For a five week period, the 2017 Texans’ offense was the most dynamic in franchise history. Even though Bill O’Brien noted in a recent conversation that the offense will be “totally different”, if the Texans are at full strength on offense the production should not change. Injuries to Deshaun Watson, Derek Newton, Will Fuller V, D’Onta Foreman, Tyler Ervin, Bruce Ellington, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, and Chris Clark among others, completely took the juice out of the offense. The injury bug stung the Texans’ offense like a pissed off hornets nest. Getting these players healthy this offseason and training camp will be crucial to a successful run in 2018. With a ton of added talent across the offensive line, the protection around Watson as well as the running lanes for our backs should be much better. Well at least I don’t think they could possibly be worse than last year.
With free agency quieting down and the addition of Brandon Weeden solidifying the backup QB position, the offensive roster should remain stable up until the NFL Draft in a couple weeks. Let’s take a look at the current depth chart for the Texans leading up to the draft.
Starter: Deshaun Watson
Backups: Brandon Weeden, Taylor Heinicke
Watson was a clear-cut Offensive ROY candidate before he tore his ACL. His well documented command of the offense and knack for explosive plays lead the Texans to average 40.5 points in the month of October. The Texans just added Brandon Weeden to the quarterback roster, and as I wrote last week, I’m not excited for it. At the age of 34, his career trajectory is flatlining, and his on the field performance doesn’t inspire confidence in case of another Watson injury. Taylor Heinicke was picked up last year as a free agent quarterback who hadn’t played in a NFL game. He came in to replace T.J. Yates when Yates went into concussion protocol only to get a concussion himself after nine plays.
Starter: Lamar Miller
Backups: D’Onta Foreman, Jay Prosch (Fullback), Tyler Erving, Troymaine Pope
Whether you think Miller needs to be kicked to the side of the road and released or that the Texans need to finally use Miller the way he should be, Lamar is the best option at running back. There isn’t a free agent back who would match Miller’s potential 2018 production. D’Onta Foreman’s Achilles injury should be healed by the time OTAs rolls around, but I fear that an already slow RB will be hindered by the injury. Jay Prosch is an average fullback and I wouldn’t be surprised if they look to add or replace him this offseason. Ervin has been that “what if” type of player on the roster. Every now-and-then, Ervin strikes a match and lights up the field with his speed, but if Erving can’t make the roster in his third season, they might as well cast him off as another worthless draft pick. Pope played minimally for the Jets, Seahawks, and Colts before coming to Houston. A second year running back out of Jacksonville State, he is a shifty runner who has experience returning kickoffs in preseason games.
Starters: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V
Backups: Bruce Ellington, Braxton Miller, Sammie Coates, Chris Thompson, DeAndrew White, Montay Crockett
Arguably the deepest position on the offense, the Texans have finally found a wide receiver duo that rivals the best in the league. Hopkins has been the calm in the storm of the Texans’ offensive reconstruction the last four years. When healthy, Will Fuller V is as dynamic a receiver as there is in the league. In four games, Fuller V had 7 touchdowns on just 13 receptions, which is an absurd stat. A healthy offseason would be huge towards his development. Bruce Ellington was a bright spot in free agency and gave Watson a key target over the middle. Ellington ended the season on injured reserve and will return to the Texans on a newly signed one-year deal. Braxton Miller is legitimately DeVier Posey 2.0 and has not demonstrated the talent and game-changing ability that was seen at Ohio State. Texans added Sammie Coates from the waver wire and should bring some depth and speed to the roster. Chris Thompson played at the end of the season when injuries began to pile up. White and Crockett are most likely practice squad caliber players.
Starter: Ryan Griffin
Backups: Stephen Anderson, MyCole Pruitt, Ryan Malleck, Jevoni Robinson, Zach Conque
If every single one of these players were cut and we started out with a brand new group of guys, would anyone complain? Griffin can’t block and drops passes like a 6 year old drops an ice cream cone—it just looks sad. Anderson has shown promise after he was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent two years ago. Injuries have taken a toll on Anderson but there is definitely a place for him on this roster for the time being. The rest of this list (which is surprisingly long) isn’t worth explaining. Tight end may be the first position Houston addresses in the upcoming draft.
Starters: Julie’n Davenport (LT), Seantrel Henderson (RT)
Backups: Derek Newton, Kendall Lamm, Jake Rodgers
The Texans decided to not splurge on a left tackle, and instead will give sophomore Julie’n Davenport the role of protecting Watson and the Texans’ future. Tall task for a guy who played at Bucknell the year before. He performed admirably against T.J. Watt last year and the Texans hope he can build on his progress to be their future left tackle. The Texans signed Seantrel Henderson this offseason, and he’s slated to be the Texans starting right tackle. Henderson started his first 26 games of his career at right tackle, but has only played in eight games the last two seasons. Derek Newton is rehabbing from a 2016 double patellar tendon tear and maybe back this season. He played well for the Texans when healthy. but may never return to the same form—or even the field for that matter. Kendall Lamm has been the plug for the sinking ship that has been the Texans’ offensive line. Lamm can play well when rotating in at right tackle. Jake Rodgers has been on the Texans’ practice squad and has yet to appear in an NFL game.
Starters: Zach Fulton (LG), Jeff Allen (RG)
Backups: Senio Kelemente, Kyle Fuller, Chad Slade, David Quessenberry
Keeping Jeff Allen on the roster makes me ache. His versatility masks his terrible play. I guess being bad at a couple positions is better than being terrible at one. Zach Fulton should come in and be the biggest difference maker on the offensive line. He fits well within the system and should work well with Nick Martin to command the middle. Senio Kelemente is a good addition and has a ton of size and versatility as well. Kelemente and Kyle Fuller will push Allen for the starting right guard role. If either one of them beats out Allen, I would love for the Texans to release him and create some salary cap space. Chad Slade is entering his second season and was a practice squad guy for the Texans. Quessenberry appeared in two games this season. He had been battling cancer and finally made it onto the Texans’ roster. It’s great to see him in a Texans’ uniform and hopefully he can help out this putrid offensive line.
Starter: Nick Martin
Backup: Greg Mancz
After missing all of his rookie season, Nick Martin performed admirably considering the rest of the offensive line was garbage. There were definitely some moments where a late blitz from a linebacker completely fooled him and caused havoc in the backfield, but that’s expected for someone going through some growing pains. He is an intelligent center and is aggressive at the point of attach. He ended the season on IR with an ankle injury and should be ready to go for next season. Greg Mancz played in replacement of Martin two years ago and performed well. The Texans trust these two guys, and may add a third center just for fodder.
It’s clear as day that the Texans need more help on the offensive line. It is even more clear that the additions they made this offseason are just the start of the process. Even if the Texans do not find their starting left tackle of the future in Davenport, there will be other opportunities in the future to find one. If, and it’s a big IF, Newton can come back and be as good as he was during his career, that would be a big boost to the Texans’ hopes.
The entire season revolves around the knees of Watson. The 2018 offense has the potential to be the most dynamic in Texans history. We saw a glimpse of it, but if the Texans fire on all cylinders for an entire season, they have a chance explode on the scene. Imagine Watson, Hopkins, Fuller, Miller, Foreman, Ellington, B. Miller, Griffin and Co. all performing at full volume. There may not be another offense that can put up the same numbers. There’s a lot of anticipation for this offense next season, it just depends if they can stay healthy, and if O’Brien can orchestrate the offense correctly