A lot of focus through the first nine games has gone to the rookies from this year’s draft class. It makes perfect sense. At the very least, C.J. Stroud is the front-runner for rookie of the year. At the most, he could be a candidate for the league MVP. Will Anderson, Tank Dell, and Henry To’oTo’o have been significant contributors as well.
All that being said, the Houston Texans aren’t where they are without a strong group of veteran free agents that have helped fill in some of those gaps that were there the last three years. Obviously, there are a ton of guys on the offensive side of the ball that have helped make this one of the most improved offenses in the NFL.
Noah Brown— WR
Key Stats: 21 catches, 439 yards, one TD
People are fond of saying there lies, damn lies, and statistics. Brown is the highest rated receiver on the team according to PFF. He has been the best receiver the last three weeks as he has over 300 yards receiving in those three games. That means he didn’t do much in the first six games. However, he was not supposed to be a starter. Any time any reserve can give you anything like he has the last three games it is a huge win. If you said Brown would give you 40 catches for over 800 yards back in camp you would have done backflips.
George Fant— RT
Key Stats: nine starts, 600 offensive snaps
He has been exactly what everyone thought he would be. The third tackle on a team is not supposed to be a Pro Bowler. Those PFF scores indicate someone that is a rotational player. However, when you break them down you see a 56.8 run grade and a 73.2 pass protect grade. Those kinds of breakdowns help explain why the passing game has been better than the run game. I guarantee that we will see that kind of differential from most of the regular linemen.
Shaq Mason— RG
Key Stats: nine starts, 615 offensive snaps
Like the rest of the offensive line, Mason has been better in pass protection than as a run blocker. This might be one of those areas where your coaching staff and general manager aren’t aligned. Technically, Mason wasn’t a free agent. They had a pick swap with the Bucs, but he essentially came here because they didn’t want to pay him. The Texans almost immediately gave him an extension. Caserio might be one of those transactional style GMs. He brings in guys that are better football players than the ones he had. You eventually become a better team, but it takes a coach that can adjust on the fly and shape offenses and defenses around the strengths they do have and not necessarily the style of ball they want to play in a perfect world.
Dalton Schultz— TE
Key Stats: 37 catches, 421 yards, four TD
Schultz has been exactly as advertised overall. If you tracked him from his days in Dallas you saw games like he had the last two weeks and games like he had early in the season. We grade on the aggregate and sometimes that’s unfair. I don’t think it is in this case. He hasn’t been a Pro Bowler as a blocker (or anywhere close) but he has been a starting quality tight end. If someone tells you that your tight end will catch close to 70 balls and as many as 8 touchdowns you call that a win.
Devin Singletary— RB
Key Stats: 92 carries, 359 yards, one TD, 10 catches, 53 yards, zero TD
Grades have to be done in the aggregate and when you see a guy with 3.9 yards per carry and only ten catches at the halfway point you have to feel underwhelmed. Still, he gained 150 yards on 30 carries on Sunday. You don’t win that game without Singletary. Recency bias is a thing, so we have to always guard against it. Singletary could be trending up or that game could just be one of those career games that guys sometimes have. Only time will tell.
Robert Woods— WR
Key Stats: 23 catches, 242 yards, one TD
He is last amongst the top four receivers in yards, tied for third in touchdowns, and a distant fourth in PFF. Coaches and fellow players will talk about veteran leadership and setting a tone. He has always been a willing blocker which essentially makes him Kevin Walter. I have nothing against Woods, but this will be an area for an upgrade in the offseason. If you somehow managed to go from someone like Woods to someone on the level of Nico Collins or Tank Dell and this offense takes off.