Every year, several undrafted rookie free agents snag the last couple spots on NFL rosters. It is a cost-effective way to add young talent and push veterans to keep improving or out the door. Last year, linebacker Dylan Cole rose from the undrafted rookie free agent ranks to be a key contributor on the Texans’ defense until his season-altering injury.
This year, the Texans signed 13 undrafted rookie free agents and a handful of tryout players to fill in the holes the draft and free agency could not. Here is the official list of undrafted free agents Houston signed.
Last year’s rule change that allows teams to keep 90 players on the roster throughout the preseason will be beneficial for the Texans, as they need to look at every possible option to create something that resembles an offensive line.
With rookie training camp under way and these players currently in the building, it is worthwhile discussing who has the best opportunity to wear a Texans emblem come Week 1.
K.J. Malone, OG, LSU
K.J. is receiving a ton of attention this rookie mini camp for his athletic lineage. The son of NBA Hall-of-Fame forward Karl “The Mailman” Malone, K.J. is looking to make the roster by moving inside from tackle to guard for the Texans. At 6’4” and 303 pounds (although the Texans’ website mentioned him at 320 lbs), Malone would make for a sturdy and aggressive left guard at the next level. With Jeff Allen moved to the PUP list for undisclosed reasons, Malone could immediately sub in and challenge Senio Kelemete (among others) for a starting role.
Malone said his father advised him to “Just listen to the coaches and just know [his] role,” “Don’t speak when I’m not supposed to, just respect the elders” was also reportedly given as advice for his first training camp with the Texans. Malone only played in seven games last season for LSU after suffering a knee injury that ended his season. His health and ability to learn the playbook will be vital if he wants to make the roster or even earn a practice squad spot. It’s worth noting that Malone only posted 15 reps on the bench press at the NFL Combine, which may have turned teams away who desired strength on the offensive line in the draft. Overall, Malone’s development in the zone blocking scheme and training to push to the second level of the defense should earn him a roster spot, mostly because there is little to no one else on the roster who can do so.
Terry Swanson, Running Back, Toledo
Not a banger, but not afraid to lower his shoulder in short yardage. Swanson will be a fan favorite to watch during preseason. His vision is his best asset, but his breakaway speed may be a close second. He was the backup to breakout rookie RB Kareem Hunt at Toledo. When he finally got the chance to be the starter at Toledo last season, Swanson rushed for 1,363 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He wants to be “somebody who can break on a big play and somebody who can chew the clock a little bit, can catch out of the backfield,” he said. At 5’9” and 209 pounds, with a 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, he is small but well built to be a running back in the NFL. With Lamar Miller struggling, D’Onta Foreman returning from an Achilles injury, Tyler Erving landing on IR the last two years, and Alfred Blue far from guaranteed a spot after recently signing a one-year deal to stay in Houston, Swanson could sneak into the roster through a ton of reps during training camp.
Jaryd Jones-Smith, OT, Pittsburgh
If you can’t tell or are an ostrich with your head in the sand, the Texans really need help on the offensive line. Jones-Smith has the best body and style of play to remain at offensive tackle in the NFL among the Texans’ UDFA offensive line prospects. The 6’7” and 317 pounds, the tackle has long arms and experience playing at different positions along the offensive line. Due to injuries and Brian O’Niell occupying the left tackle position at Pitt, Jones-Smith took over the right tackle position his senior year at Pittsburgh
Depending on where some of the other offensive linemen fall into place, Jones-Smith could find a role as the backup or reserve right tackle here. His health will be the most important criteria moving forward. His film and analysis from the draft process demonstrate a balanced technique in pass protection and willingness to drive during run blocking. Like many of these other prospects, getting to the second level can be difficult, but once he is engaged, Jones-Smith is tough to fight off.
Vyncint Smith, Wide Receiver, Limestone College
One of the most coveted undrafted rookie free agents after the 2018 NFL Draft, he cashed in with the team’s biggest bonus at $35,000. If you can find a 6’3” WR who ran a 4.38 40 yard dash at his Pro Day, you sign that man and give him a shot. Teams usually keep six or seven wideouts on their roster; looking at our depth chart, DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, Bruce Ellington, and rookie Keke Coutee seem to be locks, while Braxton Miller and Sammie Coates are on the bubble. Although Smith possesses elite speed, he only averaged 4.9 yards per catch and hauled in just 3 TDs last year. If Smith can carve a roll for himself as a red zone threat or tunnel screen option, he will have a chance to beat out Sammie Coates for the last wide receiver spot here. Working against talented press coverage will definitely be an issue for Smith starting off his career, but those long arms can help him separate from smaller corners off the snap. Depending on injury and the performance of current roster players, he may be able to sneak in if he can help on special teams.
Anthony Coyle, OT, Fordham
Honestly, the offensive line is such a crapshoot that anyone has a chance to make the 53-man roster, let alone the 90 man one for training camp. Although lean for a starting OT, Coyle is fluid and versatile, with experience playing multiple positions on the offensive line. He may have to move to guard because of his size, but his film demonstrates a preference for left tackle. Coyle will compete with Kyle Fuller because their role on the team will be similar moving forward; unbalanced line packages that were so necessary to protect Deshaun Watson and Tom Savage last year could be Coyle’s best chance to contribute.
The biggest question for Coyle will be making the jump from Fordham’s D-II competition to blocking NFL caliber pass rushers on a weekly basis. Watching his film, its clear the pass rushers he faced do not possess the get-off speed that will be present at the NFL level. Well, I guess practicing against J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus will quickly reveal if Coyle has the tenacity to be an offensive lineman for the Texans. Coyle’s biggest point of improvement will be learning how to use his hands at the point of attack. If he can learn this, he has the athleticism to contend for a roster spot.
Trevor Daniel, Punter, Tennessee
A what? A who? A-choo? Bless you, but yes, a punter. Even though Shane Lechler was re-signed at the age of 41 to another one-year deal, Daniel could have the making of the Texans’ next punter. Most likely, Daniel spends the season on the practice squad waiting out Lechler’s supposed last year until being given a real shot. Statistically, Daniel was a top-flight punter in college, averaging 47.5 gross yards per punt. His draft analysis on NFL.com (and yes, punters are people too) says that he has power leg but a tendency to outkick his coverage. I am less than worried about that since his coverage unit will be much faster with the Texans. Well, we hope, anyway.
UPDATE: Well, we know of at least one UDFA who won’t be making the team. K.J. Malone has reportedly retired.