For this week’s group think, the question is simple. It’s an easy jog down memory lane. Who are your top five all-time Texans? Why them? What could the Texans do if they had all five of these players right now, in their prime?
These are our answers.
1) J.J. Watt: Three DPOYs. Don’t think I need to say much else.
2) Arian Foster: Best RB the franchise has ever had, and it’s not particularly close.
3) Duane Brown: He might have been the best tackle in the NFL during his prime. It’s sad that his career in Houston ended the way it did.
4) Johnathan Joseph: He’s probably the best free agency signing the team has ever made. Multiple Pro Bowls and still the team’s best option at 34 (though he probably shouldn’t be, but whatever. The fact that he’s still here shows a sign of how good he was in his prime.)
5) Mario Williams: 53 sacks in five seasons is pretty good. That ranks second all-time to Watt by a comfortable margin.
The funny thing is that all five of these guys were on the greatest team in franchise history, the 2011 Houston Texans. Had Mario stayed one more season after Watt broke out, this team would have won a Super Bowl. That 2012 team was also very good, but the fact that these five people were all on the ‘11 team shows how good that squad was. Best team in franchise history, no question.
I did NOT expect to see a list without Andre Johnson.
1. J.J. Watt: Unquestionably number one. If he hadn’t been so great in his prime years, you could make the argument that Andre deserves the top spot for longevity - but J.J. Watt, for a few years, was the best player in the NFL and perhaps one of the best players in the HISTORY of the NFL - so yeah, he’s number one with a bullet.
2. Andre Johnson: Undeniable greatness and the best at the NFL at his position for a couple of years.
3. Duane Brown: It’s upsetting that his career in Houston ended the way it did, but Brown had a good run of sustained excellence. People forget that his first contract extension was very team friendly, and while I don’t think players owe that to teams AT ALL, it certainly was conveniently forgotten during the contract squabble that ended with him being traded to Seattle.
4. Arian Foster: As far as personal favorites, Arian is my number one, but this list is more about performance. Arian had a short but brilliant prime, and while 52 other guys on the roster would give the same tired, old answers to the media - Arian would challenge the media to do better by calling out their exceptionally lazy questions and entitled attitude. One guy bucks back a little and everyone cries. Ugh. I miss Arian.
5. DeAndre Hopkins: He’s already had enough monster seasons and has done SO well with such flaky quarterbacks that he’s already cracked the Top 5 and is quickly trending up the list. A couple of years with Deshaun Watson at QB, assuming health for both players, and he could jump to #3 pretty quickly.
5. Jadeveon Clowney
4. Arian Foster
3. Deshaun Watson
2. Andre Johnson
1. J.J. Watt
With this core five playing at the same time, the Texans are serious contenders for a Super Bowl for several years.
Depth ranking beyond a top five: I would put DeAndre Hopkins at #6, as he is somewhat interchangeable with #80 for stats. Johnson’s physicality gives him the edge for all-time WR.
#7 DeMeco Ryans, who patrolled the box like no other Texans’ linebacker.
#8 Duane Brown.
#9 Shane Lechler, who can flip the field when needed.
#10 Rounding out a top-ten list is Mario Williams - he should be in the top five, but he was too inconsistent and took plays off in between short streaks of success at often meaningless times.
5. Johnathan Joseph: For a while there, we had some decent corners. There was a time when Joseph was in the discussion for best corner in the NFL. To go from Petey Faggins-level play to J-Jo was like going from a skateboard to an Indy car.
4. DeMeco Ryans: Our first real star (depending on how you feel about Dunta Robinson).
3. Arian Foster : Such a smooth runner, it made it easy to forget we ever trotted out Ron Dayne or Ahman Green.
2. Andre Johnson: This shouldn’t be too controversial.
1. J.J. Watt: Ditto.
5. DeAndre Hopkins: Yes, he’s already better than the majority of Texans players. That speaks to how good he truly is.
4. Brian Cushing: Cushing was always one of my favorite players. He was the vicious center of those Wade Phillips defenses that were so fun to watch.
3. Arian Foster: He gave Houston’s offense success and stability that not even T.J. Yates could ruin.
2.. J.J. Watt: When his career is over, he will probably be the best player to ever suit up for the Texans.
1. Andre Johnson: Johnson and Watt are like 1a & 1b I just prefer Johnson because nobody had to put up with more shit than him during his prime and still be as good as he was.
5. Matt Schaub
4. Arian Foster
3. Duane Brown
2. Andre Johnson
1. J.J. Watt
There’s a difference between something being the best and something being a personal favorite. Michael Jordan may be the greatest basketball player of all time, but Chris Webber is my favorite. James Joyce may be the greatest writer of prose fiction of all time, but Cormac McCarthy is my favorite. You get it?
With this Texans list, it’s no different. There’s the actual best, and there are the ones who reside in the curves of the scars that reside deep in the folds of my brain. So when I say all-time Texans, I don’t mean the best; I mean my favorite.
5.) Matt Schaub
I don’t miss anything. I don’t miss anyone I haven’t seen in years. The past may never be dead. It’s not even past, but as long as you swallow it down far enough and don’t think about it, it ceases to exist. BUT damn, do I miss watching Schaub fake the outside zone and roll to his right, wide open like he’s strolling down a fairway, and put the ball 30 yards downfield to an open receiver, a receiver so open that it defies logic.
