2017 Texans Training Camp Preview

Everything you need to know for the start of practices

Houston Texans Training Camp will begin on July 26 as the Texans take the field in preparation for the 2017 season.

This year’s camp will start at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. and will be the first time in franchise history the Texans hold training camp outside of the city of Houston.

Fifteen training camp practice sessions will be open to the media and public at The Greenbrier: Wednesday-Sunday, July 26-30; Tuesday-Saturday, Aug. 1-5; Friday-Saturday, Aug. 11-12; and Monday-Thursday, Aug. 14-16. The practices from Aug. 15-16 will be joint practices with the New England Patriots. The practices on Monday, Aug. 7 and Thursday, Aug. 17 are open to the media only.

All practices will begin at 10:30 a.m. ET. 

Tickets and parking information for the general public can be found online at The Greenbrier website: www.greenbrier.com/texans.

The Texans will also hold two open practices at the Houston Methodist Training Center when they return to Houston on Aug. 21-22 following their second preseason game. The schedule for the remaining training camp practices will be released at a later date.

All training camp practices are subject to short notice changes and adjustments based on weather and/or football operations decisions. 

PRESEASON

  • Wednesday, Aug. 9, at Carolina Panthers, 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 19, New England Patriots, 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, Aug. 26, at New Orleans Saints, 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, Aug. 31, Dallas Cowboys, 7 p.m.

Camp Breakdown

A quick look at the Texans

 

PHOTOS: Houston Texans May OTA practices

By The Associated Press

HOUSTON TEXANS (10-8)

OPEN CAMP: July 26, The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.

LAST YEAR: Houston overcame J.J. Watt missing all but three games with back injury to go 9-7 and win weak AFC South for second straight year. Emergence of 2014 top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney helped ease loss of Watt and allow Houston to lead NFL in yards allowed. After getting blown out by Kansas City in wild-card round in 2016, Texans were ousted in divisional round by New England largely because of another ineffective performance by quarterback Brock Osweiler. Osweiler was inconsistent throughout first season in Houston and after season team decided $72 million investment was mistake and shipped him to Cleveland.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: Rookies QB Deshaun Watson, RB D'Onta Foreman, LB Zach Cunningham, linebackers coach Mike Vrabel promoted to defensive coordinator.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Brock Osweiler, CB A.J. Bouye, S Quintin Demps, offense coordinator George Godsey.

CAMP NEEDS: Texans insist Tom Savage is starting QB, but it's unlikely they would have traded up 13 picks to take Clemson standout Watson if they weren't going to give him chance to win job. Watson has shown ability to thrive in big games in college, but to beat out Savage he must master coach Bill O'Brien's offense quickly and build rapport with star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and rest of offense. Watt has declared himself fully recovered from back injury that required two surgeries; he participated in offseason workouts. Still, much of focus of camp will be on if he looks like d Defensive Player of Year in three of his four seasons before injury. Houston will also need young defensive backs such as 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson taking step forward and moving into starting roles left vacant when Bouye and Demps departed in free agency.

EXPECTATIONS: If Watt is healthy and back to form, Houston's defense featuring him and Clowney should be among best. Question is if Savage or Watson can step up and provide consistent quarterback play after years of problems at position. If Houston finally gets its quarterback situation solved and RB Lamar Miller has another good season, Texans could contend for championship after failing to get out of divisional round of playoffs in previous four postseason trips.

5 Things to Know About the Texans

Watson's arrival, Watt's return raise expectations

 

PHOTOS: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

By Adam Woodard, USA TODAY Sports

1. Miller should have more help

Because of a less-than-stellar passing game last season, the Texans relied heavily on running back Lamar Miller. The 26-year-old set a career record for carries (268) in 14 games, but he might have more assistance this year. Houston drafted Texas running back D’Onta Foreman in the third round, with hopes of establishing a reliable second option. Foreman, who won the 2016 Doak Walker Award as college football’s top running back, is a welcome addition to an ailing offense. Miller played through injuries most of last season and missed the final two regular-season games. A strong one-two punch with Miller and Foreman could help open the passing game and relieve the pressure on the quarterback — whether that's Tom Savage or rookie Deshaun Watson.

