With the NFL Draft ever approaching, knowing what we have (and more importantly what we do not have) will help us make sense of the Texans draft day choices. Free agency has plugged some holes into the Texans ship, but there are still several ill-boding issues the Texans need to address. For the defense that allowed the 9th most passing yards, 23rd in sacks, 20th in interceptions, and 20th in yards per game, there is a lot of improvement necessary. Even with the return of Watt, Mercilus, Covington, Cole, Reader, and Scarlett who all ended the season on IR, there are a ton of young players that must take a step forward. Players like Kevin Johnson, whose health concerns still do not justify his miserable play when healthy, need to step up or given up on. This defense cannot rely on Watt to have 17 sacks in a season. If he has 9 sacks on the season I will be ecstatic. This defense cannot rely on two CBs who will be older than 30 when the season starts. Too many times an most notably against the Seahawks, the defense ran out of steam and collapsed when it was needed the most. New faces will need to inject a large dose of potent firepower if the Texans want to return to form.
Put down your asthma inhaler. Crumple up the brown bag you have next to your bedside from night terrors of Watt’s knee never healing. Stop aimlessly staring into your bathroom mirror wondering if those season tickets are even worth it this year. The Texans have more talent on their defense than almost every team in the NFL. That’s right. The Texans front-7 can match almost any other that you post in the comment section (which I recommend, I’m interested to see who y’all this is the best). With the addition of the Honey Badger and Aaron Colvin, the Texans have added two playmaking secondary players who boost the Texans turnover rate.
Starters: J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney
Backups: Joel Heath, Christian Covington, Carlos Watkins, Angelo Blackson, Matthew Godin, Marcus Hardison
Opinion: The most pointless debate that Texans fans have is deciding to either place Clowney as a DE or OLB. The Texans use a 3-4 defense, so when they go to nickel there are four men on the defensive line. Ideally, this group will be Watt, Clowney, Reader, and Mercilus. Imagine the offensive line room of opposing teams trying to block that pass rush. I guess one way for our own o-line to get better is to get sick and tired of blocking these mammoths so that Sacksonville is not all that impressive anymore. J.J. Watt should return to the team before training camp, but we will not know in what form until we see him suit up again. Heath for all that he is worth has been probably the least appreciated player on the defense. During all the injuries on the defense, Heath has played every position on the d-line and does his best to keep some form of a front-7 together. Covington ended the season on IR with a torn bicep against Seattle. Covington adds more to the interior line support than he does to the pass rush effort. Carlos Watkins’s rookie year was not as productive as expected, but he should push Covington out of a job if he makes improvements this offseason. Angelo Blackson ended up playing 18% of the plays on defense because everyone else was injured last year. Wowza we were injured last year. Godin and Hardison are going to be training camp rotational guys.
Starter: D.J. Reader
Backups: Brandon Dunn, Darius Kilgo
Opinion: After having Vince Wilfork command the middle of the line for two years, the Texans have not made any real additions to the position. D.J. Reader right now is locked into the starting DT/NT position. At 6’3”, 325 Reader does a good job of occupying space and keeping interior lineman off of the inside linebackers. Reader more than doubled his tackles from his rookie year 47 tackles and recorded one sack last against Cleveland. He had a minor knee injury Week 15 against Jacksonville and was placed on IR to end the season. Fortunately, the knee injury is only minor and he should be ready for OTAs. Dunn has been on the Texans for the past three seasons and last year he was tasked with rotating with Reader on the interior. He played 40% of the snaps last year on defense and along with Heath have been the only healthy defensive lineman on the roster. Darius Kilgo is a better name than he is a defensive lineman. A 6th round pick in 2015, Kilgo has only recorded 7 tackles in his career. Would not be surprised if the 4th round pick in the draft is spent on acquiring another DT to supplement this group.
