Anyone that has been following the Houston Texans and our commentary know that most of us are bullish on the Texans. As one commenter pointed out, I came up with a +81 point differential on my game by game predictions. That was obviously semi-serious and nowhere near scientific, but I will stand by the prediction that the Texans will get to the over whether it is set at 5.5 like Pro Football Focus has or the 6.5 that DraftKings has.
At the end of the day, hearing out their explanation doesn’t make them right. In fact, to be more accurate, it helps to explain why they are wrong. It also helps to know why most of the prognosticators are picking the Texans are right around the same point. Either they are wrong or we are wrong.
What was their methodology?
Essentially, PFF took the likely top twelve players on offense and defense and looked at either their college PFF scores or PFF scores from last season. We have used PFF before, but a quick tutorial could be beneficial for those joining us for the first time. Essentially, PFF gives grades between 20 and 100. Anything under 60 is indicative of a player that should be a bench guy or special teams player. Players between 60 and 70 can be decent starters under the right circumstances. Anything between 70 and 80 indicates a solid starter. Anything 80 or higher would indicate a Pro Bowl (or All American) level player.
Even a site like PFF isn’t going to go with an entire 53 man roster. For one, no one knows what that will look like in May. For another, that is just way too much work. However, we know full well that no one makes it through a season completely healthy. We also know that coaches love rotating guys in and out depending on formations and game situations.
The Case for a Significant Jump
The biggest jumps occur when you replace substandard players with solid ones. Most casual fans focus on the big ticket free agent acquisitions, but this is a case where quantity is better than quality. The Texans are replacing three horrifically bad defenders with solid ones in DT Sheldon Rankin (73.1), LB Denzel Perryman (74.2), and S Jimmie Ward (80.6).
On offense, we are including RG Shaq Mason (68.2), TE Daulton Schultz (68.3). and RB Devin Singletary (78.6). This doesn’t include WR Robert Woods (68.0) or John Metchie (78.2*). This is because they traded away Brandin Cooks and we cannot assume Metchie does anything until we see it. However, this also doesn’t include a single contribution from any of the rookies.
The X Factors
PFF lists Derek Stingley Jr. as an X-factor. Quite clearly he is not the only one. Stingley, Christian Harris, and Kenyon Green also disappointed according to PFF. Jalen Pitre can also improve if we are going strictly by PFF. Three of the four are listed as starters and Harris really should be listed as a starter.
We could simply label this as the DeMeco Ryans effect, but it really is simply an acknowledgment that the team is no longer floating through whatever haze we could call the last three seasons. The offensive scheme was that stupid game plan offense that probably confused everyone including Pep Hamilton. The defense was more cohesive, but a couple of decades out of date. It didn’t put any of the players in positions where they were most likely to succeed.
Stingley came through with a 49.1 which ranked him outside the top 100 amongst corners. The Texans have three other corners on the roster that scored above 60.0. Something tells me that Stingley will either turn it around or be replaced. The same is true of Christian Harris and his 28.3 rating. PFF lists Christian Kirksey as the starter, but there are a couple of guys that would be in the lineup before him.
The final X-factor is Kenyon Green. His 37.7 grade was pathetic. The Texans drafted both Juice Scruggs (71.5*) and Jarrett Patterson (70.5*) that could play either guard or center. If Green bounces back then the Texans will almost certainly have five linemen that rate 60.0 or higher when they only had three last season.
What about the rookies?
We’ve already mentioned Scruggs and Patterson. If Green doesn’t improve then both of them could find their way onto the field. We don’t want to short-change either of those guys, but they might be two of the least impressive rookies (outside of Brandon Hill). Right or wrong, the Texans went in a different direction this year than the other two seasons under Nick Caserio. They went with college production over untapped potential.
Granted, I am not a college scout or in a personnel department. I’m just a regular guy banging on a keyboard, but it seems logical to me that if you want a guy that will produce in the NFL then it makes more sense to get a guy that produced in college. Keep in mind that PFF grades are just that. A good college grade is simply a good college grade. However, the top guys in the draft: C.J. Stroud (88.9*), Will Anderson (83.6*), Nathaniel Dell (83.5*), Xavier Hutchinson (89.7*) all produced better in college then the guys they would be replacing when they were in college.
Putting it All Together
This is fairly simple. When you add a half dozen new starters in free agency, as many as four or five starters through the draft, and when you have coaching that can boost the performance of existing guys then a team’s outlook has to be better than 5.5 wins. Granted, there are still holes on this team. They do not have a go to wide receiver. They lack depth at certain positions. Yet, they did add Shaq Griffin in the last week and could add a veteran or two before we get to training camp. This isn’t a Super Bowl contender or even a playoff contender, but they can easily slide into seven or eight wins in the worst division in the AFC.