have the Houston Texans splitting with the rest of the AFC South. This is one of the better balanced divisions in football, and most would agree there is no dominant team such as the Patriots in the AFC East. Other than that, the Texans are very good at beating the teams they are suppose to beat, and almost never surprising anyone against superior teams. The Titans are simply a more well-rounded squad with an easier schedule. It will be close, but my Texans are likely to come up short in the division. I hope I am wrong.
Texans’ Schedule and Record Prediction
Week 1: W vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 2: W @Cincinati Bengals
Week 3: L @ New England Patriots
Week 4: W vs Tennessee Titans
Week 5: L vs Kansas City Chiefs
Week 6: W vs Cleveland Browns
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: L @ Seattle Seahawks
Week 9: L vs Indianapolis Colts
Week 10: W @ Los Angeles Rams
Week 11: L vs Arizona Cardinals
Week 12: W @ Baltimore Ravens
Week 13: L @ Tennessee Titans
Week 14: W vs San Francisco 49ers
Week 15: L @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 16: L vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 17: W @ Indianapolis Colts
Final Record: 8–8
Best case scenario: JJ Watt and the defense return in full force, Deandre Hopkins resurges, and Deshaun Watson is Rookie of the Year. Best case scenario is 11-5.
Worst Case Scenario: JJ Watt isn’t the same, the receiving core doesn’t improve, and Deshaun Watson struggles. Even so, the worst case scenario is 7-9. The Texans went 9-7 with the worst quarterback in the NFL, no JJ Watt, a shell of Deandre Hopkins, and a careless loss to the Titans in week 17 after clinching the division. Catastrophic injury is the only way the Texans don’t win 7 games.