2. Watson will get a crack at the starting QB job

When it comes to training camps, few things are more exciting than a quarterback battle. After shipping off Brock Osweiler to the Cleveland Browns, the Texans traded up to No. 12 in the draft to select Watson, giving up next year's first-round pick to make the jump. A national champion at Clemson and a two-time Davey O’Brien and Manning Award winner, Watson will have a chance to compete for the starting job. There are questions as to how quickly he can pick up the Texans' system, and Savage remains the starter heading into training camp. But Bill O'Brien has said Watson has given no indication so far he wouldn't be ready if needed in 2017.

3. Watt is healthy again

After starting every game in the previous five seasons, defensive end J.J. Watt played in just three contests before being sidelined for the year by his second back surgery in three months. In February, Watt announced his rehab was finished and he was on pace for a return in 2017. Despite his absence, Houston finished with the league's No. 1 overall defense. A four-time Pro Bowl pick and three-time NFL defensive player of the year, Watt makes the defensive line difficult to contain when he is healthy. He had 38 combined sacks in 2014 and 2015, while the Texans had just 31 total last season.

4. There's potential for big plays in the passing game

By almost any measure, it’s safe to say the Texans' passing attack struggled in 2016 after averaging just 198.5 yards per game (29th in the NFL). However, there were times last season when the unit showed promise. If Houston can find stability at quarterback, wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller have the explosive, playmaking capability to lift a struggling offense.

5. The secondary should be in good shape

With Watt out for most of last season, the rest of the Texans' defense rose to the occasion in 2016. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the group's breakout star, applying consistent pressure en route to his first Pro Bowl nod. The secondary also stepped up by holding opponents to 201.6 passing yards per game, second only to the Denver Broncos. The loss of rising star cornerback A.J. Bouye to the Jacksonville Jaguars stings, but there's ample depth at the position with Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson returning.

QB BATTLE

Savage No. 1, but for how long?

 

By Lorenzo Reyes, USA TODAY

Coach Bill O’Brien has stressed that this is Tom Savage’s job, but Houston did spend a lot of capital to move up from No. 25 in the first round to No. 12 to pluck Deshaun Watson.

The rookie has the physical gifts, and based on O’Brien has raved about the former Clemson star's recall. Of any rookie QB, Watson has the best shot to play on Day 1.

WHY SAVAGE MIGHT WIN THE JOB: He’s entering his fourth season, but Savage is still a bit of an unknown. Still, he knows the offense far better than Watson does, and one of Houston's primary requirements is for its passer to limit mistakes. Savage – at least right now – may be better equipped for that.

WHY WATSON MIGHT WIN THE JOB: The rookie clearly has far greater potential of the duo. And every time Savage makes a mistake, the pressure from fans to put in Watson will be unavoidable. Watson has a versatile skill set that makes him a threat on the move, and he thrives in big-pressure situations.

WHO WILL WIN THE JOB? The Texans will do everything they can to make Savage the Week 1 starter to allow Watson some time to catch his breath. O’Brien, however, hasn’t been shy about rotating quarterbacks from week to week. Will Savage be the starter by the end of the season? That’s a tougher sell.

MORE: NFL training camp QB battles - Who wins tightly contested races?

Top Offensive Players

11 most important offensive players for Texans in 2017

 

SLIDESHOW: 11 most important offensive players for Texans in 2017

By Jeff Risdon Texans Wire

The Houston Texans offense wasn’t good enough in 2016, but changes have been made in the hopes of elevating the unit into a more consistent and dangerous unit. Head coach Bill O’Brien has taken full charge of his offensive baby. With a change at quarterback, some offensive line shuffling, and the maturity of the young skill position talents, this could be a rapid improvement.

Who are the most important players on the Houston Texans offense in 2017?

11. D’Onta Foreman

The third-round rookie from Texas City will carry a fair portion of the rushing load. Foreman was wildly productive at Texas, and the hope is he will find running lanes to exploit just as readily in the NFL.

His size and forward lean while running bring a different dimension to the Houston offense. The more workload Foreman can handle, the fresher it keeps starter Lamar Miller.

