Rome wasn’t built in a day.
A common phrase used by so many, that saying could be the top statement made when describing the success of NFL programs in today’s day in age. When people think of top franchises such as the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers or New England Patriots, they must look back at their history and see where it all began.
Those teams also weren’t built in a day.
The Houston Texans might be one of the most interesting franchises in the NFL today. A top ranked defense, a top 10 wide receiver, an above average running game and adequate depth at most positions; it’s hard to really pinpoint if the Houston Texans are still building towards becoming a NFL empire, or just a mediocre one that will never rise higher.
The building blocks start everything in today’s modern game and the Texan’s blocks might be the biggest “if’s” in all the land. Let’s break down the five most important Texans for their long-term success in the future. To make it fair, let’s put it five years into the future.
QB Deshaun Watson
GM Rick Smith might not be with the Texans in five years, but it’s a safe bet for now that the pick that could make or break his career with the Texans certainly will be. When the Texans dumped the $72 million contract of Brock Osweiler off to the Cleveland Browns along with a 2018 second round pick, this was just the beginning of Smith working with Cleveland for the quarterback of the future. Two first round picks later, Watson is expected to be the long-term franchise signal caller for a team who seems to have been just a quarterback away since 2010.
Arguably the top quarterback prospect in the class, Watson might be the most NFL ready quarterback of any member for the 2017 class. A strong arm, good vision and a great release, while his accuracy could be an issue at times, his leadership skills and ability to play in clutch situations make him ready to play sooner than later.
The biggest thing about Watson is the hero role. In Houston, he doesn’t have to be that starting out. With a top 10 receiver like DeAndre Hopkins and an adequate running game, Watson will just need to be consistent with his throws and reads. He’s shown the ability to play against top level defenses and put on a show in college, he’ll need to just continue drives and allow his defense to make crucial stops at the next level.
Quarterbacks traded up for in the first round haven’t had much success in the NFL, but Watson could break the streak and turn the Texans from a “what if” AFC contender to an “about time” Super Bowl Champion.
DE Jadeveon Clowney
Some Texans fans might still be ringing Smith’s neck for passing on a talent like Kalil Mack four years later. If the former South Carolina product and continue his success down the field over the years as he did last season, the former No. 1 pick is ready to take that next leap into stardom.
Collecting six sacks in his first full season with the team, Clowney was excellent switching from outside linebacker to a five technique. In the playoffs, he was a nightmare for tackles to block, collecting nine pressure situation and an edge success rate of 92.9 percent according to Pro Football Focus. Against the run, Clowney did an excellent job shifting inside and off the edge to collect a career-high 12 tackles for losses.
Clowney’s versatility to blitz from a three point and two point stance makes him a threat to one of the deadliest blitzers in the league. He might not be as flexible as his counterpart J.J. Watt, but his power and explosive playing style could be the long-term reason the Texans defense is a power house for years to come.
Five years from now, Clowney will be 29 and possibly just starting his new mega-contract. Watt will be pushing 34 at the time and Whitney Mercilus will be just turning 33. Age alone, Clowney is a more dire piece for the Texans.
WR Braxton Miller
I might stand alone here saying this, but I’m not wrong to think that five years from now, Miller will be the biggest reason for the Texans receivers success.
Coming out of Ohio State last season, Miller was still working out the kinks of transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver. Fifteen receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown later, he’s still working out the kinks heading into year 2. If Bill O’Brien is still the Texans head coach five years from now, one could only imagine that his former top receiver Wes Welker will still be on his staff in some way or another as a position coach or potentially offensive coordinator.
If you turn back the clocks, from 2008-2012, Welker was one of the top rated wide receivers in the nation under O’Brien’s play calling in New England. With 442 receptions, more than 4,000 receiving yards, 23 touchdowns and four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, Welker shined in short, quick slot receiver receptions and worked well up the field. It’s certain he’ll expect the same from his team’s long-term slot receiver. Watson doesn’t have to worry about the long ball as much if Miller can work well after the catch. Already great speed to win at any level of the field, Miller could end up being Watson’s go-to target across the middle for many years to come in the Lone Star State.
It’ll be hard for the Texans to keep DeAndre Hopkins if he doesn’t feel like the team will be headed to a championship soon and such little cap room. Will Fuller might be the first round pick, but his 18.2 percent drop and poor route running skills will drastically need to change before he’s considered an important piece. Miller might have the biggest hill to climb, but his overall ability working with Welker could be the most important piece to the Texans offense.
LB Benardrick McKinney
Sooner or later, the Texans will have to say goodbye to their all-time tackler Brian Cushing and look for a new leader of the future. If 2016 was any indication for a long-term future, my money is certainly on his running mate.
In 2015, McKinney was one of the safest inside linebacker prospects the league had seen. Coming from a 4-3 defense at Mississippi State, this two gap defender collected nearly 250 career tackles along with 20 tackles for losses during his year stint as a starter for the Bulldogs.
While he did struggle his first season switching schemes, last year, few linebackers in the league had as much success as McKinney did. Collecting 115 total tackles and five sacks, McKinney was a dominant force up the middle and a nightmare for running backs past the line of scrimmage. Quick to shed blocks and playing more at home, McKinney improved his overall run defense and looked to be a huge leader for the Texans defense, both physically and vocally.
Cushing will be pushing 35 by the time 2022 rolls around and McKinney graded out as the No. 9 overall inside linebacker last year according to Bleacher Report’s scale. He rapidly improved as a run stopper and in a new one gap scheme, should be hard for guards to block in pass rushing schemes. As the old saying goes, out with the old and in with the new. McKinney is easily the next in line to take over as the leader of the Texans defense.
OL Nick Martin
So long as the Bill O’Brien is the head coach, you can bet the Texans will be a power run offense that pounds it up the middle. Both Lamar Miller and third round selection D’Onta Foreman could be on the roster in 2022 if healthy, but without a strong middle, the Texans run game will be mediocre at best.
One of the most well-versed interior linemen I’ve ever scouted, Martin does a little of everything and somehow succeeds. While he may not be as strong as a run blocker as his Cowboy brother Zach, Nick held his own in Notre Dame’s offense for three seasons as the team’s starting center.
Strong hands and an excellent lower frame, Martin opens wide running lanes up the middle and can handle solo blocking assignments. He does well at taking on only half a man and has great footwork to keep his other shoulder free to get open down the field as a lead blocker.
Pass protection is where Martin, however, is at his best. From the snap, it looks effortless for Martin to lay a quick jab of the defender and win the battle immediately. He moves well down the line and does a great job using a quick hand punch to keep defenders from using finesse moves to over power him.
Martin’s versatility at playing both center and guard could be huge as he begins his career this season. No matter where he lines up five years from now, the 2016 second round pick could be the biggest asset to the Texans offensive success for many years to come.