With the Houston Texans' 53-man roster in place and the practice squad set (for now), the picture of what this team truly is has come into focus. Gone is the clear uncertainty of last year’s offense. No one is concerned about which quarterback will drive the offense. Just what head coach Bill O’Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey’s offense strives to do is much more evident, and how they seek to accomplish it is also less of a guessing game for Texans Fandom.
While new quarterback Brock Osweiler is clearly an upgrade over last season’s entire QB room, the real roster boost on offense comes from the wide receiver position. In fact, the receiver corps was upgraded so much in the offseason that all-star pass catcher DeAndre Hopkins almost seemed like an afterthought in most of the preseason games.
For those who’ve been under a rock since last season, and those who just like having all the details in a tidy little package, it’s time to take a deeper look at the new receiving corps.
From the last officially unofficial depth chart:
WR1 – DeAndre Hopkins
WR2 – Will Fuller
WR3 – Jaelen Strong
WR4 – Braxton Miller
WR5 – Keith Mumphrey
Former Clemson superstar DeAndre Hopkins
2016 first round draft pick Will Fuller will most likely line up opposite Hopkins after a surprisingly strong showing in the preseason. Before becoming a star receiver for Notre Dame, Fuller had verbally committed to Bill O’Brien’s Penn State Nittany Lions after an impressive showing at their advance skills camp in 2012. After running the second fastest 40 time at the NFL combine this past spring (4.32), Fuller was taken by the Texans with the 21st overall pick. Many pundits panned the selection, but after seeing Fuller make fools of several professional cover men, the negative feedback is all but forgotten. Fuller will certainly take the top off opposing defenses this season, opening up underneath routes for his fellow receivers and the TEs and RBs looking for catches.
Hailing from Arizona State, just like Brock Osweiler, Jaelen Strong was Houston’s third round pick last season. While Strong struggled mightily in training camp his rookie year – as documented by the "Hard Knocks" last year – word is he’s greatly improved in 2016. Strong managed to generate the only higher profile negative press in the offseason for the team (an encounter with Arizona law enforcement that led to a marijuana arrest), but seems to have shown that was an aberration, not a sign of bad character. While at the moment his claim to fame is lighting up division rival Indianapolis last season, Strong’s ability to come down with contested balls, shed coverage and get open when the game is on the line provide hope that his best games are all in the future.
By some amazing quirk of fate, Ohio State quarterback phenom turned wide receiver Braxton Miller was still on the board when Houston turned in their third round card in this year’s draft. Not sure how he managed to sit undrafted that long, but Rick Smith certainly wasn’t going to let him slide past H-Town after they grabbed Fuller and center Nick Martin. Anyone who watched last season learned quickly that O’Brien and Godsey are very creative when it comes to wildcat formations, gadget plays, and generally throwing the opposing defense a hard curve ball from time to time. While they never quite had the right personnel to pull it off well last year, the Miller brothers (Braxton and new running back Lamar – not related) are going to keep many an opposing defensive coordinator up at night. Miller has proven in the preseason to be remarkable from the slot receiver position, but we can go ahead and start counting the days until he pulls off a touchdown pass or leads a zone read scoring play past a defense that’s too busy fearing what Will Fuller and Hopkins can do 20 yards downfield.
Last on the list is second-year man Keith Mumphery. His current claim to fame is a burn on the Dallas Cowboys in the final game of the preseason for six points. While Mumphery hasn’t had any true highlight reel contributions during the regular season, he has shown a workhorse ability to make clutch short yardage plays when they’re needed. Mumphery will likely be a true insurance policy on this squad and as a special teamer. With the ability to catch the ball well, a solid knowledge of this offense, return skills in both the kickoff and punting games and an all around get-it-done attitude, Mumphery’s name may not make the headlines, but his contributions will be felt for sure.
In looking over these five young men, the true excitement for Texans fans should arise from the old adage of the sum is greater than its parts. Sure, a team can grab three Pro Bowl x-receivers, or several possession guys putting up Hall of Fame stats, but when you have five guys who all do something very different from one another, and do it well, you have the essence of what a real team is all about.
What do you think? Excited by all the options this corps brings to the gridiron? Wish Houston had drafted someone else and/or brought in a different free agent? Crazily wishing Nate Washington was still a Texan? Let us know in the comments below.
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