10. Ryan Griffin

Houston brought Griffin back as a free agent, and the expectation is he will contribute at least as much as his 50-catch, 442-yard outing last year.

Griffin is a better blocker than top tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, and his work as a receiver is more of a variable. If Griffin rises up and has a big year it will do more to help Bill O’Brien’s offense than what Fiedorowicz’s steady, predictable contributions can do.

9. Jeff Allen

Allen’s terrible debut season in Houston gets overlooked thanks to the even more egregious free agent signing that was Brock Osweiler. Now Allen gets a shot at redemption.

He is projected to be the team’s starting right guard, though the veteran Allen will have to earn it. He’s a player who looked quite worthy of his big contract coming out of Kansas City. If he gets back to being close to that guy, the Texans offensive line will be so much better.

8. Braxton Miller

The starting slot receiver managed just 15 receptions in his rookie season. Expectations are much higher in Miller’s second season. The Texans sorely need him to meet those loftier expectations.

It’s important to remember Miller was Ohio State’s quarterback just three years ago and is still learning how to play wide receiver. Even so, his slippery running style and cat-like quickness are a dimension the Houston attack sorely needs.

7. Deshaun Watson

Watson is the future of the Texans offense. On this, there is no doubt. He is the most important player on the offense in the future. The price to acquire the Clemson quarterback dictates as much.

However, this list is about the 2017 season. And despite what the national media will try and sell, Watson will not be the starting quarterback early on. He might not play before Thanksgiving, if at all. Don’t consider this a slight on his sky-high potential; it’s simply not Watson’s time. Yet…

PHOTOS: Texas RB D'Onta Foreman

6. Nick Martin

This might seem lofty for a player who hasn’t suited up yet and doesn’t have an assured starting position, but that speaks to Martin’s considerable potential. The 2016 second-round pick is handily the most skilled interior lineman on the roster.

He figures to win the starting center job, but it’s important to remember Martin was a standout guard at Notre Dame and that’s his natural position. No matter where he lines up, Martin should be an upgrade and emphatically improve the offensive line play.

5.  Lamar Miller

Even after adding Foreman to help share the load, Miller remains the top running back. He topped 1,000 yards on the ground in his first season in Houston, though his 4 yards per carry average and five touchdowns are both underwhelming.

4. Will Fuller

Fuller enters his second season coming off a fairly disappointing rookie campaign as the team’s first-round pick. The speedy Notre Dame product started strong but quickly faded as defenses learned his routes weren’t sharp.

His hands weren’t sharp either, and unless Fuller improves the deficiencies in his game he will never be as good as Houston needs him to be. The potential is there, however, and the hope is that more consistent QB play and an offseason with some experience will help elevate Fuller’s game. His pure speed makes him so valuable.

3. Duane Brown

The venerable left tackle is currently holding out seeking a contract restructuring. His absence during the spring activities highlights just how important Brown is to the Texans offense.

Brown is one of the better, most well-rounded tackles in the league. The lack of any proven depth to even be his backup, let alone take over should his holdout extend into the season, demonstrates why he’s the one player up front the Texans cannot afford to lose in 2017.

2. DeAndre Hopkins

The most talented player on the offense checks in at No. 2. The only reason “Nuk” isn’t at the top is because he plays a position dependent upon someone else to help him achieve his potential greatness.

Hopkins has a chance to be a special player in Houston, capable of 100-plus receptions and double-digit touchdowns. He’s the primary weapon as well as being the grizzled veteran of the skill position players despite being just 25.

1. Tom Savage

Savage might not be the quarterback of the Texans’ future, but he is very much the QB of the present. How Savage performs in 2017 largely determines when that QB of the future, Deshaun Watson, takes over the team.

The new starter has shown flashes of being quite capable of leading Houston to victories in his brief chances. The arm strength and attacking mindset are good enough, and Savage does have some athleticism. If this team is to repeat last year’s playoff victory, it will be Savage leading the way on offense. Of course, if he’s not up to snuff, the sooner the team finds out how good Watson can be.

Finding a Spark

Texans slow starts on offense must improve quickly

 

By Jeff Risdon, Texans Wire

One of the easiest ways for the Texans to improve in coach Bill O’Brien’s fourth season is to start quicker on offense. Coming out of the gate slowly was a recurring negative theme in Houston last year.

