There has been a lot of doom and gloom around these parts lately. It’s perfectly understandable. When you lose five games in a row and four of them were non-competitive for most of the game, you can’t help but feel a little down. All that being said, we have to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. You can look around the league and see numerous examples of teams that were bad teams a year ago, but are now in the playoff hunt.
New York Jets — 2021 (4-13), 2022 (7-4)
New York Giants — 2021 (4-13), 2022 (7-4)
Seattle Seahawks — 2021 (7-10), 2022 (6-5)
All three of those teams were losing teams last season and all of them are currently in the playoff hunt in their respective conferences. Furthermore, the Seahawks traded away Russell Wilson, the Jets are still looking for their franchise quarterback, and the Giants likely would acknowledge that Daniel Jones is not the guy. Still, they are competing one season after being objectively awful.
So, quick turnarounds are always possible. The NFL has teams that go from worst to first nearly every season. The AFC South is clearly not a division of stalwarts contending for the Super Bowl. The rules say someone has to win the division and there is no reason why (on paper) that it can’t be the Houston Texans in 2023. Of course, we know the world doesn’t exist on paper and we know the obstacles, but we will spend this space looking at how things could change with the guys currently on the roster.
The Top Five
Jerry Hughes — 76.3
Jordan Akins — 73.5
Maliek Collins — 72.5
Brandin Cooks — 72.3
Christian Kirksey — 68.7
At first glance, this is not really all that warm and fuzzy. Akins and Collins are probably the only two candidates from this group to be a part of the 2023 squad. Collins isn’t a guarantee as he could become trade bait following the season. However, it is a sign that this team has some good football players on it. It is also proof that Nick Caserio can find some useful pieces when given the chance. He’s also found some duds, but every GM in the business can say the same thing.
Staying and Going
Every rebuilding team in every sport finds themselves in the same situation. You ultimately are looking for foundational pieces. However, you are also looking for low hanging fruit. For instance, Lonnie Johnson finished dead-ass last (DAL) amongst safeties in PFF in 2021. He was traded for a conditional pick. Eric Murray was also not good. He has barely seen the field this season. When you cut those guys and replace them with even competent players then you give yourself a chance at substantial improvement. If you do that at enough positions then you give yourself a chance to become a surprise team.
Offensive Keeper— Jordan Akins
Akins ranks 11th amongst qualified tight ends with a 72.7 grade. In plain English, a player with a 70+ grade is a solid starter in the league. For most people it is the 21 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns that stands out. If we parcel that out over 17 games it becomes 32 catches for 464 yards and three touchdowns. However, recent weeks make it possible for him to reach 40 catches and nearly 600 yards. It won’t make anyone forget Travis Kelce, but it should be noted that he doesn’t have Patrick Mahomes throwing to him either. If another decent tight end emerges between Brevin Jordan or Teagan Quitoriano then tight end could be a position of strength moving forward.
Offensive Weak Spot— Scott Quessenberry
Again, this one is easy. Quessenberry ranks as the worst qualified center in the NFL according to PFF with a 42.2 grade. He wasn’t supposed to be the guy. Justin Britt was supposed to be the guy, but soft retirement I guess is the new rage. It’s hard to hate someone like Quessenberry. He works hard and does the best he can, but he just was never supposed to be a starting lineman in the league. Replace him with even a 60-70 graded guy and this offensive line starts looking considerably better. You can probably find one of those in the second or third round, so this should be low hanging fruit.
Defensive Keeper— Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
He isn’t the highest rated defender on the team (Jerry Hughes is slightly better). He is 27 and grades out well against the run and as a pass rusher. His 77.0 grade makes him a solid starter in the league and a guy that could easily be paired with a monster on the other side. He will be an unrestricted free agent, but he is a guy you could sign for a two to three year deal and build a solid defensive line with him.
Defensive Weak Spot— Jonathan Owens
This is another guy that is similar to Quessenberry. Owens (50.5) has been a star on the HOTD series because of his tackles well beyond the line of scrimmage. He is a big effort guy that just doesn’t have the tools to be a starting safety. He could be a special teams guy and occasional player on a good team, but this team needs a solid safety to pair with Jalen Pitre. A good center would probably aid in Kenyon Green’s development and a good safety would help Pitre in the same way.
The Quarterback Spot
I think it is obvious right now that the Texans probably should draft a quarterback first overall in the next draft. Kyle Allen threw up (pun intended) a 40.2 on Sunday. That would rank 40th among qualified quarterbacks if he did qualify. As you might have guessed, that would be dead ass last. Again, I can’t hate on Allen. He hadn’t thrown a meaningful pass since 2020 and he had to split reps during the week for some convoluted reason. Davis Mills has a 63.3 rating which is good for 28th. He has the look of a solid backup in the league. Simply put, the quarterback slot will be the easiest and most significant place for this team to improve.