The Texans have more problems than solutions heading into this offseason. They have limited salary cap space and are without a first or second-round draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. It goes without saying that the Texans will have to dig themselves out of their own hole, rock by rock. How they do so will be one of the most interesting case studies in Houston sports history. I will be writing an article next week weighing the options of fully flushing the roster against an active rebuilding process, but before that it’s necessary for us to identify the positions the Texans must address before Week One of the 2021 season arrives.
1. Interior defensive lineman
The Texans’ “commitment” to stopping the run was as sincere as a child making a promise with his fingers crossed behind their back. Second-round pick Ross Blacklock was as expected, underwhelming, in his rookie season. Brandon Dunn was forced onto center stage when he should have remained as nothing more than the Second Gravedigger in “Hamlet.” Charles Omenihu is a nice rotational piece, but he does not yet have the full skill set to be an every-down lineman. P.J. Hall was a necessary addition who was lost in November with a torn pectoral.
Houston’s defensive line needs to be overhauled and must be the main focus this offseason. It may come at the expense of trading J.J. Watt, but something, anything, must be done. In a division with a 2,000 yard-rusher and two 1,000 yard-rushers, the Texans must match their opponents’ strength.
Possible FA candidate: Adam Butler, New England.
2. Strong Safety
It’s a chicken and the egg issue for the Texans. Is the run defense poor because teams can easily throw on us, or is the pass defense poor because it’s so easy to run on us? Either way, the Texans need to have a second leader in the secondary next to Justin Reid. We’re squeezing every ounce of life out of our successful third-round pick. He’d probably be a Pro Bowler on a more successful team. Eric Murray is by no means a skilled enough defender for offenses to adjust their game plan around.
There is truly no depth at this position, and I could see the Texans adding to this group both in the draft and in free agency. A hard-nosed safety who can cover tight ends and can play in the box would be a nice Pedialyte for this defense.
Possible FA candidate: John Johnson, LA Rams.
3. Defensive End/OLB
Sticking with the defense here. Even though we may be destined to hire an offensive-minded head coach, the defense is the obvious weakness of this team. Whitney Mercilus is a ghost, J.J. is past his prime, and Jonathan Greenard failed to live up to his Rookie-of-the-Year hype. Regardless of who the new defensive coordinator is, the Texans will surely need to acquire a DE/OLB who can either set the edge on the run or get after the QB.
Based on the current roster, a 4-3 defense would make the most sense, but that would require either Zach Cunningham or Benardrick McKinney to be traded or released to accommodate the new scheme. This need could be filled if Greenard steps up, but the Texans need to begin adding more defensive lineman than they are losing.
Possible FA candidate: Derek Wolfe (DE), Denver or Tyus Bowser (EDGE), Baltimore.
4. Right Guard
The Texans must continue to improve their offensive line. It was much better in the second half of the year, but the lack of run blocking is pathetic. The Texans have not received an equitable return on the investment that has gone into their offensive line. The right guard should be the nastiest, most fierce player on the team. I’d feel just as comfortable fighting off Zach Fulton as I would fighting off a pack of puppies. Note: I’m allergic to dogs, so even if I defeated the puppies, I would be a disaster afterwards.
Possible FA candidate: Kelechi Osemele, Kansas City (yes, the third right guard from KC in a row).
Can the Texans please invest more than other teams’ garbage into this position? Late-round draft picks, undrafted free-agents, and the undergarments of the rest of the NFL cannot stop professional wide receivers. In five straight drafts, the Texans have selected a cornerback after the fourth round. None of them have been remotely serviceable, and only our most recent pick (John Reid) is still on the team.
The league is already pass-happy enough that the cornerback position is almost a glass-cannon type player. Still, when the cornerback play is this poor, it must be taken care of. The AFC South does not have an abundance of talent at the wide receiver position, but even those wideouts salivate twice a year when they face the Texans. D.J. Chark only had one game with over 95 receiving yards in 2020; guess who it was against? Yup, he had 146 against us. 23% of TY Hilton’s yards this season came against us. The list goes on and on. All three corner positions could use an upgrade, though it will be impossible to focus on all three of them this offseason. The Texans would be remiss to not address at least one of them in 2021.
Possible FA candidate: Mike Hilton (SLOT), Pittsburgh.