The Houston Texans entered free agency with the fourth highest amount to spend out all of the teams in the NFL. They got off to a slower start than other teams like the Chicago Bears, but they ended up adding a good amount of talent to the roster. They weren't going to solve all of their problems and fill all of their holes in free agency. The general idea was that between free agency and the draft they would hopefully fill most of those gaps.
So, the whole idea is to look at the state of the roster following the first round of free agency to see what still needs to be added. When you view the roster in those terms then you have a general idea of what the team may prioritize in the first few rounds of the draft. Putting the roster together is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
In order to do that we will utilize the player grades from Pro Football Focus. Granted, there are other ways to grade players but they give us a general idea. PFF scores typically range from 20 to 100. Anything more than 50 is a guy that probably should be rostered but shouldn’t get regular playing time. Anything more than 60 means you have a player that good enough to be in a regular rotation. Anything more than 70 means you have a legitimate NFL starter. We will look at players’ overall grades, grades against the run, grades as a pass rusher, and grades in coverage.
Current Linebackers On the Roster
Denzel Perryman (FA)— 555 snaps, 74.2 Overall, 80.5 Run, 65.7 Pass Rush, 61.4 Coverage
Perryman was a late addition. You could make a definite argument that week two of free agency was more fruitful than week one. You don’t see 80+ scores often and that is certainly true with the Texans. Perryman is an elite run defender and even if he only stayed on the field for first and second down he would be well worth the money. He had a career high 14 tackles for a loss last season, so the PFF numbers above aren’t just a mirage.
Cory Littleton (FA)— 372 snaps, 72.2 Overall, 70.0 Run, 64.4 Pass Rush, 67.8 Coverage
The good news is that Littleton signed for short money (2.2 million) and that’s for a guy that put up really good numbers last year in part-time duty. The bad news is that those numbers represented the best of his career. If one were to apply a career average it would probably wind up in the neighborhood of 60 across the board. That’s good enough to be a rotational piece. It might mean that the Texans can jettison Christian Kirksey.
Jake Hansen— 205 snaps, 69.1 Overall, 80.0 Run, 78.3 Pass Rush, 49.7 Coverage
Hansen was an undrafted free agent. As far as undrafted free agents go, he was a good addition. He will likely stick as a reserve/special teams guy for now. He performed well against the run and as a pass rusher. He struggled in coverage, but you can limit his exposure there and you should be fine.
Christian Kirksey— 1139 snaps, 56.1 Overall, 55.0 Run, 78.1 Pass Rush, 52.5 Coverage
The additions of Littleton and Perryman make Kirksey expendable. At the very least, they drive him to the bench. There is nothing wrong with Kirksey as a person. He’s a good guy that does the best he can. Simply put, the Texans are now at a stage where they need better players and not nice guys that try really hard. Don’t be surprised if Kirksey is a cap causality sooner rather than later.
Blake Cashman— 149 snaps, 54.0 Overall, 50.8 Run, 58.7 Pass Rush, 57.0 Coverage
Cashman is a perfect example of the typical Nick Caserio addition from the previous two off-seasons. He provided a baseline of performance that would essentially be called replacement level. He’s not terrible, but there isn’t anything he does particularly well. If he can demonstrate an ability to excel on special teams he might stick around.
Garrett Wallow— 124 snaps, 43.9 Overall, 32.7 Run, 56.4 Pass Rush, 64.1 Coverage
Maybe Wallow could make it as a third down linebacker. More than likely, he is a special teamer if he lands on the roster at all. Wallow was a sixth round pick out of TCU. Sixth round picks sometimes make it and sometimes they don’t. He really shouldn’t be on the field in run situations and may have been exposed too much over the past couple of seasons.
Christian Harris— 711 snaps, 28.3 Overall, 29.1 Run, 64.5 Pass Rush, 29.6 Coverage
The good news is that there was only one rookie with more snaps on defense than Harris. This came despite the fact that he missed most of training camp and the first handful of games with an injury. Give him training camp and an offseason and he has to be better. More than anything, Harris might be the posterchild for a talented defender that just wasn’t used properly by the previous regime. Either way, this coming season will answer a lot of questions.
The Texans added Perryman and Littleton to take a shaky unit and completely transform it into a solid one. However, both guys signed one year deals. so don’t be surprised if the Texans use a day two or early day three selection on a linebacker. The goal would be to get younger players that can develop and hopefully supplant those free agents in 2024.