By Cole Thompson, Texans Wire
Every year, players sit by the phones, waiting with family, friends, and agents, and the television monitor flashes name after name at the bottom of the screen. Some wait minutes, others wait days for just five seconds of fame. No matter what rounds, what team or what number they wear, one thing is certain; every player wants to hear their name called at the NFL draft.
The Houston Texans selected seven players to their roster over the course of the three days of the 2017 NFL Draft. Some are looked at to be the future, while others will be lucky to be on the active roster once the season begins. Sometimes a player needs to be the savior Week 1, but other times they can sit on the bench and crack jokes with teammates their entire first season in the league.
While the Texans gave away two high draft picks for the Browns to take Brock Osweiler’s contract, does that mean Deshaun Watson is under the most pressure to perform early from this rookie class? Or could it be a middle-round selection?
Here’s an early look at the pressure meter for every Houston rookie heading into summer camp.
8. Kyle Fuller
The Texans used their final selection of the 2017 NFL Draft on Fuller, a center from Baylor. While not the most impressive player on the Bears roster this season, Fuller did an excellent job as a three-year starter for Baylor, working adequately in run blocking schemes for the unorthodox offense.
Fuller struggles mightily in pass protection and led all centers in 2016 with 17 penalties. His footwork is phenomenal but his awareness and punch are real problem areas.
With Nick Martin expected to be the starting center for the team in 2017, Fuller will have time to work in Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense and learn the playbook before possibly moving into a starting role a few years from now.
Pressure meter - 2 percent
7. Treston DeCoud
Mar 6, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Oregon State defensive back Treston Decoud participates in workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
A sixth-round cornerback from Oregon State, DeCoud might have the least to worry about from player you can expect to play any significant snap in 2017. At 6’2, 206, DeCoud has the size to play the ideal outside cornerback in today’s NFL. He’s an active tackler who collected 34 tackles last season and isn’t afraid to play the run.
As of now, the cornerback position is pretty tight near the top. Kareem Jackson, Jonathan Joseph, and Kevin Johnson all have starting experience and should be the team’s three headhunters moving towards the regular season. Robert Nelson has shown promise to take over for AJ Bouye as the fourth corner role this season after a promising OTA campaign. DeCoud has been linked to possibly a position change to safety if he is unable to make stride moving forward at cornerback. While he should get some playing time on kickoff and punt formations, don’t expect DeCoud to be effective in the defensive backfield until he finds a home.
Pressure meter — 10 percent
6. Carlos Watkins
One year after the Texans struck gold with DJ Reader in the fifth round, they snagged his former backup in the fourth. Watkins took over where Reader left off and was an excellent 3-4 defensive tackle for the Clemson defense. The senior collected 30 tackles, 14.5 for losses and 10 sacks on his way to a National Championship in 2016.
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) reacts during the first quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest problem Watkins will face next season is the new scheme change. In the Texans 3-4 defense, Watkins will more than likely line up as a “zero” or 1-technique rather than his usual three tech. Reader did an excellent job transitioning to the Texans defense and much of that can the credited to being rotated in behind Vince Wilfolk. Watkins should see a similar role to what Reader saw last season, so there’s very little pressure on him to be an immediate contributor to the Texans already strong defense next season.
Pressure meter — 15 percent
5. Julie’n Davenport
It might be hard to find tape on Davenport during his time at Bucknell, but what tape there is very impressive. A two-year captain and four-year starter at left tackle, Davenport stands at 6’7 and a buck over 315 pounds of pure muscle. The largest hands of any offensive linemen in the class (10 1/2 inches), the former Buffalo does an excellent job and locking in tight on defenders and shucking them out of the way in zone run schemes.
Few really expect Davenport to not have any struggles coming from the Patriot League to the NFL. His timing is nice but his power could use some work from his hips. While his footwork and run blocking skills are on point, his pass protection skills are raw while his footwork is atrocious.
With Chris Clark and Breno Giacomini expected to get first knocks at right tackle, Davenport will have time to adjust to NFL speed. However, if Clark shows the same weaknesses from 2016 and Giacomini can’t remain healthy, we could see Davenport work his way into the starting right tackle role before season’s end.
Pressure meter — 25 percent
4. Dylan Cole
Dylan Cole might not have been drafted by the Texans, but the hottest name in the free agent market might be seeing more playing time than any other defensive pick. A human highlight reel during his three-year stint for the Missouri State Grizzlies, Cole collected over 360 tackles along with making headlines for racking 36 reps of 225 pounds on the bench. Cole also is no stranger to multiple defensive schemes and he has played at least one season as all three linebacker positions in both a 3-4 and 4-3 set.
Cole is listed as now the 2nd string linebacker behind Brian Cushing. While the former 2009 rookie of the year still is a contributor and leader on the top-ranked defense in football, he’s only played in one full season since 2011. Cushing may or may not get injured this season but the track record shows that the injury bug is more than likely on his side. If he goes down, Cole might see some meaningful reps as the “WILL” backer in Mike Vrabel’s 3-4 defense next season.
