This upcoming season is being heralded as the least rookie-friendly season ever. No rookie training camp, limited full-team training camp, or preseason leaves the rookies with minimal opportunities to carve out a role for themselves on the 53 man roster. Especially on a team that prefers veteran talent over developmental prospects, these players have a tough assignment even before they take the field.
With limited opportunity, these players must understand their role and how to maximize their chances of getting on a roster through specialization. Yes, O’Brien prefers versatility in his athletes, but when it comes down to it, each player must serve a purpose on this team that is unique to their skillset. That purpose can be long-term in scope too; they don’t have to be ready to contribute now in some instances.
Understanding each rookie and the undrafted rookie free agent’s role on this team as a fan will help you sort through the obstacle course of being a fan in 2020 and give you someone to root for before season starts. a fan will
Ross Blacklock, DT - TCU: Demand Attention from Interior Lineman
Surrounded by talent, Blacklock is being plopped down in the center of this defense to clog up the middle and free up players around him. He is not a pass rusher, so don’t expect five or six sacks out of the rookie. However, you should expect him to frustrate and wear down centers and guards across the league. The players who should benefit the most are the inside linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney as teams won’t be able to reach them as easily with Blacklock powering through most one-on-one blocks.
Jonathan Greenard, DE - Florida: Six Sacks and Pressure Off Watt
For Greenard, his role may be more defined by the team’s needs rather than his own strengths. Greenard is a solid pass rusher, but as JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus age the need for a second pass rusher grows more and more vital. Jacob Martin did improve throughout the season, but Greenard may prove to be a better every down option. His highlights show an ability to get off the ball and disrupt plays, and now his job is to translate those skills to the NFL.
Charlie Heck, OT - UNC: Watch & Learn From Laremy Tunsil
The 6’8” offensive tackle who's father played for the Chicago Bears has the honor and privilege of sitting behind the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. Heck was transparently not my favorite offensive lineman prospect coming out of college, but for a man of his stature he does have quick feet. You’d like to see your third pick in a draft be a rotational contributor, but in this instance if Heck only sees the field on special teams consider it a win for all of us. Down the line Heck could be a right tackle, but his skillset is much more suited for the left side based on his Senior Bowl tape.
John Reid, CB - Penn State: Reserve Nickel Corner & Special Teams
The Texans fourth round pick was recruited by Bill O’Brien to Penn State, and now Reid follows O’Brien again to Houston. Reid is in a great position to quickly see playing time as the secondary will have plenty of new faces. Undersized, Reid was a serviceable corner in college but won’t match up well against the tall, rangy receivers at the next level. He’ll be moved inside to play slot corner behind either Bradley Roby or Gareon Conley.
At Penn State, Reid could be seen occasionally returning punts and kicks. DeAndre Carter could use some competition in this aspect, but unfortunately this won’t play out over a preseason. Even if Reid isn’t returning kick’s he’s perfect for special teams on coverage.
Isaiah Coulter, WR - Rhode Island: Develop Into A Mismatch
Like a changeup pitch after you’ve seen three straight fast balls, Coulter will be the size that is lacking in the Texans wide receiver room. He is the tallest WR on the roster at 6’3” but can hold his own in the speed department with a 4.45 40-yard dash.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Coulter ends up on the practice squad, but the Texans will do their best to find a spot on the roster for him. He’ll most likely be a special teams asset, but what more intriguing is his size and speed combination. He has minimal pressure to start now, so that will allow the coaching staff to develop the Rhode Island prospect.
Undrafted Rookies on the Roster:
Tyler Simmons, WR - Georgia: Special Teams Ace
Word has it that Simmons is putting up a fight to make the active roster through active special teams play. He’d most likely steal a receiver or defensive back’s role of someone you are more familiar with, but if he can crack the roster you’ll see him all over the field.
Auzoyah Alufohai, NT - West Georgia: Reserve Rotational Nose Tackle
Born in Houston before moving to Nigeria then Malasia and Qatar before returning back to the US, the behemoth nose tackle is a DJ Reader lookalike. One of the most unique stories on the roster, Alufohai has an unbelievable upside that the Texans are betting on. He will most likely be a practice squad guy the Texans look to groom.
Scottie Phillips: RB - Ole Miss: Commit to Developing
The definition of a one-cut back, the undersized running back out of Ole Miss had a senior year that disappointed compared to his Junior year. Though small in stature, Phillips is as hard to bring down as they come. He’s firmly the fifth running back on the roster, but with some time and luck he could earn a roster spot on special teams.
Cordel Iwuagwu, OG - TCU: Make the Practice Squad
Another UDFA from Houston, Iwuagwu is a lean offensive guard prospect whose chances of making the team are slim, but he fits the team’s scheme perfect. A versatile guard prospect who was invited to the combine, Iwuagwu would have been a fun name to listen to Marc Vandermeer attempt during the preseason.
Jan Johnson: ILB - Penn State: Unseat Peter Kalambayi
It takes a bold man to assume the #56 and play inside linebacker for the Texans. That’s like trying to wear 99 after JJ retires. Jan was the physical and literal centerpiece of the Penn State defense for several years. Somehow the PFF All American honorable mention went undrafted, mainly due to his lacking size and speed. He’s already graduated with his master’s degree in management and organizational leadership in May 2019.
In terms of his outlook, Johnson needs to show that he’s more capable than Kalambayi at playing on special teams. Kalambayi hasn't shown much in terms of linebacker play, so that shouldn't be of much concern.
Dylan Stapleton, TE - James Madison: make the practice squad
In an already crowded position, Stapleton is looking to find his footing in the league. If Kahale Warring finds himself on the practice squad for one reason or another, Stapleton will have a tough time finding a home in Houston.