Only the Los Angeles Rams scored fewer points in the first halves of games than the Houston Texans in the 2016 NFL seasons. Those slow starts were a big reason why the Texans played so many close games despite an outstanding defense.

It’s not a new issue, either. The first-half offense was actually more productive in 2016 than it was a year earlier, improving from 7.9 points to 8.6. That 2015 figure was also 31st in the league.

The team that finished one spot above Houston in 2015 is a shining example of what can happen by improving upon the slow starts. The Dallas Cowboys went from 8.4 to 14.4, tied for third in the league. That extra touchdown helped lift the Cowboys from a 4-12, last-place finish to being 13-3 and earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Dallas did that with a rookie QB, something the Texans happen to have.

That extra touchdown helped lift the Cowboys from a 4-12, last-place finish to being 13-3 and earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Dallas did that with a rookie QB, something the Texans happen to have in Deshaun Watson. A year earlier, the Carolina Panthers rocketed up from 26th to No. 1 and went from 7-8-1 to 15-1 and a Super Bowl berth.

The Texans have the weaponry to make it happen. This is on O’Brien and his predictable offensive philosophy of spending too much time early in games figuring out the opposing defense. That’s what the film study and practices during the week are supposed to do. This is one issue where O’Brien critics have a legitimate beef. It’s a big reason why he fired George Godsey and took over the playcalling for himself, too.

Top Defensive Players

11 most important players for the Texan's defense

 

SLIDESHOW: 11 most important players for the Texan's defense

By Jeff Risdon Texans Wire

The Houston Texans fielded the NFL’s top defense in 2016, allowing the fewest yards and first downs. They were good at forcing interceptions and rushing quarterbacks out of their comfort zone consistently off the edge.

The 2017 season should be another big one first-year defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and staff. Returning eight of the 11 starters, Houston may miss the departures or Quintin Demps and A.J. Bouye, but still have their core unit to set the tone.

While the offense will need to pick up the pace to make sure this unit is able to succeed in 2017, Vrabel’s staff will need to keep up their stats if they want to make a deep postseason run and finally make an appearance in the AFC Championship game. That’s why Texans Wire is looking at the 11 most important players on the defense to see which players are most critical to the Texans success in 2017.

11. Zach Cunningham

Let’s start off with the rookie and give him some praise. The former Vanderbilt All-American linebacker was a steal for the Texans in the second round. Versatile for the Commodores both against the run and in pass coverage, Cunningham is a rangy defender who isn’t afraid to attack the ball carrier downfield or in pass coverage.

Expected to be the long-term starter moving forward at inside linebacker, Cunningham may only contribute on special teams and pass heavy defensive formations. Head coach Bill O’Brien has stated that Cunningham will need to put on weight before they work him into the full-time rotation. Still, Brian Cushing’s track record should indicate he may miss a game or two this season. If that happens, the former 2nd rounder needs to be ready to become the starting “WILL” backer quick and be effective in both the run game and pass coverage.

10. K.J. Dillon

Quintin Demps last season snagged six interceptions and was a consistent pass coverage safety for the Texans defense. As he heads off to Chicago, it’s time to see if the Texans have any promise at strong safety with former fifth- round pick K.J. Dillon. An explosive play maker in pass coverage while effective against the run, Dillon was unable to show off his skills last season as a leg injury during a Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Now fully healthy, Dillon is projected to be the starting strong safety as of now. During his time at West Virginia, Dillon collected 17 career tackles for losses over three years. His ability to play in a box role also helped him in coverage as he finished his career with 20 career pass deflections. His overall 4.53 speed should allow him to play in a base cover 2 and 4 formation and play down low against the run. With little proven depth behind him, it’ll be a big year for the second year defensive back if he wants to remain a part of the Texans plans moving forward.

9. Kevin Johnson

Part of the reason Houston was so reluctant on letting A.J. Bouye walk last season was due to Kevin Johnson’s return. The second-year corner out of Wake Forest missed 11 games last season with a foot injury and was unable to return for Houston’s playoff run. In his rookie season however, Johnson showed promise from the slot, collecting 47 tackles along with nine pass breakups and one interception.