Pressure meter — 25 percent
3. Zach Cunningham
Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Everything listed above for Cole, you can double that for Cunningham. The Texans know that Cushing is on his final limbs and may not be a part of the future plans for them much longer. With that on the backburner, GM Rick Smith wasted zero time finding a potential replacement for him in the Vanderbilt tackling machine. With 75-plus tackles all three seasons as a starter, Cunningham was an all-SEC linebacker back to back years and a first-team All-American in 2016.
Cunningham might be a little more valuable than Cole just due to his speed and ability to play the outside. While working inside as a middle linebacker, Vrabel has been testing Cunningham as a weakside outside linebacker with the loss of John Simon. While Brennan Scarlett is listed as the starting JACK backer, Cunningham has played the outside and shown he can play well in coverage as well as downhill against the run. The plan may be to move Cunningham inside near Benardrick McKinney long-term, but if he’s able to compete on the outside, why wouldn’t the Texans want to use his speed and youth attacking the run as long as they can.
The plan may be to move Cunningham inside near Benardrick McKinney long-term, but if he’s able to compete on the outside, why wouldn’t the Texans want to use his speed and youth attacking the run as long as they can.
Pressure meter — 50 percent
2. DeShaun Watson
Told you he wasn’t going to be number 1.
No one will be under more pressure long-term that Watson, that’s a fact. After the Brock Osweiler bomb of 2017, Rick Smith possibly put his career on the line by trading a 2018 first round pick to move up 13 spots to select Watson. It would make sense with the team being a quarterback away from true Superbowl contention and Watson might have been the best option.
While Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes might have gone before him, Watson’s arm, dual-threat ability, and pocket presence might make him the most NFL-ready quarterback in the class.
Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) reacts after the win over Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
If Bill O’Brien deems him ready, that is…
Throughout OTA’s and minicamp, Tom Savage has taken a majority of the first team snaps. Watson has thrown to first-team receivers but has yet to call a play with the first team offense in one on one drills. It would be insane to see him sit the bench the entire season but as of now, it’s not looking like he’ll be under center week 1 when the Jaguars come to visit. If Savage, however, begins to struggle and is unable to perform under pressure, Watson had better know the playbook like the back of his hands.
With similar weapons he had in college now on the Texans roster, it should be easy for the former Davey O’Brien Award winner to make the NFL jump. He best be ready once he steps on that field though; Texans fans are ready for their offense to catch up with their Super Bowl-caliber defense.
Pressure meter — 50 percent
1. D’Onta Foreman
Surprise surprise, after all the hype D’Onta Foreman takes home the most important rookie of 2017 award. A hard runner between the trenches and force to be reckoned with in short yardage situations, Foreman may not be a full-time starter, but the Texans offense needs him to assume a big role right away.
Oct 29, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns running back D'Onta Foreman (33) runs in a touchdown against the Baylor Bears at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
After rushing for over 2000 yard in 2016, the former Doak Walker winner was praised for his running ability as the highlight of the Texas Longhorns miserable offense.
However, while some considered Foreman a top-ranked running back in this year’s class, a nagging hamstring injury cost Foreman a chance to impress at the NFL combine and pushed back his pro-day performance. That hamstring injury could be a deciding factor for his career
Last season, the Texans ranked 22nd on third down rushing conversions according to ESPN.com. Brent Grimes is no longer on the team while Alfred Blue suffered a career-low 1.8 yards a carry on third down. Lamar Miller is the unquestioned starter, but he battled multiple lower body injuries last season. A north/south runner by trade, Foreman was at his best running through the middle into the second and third line of defense.
Miller and Foreman both had a heavy workload in 2016 for the respective teams and could benefit from each other’s strengths. With quarterback play possibly heading south next season, the new duo could be heavily relied on to make an impact if Houston thinks they can make it to Minneapolis in 2018. Still, with running backs being a dime a dozen in today’s league, it’s more important for Foreman to shine early in his career rather than become lost on the depth chart.
Pressure meter — 60 percent
SLIDESHOW: Texans 1st-round picks through the years
By Jeff Risdon, USA Today Sports
On the eve of training camps opening around the league, many in the NFL media are coming out with their 2017 season predictions. At USA TODAY, the forecast for the Houston Texans isn’t very sunny.
The Texans finally break out of the three-season 9-7 run under head coach Bill O’Brien. Unfortunately, it’s stepping in the wrong direction. Analyst Nate Davis sees Houston falling to 8-8 and missing the playoffs.
The biggest reason? Inexperience at quarterback:
"We know, Bill O’Brien has never failed to go 9-7 in any of his three seasons. But when your team’s top two quarterbacks have two combined NFL starts, it’s easy to foresee a season that serves as one step back before two steps forward occur in 2018."
MORE: Read more on the prediction at USATODAY.com
© 2018 KHOU