Training camp is kicking off in West Virginia. As players report this week and practices begin, the first wave of cuts will be here before you know it. With rookies, veterans and free agents all trying to prove they have what it takes to make it in the NFL, no job is safe as the Houston Texans look to head to Minneapolis this season.
Only 53 men will suit up once the Jacksonville Jaguars comes to town on Sept. 10. With 90 players entering camp, that means a lot of disappointed talent.
With all the news coming from the draft, OTA’s and summer camp, here’s an early look at the 2017 53-man roster for the Houston Texans as of now.
Quarterback (3): Tom Savage, DeShaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
In today’s league, a team is nothing without their quarterback and that statement couldn’t be better said than with a team like Houston. As the standings look now, the Texans sit just in the middle of the AFC picture. Their defense could make them a top three program but terrible quarterback play could keep them completely out of the playoffs.
Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson are locks to make the roster. Trading up 12 spots in the first round justifies the team’s motive to finally try and find their quarterback of the future while Savage is a journey man under O’Brien and at worse is a quality backup. While neither quarterback has thrown a touchdown in the NFL yet, both have the ability, football IQ and drive to battle it out throughout the 2017 season for playing time.
As for Weeden, he might be a wild card, but he’s needed for the 2017 season. Until Watson officially takes over as the Texans quarterback long-term, Savage will be more than likely trotting out for first team snaps. In three seasons in the NFL, the former Pittsburgh quarterback has suffered two season-ending injuries and has already gone through concussion protocol twice. If anything happens to Savage early on this season where Watson is forced to play, it’s best to have a healthy second option to line up behind him. Even if that option is a former 28-year-old first round draft pick.
Running back (4): Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, Alfred Blue, Akeem Hunt
The running back position is a bit tricky when looking at the Texans roster. Miller is the premier back in Bill O’Brien’s offense and will be dancing his way to at least 150+ carries in 2017. After Miller, however, the rest of the rotation could be tricky for the time being.
Houston went out and picked up 2016 Doak Walker winner D’Onta Foreman in the third round. A nice north to south finesse back who has power in the open field, the former UT star is sure to be the secondary option for the team.
Now we move on to the hard part; the change-of-pace back. Alfred Blue did minimal in his carries last season, although his strong performance against the Cincinnati Bengals to seal the AFC South could justify him a spot in the rotation. Meanwhile, Akeem Hunt has the size to be a scat back on short third-down formations.
In the end, with Foreman looking at a possible suspension and Tyler Ervin showing nothing promising in the run game, both backs should make the opening day roster. Be on the lookout for Blue to potentially get moved midseason if he picks up the pace and shows he can be a more complete back.
Wide Receiver (5): DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong, Wendall Williams
This is a pretty easy group to break down overall. Not only do the Texans have four receivers they selected in the top 100 of their respective classes, but the competition behind them outside the core unit is uninspiring, to be kind.
For starters, Hopkins is a top 10 wide receiver in the NFL today, quarterback or not. While some might possibly think he is in line for a holdout, reports have come in stating he will be at training camp and will discuss his future this upcoming offseason.
While Will Fuller started off hot with consecutive 100+ yard games, his rapid decline and drop ratio led to an abysmal rookie campaign down the stretch. Still, the former first round speedster is in no jeopardy of losing his starting job heading into year 2. Miller was still working out the kinks as a project receiver before injury and should see more success under new coach Wes Welker in 2017.
Jaelen Strong might be the most disappointing receiver out of the bunch. Known for his tracking ability, strong hands and physical playing style after the catch, Strong was expected to be the No. 2 option to Hopkins moving forward. In two seasons however, Strong has just managed to grab 28 receptions for just under 300 yards and three touchdowns. There’s still plenty of upside with Strong this season so he’ll be given one more chance before the team moves on from him.
As for the final spot, it’s anyone’s guess but let’s go with the special teams star in Williams to be a gunner on punts and kickoffs to make the roster.
Tight End (3): CJ Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson
In an article earlier this off season, the Texans Wire broke down the AFC South tight ends and ranked Houston as the top unit in the division. While players such as Jack Doyle or Delanie Walker would rank higher in a solo matchup, the Texans unit and their ability to play off each other’s weaknesses makes them a more collective unit.
A former third-round selection out of Iowa, Fiedorowicz was known for his big frame, aggressive blocking technique, and massive hands. While spending most of his time in the slot as the flex tight end the third year tight end has succeeded winning across the middle of the field on out routes and short post. The 6-foot-5 tight end was able to rejuvenate his career with 54 receptions for just under 600 yards and five touchdowns. He’s a lock to return for 2017.
Ryan Griffin also broke out for the Texans last season as more of a prototypical tight end. A very strong in-line blocker, Griffin was an excellent blocker on the back end, slowing defenders down to allow big gains for his running backs on the other side of the field. The Texans signed him to a three-year deal this offseason so he’s set to return. Anderson is much like Fiedorowicz as a flex tight end but his ability to win after the catch was uncanny in college. He should make the roster as a quality backup to both tight ends.
Offensive Line (9): Duane Brown, Chris Clark, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Nick Martin, Jeff Allen, Greg Mancz, Brenno Giacomini, Julie’n Davenport, Kyle Fuller
The Texans could go with eight linemen and few would argue that that is too little. However, with a rookie tackle still learning the ropes and a potential surprise position change, Houston might be better off keeping as many linemen as possible for now.
Duane Brown, contract or not, is a top level left tackle still in the NFL and the best player the Texans have on their line. His pass protection ability is still above average so he’s set to protect the quarterback’s blindside. Although Xavier Su’a-Filo and Jeff Allen allowed a combined 12 sacks and nine tackles for losses according to Pro Football Focus Elite, having two veteran guards who played decent in run based schemes is still a good option moving forward.
Right tackle will be the position every keeps an eye on this offseason. Clark in eight games last year allowed six sacks and 52 pass hurries. While Giacomini didn’t perform much better in the past two seasons, his run blocking ability is just as strong and could battle it out with Clark for playing time if the right tackle looks sluggish at training camp. Julie’N Davenport is a 6’7’’ athletic freak who could be a potential long-term starter at right tackle moving forward, but should be holding the clipboard all of this season.
With the return of Nick Martin, this leaves Greg Mancz is a pickle. Last year, Mancz graded out as one of the highest run-blocking centers in football and did adequate in pass protection. Kyle Fuler does have some promise in the run game as well, but was horrendous in pass protection at Baylor his senior season. Ideally, Mancz and Giacomini could be swing players and work as solid backups anywhere on the line, allowing Houston to send Fuller to their practice squad.
Still, with no word coming out of camp, expect the Texans to have at least one, if not two, backups for each position on their line for the 2017 campaign.