Whether you've been satisfied by this offseason or not, the Texans’ 90-man roster heading into training camp is all but finalized with the conclusion or the NFL Draft and the undrafted free agent frenzy. There’s always the possibility of one or two veterans lingering around in the marketplace that the team can sign (can someone please give Jay Ajayi a call)?, but for the most part, the Texans will move forward with the men they have on hand.
After several months of conjecture, projections, and guessing who the Texans would take in the draft, let’s continue with the hypothesizing and predict who will be on the first Texans 53-man roster in 2019. Note that (R) designates a rookie player
Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron, Joe Webb III
In Watson we trust. Our franchise QB has a big season ahead of him as the team could enter “win now” mode if Watson takes the next step. Obviously, health stands in the way of him being able to will this franchise to a third straight playoff appearance. AJ McCarron is a quality free agent signing and doesn't exactly mean that the season is entirely lost if Watson is injured this season.
Running Back (4)
Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Karan Higdon (R), Cullen Gillaspia (R)
Higdon breaks into the roster as an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) to claim the third RB spot. D’Onta Foreman should be healthy heading into training camp and will be one of the more intriguing players on the roster to watch; his health and the team’s confidence in his ability to product will differentiate if the Texans’ front office will need to add another RB to the fold. Miller is...well, we all know what Miller is, and it’s not a top-flight, first string back in the NFL.
Wide Receiver (5)
DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller V, Keke Coutee, DeAndre Carter, Vyncint Smith
With one of the league’s top three receivers, an elite downfield threat, and a wicked fast slot receiver who changes the pH level on the field when he’s active, the Texans have one of the most talented and diverse starting wide receiver groups in the league. The main concern is health. Fuller is expected to be ready for training camp after suffering an ACL tear against the Dolphins, and Coutee should be all set to go after several bouts of hamstring issues throughout his rookie season. Watch out for Johnnie Dixon, an UDFA out of Ohio State, to challenge Carter for the backup slot receiver role, or even to be the sixth WR if the Texans opt to carry more depth here.
Tight End (4)
Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring (R), Darren Fells
The first notable player left off of this roster is Ryan Griffin, who had himself an interesting last Friday night in Nashville. His time with the team is up after several bland years of production at TE. The Texans are leaning in on young athletic prospects without much tight end experience to develop into pass catching threats. O’Brien is building this position with pure mismatches and ultra-smart, moldable players for Watson to throw to. Thomas is the red zone threat the Texans need and Akins is the release valve Watson deserves. Warring will be a player that has a greater impact in the back half of the season while he finds a role in the offense.
Nick Martin, Greg Mancz
Martin has casually been the starting center for several years now, but we never hear much regarding his rapport and relationship with Watson. Martin is a better pass blocker than run blocker; the carousel of guards surrounding him the past couple years have been unforgiving and truly limited his ability to grow into the position. Mancz is a quality center/guard who at times is more reliable and provides better run blocking than the starter that he’s spelling. I don’t believe the team would carry a third center any time soon.
Zach Fulton (Right), Martinas Rankin (Left), Senio Kelemente (Left)
Brandon Brooks must have cast a spell on this position when he left since no one can play guard for this team. It has been a major hole the franchise has attempted to resolve via free agency. Jeff Allen, Zach Fulton, and Senio Kelemete, among others, have been woefully incompetent at the position and make us question Mike Devlin’s ability to train and coordinate an offensive line. Rankin should move into the starting left guard position this year barring any setbacks. Confidence level in this group: zero to none.
Julie’n Davenport (Left), Tytus Howard (R-Left), Seantrel Henderson (Right), Max Scharping (R-Right), Matt Kalil (Right)
Your guess is as good as mine for who will be starting at both tackle positions Week One of the regular season. Two rookies will be fighting for either tackle position right away, as something must be done to better protect Watson this season. Davenport is entering his third year in the NFL and should be primed to take a big leap in his productivity and protection capability. Expect the Texans to shuffle the deck on the offensive line in training camp as O’Brien tries to find the best quintuplets to start the season. If there is to be an under the radar player who makes the roster, Roderick Johnson would be the man to upset one of the veteran tackles.