Schaub was really good and never great. He should have had more than one playoff run. A zombie foot-shearing by Albert Haynesworth on the same week he was signed by the Bucs, in a Texans blowout win, took away everything Schaub worked towards when things finally broke perfectly after things broke the opposite way from 2008 to 2010, back when Houston blew so many close games. That’s the way football goes sometimes. After his foot injury, Schaub’s play catapulted into a ravine and burst into a pink mist in 2013. Sometimes, that’s the way it goes for really good quarterbacks. Once they lose it, they really lose it. No matter what, 2013 shouldn’t stink up what the greatest quarterback in franchise history did in Houston.
4.) Arian Foster: Oh, that specter gliding through the fog, that raven swirling around the thermals, that one-cut runner who would see the hole and break like a Hangman’s fracture. Foster was just a pure and beautiful runner. It was like watching Mary Oliver poetry. Yet in spite of all that gliding, he was nasty and physical. He had open field speed to break the big ones. If you ever miss watching Foster, just put on the Ravens divisional playoff round loss from 2011. That was as close a running back can get to carrying his team to an upset playoff victory.
Or, you can just listen to his podcast, I guess.
3.) J.J. Watt: Watt’s the greatest Texans of all time. He the greatest defensive player of this decade. He’s had the most dominant single season of any defensive lineman in the history of the game. He’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen play.
It’s a shame football is a sport too vicious for our brittle sacks of skin. My heart’s broken. I’m devastated we lost two years to injury during the prime of Watt’s career. Two more years of Watt’s three best seasons were wasted because of can-kicking quarterback decisions. I don’t even care about the Texans’ record in 2018. I would trade an 11-5 season for a 6-10 one if it means watching Watt obliterate the universe like it was 2014 all over over again. Please, please, please stay healthy.
2.) Duane Brown: I’m an offensive line person. I played it and hated it for like five years. I always wished I was fast enough to play tight end or strong enough to play defensive tackle. In general, I kind of hated playing football. I just stood out in the sun while dreading the end of practice running, getting destroyed over and over again, coming home with headaches and laying in the tub dying. But I kept playing, and over enough time, things finally clicked. I got a little strong, my feet started working, I started doing the destroying, and it became an enjoyable thing to do.
Most of what I learned to get me to the point of being somewhat decent at football wasn’t from coaching, film sessions, or mat drills. It was from watching Duane Brown play. I would rewind his pass sets. I’d watch his hands. I’d see how he maneuvered back around when he got beat. I understood you are going to get beat sometimes (see Dwight Freeney).
Brown was the perfect tackle to watch, too. He was so nimble for his size. Wide and lateral moving, he was a Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey moving brick wall. And when contact was made, Brown devoured guys. Aesthetically, he was unique too. It was kicka$$ how his shoulder pads covered his neck went all the way up to his head. I still wish the Texans had just paid him and kept him as a Texan for the next few years. The offensive line plummeting last season was largely in part because Kendall Lamm, not Brown, was the Week One starter.
1. Andre Johnson: The Texans drafted Johnson in 2003. I think. Selected right ahead of him was Charles Rogers, who played like three seasons in the NFL. Johnson outproduced Rogers’ entire career in just his rookie season; Rogers, you might remember, was selected by the Lions in an attempt to cover up for the Joey Harrington debacle. This Matt Millen blessing is the biggest what-if in team history and also the first break Houston’s newborn franchise had.
When Johnson was selected by the Texans, my brain was just starting to work. I made actual decisions I can remember. Memories are clear, long, and flowing instead of wispy snippets or GIFs of recollections. I’ll never forget Johnson being selected by Houston, throwing the football outside with another apartment complex teenager, and talking about the pick. From that point on, watching Andre Johnson play was just something I did every Sunday for six months of the year for eleven years.
When you become an adult, sports matter less. It’s cool. It’s still fun. It’s still entertainment. It becomes a novelty to the constant beating and tearing of life. Johnson came around at the perfect time for me, back when this stuff was life and death, when a Texans loss ruined my week. He was the greatest player in franchise history until J.J. Watt came along, but always and forever, he’ll be my favorite.
As far as how this Texans squad would do with these five players on it, it would be really good. I don’t know how well it favors to other teams’ top five players, but it’s a great group. One of the bright spots of being a fan of this team with more downs than ups is that it’s been able to bring in and nurture some truly great, game-changing players.
I’m very disappointed in all of you of failing to make this joke:
5. Dylan (Cole).
4. Dylan (Cole).
3. Dylan (Cole).
2. Dylan (Cole).
1. Dylan (Cole).
For real though, from Nos. 5 to 1, it goes DeMeco Ryans, Johnathan Joseph, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and J.J. Watt. Matt Schaub is just outside my Top Five; he is terribly underrated because of how his time in Houston ended. DeAndre Hopkins is almost sure to pass Schaub in short order, and Deshaun Watson has a chance at No. 1 if he does what we think he can do in the years to come.
Sound off in the comments below and give your top five Texans.