Ever wondered what goes on in the Battle Red Blog staff meetings? Aside from the steak and lobster lunches, $5,000 bar tabs and endless discussions about how long Earl Campbell would survive in George Godsey’s O.G.R.G. (One-Gap Running Game) offense?
Well, now we peel back the curtain and interview the glorious, gelatinous, gregarious grey matter we like to call the HiveMind.
In each installment of this new feature, one BRB staffer will interview the rest. In between bites of caviar and mouthfuls of Dom Perignon White Gold, that is.
For this installment, we ask the pampered, overpaid, well-rested writers who they think will be the breakout player for the Texans in 2017. Last season saw A.J. Bouye rocket to the top of the charts and then cash in on the Vegas-like Glitter-Kitty Slot Machine before bolting for the east coast of Florida.
Who will it be this year? What player is best poised to put his name on the champagne-moistened lips of every BRB staffer week in and week out? Let’s find out right now.
For those of you who listen to the podcast, you know I'm a huge fan of Benardrick McKinney. When you consider how well he played in 2016 with me all up in his jock, his performance is even more impressive.
This year, I think he makes the jump from being good to super hero. Everything is there physically, and, from a mental aspect and this being his third year in the league, I think it really comes together for him.
Last season Jadeveon Clowney became a Pro Bowl player. The intersection of potential, athleticism, and skill finally coagulated into a run-obliterating smoke monster. He did things I've never seen before, like a toss a blocker into a running back to set up a tackle for a loss. Or drive guards and tackles into ball carriers. He was spectacular.
This year with J.J. Watt back, Clowney will be even better. He will get to face a ton of one-on-one blocks, and the Texans should continue to use him as an interior rusher like they did in the New England game. A fifteen sack season is possible for Clowney this year. Clowney already broke out last season, but this year he could become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The player who I think will have a Pro Bowl type of breakthrough this season is Kevin Johnson. We saw enough flashes of his talent during his first two seasons, but each year was cut short by injury (issues with the same broken foot).
If he can stay healthy in 2017, I think he'll challenge to be the #2 cornerback in the AFC South behind the Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey.
Battle Red Coat:
I think we have to look at Kevin Johnson being our breakout player this season. He's been plagued by injuries over the start of his career, but even as a rookie, he flashed amazing potential. Provided that foot is completely healed and allows him to maintain that impressive speed he has in coverage, I think we have a star on our hands.
He has the ability to be our #1 corner by the end of the year, and I'm hoping that he stays healthy enough to do that. Somehow he only has one interception in his career so far; I'll be disappointed if he doesn't at least triple that this year. The only issue I've noticed with him was that he gets a bit handsy in coverage sometimes and has been called for it. Minimize those penalties and Kevin Johnson will be an excellent cornerback.
Gimme Xavier Su'a Filo.
I know he's good. I've seen multiple snaps over the course of multiple games where XSF shows that he's a damn fine run blocker. It's just for every one of those snaps, there is another where he gets beaten in pass pro or doesn't get to that second level block as quickly as he should.
If it doesn't happen for XSF this season, it's never going to happen. Regardless I'm prepared to die on XSF Hill.
Nick Martin. Even coming off Greg Mancz's surprisingly solid 2016 season, Martin is expected to be the starting center. All the feedback prior to his injury was positive, and early returns in camp have him as one of the few offensive linemen who isn't getting rag-dolled on the regular by our front seven (I... I think that's a compliment?). With so much uncertainty on this offensive line, to have someone anchor the center while sandwiched between two “WTFs” would at least be a start.
Sign me up for the Braxton Miller hype train as long as he stays healthy. He lost a bit of time to multiple injuries throughout his rookie campaign, which likely limited his opportunities for growth and development, but I think his unique physical skill-set can make him an extremely effective security blanket in 2017.
No matter who is throwing him the ball this season, I think Miller will put up over 70 catches from the slot and account for no fewer than six total touchdowns (either rushing or otherwise). He will churn out first down after first down underneath and generally be the stabilizing receiving presence that young quarterbacks tend to rely on.
Hopkins will always be the Batman of Houston's receiving corp, and Will Fuller may end up being the Robin, but don't count out Miller as this team's new Alfred.
Now that I have a spare moment, I'm going to throw a curve ball into this and say that it'll be Braxton Miller. Most of the problems with the Texans' passing game last year, such as it was, was that Brock Osweiler was at the head of it. That's the head you don't want, so much so that the team shipped him off to Football Siberia prior to the draft.
Miller's reliability is still a huge question mark, to be sure, but I contend that a lot of the struggles that he had last year can be laid at Osweiler's doorstep. With a non-Osweiler quarterback throwing to him, and the determination he's shown to improve his ability to grab the damn ball, Miller could bust out.
Since I can’t help but talk even when answering my own questions, here’s my pick:
I second Nick Martin. This team needs a bulldozer/brick wall to anchor the o-line. If Nick Martin isn’t built to be that guy, I don’t know who is. He holds his own in practice against the best attacking front seven in the league, and when given the chance to pin his ears back and blaze a trail for Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman, opposing d-linemen are going to pay. The linebackers behind them are going to get blasted and/or shake ‘n baked right out of their socks.
Who do you think will be the breakout Texan in 2017?