2016 cheat sheet: Houston Texans
To get you ready for the 2016 NFL season, the PFF analysis crew is assembling team “cheat sheets” to catch you up on the latest changes, grades, and rankings of note involving your NFL team.
Given the public perception of the Texans this past offseason, one would have a difficult time believing that this team made the playoffs a season ago. Yes, they had their offensive struggles that culminated with Brian Hoyer’s all-time horrific playoff performance, but this was a dominant defensive unit with few holes. If Houston’s offense can take any step forward at all, this should be a playoff team once again.
Three biggest things to know
1. “How good is Brock Osweiler?”
It feels as if I’ve wrote this 100 times now, but the answer to the question is that we don’t know. Osweiler had his ups (comeback win against New England) and downs (166 yards and a pick against the Chargers), but he should be far from the liability that Hoyer was at times in 2015. The good news is that he’ll be eased into his new role as a passer, as the Texans were one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL a season ago.
2. Defense set to continue second-half form
As mentioned earlier, the Broncos are likely the only team that could boast a stingier defense than Houston for the second half of 2015. The scary thing is, the Texans could get even better. Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney, and Kevin Johnson are all promising young players whose career path should still be on an upward trajectory. What’s more, the only significant loss from a season ago—DE Jared Crick—was also the defense’s lowest-graded player.
3. Influx of weapons on offense
The 2016 Texans’ offense will feature new starters at quarterback (Brock Osweiler), running back (Lamar Miller), and No. 2 receiver (Will Fuller). That’s considerable turnover, but with how effective the offense was in 2015, it’s a welcome change. Getting production out of rookie receivers is always a gamble, but the addition of Miller, especially, should pay off big time. The former Dolphin ran behind the lowest-graded run-blocking unit the past two seasons, yet still produced fantastic rate stats. He’ll provide the home-run ability that Arian Foster didn’t quite have the past two seasons, as Miller’s 35.8 breakaway percentage was fifth-best in the NFL last year.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: WR Will Fuller (Round 1, pick No. 21 overall, Notre Dame), C Nick Marin (Round 2, pick No. 50 overall, Notre Dame), WR Braxton Miller (Round 3, pick No. 85 overall, Ohio State)
Signed in free agency: RB Lamar Miller (Dolphins), G Jeff Allen (Chiefs), QB Brock Osweiler (Broncos)
Left via free agency: G Brandon Brooks (Eagles), WR Nate Washington (UFA), C Ben Jones (Titans)
Cut: RB Arian Foster (Dolphins)
Rookie to watch
Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame (Round 1, pick No. 21 overall)
The PFF draft crew was split on the overall game that Fuller brings to the table, but his ability as a deep threat was universally agreed upon. The coverages that DeAndre Hopkins saw at times in 2015 were downright ridiculous, as multiple defenders had no other responsibilities outside of the Texans’ No. 1 receiver. Playing those coverages gets a little trickier when the man across the field has 4.3 speed and led the Power-5 in deep-receiving yards by 100 last season, despite five drops.
Highest-graded player of 2015
J.J. Watt, DE, 93.8 overall grade
Watt’s abilities are universally agreed upon and unquestioned at this point—simply put, he’s the best player in the league right now. The only thing that is up for debate is whether or not Watt will be fully healthy for the start of the season.
Jadeveon Clowney, OLB
When you generate the kind of hype that Clowney did during the draft process, anything less than elite-level performance will be met with the “bust” label. The truth is, though, that Clowney’s 2015 performance was completely acceptable for a No. 1 overall pick, as he was the 16th-highest graded edge rusher in 573 snaps. Now he’ll just have to increase that snap count and prove that he can sustain that production level for a full season’s workload.
Dime defense (2015 season grades shown)
Offense with three receivers (2015 season grades shown)