Yup. You read that right: fifty-FIVE man roster. Thanks to the new CBA and its quirky concoction of rules, two more players can join every NFL team’s active roster during a game week. Not only that, an additional two spots will be added to game-day rosters and the practice squad as well. This was a focal point behind the new CBA being agreed upon so quickly, and it will be an interesting plot line heading into the 2020 season.
Predicting the 55 (dang, I’m going to have to get used to that) man roster is one of my favorite offseason activities. It’s a great avenue to learn about the entire team and find a budding player you can root for.
I’m exactly a month behind last year’s prediction post, which ironically started with “Whether you’ve been satisfied by this offseason or not”, but I’m rearing to get back into the swing of things as football appears to be a go this fall.
Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
Fun fact: Watson is only going to make $400k more than McCarron this year. Gone are the days of Sam Bradford’s six-year, $78M abomination of a contract. There’s no Joe Webb this year, which I disagree vehemently with. I don’t see the Texans bringing anyone noteworthy into training camp to compete for a backup role. It’s hard to complain about a lack of drama at the QB position after so many years of chaos.
Running Back & Fullback (4)
Duke Johnson, David Johnson, Buddy Howell, Cullen Gillaspia
I know this is still a sore subject, but breathe (even if it is through a mask). With Carlos Hyde signing with the Seahawks, there is no true hard-nosed running back on the roster. Buddy Howell fits the skill set, but his place is on special teams. O’Brien has a soft spot for Howell. Karan Higdon was a guy we rooted for last year to make the roster, and he has a real shot to be the last man to make the roster. The Michigan product could truly add the between the tackles tenacity we desire. Keep an eye on rookie Scottie Phillips from Ole Miss; he could make a move early for the third running back role.
Wide Receiver (6)
Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills, Randall Cobb, Isaiah Coulter, DeAndre Carter
Okay, these are all sore subjects. Unlike many in the media, I believe Bill O’Brien wants to forge onward with this one-dimensional wide receiver group. Does the logic “if every player has an injury, none of them are actually more injury-prone than the others” work? With an abundance of speed and lack of height, Texans will be free to pick and choose their options down the field.
One notable person is left off this list: Keke Coutee. Drake’s In My Feelings song from 2018 is as thankfully gone as O’Brien will be from Coutee. Long in OB’s doghouse, Coutee has yet to scratch the surface of his talent. I borderline adore Coutee’s dynamic play when he’s healthy, but unfortunately Houston’s recent offseason moves have the third-year receiver on the outside looking in.
Rookie Isaiah Coulter sneaks onto this roster of vets thanks to his strong catch radius, potential, and size.
Tight End (3)
Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Darren Fells
* Grabs mic *
Kahale Warring will never suit up in a Texans uniform. There, I’ve said it. Barring injury to one of the Jordan twins (Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins), Warring won’t find the field buried behind this swath of tight ends.
Thomas had a nightmare season in 2019 after a glorious 2018 rookie campaign. The signing of Fells and drafting of Warring bode ominous for Thomas’ future in Houston, but there’s hope he has rehabbed and is ready to get back into the mix. Fells turned out to be a better pass catcher than blocker, which was not what he was brought in to do. Akins leads this group as the most constant and versatile option on the board and is among the most secure spots on the roster.
Nick Martin, Greg Mancz
Mancz drove me berserk as he led the team in sacks all the way through Week 11 last year after allowing three sacks in one game. The locker room leader did not have a memorable 2019 season.
Martin will be entering his fifth season and had by far his best professional season last year. More consistency, plus a developing chemistry with rookie Max Scharping, elevated Martin to among the best centers in the league. A Pro Bowl alternate in 2019, Martin got a contract extension that keeps him in Houston until 2022.
Max Scharping, Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete
Scharping was a pleasant surprise as a rookie this past season. Fulton remains a sore spot for the Texans economically and physically. A less-than-spectacular season last year, but there isn’t much competition pushing Fulton further. Kelemete remains on the roster as the Texans’ swing guard but could easily be replaced by a younger, cheaper, and honestly better version.
Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, Charlie Heck, Roderick Johnson, Kyle Murphy
Tunsil is rich. Howard is rehabbing. Heck is big. Johnson can’t pass block. Do I need to say anything else? The Texans should enter 2020 with a familiar offensive line for the first time in what seems like a generation. Howard’s MCL tear last year caused chaos on the offensive line, and his rehabilitation may be one of the most underrated offseason stories.
Heck is a guy to watch grow at training camp. He’s 6-8”, his dad is the o-line coach for the Chiefs, and he’s the next installment of Julie’n Davenport.
Defensive End (5)
J.J. Watt, Angelo Blackson, Charles Omenihu, Carlos Watkins, Jonathan Greenard
Watt will be 31 and entering his tenth NFL season. The future Hall of Famer will need to carry the load again as a young group of ends looks to step up. The overpaid Blackson had a mediocre season in 2019 and could be replaced rather quickly if Omenihu takes another developmental step. I was an avid supporter of Greenard for the Texans and believe he’ll be an impact player early on. If this group is destined to only be four deep, watch out for Watkins to be the odd man out.
Defensive Tackles (2)
Ross Blacklock, Brandon Dunn
First Christian Covington, now D.J. Reader. This group is getting smaller and smaller. It will be interesting to see how the Texans employ Blacklock early on, as he has a unique mentality at the line of scrimmage. Auzoyah Alufohai, a rookie from West Georgia, is a guy I like to at least be on the practice squad. He’s a 6’4”, 320 pound human buffalo born in Houston.
Outside Linebackers (4)
Whitney Mercilus, Jacob Martin, Brennan Scarlett, Duke Ejiofor, Davin Bellamy
This is where things get tricky. This group starts and ends with Mercilus and Martin, but don’t be fooled into thinking this group doesn't have depth. (Re) Enter Duke Ejiofor, who sat out last season with a torn Achilles. If he’s healthy, he brings some real speed to this group. Brennan Scarlett has grown on me over the years. Davin Bellamy will continue to push to make the roster, and may be one of the key benefactors
Inside Linebackers (5)
Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Peter Kalambayi, Dylan Cole, Tyrell Adams
Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Vernon Hargreaves III, Gareon Conley, John Reid, Phillip Gaines
This crock-pot of a secondary is going to be held for ransom by Texans fans. Roby fortunately signed on after we begged him to stay. Johnson should take a big step forward this season. Hargreaves and Conley provide depth and much needed speed. Watkins was a free agent add for special teams.
Justin Reid, Eric Murray, A.J. Moore Jr., Jaylen Watkins, Michael Thomas
This group gives me the heebee-geebees and will change. I can’t see how they don’t add talent to this group before the start of the season. This is easily the weakest group on the team since Tashaun Gipson was surprisingly released. Justin Reid is the best player in this group, but he has played through injuries in his young career. Moore was serviceable during the 2019 season, yet far from what we need in a starting safety.
Special Teams (3)
Jon Weeks, Ka’imi Fairbairn, Bryan Anger
The first time I went through this, I only got to 50 players, which means there is a massive gap between players 40-50 and 50-60. Last year was a much tougher cut. Hopefully Houston makes additional moves this summer to add another jolt of talent.