In the first part of this article, I listed my top five Houston Texans defenders of the preseason. In the final part of my preseason analysis, I will rank my top five offensive players of the Houston Texans’ preseason. True mavericks of the gridiron, these players didn’t waste any time to establish themselves on the team, and their admirable performances during the preseason may have just earned them more snaps during the regular season.
Offense is where the magic happens. Yeah, Houston traded up to the #3 pick to get Will Anderson Jr. - arguably the best defensive player in college football - but they used the #2 pick to get a quarterback. They didn’t use their best pick on the best defender, they used their best pick on a quarterback.
Speaking of quarterbacks, rookie starter C.J. Stroud is not in the top five. Not because I think all five of these guys are better than him, but because I couldn’t justify knocking any of them off the list to give extra attention to a starting quarterback that only briefly played throughout August. Sorry to the all the Stroudheads out there - including myself - but these five players’ performances stood out to me as the most significant as we gear up for the regular season:
5: XAVIER HUTCHINSON
Wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, a rookie sixth-round pick out of Iowa State, slowly built steam over August and eventually lived up to training camp expectations with a great finale performance. In the Houston Texans’ preseason game vs. the New Orleans Saints, Hutchinson caught four passes on six targets for 48 yards. Hutchinson was Pro Football Focus’s second-highest graded receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft, behind only BYU’s Puka Nacua. Hutchinson’s prolific final collegiate season at Iowa State - 161 targets, 107 receptions, 1171 yards, 6 touchdowns, PFF 89.7 - makes his high grade even more impressive given the sample size.
In this play against the Saints, you can see Hutchinson’s (#19, at the top of the screen) quick eyes and ball-tracking ability help him drop down and reel in a drooping pass from quarterback Davis Mills (#10):
The ball is already on its way to his feet when Hutchinson turns around, so he has to immediately fall to the ground and scoop the ball up to make it a completion. This is a difficult play made by Hutchinson, and is everything coaches want to see when finalizing their roster.
4: RB DEVIN SINGLETARY/RB Mike Boone
Finally, a few backup running backs we can rely on! After much deliberation, I decided I couldn’t give this award to just one of them, and I wasn’t willing to bump Hutchinson off the list, either. So…here they both are!
Even with star back Dameon Pierce carving up the field throughout 2022, Houston’s rushing-attack has been debilitatingly dismal since 2019. Last or second to last in each of the last three years, there’s quite literally nowhere else to go up from here for the Texans. One of the major elements of this disaster has been Houston’s failure to fill the backup spots with reliable rushers. Behind an already suspect David Johnson in 2020 was an even more suspect Duke Johnson. Behind the sluggish Rex Burkhead in 2021 was an even slower David Johnson and Mark Ingram. In 2022, then-rookie back Dameon Pierce quickly proved himself to be the best player in the backfield for Houston, and behind him…Dare Ogunbowale and Rex Burkhead.
Now, finally - FINALLY - Houston has taken their pill and decided to spend some money to get more security in the backfield, desiring more than what they can get dumpster diving into other teams’ waiver-wire. Devin Singletary and Mike Boone looked like professional running backs in every snap they took in the preseason, which is everything I could have ever wanted from the guys that will be backing up Dameon Pierce in the regular season. Singletary showed power, balance, and some real acceleration in his brief action in the preseason, and Boone showed the versatility needed to be a dangerous gadget player out of the backfield. Watch this highlight vs. New Orleans where Singletary (#26) just flies up the field:
Now, watch Mike Boone (#22) get to the edge after some more good blocking and use his speed to turn it into a chunk play:
It’s nothing special, but it shows two running backs that aren’t afraid to use their speed and size to take advantage of a line’s successful blocking. If we can get more of this on second and third downs, this rushing attack won’t be bottom of the league any longer.
Singletary finished the preseason with a PFF grade of 59.2 and a rushing grade of 65.1, while Boone finished the preseason with a PFF grade of 61.8 and a rushing grade of 56.6. These grades aren’t anything to get really excited about, but they are FAR better than what Houston was offering the last three seasons.
3: G/C Jimmy Morrissey
Of the many, many snaps played by the small pile of backup linemen on Houston’s preseason roster, second-year Texan guard/center Jimmy Morrissey was the one I came away liking the most. Guards Keaton Sutherland and Rashaad Coward had great stretches in run-blocking and left tackle Kilian Zierer showed some competency in pass blocking, but Jimmy Morrissey was the one that impressed the most.