Johnson will more than likely play on the outside this season in place of Bouye. As the team’s second corner, he won’t have to worry about many single man coverage’s on team’s top receivers. Best in off-ball coverage, Johnson does have knack of attacking the run and remaining patient in coverage. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll be a big role for the Texans defense, but won’t be under as much pressure as his counter cornerbacks.

8. D.J. Reader

D.J. Reader had a breakout season last year coming from Clemson’s 4-3 defense. Moving into a one technique, the former Clemson standout collected 22 total tackles, including two tackles for losses and a sack. Future Hall-of-Famer Vince Wilfolk took a majority of the snaps but Reader’s ability to contribute was huge for the Texans starting line.

Wilfolk is no longer on the Texans roster, making the second-year Tiger a full-time starter. While former teammate Carlos Watkins will play a similar role for Houston, Reader will get the bulk of the snaps. Houston plays several teams who deploy interior zone running formations. It will certainly be interesting to see how Reader can stack up when he’s taking roughly 40-50 snaps a game now.

7. Johnathan Joseph

The veteran of the secondary, Johnathan Joseph is in a crucial season this year. With the 33-year-old entering a contract year, this could be the final season Texans fans see the 11-year-veteran in Steel Blue uniform. Expected to be the starting outside cornerback, Joseph will have to prove that while he’s aged, he still hasn’t lost a step in pass coverage.

Joseph is physically when asked to play in man coverage, but much like Kevin Johnson, off-ball schemes are where he really thrives. Playing in man has been difficult for the veteran as he allowed two touchdowns last season in single coverage. With talented rosters headed to NRG Stadium this season, Joseph will need to play better in press and at the line of scrimmage if Houston wants to stop opponent’s aerial attack.

PHOTOS: Vanderbilt LB Zack Cunningham

6. Kareem Jackson

The Texans play the Bengals, Patriots, Titans, Seahawks, Cardinals and Steelers in 2017. The slot receivers they’ll face: John Ross, Brandin Cooks, Eric Decker, Tyler Lockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown. If that doesn’t put pressure and make Kareem Jackson the important defensive back for Houston’s defense next season, nothing really will.

Jackson has struggled on the outside throughout his career, so the move to slot corner is probably best. Excellent in zone coverage, Jackson is a willing tackler who will rarely be caught out of his zone and always be involved in the play. Still, man coverage against the receivers will be a huge factor for the Texans pass defense moving forward. Jackson also allowed three touchdowns last year from the slot.

It’s hard to ask him to completely shut down the likes of Brown and Cooks, but if the former first rounder from Alabama can limit passes to them, it should be a good day for the Texans defense.

5. Brian Cushing

He may have lost a step or two over the past few seasons, but Brian Cushing is needed on the field for the Texans. A natural leader and run stopping enforcer, even when playing at 50 percent, Cushing gives his all each snap and ball carrier head on with little intent of slowing down.

It could be a make-or-break year for the ninth-year linebacker. While just 30 years old, Cushing has only remained healthy for three total seasons. His lower body injuries are substantially becoming an issue in pass coverage while his speed is starting to decline. He’s still an important part of the Texans defense however and the natural leader. All plays should and will go through him this year as he looks to lead the Texans defense back to a top-caliber level.

4. J.J. Watt

If J.J. Watt is the fourth most important player, you know this lineup is loaded. Playing in only three games last season, making sure Watt’s health isn’t in question is more important than making him the vocal leader. With back injuries usually leading to more surgeries in the future, it’s important to get the most of Watt now as he enters his sixth season.

The former defensive MVP never missed a game before last year and has collected at least 10 sacks a season since 2012. His tackles for losses have staggered over the course as the past few seasons, but Watt’s ability to disrupt a quarterback’s mojo may be the deciding factor for the Texans overall success in 2017.

3. Benardrick McKinney

With Cushing nearing the end, Benardrick McKinney might be next in line to take over the head of Mike Vrabel’s defense.

Last year, McKinney showed why the Texans were high on trading up for him in 2015. The former second-rounder lead the team with 129 tackles, 79 solo tackles and five sacks. McKinney was also a vital part in stopping the run up the middle and calling the play in the huddle when Cushing was on the injured reserve list. While he’ll be able to take a step back with Cushing taking back over, it’s safe to say that the future is bright in McKinney’s hands as the future leader of the defense.