Defensive End (3)
J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Charles Omenihu
To start out, the Texans shift these players around like pinballs, so calling any one player a defensive end or tackle should be taken with a grain of salt. J.J. Watt turned 30 this offseason and finally entered the spring relatively healthy for the first time in two offseasons. Is Watt beginning to slow down? This season will be critical to understanding his long-term productivity in the league. For Clowney, this will be a long offseason; I hope to the heavens the Texans come to their senses and pay this man. Note, Carlos Watkins is left off this list. He has been unable to crack the game day roster for most of his career, and I think his time in Houston is over. Charles Omenihu is a hand-in-the-ground edge rusher with a great build to grow into. He will be a special teams contributor from the jump and will put pressure on Duke Ejiofor for snaps as an exterior pass rusher.
Defensive Tackle (3)
D.J. Reader, Brandon Dunn, Angelo Blackson
The most underrated group on this team got a little bit smaller this offseason with Christian Covington moving to Dallas. D.J. Reader is a gorilla in pads and gobbles up double teams like a Thanksgiving turkey; he plays all over the defensive line and cleans up for the freelancing that Watt and Clowney are able to do. Dunn is the highest-contributing, least-known player on the whole team. However, the Texans signed him to a legitimate contract and upgraded Angelo Blackson to luxury status with a large contract of his own. UDFA Albert Huggins from Clemson may break onto the 53-man roster as the Clemson defensive llineman has a ton of potential, albeit with few knicks and bumps from college.
Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett, Duke Ejiofor
I thought the Texans were going to trade Mercilus during Day Two of the 2019 NFL Draft for a mid-round draft pick or package him to move up in the second round. But the team has stuck with him and this position group for the next season. As this position becomes less of a priority within the Texans’ defensive scheme, look for these players to line up as edge run defenders and interior pass rushers to mix up the passing rush attack. Brennan Scarlett rotates in for Mercilus and made strides last season before getting hurt. While Ejiofor sparked in the preseason, he disappeared once the season began and struggled to take the field on defense. This offseason will be crucial for him to find a role and develop into it.
Inside Linebacker (4)
Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Dylan Cole, Peter Kalambayi
This group is rock solid. Cunningham and McKinney are turning into excellent running mates at inside linebacker. McKinney dominates between the tackles and Cunningham is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who has completely relearned how to tackle in the NFL. Cole comes in on third down as a tight end and running back coverage linebacker. Kalambayi will move inside this offseason, as his skill set translates better to an inside linebacker than an edge setter or pass rusher on the outside. I do not predict much movement in this position; four is a golden number of inside linebackers.
Johnathan Joseph, Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson (R), Aaron Colvin, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Xavier Crawford (R), Johnson Bademosi
Gawking at the quantity of corners? That’s because the Texans are a hamster on a wheel trying to make progress in improving their secondary. Coverage by committee will be the method of madness moving forward with the defensive backfield. I expect one or two of these players making a transition to safety or to have safety-like responsibilities. Maybe Xavier Crawford can follow in Andre Hal’s footsteps as a late-round draft pick who moves to safety and excels. Joseph is 35 and is not getting any younger. This experimental secondary will have to learn to sink or swim, and the Texans’ season may ride on their ability to tread water.
Justin Reid, Tashon Gipson, A.J. Moore, Mike Tyson
This safety group gives me night terrors. We’re one injury away from catastrophe. The Texans only list five safeties on their current roster, so someone else will need to be added to this group to instill any level of confidence entering the season. Gipson will take over the safety position previously manned by Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu. Let’s hope that he can make the transition to HOuston from Jacksonville better than Colvin did.
Long Snapper (1)
Weeks is entering his tentth season for the Texans. Who knows how many seasons Weeks has left, but we are grateful for all the years he has put in.
Fairbairn has been as steady as they come in his kicking duties. A time will come where he will have to make a game-winning kick as the clock runs out, but for now we will more than take his excellence in short to mid-range kicks. Fairbairn did not miss a single field goal within 39 yards last year. That’s a massive accomplishment for any kicker. Write him in as the Texans’ kicker in pen, not pencil.
One of the true spoilers from last season’s first 53-man roster as he ended Shane Lechler’s time in Houston, Daniel was excellent in his rookie season with 36 punts going inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. More than that, he was nearly shank-less throughout the entire season. Potential got Daniel the job last offseason, but consistency should give the Texans a valuable asset for years to come.