There’s a million poetic quotes regarding the value and naivety of youth, but when it comes to the NFL, the phrase people say the most is, “It’s a young-man’s league”. They are referring to the fact that injuries are common and talent can be quickly replaced.
Under the Bill O’Brien administration in Houston, youth became more of a hindrance and was avoided whenever possible. Development and time weren’t concepts that O’Brien valued; he preferred marbled talent with instant productivity. That preference was on display when the Texans traded Brandin Cooks for a second round pick. In essence, O’Brien wanted a broken down Mercedes over a brand new Lexus. As a natural optimist and lover of the NFL Draft, the math here makes nearly no sense—especially considering this was an all-time wide receiver class. Alas, sense was something quite out of reach this offseason.
With the 2020 NFL Draft being used as a conduit for acquiring veterans, the Texans were left with an assortment of draft picks that carried less value than the piggy bank you had as a child. Unfortunately, the Texans are now attempting to cash out on the value they put in the draft. And what do you know? They aren’t getting much back in return.
Through nine weeks, the Texans had the lowest number of plays with rookies on the field in the entire NFL. We’re talking 32nd here, people. This data is hard to come by, but I imagine the productive Week 10 was a minor bump in an otherwise abysmal year for the rookie class.
Lets go through what each rookie has been dealing with thus far.
DT Ross Blacklock, TCU
- Ejected in Week 2 for a shove/punch and missed Week 3.
- Played 39% of snaps after bye week.
- Total snaps played: 130.
OLB/DE Jonathan Greenard, Florida
- Sidelined in training camp with ankle injury.
- Primarily playing on special teams, played 57% of snaps after bye week .
- Total snaps played: 105.
OT Charlie Heck, UNC
- Was active on game day for the first time all season last week.
- “Charlie works hard every day,” per Mike Devlin .
- Total snaps played: 0.
CB John Reid, Penn State
- Took 32 snaps Week 1 at slot corner, is primarily on the scout team.
- Active for eight games, played in six games, and recorded eight tackles.
- Total snaps played: 75.
WR Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island
- Placed on IR before season started due to a neck injury.
- Moved to active roster on October 29th.
- Total snaps played: 0.
With Brennan Scarlett moved to Injured Reserve, Jonathan Greenard has stepped into the spotlight and taken over the role of outside linebacker. His snaps have drastically increased since the bye week three weeks ago, and for far his play has been promising enough to warrant a rotational role on the defense. This is a natural progression for Greenard and is one that some thought would have occurred sooner. Some even thought he’d be the Texans’ Rookie of the Year, but that has certainly not come to pass through nine weeks of football. Now that Jacob Martin is back from his positive COVID result, Greenard could see a dip again in playing time. Most likely, you’ll see Greenard come in for obvious run stopping defenses while Martin takes over to rush the passer.
Romeo Crennel on Ross Blacklock: 'He's got great ability, great talent, he's learning to play with his talent better. (Jon Greenard) good player, good strength, good size, still learning as well. He's improving. He's going to be out there'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) November 18, 2020
Candidly, Ross Blacklock was not my favorite player on the draft board when the Texans took him early in the second round. He wasn’t even my favorite defensive lineman available. Even so, the Texans went with the TCU product, and they have received very little with their investment. Against the Browns, Blacklock was continually pushed off the ball on run plays.
Anthony Weaver on Ross Blacklock 'Ross, he continues to develop. You see him gain more confidence every game. Had a nice tackle, put some pressure on the quarterback. He's starting to gain confidence. Like Jon Greenard, he makes some mistakes you have to live through' @1krozayy— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) November 12, 2020
Currently, the Texans’ base five-man front features J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Carlos Watkins, Brandon Dunn, and P.J. Hall. Blacklock rotated in with Hall and Dunn while Greenard swapped with Mercilus. Both rookies are comfortably on the second string, but neither one of them did anything miraculous during the Browns game that would warrant extra playing time. The Browns were in particular running the ball against Blacklock when he was in, which is certainly not a sign of respect.
For the other draft picks, getting on the field in 2020 would indicate someone else at their position is hurt/sick. John Reid is gaining playing time but has yet to surpass Vernon Hargreaves III as the team’s premier slot corner. Charlie Heck is the backup swing tackle and emergency option in case several linemen go down. Honestly, if Heck never sees the field in his Texans career, that is probably indicative of high quality offensive line play. For Coulter, he is finally back to the active roster, but has a wealth of players in front of him all pleading for more targets. Coulter is a special teams option at this point, but signs point to him being a contributing factor down the line, especially if the next regime clean house on all of the veteran WRs the Texans have acquired over the past two years.
Unfortunately all is quiet on the rookie front. It’s always fantastic to watch a rookie grow up before your eyes and surpass the expectations put on them by the media before the season starts. We haven’t had that happen since Justin Reid impressed at safety his rookie year. There may be several diamonds in the rough in this draft class, but they still need time to harden and form before they are ready to be placed in a ring.