To build anything of good quality, you have to have a good foundation. You should never skimp on a foundation if you want to properly build something long-lasting, like say a house or an NFL franchise, on it. For a team, your foundation comes in the form of franchise players.
Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith revealed part of his theory on roster building last year in Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback. The theory was derived from former General Electric boss Jack Welch's "20-70-10" evaluation model. We have talked about this before, but, for a quick refresher, 20% of your talent is elite, top producing talent to build off of and around. Seventy percent is comprised of your role performers, solid producers, and overall necessary workforce. The bottom 10% are the non-producers, non-essentials, or decliners who can be churned out to find new talent.
If you take 20% of a 53-man roster, you will have 10 or 11 players. These 10-11 guys are the elite talents to lock down and build around. As we begin the long offseason, I wanted to revisit the roster and try to find those talents that the franchise is, or should be, built around.
11. Inside Linebacker Brian Cushing
I debated with myself a long time on this one. I love Cushing and he is a talented player, no doubt. His absence this season, coupled with the Bradie James Roller Coaster, made me appreciate his game even more. However, he missed 11 games this year, was suspended for four two years ago, and is often bleeding or banged up.
Can Houston really build around a guy who has had issues staying healthy? The talent makes you say yes, but I have a few doubts. I imagine Houston will try to award him an extension this summer, to keep him from seeing free agency, but I would understand if they waited to see if he could stay healthy.
10. Outside Linebacker Whitney Mercilus
Too soon? I don't think so, not for the purpose of this list. Mercilus showed flashes of talent as a pass-rusher during his limited 2012 season. He has to work on his strength and continue developing his hand use, but there is no doubting he has all the physical tools. Why is Mercilus on this list? He is a first-round draft pick and slotted to start with Connor Barwin's impending free agency. Your first round picks have to develop, grow, and be successful, and Mercilus needs to show he's more in-line with Duane Brown and Kareem Jackson and less Amobi Okoye or Travis Johnson.
9. Cornerback Kareem Jackson
Speaking of the pro-ready cornerback, Jackson makes this list after his tremendous jump from year two to year three. I'm not ready to declare Kareem Jackson Island open, due to safety help, but I do think Jackson's shown himself to be confident and capable (career-highs in interceptions and passes defensed) rather than roasted, toasted, and burnt to a crisp. Jackson's also a hard-hitting son-of-a-gun. In a league where the spread is becoming prevalent, a corner who can cover and tackle is a must-have. We can finally say that Kareem Jackson's presence is a must-have in Houston.
8. Quarterback Matt Schaub
Love him or hate him, Schaub is your starting quarterback for the 2013 Texans, barring an out-of-the-blue circumstance. He signed a four-year extension prior to the 2012 season and it could have been worse, readers. That money was originally supposed to go to Connor Barwin. How angry would you have felt if that were the case?
Back to Schaub, the talk by his supporters, and even detractors, is that you have to put talent around him. It's true of any quarterback, but that means you're building a strong offensive line and putting more reliable targets out there for him. In other words, you're building on the foundation. Even if that weren't the case, your starting quarterback should always be a 20-percenter.
7. Tight End Owen Daniels
It's not a surprise that when Owen Daniels faded out of the passing game that it became inconsistent and sloppy. Over the last six weeks of the regular season, Daniels had no higher than 57 receiving yards and that falls in with Houston's period of struggling. Daniels is Schaub's security blanket and, despite not possessing freakish athleticism, OD is usually sure-handed and can find the open seam with ease. The league's in the midst of a great shift to tight ends and Daniels is a top-10 tight end you can highlight in an offense.
6. Center Chris Myers
After signing a four-year, $25 million dollar contract last offseason, Myers once again did his thankless job as a center. Myers makes the line's calls, but was also sandwiched between Wade Smith and the rookie platoon. Despite this, his play didn't dip. Myers isn't the biggest lineman around, but he plays with excellent leverage and intelligence. He deserves more praise for his play given the guards around him and the overall state of centers in the NFL.
5. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph
When Joseph was injured, the passing defense slipped. A lot. As a shutdown guy, Joseph really anchors the defensive backs well and stabilizes the corps. When healthy, Joseph covers the top receiver from each squad, a big role in the pass-happy NFL. Want proof of how well he can do? He was part of why Cincinnati's A.J. Green was held receptionless in the first half of this year's AFC Wild Card game and even took a big touchdown away from Green. Houston's cornerback duo rates well and can only improve as Jackson improves.
4. Left Tackle Duane Brown
Despite the dip in play against Minnesota and Indianapolis, Duane Brown is still an All-Pro and top-two left tackle, along with Big Joe Thomas of Cleveland. Once a reviled rookie platoon player, Brown has developed into a fleet-footed, powerful left tackle who paves the road in the run game and keeps Schaub's blindside mostly clean. Over the past two seasons, Brown's only allowed maybe three sacks a season while facing off with the league's best pass-rushers. His play and recent extension make Brown a cornerstone on the line for years to come.
3. Wide Receiver Andre Johnson
Imagine the offense this season without Andre Johnson. Yes, we're asking you to take away 112 receptions, a career-high 1,598 yards, and a game-winning touchdown against Jacksonville. The NFL does not have a real equivalent of Wins Above Replacement, like baseball does, but this year I'd imagine Johnson helped Houston have two or three more wins than an average receiver, given his performances against Jacksonville, Detroit, and Indianapolis.
A healthy Johnson is still a top-receiver and this ranking is more about what Johnson can still contribute as a first-down machine as opposed to his all-time status to this franchise. If you'd like to doubt him, I'm sure that'll only fuel his 2013 season.
2. Running Back Arian Foster
Ho-hum. 1,424 rushing yards. Ho-hum. 17 total touchdowns. Ho-hum. 327 total yards and three touchdowns in two postseason games.
Not bad from a player who signed a big-money five-year deal and had to suffer through an offensive line that took a few steps back due to new starters. The Kubiak Offense is one that, as judged by the $43.5 million contract, is built around the rushing offense. Kubiak loves to run to set up the play-action pass and then grind opponents away with rushing attempt after rushing attempt after rushing attempt when he's secured a two-to-three score lead. Foster is the kind of back who seemingly gets better as the game wears on, so it's a match made in heaven.
The only complaint about Foster? He simply wasn't involved enough in the passing game, and that's not all his fault. Foster's a top-five back in the NFL, arguably the best all-around back, drives this offense, and has a huge contract on top of it all, so it would only take something special to knock him down to two.
1. Defensive End, and presumptive 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt
Watt went from safe top-10 guy to, arguably, the face of the franchise with his historically-dominant, and cheap, 2012 season. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips called him a future Hall of Famer, opponents soon had to begin game-planning for him, and people talked about how other Texans needed to take advantage of opportunities he created.
At 23 years old, the sky is the limit for the Wisconsin alumnus (and at the rate he works out, Watt may soon jump and reach the sky). It might not be this year, and shouldn't from a cap sense, but Watt will rightfully get a big money contract. Then he'll probably turn around and do something great like put a good chunk in the J.J. Watt Foundation and/or set up a college trust for the Berry children -- excuse me, I got some dust in my eyes there.
On the field, Watt's a captain, a force, and the cornerstone of the Houston defense for 10-15 years to come. Off the field, he shows himself to be a selfless individual. He is easily tops on this as a game-changing, community-improving individual. As for the rest, feel free to use the comments to pick a different order or group of 11 yourself. Which Texans are the Texans to build off of and around?