Showcasing Houston Texans' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs
For the second straight season, the Houston Texans won the AFC South, defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card Round and then got eliminated from the playoffs. The team is close to contending for a title, but hasn't been able to get over the hump quite yet.
The Texans certainly don't lack star power. With Arian Foster and Andre Johnson on offense and J.J. Watt leading the defensive charge, the roster features enough superstars to be considered in the Super Bowl conversation.
It comes down to filling holes elsewhere on the roster. Big names can only carry a team so far before they start needing support from everybody else to survive in the postseason. The Baltimore Ravens illustrated that during their run last season.
Let's take a closer look at the Texans' roster as it stands now, after the first wave of free agency and before the draft. The key is finding the weaknesses Houston needs to use its remaining resources to address before next season.
Matt Schaub just finished his fifth straight season with a quarterback rating above 90. He's never topped the 100 mark for an entire season, however, and that perfectly encapsulates what type of player the Texans have under center.
He's a solid, reliable option. But he's not a quarterback capable of taking an offense to the next level by himself, like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. It doesn't mean the Texans can't win a Super Bowl with him, they just have to keep improving his supporting cast.
Houston has multiple backup options, led by T.J. Yates. Although the offense would definitely take a hit if he was forced to take over for an extended period of time, it's not a situation where the Texans should be concerned about adding another QB to the mix right now.
Arian Foster is the Texans' workhorse. The dynamic, game-changing back carried the ball over 350 times and received nearly 400 touches overall last season. No other running back on the roster had more than 65 carries.
The fourth-year star held up well. He rushed for over 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns while also chipping in over 200 yards and a couple receiving TDs. He showed no signs of slowing down in the playoffs and should be in for another heavy workload in 2013.
Ben Tate fills the No. 2 spot on the depth chart and has filled in admirably when Foster missed time in the past. He could probably start for several other teams. The Texans could use a third-string back. Perhaps Ray Graham or Rex Burkhead late in the draft.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
By now, it's clear Andre Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the game. Despite constant double- and triple-teams, he was able to reel in 112 passes for nearly 1,600 yards. His combination of size, strength and athleticism makes him a nightmare match up for opposing secondaries.
The Texans feature a good tight end duo in Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. They combined to catch nine touchdowns. Lestar Jean, DeVier Posey and Keshawn Martin provide good wideout depth, but none of them are true No. 2 receivers.
And that's exactly what Houston needs and should spend its first-round pick on. Somebody who can step in opposite Johnson, take some pressure off his shoulders and help the Texans' offense reach the next level. Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen are names to watch.
It's clear simply by looking at Houston's offensive numbers––seventh in total yards and eight in points scored––that the offensive line was doing something right. The front five is the foundation of any top-tier offense.
Sure enough, the stats illustrate that strong play up front. The Texans ranked ninth in both run blocking and pass protection, according to Football Outsiders. Being inside the top 10 in both categories is the hallmark of a sturdy line.
They did lose some tackle depth during the offseason, which is something they will need to address in the middle rounds. Ricky Wagner is a sleeper to keep in mind. Otherwise, the Texans should feel confident in their line play.
It's impossible to overstate how good J.J. Watt was last season. The defensive end racked up 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, swatted away 16 passes and forced four fumbles. He was rightfully named AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Antonio Smith wasn't nearly as explosive off the other edge. He still picked up seven sacks, though, helping the Texans rank fifth in that key stat. The veteran should continue to benefit from the offensive line focus being on Watt.
While Houston should be set on the ends, the same can't be said at tackle. Earl Mitchell had a mundane season, so the team should bring in some competition for the starting spot. The free agent depth is depleted, leaving the Texans to target somebody like John Jenkins in the draft.
The Texans rotated through a bunch of linebackers and few stood out. Brian Cushing only played in five games due to injury, which was a major loss for the defense. Whitney Mercilus was the only other LB to emerge, picking up six sacks.
Cushing and Mercilus should fill two of the linebacker spots. Exactly how much faith the team has in players like Darryl Sharpton and Brooks Reed to develop into full-time starters will decide how big of a priority adding linebackers will be.
If the Texans think Sharpton and Reed can be consistent contributors, they don't need any major additions. If not, they will need to target prospects such as Jon Bostic or Kiko Alonso on the inside and Chase Thomas or Gerald Hodges on the outside in the draft.
Houston's secondary should be set. The addition of Ed Reed from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens filled the last starting void. He will be joined by Danieal Manning to form a perfect combination of run-stopping and play-making skills at the safety spots.
On the outside, the Texans feature Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph. Both corners had over 50 tackles last season. They also had six interceptions and two touchdowns. Brice McCain will work well as a nickle corner.
If anything, they could use some depth additions for the injuries that are sure to arise throughout the season. But that goes for just about every team at this point in the offseason. Sanders Commings or Adrian Bushell would make for nice draft pickups late.
Randy Bullock, a fifth-round pick last year, missed his entire first season due to injury. He should assume kicking duties heading into next season, which is why the Texans opted against bringing back Shayne Graham. He was a solid replacement.
It appeared Houston would have to add a punter in the draft to pair with Bullock, but then it signed nine-time All-Pro selection Shane Lechler to handle the duties instead. He's been one of the league's best at the position throughout his career.
Finally, the return game should also be settled with Keshawn Martin taking back both kicks and punts a majority of the time. The only exception would be if one of the players the Texans draft is also a returner. It's not a necessary addition, however.