We’ve already covered the three biggest defensive threats that the Texans will face next season, and we even took an in-depth look at one of those defenders in Chicago’s Pernell McPhee. Brock Osweiler won’t be the only one to face off against a seemingly endless stream of elite talent, however, as Houston's defense seems poised to weather an equally ferocious storm of offensive star power throughout 2016. Hell, the Houston secondary alone is going to have to deal with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, T.Y. Hilton, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Julian Edelman, A.J. Green, and Jordy Nelson during the year, yet none of those Pro Bowl-caliber pass catchers are even the best receiver that the Texans will face this season, let alone the best offensive player.
Here is my quick and dirty top five list of point-producing studs that the Texans will have to stop in 2016. Yes, I said top five. I could have done a top three like the last list, but to be honest, there are so many good pass catchers and pass throwers around the NFL right now that only including three of them seemed a little weak. Alright, here we go.
5: Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
I love Allen Robinson enough to have him bump the great Adrian Peterson off of this list, which should tell you just how dangerous I think he is going to be this coming season. Even against the Texans' defense last year, which was unquestionably one of the league’s best units against the pass, Robinson managed to put up 11 receptions, 194 yards, and a touchdown across two games. Big, physical, and ultra-athletic, Robinson is the prototypical number one wideout in the modern NFL. He’s too big for smaller, quicker corners, too shifty for lankier, more physical press corners, and he has the hops to win 50/50 balls against almost anyone. Honestly, you could make the argument that Robinson, not DeAndre Hopkins, is the best receiver in the AFC South. He's just that good.
4: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck is still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, but even when healthy, he seemed somewhat "off" in 2015. He was forcing balls into receivers that were not even close to open, taking unnecessary sacks when he had opportunities to throw the ball away, and in general did not seem to operate as well as we were used to seeing in Pep Hamilton’s vertical passing attack. I’m eager to see what he can do with Rob Chudzinski calling the shots this season, because when Luck is "on", he is damn near impossible to stop.
3: Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr is going to win a Super Bowl one day. I don’t know when, and in all likelihood it will not be within the next couple of years, but whenever I watch him play, I always get a strong sense that I am watching a future league MVP. Call it a gut feeling, or call it "the eye test", but Carr simply looks like one of the best young quarterbacks to enter the NFL in the last half decade. He’s got impeccable footwork, fantastic arm talent, and uncanny accuracy while on the run, but perhaps his best quality is that he is a natural leader of men. That entire locker room would follow Carr anywhere, and he lays it all on the line for them week in and week out in return. The Raiders are going to be really, really good for the next decade, not just because they have a ton of young talent, but because all of that young talent has pulled together to become a close-knit locker room that genuinely wants to win together. Credit Derek Carr for that culture change – he’s the future of this league.
2: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Gronk might not have the longevity or the career hardware of Tony Gonzalez and Shannon Sharpe (yet), but to me he is already unquestionably the greatest tight end to ever play in the NFL. His dominance in all phases of the game is simply unmatched, and I’m starting to think that we might never see another player of his caliber at this position again. It’s a rare thing to see someone secure a Hall of Fame bust only six years into their career despite missing a significant number of games due to injury, yet that is exactly what Rob Gronkowski has done. He blocks the soul out of linebackers in the run game, he eviscerates defensive backs in the pass game, and he’s quite possibly the most unstoppable red zone weapon in the world. I’m just happy that the Texans only have to play against him once per season unlike those poor ba$tards over in the AFC East.
1: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
By the time Aaron Rodgers retires, he might be able to legitimately make a case as the greatest quarterback of all time. His ruthless combination of arm talent, accuracy, and athleticism has helped him stand above all other passers for the last five years, and it doesn’t look like he is poised to slow down any time soon. The last time Rodgers faced the Texans, he annihilated a then-undefeated Houston squad 42-24 in their own house. This time he gets to face J.J. Watt and company on his home turf, and to be perfectly honest ,I would not be shocked to see him carve up the Bulls on Parade once again. No matter how talented and well-coached the Texans are on defense, Rodgers is simply too good to expect anything less than a stellar performance. Personally, I’m hoping for the best but bracing for the worst. I suppose that is all you can do against a quarterback of Rodgers' stature--just pray and see what happens.
As good as the Texans look to be on paper, coming out on top in the AFC South against this gauntlet of both offensive and defensive super stars will be no small feat. Von Miller, Khalil Mack, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Adrian Peterson; name an All-Pro caliber player, and odds are that Houston will end up having to face them in 2016. Whether they win 14 games and secure a first seed or win just 10 games and fight for a wild card spot, however, this Texans squad will certainly have proven that they belong with the big boys by the time they reach the playoffs.
There is no single game-changing player or insurmountable AFC juggernaut that this team would face in the postseason that they would not have already gone to war against in the regular season. The Texans will have taken every punch that the rest of the conference has to offer and then some. If they can emerge from that bloodbath still intact and ready for round two, I would personally put a well-coached and battle-tested Texans squad up against anyone in January, and I mean anyone.
We've already seen this ball club respond to adversity after taking a hit in 2015. Now we just need to see them respond after taking a hit sixteen weeks in a row.