Absorbing the most preseason snaps out of any other player on the Texans roster at 125, Morrissey was given ample opportunity to prove himself, and he did just that against the Saints in Week 3. Playing at both guard and center, Morrissey was an active presence in the interior line basically all game. Even though his performance only earned him a practice squad spot, it’s still comforting to see a backup interior lineman performing well for a Texans team aching for healthy guys in the middle. With C Scott Quessenberry, C Juice Scruggs, and G Kenyon Green all on injured reserve, Houston is starting Week 1 with only five healthy interior linemen, four if you don’t include backup tackle Josh Jones (RG Shaq Mason, C/G Kendrick Green, C/G Jarrett Patterson, G Nick Broeker). This part of the team is a flu bug away from full meltdown, so having someone like Jimmy Morrissey to call upon when times inevitably get rough is going to save Houston at some point in the future.
In this play in the finale, watch Morrissey (#79) open up the hole for TE Dalton Keene (#40) to land the play-making block:
Morrissey finished the preseason with a PFF grade of 67.7, grading significantly higher in pass blocking (72.9) than in run-blocking (63.6).
2: C Juice Scruggs
Even though I just showered praise onto Jimmy Morrissey, I’m going to make center Juice Scruggs my top-lineman of the preseason because of his positive performance in brief action as the starting center for the team. In his very first year in the NFL, former Penn State Nittany Lion Juice Scruggs is going to be thrown immediately into the fire as the starting center for rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. Now, Stroud’s performance will be immediately tied to the effectiveness of Scruggs in both snapping the ball and blocking for rookie passer. Talk about pressure to start your career!
It didn’t take long for Scruggs to start winning supporters, though. In his first snaps vs. the New England Patriots, Scruggs handled the pressure well and gave Stroud plenty of space up the middle to operate within. By the end of the preseason, Scruggs had finished with a pass-blocking PFF grade of 81.9 on 23 snaps, a remarkable grade for his first action. Even though his run blocking grade was a much lower average at 50.6, recent additions to the roster and more experience with other starting linemen should make that a moot point.
Regardless, Scruggs reportedly suffered a hamstring injury during the preseason finale at New Orleans, landing him on IR to start the year. Another massive blow to an already thin Houston line, Scruggs’ position will now be filled by rookie sixth-round pick C Jarrett Patterson out of Notre Dame and recent signee C/G Kendrick Green.
While we wait for Scruggs (#70) to return to the lineup, check out this block he made against the Saints:
this was Juice Scruggs' (#70) last play of the preseason and it was a good one to end on. pic.twitter.com/iWU1gnGmbh— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) August 31, 2023
Scruggs finished the preseason with a PFF grade of 54.2, which doesn’t sound great until you remember his aforementioned pass-blocking grade. In his limited action thus far, Scruggs has looked far more comfortable pass-blocking than run-blocking, but at a point this early in his career, anything can happen.
1: WR Tank Dell
It was always Tank Dell. A star receiver for the Houston Cougars, Dell tallied 199 receptions for 2,727 yards and 29 touchdowns in just his last two seasons there. His talent was clear for all to see once training camp had started, getting open practically every day of practice. Once the first preseason game had started against the New England Patriots, Dell had already made a name for himself among Texans fans, and by the time that game was over, he had proven himself to everyone watching:
With just 35 snaps plays in the preseason, Tank Dell was easily one of the best players of the preseason, scoring a PFF grade of 81.6. His speed and foot-speed are incredible, and his skills as a route-runner will make him an early target for Stroud.
G/C Jarrett Patterson - After cutting Houston’s best run-blocker of the preseason, G Keaton Sutherland, rookie guard/center Jarrett Patterson became the highlight-making blocker in New Orleans. While much more comfortable at center rather than guard, this actually might be a good thing for Houston given the injuries at that position. Will Patterson be our sixth-round rookie starting center on Week 1?
LT Kilian Zierer - While not the most adept run-blocker (a bit of a disappointment given his soccer roots), Zierer was one of Houston’s best pass-blockers of the preseason, a difficult task as a rookie left tackle from Germany.
QB C.J. Stroud - I had to mention Stroud somewhere on this list. Stroud, while only on the field for a few possessions each game, gradually looked more comfortable in the pocket as August wore on. By the end of the preseason, he was making those eye-catching throws that made him the #2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
And with that, the preseason is over! The roster has been cut-to-size, the practice squad signed, and starting lineups (mostly) ironed out. Now, all that is left to do is anticipate the regular season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. This has been an absolutely massive offseason for the Houston Texans, filled with free-agent signings, big trades, a star-studded draft room, and an intrigue-filled preseason. Now, after all the turnover that this staff and roster has experienced in the last 365 days, it’s finally time to see what has come of it. I’ll see you on Sunday!
If you’re looking for Part 1 of this article where I rank my top five Houston Texans defenders of the preseason, click here.
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