Starters: Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett
Backups: Ufomba Kamalu, Gimel President, LaTroy Lewis, Kennan Gilchrist
A torn bicep ended Mercilus’ season after 5 weeks. His 2015 breakout season with 12 sacks seems like a dream more than a memory. At just 27 years old, Mercilus still has a lot to give and is by far the best OLB on the team. When healthy, he can dominate weaker tight ends and has greatly improved in pass coverage. He does struggle guarding running backs out of the backfield, but his value on the line of scrimmage is obvious. His absence made Brennan Scarlett the point of attack for many opponent’s run schemes. I thought I was catching Scarlett Fever watching Brennan try to hold the edge against a run because it was making me sick. Although Scarlett was excited about his increased roll, it was apparent that his talent level was a drop off from that of Mercilus and Clowney on the edge. Ufomba Kamalu came in as the other OLB and played in some significant moments. He too struggled to set the edge against opposing teams and sometimes would get swallowed by plays. His pass rush skills are technically sound and he always seems to be one step away. Gimel President is a hard working OLB who should be on the roster again come September. LaTroy Lewis was brought up to the starting roster before Week 13 from the practice squad. He recorded one sack against San Francisco. Kennan Gilchrist has signed a futures/reserve contract with the Texans and should bring speed to the OLB group
Starters: Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham
Backups: Dylan Cole, Brian Peters, Ben Heeney, Josh Keyes
The McKinney-Cunningham duo is something I am greatly looking forward to in its second season. They compliment each other very well - McKinney is a hard nosed run stuffer who can bring the blitz while Cunningham is an excellent sideline-to-sideline linebacker with coverage ability. Cunningham does get targeted in the run, so pairing McKinney at the point of attack will be vital to our run defense. Having another season in the weight room will help fill out Cunningham’s build. McKinney’s greatest improvement since his rookie year has been his anticipation and understanding of offenses. Without Brian Cushing (was he ever really there recently though), it is a new era in the linebacker room. A welcome surprise was the speed and tackling ability of Dylan Cole. The rumors and excitement about him before the season started created a lot of anticipation for an undrafted rookie free agent. Teams are build on cost-effective play that Cole can provide. Whether he fits in as a rotational guy or a special teams dynamo, having him as the backup inside linebacker is a comforting feeling. His unfortunate injury on an amazing interception was definitely one of the low points of the season. Ben Heeney played in five games this season and was a special teams contributor. Josh Keyes is a traveling special teams LB who went undrafted in 2015.
Starters: Aaron Colvin, Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson
Backups: Kevin Johnson, Johnson Bademosi, Treston DeCoud, Bryce Jones, Dee Virgin, Josh Thornton
Just to make my feelings clear - I think the Texans need to sign Bashaud Breeland and then package Kareem Jackson with some third round picks to trade up in the draft. Getting a team to take on Jackson’s contract will definitely be difficult, but I do not see a definitive roll for him on the defense any more. The Texans obviously want Joseph and think that he can be serviceable this season. Although his production took a nosedive this past season, he is good insurance if Jackson or Johnson are still unreliable. The addition of Aaron Colvin was necessary more than any other free agent signing this offseason. New faces are needed in the secondary and Colvin can bring versatility and cover almost anybody we face. Adding Bademosi I thought was a sneaky good move and will finally help out special teams. He signed a two year deal with the Texans with a pretty friendly contract. Kevin Johnson, it is time for him to either be the lock down starting corner he was drafted to be or move on from him. I’d also not be opposed to trading him to move up. His health has been subpar most of his career. Treston Decoud was held back from OTAs and rookie training camp because of Pac-12 rules. I could see him excelling in this system based on his college film. He has the skill set of a lesser Richard Sherman in that he is long and aggressive in his tackling. Dee Virgin was a liability all over the field last year and I think these additions along with the ones in the draft will put him back on the practice squad again. Bryce Jones was signed out of Akron last year and did not see the field. Josh Thornton will be in his second season out of Southern Utah and is a clone of Kareem Jackson.
Starters: Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Hal
Backups: Kurtis Drummond, Corey Moore, Ibraheim Campbell
Opinion: Man I am excited to see Honey Badger roaming around the secondary on this defense. If everything can come together, Mathieu should be able to dominate and thrive. He will be the perfect nickel safety for this defense. He can assist the run game, bring blitz packages to the defense, and help coverage over the middle. If he can return to All-Pro form from 2015 and with a one year, $7 Million dollar contract, the Texans may have made the biggest steal in free agency. His counterpart will be Andre Hal who has been the most consistent Texans safety over the past several years. He is good over the middle and has impressive timing. His ball-hawking is average compared to other starting safeties. The Texans have relied on Hal more than I ever expected out of the seventh round pick. Kurtis Drummond and Corey Moore are mediocre backups who have been helpful in special teams over the past couple years. Both may be replaced if the Texans add more to the safety position in the draft. Ibraheim Campbell has spent three seasons with the Browns and now should push Moore and Drummond for a job. The fourth round safety has good coverage skills and could be an underrated addition to the secondary.