The Texans will face a litany of incredible defensive players in 2016, with All-Pro caliber pass rushers, linebackers, and defensive backs lining up against them seemingly every single week. With names like Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and Jurrell Casey all on the docket within just the first month alone, this new-look Texans offense has their work cut out for them if they want to improve upon their lackluster performance in 2015. Outside of the men named above, here are the three most terrifying defensive players that Houston will have to line up against this coming season.
3: Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings
If you told me that Harrison Smith is a robot sent from the future whose only mission is to systematically murder running backs, I would believe you. Smith is a human heat-seeking missile that never, ever stops hunting ball carriers no matter what part of the field he is coming from. He hits people with anger in his heart. Once they are in his grasp, it is rare to see anyone escape. I love watching Smith play the game as a hybrid strong/free safety in Mike Zimmer’s creative defensive scheme, which will make it all the more depressing to see him looking for his next victim while roaming in the box against Houston in Week Five.
2: Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
Von Miller is one of the most beautiful defenders to watch on film in quite some time. His quickness, agility, and flexibility are damn near Gumby-like, and when he gets a good jump at the line, it is virtually impossible to stop him. Derek Newton tends to not handle speed and agility on the edge as well as he handles power, so Miller is a potential matchup nightmare for this Texans offense. I expect Newton to get help from chips early and often in order to limit just how much damage Miller will inevitably do. If the Texans decide to not send extra help against perhaps the best edge rushing linebacker in the league, well…it probably will not be pretty.
1: Khalil Mack, OLB/DE, Oakland Raiders
Football Outsiders put it best before the 2014 NFL Draft – "Khalil Mack is not so much a man, but rather a vortex where offensive plays go to die." You cannot run against him. You cannot block him as a pass rusher. You cannot pass go. You cannot collect 200 dollars. If you try to block him one on one, you will fail. If you try to confuse him with gimmicky plays, he will embarrass you. Khalil Mack is quite possibly the most well-rounded football player on planet earth, and our Houston Texans have the distinct misfortune of facing him on Monday Night Football in Mexico in Week 11. God help us all.
Other than my personal top three, who are the opposing defenders that you look forward to facing the least in 2016? There is no shortage of talent to choose from, considering dangerous players like Tashaun Gipson, Malik Jackson, Melvin Ingram, Clay Matthews, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Vontaze Burfict, Jason Verrett, Darius Slay, Ezekiel Ansah, Anthony Barr, and many more are all equally as feared as the few elite names on my own list. I am as excited as anyone else to see what Brock Osweiler can do, but seeing the sheer mass of defensive firepower that he will have to overcome in 2016 is concerning to say the least.