2. Jadeveon Clowney

If J.J. Watt is unable to make as large as an impact in 2017 as many hope, Jadeveon Clowney will need to pick up the slack. It might have taken several season for the former No. 1 overall pick to make his mark in the NFL, but 2016 was the breakout year many Texans fans hoped for when the team took him in 2014.

Last year, Clowney moved back to his original defensive end position and thrived. Clowney finished last season with 40 tackles, six sacks and 17 tackles for losses. Blessed with excellent bend and a lightning first step, Clowney was nightmare off the edge for running backs to try and sneak by off the edge. Combining his numbers with a healthy Watt should make it nearly impossible for anyone to feel safe on the edge.

1. Whitney Mercilus

He may not be the biggest name, get the biggest paycheck or sell the most jerseys like the rest of his team. However, there might not be a more important player on the entire Texans roster than Whitney Mercilus moving forward thank to his versatility, scheme fit and veteran presence in the locker room. While the former 2012 first-rounder took a little time finding a rhythm, there’s little doubt that he could be one of the best outside linebackers in the league moving forward.

Over past two seasons, Mercilus has collected over 110 tackles, 22 tackles for losses, 19.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. His ability to play off the edge and become disruptive in the backfield is part of the main success for pass hurries in 2016. There’s more however to #59. Mercilus has vastly improved in his cover skills, making him expendable as a cover linebacker as well. Last season, Mercilus only allowed eight catches and finished the year with two pass deflections. While Watt, Clowney and Cushing may be the bigger names, without Mercilus the Texans would be taking a big step backwards, making him the most important member of Houston’s defense.

On the Bubble

4 vets who need strong summers to make the roster

 

By Jeff Risdon, Texans Wire

Tyler Ervin

Adding D’Onta Foreman in the third round places another running back ahead of Ervin on the positional depth chart. Even though they are quite different in both build and skills, it pushes the second-year player from San Jose State in more peril.

Ervin didn’t impress in his rookie season on offense, catching just 3 passes for 18 yards and netting 3 yards on his only carry. His ticket will be special teams. The 2016 fourth-round pick had a handful of strong punt returns, and that appears to be his best path to staying employed in Houston. If he can also prove capable of being a reserve slot receiver, it’s all the better.

Nick Novak

Novak was great in 2016, no question. The veteran kicker converted 35 of his 41 field goal attempts and finished eighth in the league in scoring. Yet he’s quietly on the bubble if he doesn’t perform well this summer.

Novak turns 36 in August and has never had more than average range on his field goal distance. His kickoffs are just as big of a problem; only half his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, which played directly into the Texans allowing the most kickoff return yards in the league last year.

The Texans brought in Ka’imi Fairbairn as competition. The UCLA product made a 60-yarder in college and had a touchback rate of over 70 percent. Don’t assume past performance will guarantee Novak the job.

Eddie Pleasant

The 28-year-old safety is one of the more likable players on the Texans, an affable and fan-friendly presence. He’s going to need more than a great personality to garner another season in Houston, however.

Pleasant faces a wide range of challengers to his role as a reserve safety behind Andre Hal and K.J. Dillon, whom I expect to be the starting duo. A healthy Lonnie Ballantine offers a lot more speed and upside. Kurtis Drummond is younger and a more reliable tackler. Corey Moore is better in coverage. If Kareem Jackson is indeed converting to safety, that pushes all those combatants another spot down the depth chart.

Wendall Williams

Williams might be the fastest Texans player, but that doesn’t guarantee anything to the 26-year-old wide receiver. He caught 4 passes for 75 yards in his first season on the active roster in limited duty.

Williams’ problem is the Texans have a lot more invested in Will Fuller, who is bigger and plays the exact same role. He will need to show the ability to operate on shorter routes and also contribute on special teams to make it in a crowded battle for the reserve wideout spots.

Draft Class

Texans rookie pressure rankings for 2017

 

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

Outlook

USA Today predicts 8-8 for Texans this season

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

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment
Chapters