2015 Season Preview: Houston Texans

One of the big stories of the 2014 NFL season was the turnaround of the Houston Texans. Going into training camp a year ago, not many would have expected a winning record out of the Texans. However, they finished the season 9-7, largely as a testament to the outstanding coaching job by first year coach Bill O’Brien. In his second season, the arrow is pointing up and a playoff berth is possible. Quarterback Last year, four different quarterbacks started games in 2015. This year, it looks as if it’s a two-man battle for the job between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Hoyer, who the Texans signed as a free agent, started 13 games for the Browns last year. While Hoyer lacks outstanding physical traits, he is smart and instinctive and knows how to play within himself. He also has excellent leadership qualities that will help him win the job. Ryan Mallett may have better physical characteristics, but he lacks the mental toughness and decision making skills to be a starting NFL quarterback. The third quarterback will be Tom Savage who is similar to Mallett in that he has physical traits but lacks the mental. Running Back In Arian Foster, the Texans have one of the best running backs in the league when he is healthy. Unfortunately, he came into the league with an injured knee and has already missed time in his career. Alfred Blue is the primary backup and he did a nice job as a rookie running for 528 yards. Kenny Hilliard and Chris Polk are two other players to watch at the running back position. The fullback is Jay Prosch who is a blocker only. Wide Receiver and Tight End The big loss in the receiving corps is Andre Johnson, the Texans all-time receiving leader. While Johnson is not the player he used to be, it will be tough to replace his leadership. Third-year man DeAndre Hopkins, who had 76 receptions a year ago takes over as the number one target. He has big shoes to fill, but he could be their next great receiver. The other starting wide out will be Cecil Shorts III who was signed away from Jacksonville. The third receiver will most likely be Nate Washington another free agent signee. In his 11th year, Washington has seen his best days. In the third round, the Texans drafted Jaelen Strong. Strong had first-round talent but there were questions about his overall competitive nature and attention to detail. There is no questioning Strong’s talent and if he plays to his ability the Texans got a steal. The tight end will be Garrett Graham who is more of a receiving threat. I look for second-year man C.J. Fiedorowicz to come on strong this year now that he is acclimated to the NFL game. Offensive Line Many thought Houston would take an offensive lineman early in the draft but that wasn’t the case. Going into camp the starting line looks to be Duane Brown and Derek Newton at the tackle spots with Xavier Su’a-Filo and Brandon Brooks at guard and Ben Jones at center. Su’a-Filo has to step it up as he was a disappointment last year as a rookie. The depth is thin with Tyson Clabo and Jeff Adams. The feel good story would be if David Quessenberry makes it back on the field after battling lymphoma last year. He reported to camp but hasn’t yet been cleared to play. Defensive Line The Texans have the best defensive lineman in football, J.J. Watt. This is only his fifth year in the league and he hasn’t yet become the player he will eventually be. The new face on the line is former New England Patriot All-Pro Vince Wilfork. Wilfork isn’t the player he once was, but the reliable veteran should be able to give the Texans 40 strong snaps a game. The end opposite Watt is Jared Crick who had his best season last year but still needs to become a better pass rusher. The depth is questionable but Brandon Deaderick may be the most reliable. Jeoffrey Pagan, in his second year has to come on and show he is worthy to play in the rotation. The big question mark is second-year nose tackle Louis Nix III. Nix was a bust as a rookie and the hope is that he has matured in the last year. He has the natural talent to be very good, but questions surround his dedication to the game. Linebacker Last year’s number-one overall draft choice Jadeveon Clowney had a forgettable rookie season. Because of knee injuries he did virtually nothing and now coming off micro-fracture surgery his impact level is questionable. Clowney has the talent to be a great pass rusher, but will this come to fruition? Opposite Clowney is Whitney Mercilus who does a solid job defending the run and rushing the passer. While he may never go to a Pro Bowl, he is a good player to have on the roster. The depth outside is a question mark. Jason Ankrah has talent but he’s inexperienced and has not been able to show it yet. John Simon is another talented, but inexperienced guy waiting for his chance. Inside Brian Cushing isn’t the player he was a few years ago and we may never see that player again. I really like rookie Benardrick McKinney. I felt he was one of the better inside linebackers in the draft and he should start right away. If he isn’t ready than Akeem Dent is ready to step in. The former Falcon started seven games last year. Secondary The strong defensive line helps the secondary. I remember when Houston fans were calling for corner Kareem Jackson’s head when he was a young player. Now he is the best cover guy in the Houston secondary. Across from Jackson is very reliable Johnathan Joseph who is entering his 10th year. While he may be getting up in age, he still plays well. The safeties will be Rahim Moore who was a starter with Denver last year and most likely Stevie Brown. Moore is better suited to play the free safety spot. I look for first round pick Kevin Johnson to be the nickel corner as a rookie. It would not surprise me if he strongly challenges Joseph for the starting slot. The fourth corner should be A.J. Bouye. The depth at safety will be Eddie Pleasant and most likely free agent rookie Kurtis Drummond, Many draftniks felt Drummond would be at worst a mid-round selection. Outlook Houston has a solid team at just about every position but quarterback. For the Texans to challenge for a playoff slot they have to get good play from that position. While the defense is strong, the unit lost much of their depth to free agency and they have to hope the key players stay healthy. Also Jadeveon Clowney's  injury recovery will be important for the Texans. At this time, Houston doesn’t have enough to overtake the Colts for the division crown but they should challenge for an AFC Wildcard spot.   Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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