Let’s get right to it, like a Da Baby mix tape. In the third and final round of my 2020 Houston Texans 53-man roster prediction, big decisions must be made whether to keep new faces in or unproven veterans.
I will admit it’s been easier to predict who will stay and who will go than in previous seasons. That may be due in part to only 80 players being at training camp, but for the most part, it’s due to a clear understanding of what Bill O’Brien is looking for in his players. Smart. Tough. Dependable. Solid, veteran special teams players will be prioritized over high-ceiling rookies. And being in O’Brien’s dog house is the final step to being kicked out of the house.
Yet as you know all too well, anything can happen. No one is safe when O’Brien starts getting curious with the phone. He’ll trade you faster than you can say “ Wow, look at that chin”.
Similar to ESPN’s “Bracketology” for the NCAA Tournament, I have players that are the last four to make the roster, the first four cut who were closest to making the roster, and for fun we’ve added four guys who may surprise you by seeing their names on the waiver wire on Saturday.
Last Four IN:
Kahale Warring - TE
P.J. Hall - DT
Karan Higdon Jr. - RB
Keion Crossen - CB
First Four OUT:
Jaylen Watkins - DB
Buddy Howell - RB
Tyrell Adams - ILB
Keke Coutee - WR
Surprises To Prepare For:
Jordan Thomas - TE
Cullen Gillaspia - FB
Benardrick McKinney - ILB
Vernon Hargreaves III - CB
Deshaun Watson, AJ McCarron
Alex McGough is McGone after being cut earlier this week. However, the Texans will need a third quarterback for a COVID emergency. If one quarterback gets sick and BOTH have to quarantine, they need a reserve to hop in and play the system. Don’t be caught off guard if Joe Webb somehow re-appears like T.J. Yates from years past or the Texans place McGough on their protected players list.
Running Backs/Fullback (4)
David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Karan Higdon Jr., Cullen Gillaspia
Everywhere else, you’ll read has Buddy Howell making the roster. Not here. Special teams stallion or not, Howell will not be long for this roster. Houston’s running back group needs a guy who can step up and step in with youth, talent, and a nose for the end zone. Higdon is a Michigan graduate who spent all of last year on the practice squad. It’s about time this offense took a chance on an UDFA running back again. Everything I know about the O’Brien era goes against this prediction, but I stand by Higdon as the guy this running back group needs to add a dimension they don't currently possess.
Tight Ends (4)
Jodan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Darren Fells, Kahale Warring
Today marks a beautiful and wondrous occasion. This is the first ever 53-man roster prediction where Warring makes the cut. He did it! Well at least, I predict it will happen. Warring has been practicing and making strides in training camp. Whether he’s active on game day is another discussion, but for now Matt Weston can look at his life-size poster of Warring on his bedroom wall and think, “My dreams have come true”. Thomas may be on the outs potentially if there’s a need for a roster spot in another position group. Dylan Stapleton will make the Texans’ practice squad; he’s had a good training camp.
Wide Receivers (6)
Will Fuller V, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Kenny Stills, Isaiah Coulter, DeAndre Carter
The popular opinion with an unpopular outcome is that third-year receiver Keke Coutee will be the biggest name cut from the Texans this year. He hasn’t been practicing due to a foot injury, which doesn’t bode well for his hopes of making the roster. It’s a shame to see such a dynamic talent bogged down by injuries and mental errors.
DO NOT be surprised if Stills is dealt to another team this week for a safety and/or a draft pick. Carter stays on as the designated return man and backup slot receiver. UDFA Tyler Simmons would be a great practice squad addition, along with Steven Mitchell Jr.
Nick Martin, Greg Mancz
They may be the centers, but they’re not the centers of attention here. They’re the only two guys on the roster to hold the center position and to quote Randy Savage in Spiderman, “(They’re) going nooooowhereeeee”.
Zach Fulton, Max Scharping, Senio Kelemente
Something tells me Scharping will be on this team for eight years and you won’t even be able to remember what number he is. Fortunately this group has stayed solid throughout training camp and won’t need much discussion. Kelemente takes his new contract and sits as the reserve guard.
Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, Charlie Heck, Roderick Johnson
It’s tough to think the Texans will run with only four tackles, but they should be confident enough in this group to do it. Jerald Hawkins was mentioned in last round’s prediction, but I don’t believe he’s shown enough potential and consistency to be kept around. Heck may need time on the practice squad since no one would trust him to protect and serve Deshaun Watson on either side of the line of scrimmage.
Defensive Ends (5)
J.J. Watt, Angelo Blackson, Charles Omenihu, Carlos Watkins, Jonathan Greenard
Greenard does play a similar role as Scarlett, but he’ll be classified as an end here based on his scheme fit as a nickel defensive end in the Texans system. Watkins isn’t a fan favorite, but he could be due for a big year. Is Omenihu Houston’s second best defensive lineman? I hope so and I hope not. That’s a fairly low bar right now.
Defensive Tackles (3)
Ross Blacklock, Brandon Dunn, P.J. Hall
Texans don’t take chances on players, plain and simple. In a stroke of generosity, they’ve rolled the dice on Hall, who appears to have carved himself a job on the defensive line. With Blacklock as the unproven premier interior lineman, Houston needs a rotational player like Hall to avoid overwhelming the rookie. Hall may end up starting at nose tackle next week against the Chiefs.
Outside Linebackers (3)
Jacob Martin, Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett
In the Texans’ scheme, this position is more of a utility, situational role than an actual brick and mortar position. Martin is a zipper twisting around the edge to destroy a play. Mercilus is a garbage collector who picks up after other people’s messes. Scarlett stops the run and comes in to do the dirty work. Davin Bellamy is a name to watch; he won’t make the roster but is talented enough to slide somewhere else in the league or, worst case scenario for him, remain in Houston as a practice squad member.
Inside Linebackers (4)
Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Dylan Cole, Peter Kalambayi
Cunningham getting a big boy contract stirs the pot in the linebacker room. That’s two players, McKinney and Cunningham, with significant salary implications at the same position. McKinney’s contract is up after next year, so I wouldn't be surprised if he makes an unexpected visit to the waiver wire as a salary dump—if not, this is probably his last year in Houston. Kalambayi is an inside linebacker and I’ll stomp my foot until proven otherwise. Tyrell Adams gets the boot in this scenario, but he may stick around here or there in case of an injury.
Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Gareon Conley, Vernon Hargreaves III, John Reid, Keion Crossen
If you have any delusions of grandeur, get them out of your head. These guys are taking on the Chiefs next week.
Rumors about Lonnie Johnson being moved to safety worry me. He doesn’t have a nose for the ball and isn’t a hard-hitting, play anywhere on the field kind of player. At least not from last year’s film, or the year before that at Kentucky for that matter.
Crossen is a welcome surprise since he’s received praise and will be a special teams ace. If John Reid is as good as people are saying he is, that could certainly elevate the entire secondary as a whole. Watch out for Reid in nickel and dime packages as a middle of the field rover or slot corner.
Justin Reid, Michael Thomas, AJ Moore, Eric Murray
I just haven’t heard enough about Jaylen Watkins to warrant putting him on the roster. The veteran safety has been unseen on the Twittersphere and has not garnered any noteworthy praise. I almost guarantee this group does not maintain intact; on paper, it’s the weakest unit on the team. Justin Reid will be playing free safety and Eric Murray will start at strong safety.
Moore has been the training camp darling of the group. He’s endeared himself to the media at camp, but that doesn’t mean he will be a lock for the roster. We’ve got him in the final group and will expect him on special teams.
Special Teams (3)
Ka’imi Fairbairn, Jon Weeks, Bryan Anger
There is a second long snapper on the roster right now, Anthony Kukwa, which is as much drama as this group will have. If Weeks gets the ax for some reason, fans will be up in arms that the 11-year veteran won’t be snapping any longer. The punter position had its own trials in the past year or two, but Bryan Anger will maintain the starting role.
25 offense. 25 defense. 3 special teams. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be. The loss of DeAndre Hopkins aside, this may be deepest roster the Texans have had in the Bill O’Brien era. It should also feature the best offensive line in years, which can only raise the ceiling of this entire franchise this season. The expectations have never been higher and the moves to get here have never been greater. 2020 will surely be one to remember.