The Next Level series has looked a players at all different phases of development and examined how they can make a leap to great production.
Today, the series closes with Lestar Jean of the Houston Texans. Jean was an undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic in 2011. He impressed coaches in training camp, but suffered a knee injury and missed the entire 2011 season. Correction: his IR stint was due to a shoulder injury.
Now the Texans face serious uncertainty at wide receiver, and many are looking at Jean to provide the answers. With Andre Johnson out after a routine knee scope, it's Jean that is taking snaps with the first-team wideouts.
Jean presents an interesting problem. On one hand, he's been impressive in workouts. For a team with a lot of openings at receiver, that's enough to get fans salivating at the possibility that they could have a breakout star. Jean has good size and speed and the tools to make big plays.
On the other hand, his entire pro career consists of one preseason game in which he caught two passes for 53 yards. That alone should be enough to slam the breaks on expectations. No matter how dazzling a player is in OTAs and training camps, there's really no reason to get overly excited until he starts performing in games.
For Jean to reach The Next Level, he has to become a regular contributor. He doesn't have to earn a starting job, though I personally don't have any confidence in Kevin Walter. All Jean has to do to keep the natural progression of his career going is make the team and then find a way to make an impact.
If Jean can make the Texans as the third wideout and pitch in 30 catches and 400 to 500 yards, that would be a massive leap forward for his career and solve a major need for the Texans.
That may seem like a modest impact, but since 1990, only 21 undrafted wideouts have posted at least 30 catches in their second year. As much as everyone wants to point at Victor Cruz as a template for Jean, he was a once-in-a-generation breakout star. Those kinds of numbers (82/1536/9) aren't realistic.
That doesn't mean Jean can't make a difference. Every year, there's a former undrafted wideout who breaks into the regular rotation for his team and adds something to the mix. Guys like Lance Moore, Nate Washington, and Wayne Chrebet find ways to elevate their game. Some of them played very little—if at all—in their rookie year.
If Lestar Jean can join their ranks, the Texans might just be the team that finds their own next level.