Houston Texans: Position Breakdown and Depth-Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
The wide receiver position in my opinion was the Houston Texans' strongest overall unit going into this year's offseason. That could all change quickly if Andre Johnson continues to sit out of practice, but I think his situation will be worked out before the season starts.
With one receiver on his way to the Hall of Fame and another young receiver who showed great promise last year, you could also argue that the Texans have one of the best groups in the entire league.
Their top two receivers are set, but the big question for the position coming into free agency and the draft was who would start as their slot receiver. After initially believing the position was weak, once coach Bill O'Brien got to look at his roster up close, he found he had more at slot receiver than originally thought.
With the addition of Mike Thomas as a free agent and the return of Alan Bonner who was injured last season, the Texans should get good production out of their slot receiver. If the Texans do get solid production out of their slot receiver, this group will keep opposing defensive coordinators sleepless at night.
Having a group like this at wide receiver will help whomever the team chooses as their quarterback. That player will likely be Ryan Fitzpatrick who is nothing more than a game manager, being an efficient game manager is a lot easier with upper-level talent at wide receiver.
This receiver group also has good size with Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and DeVier Posey all over 6'0'', and that list doesn't even include their tight ends. Having receivers taller and longer than their defender is obviously a big plus for a quarterback.
If their quarterback is going to have a good season, they'll need their wide receivers to play up to expectations and perhaps beyond.
The Texans selected Keshawn Martin in the fourth round of the 2012 draft as a slot receiver and return man. Martin hasn't been a game-changer as a return man, but he's done even less as a slot receiver.
Over two seasons with the Texans, Martin has a total of just 32 receptions for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Martin hasn't produced, and I don't expect the new coaching staff to show him any undue loyalty since they didn't draft him; Martin will need to step up his level of play or could wind up without a job.
Right now Martin is losing the battle to Bonner and offseason free-agent addition Mike Thomas, according to Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.
I think this is the order that it is safe to put them in our minds at the moment: Mike Thomas, Alan Bonner and Keshawn Martin. The slot wide receiver position is going to be a vital part of the offense and knowing the offense and having the ability to read the defense on the run is key.
All three can play the slot and, most importantly, return kicks and punts which gives them all a legitimate shot to be on the team when the season opens.
As Patrick Starr mentioned, being able to contribute as a return man will play a major role in deciding who will make the roster. I don't think all three—Thomas, Martin and Bonner—will make the roster so the versatility they offer will be an important factor.
All three have experience returning kicks, be it in college or in the NFL, so I don't think Martin has a leg up in the competition at this point.
We're discussing a fifth receiver here, so this competition isn't about finding someone who will make an impact as a receiver every game.
The guy who wins this competition should be someone who has a plus trait that could be developed with the hope that the player becomes something more down the road. The player who wins this battle also needs to be someone who can be an impact player on special teams.
I don't think Martin is that guy.
The Texans are unlikely to keep six receivers in my opinion, so the loser of this competition could find himself without a job. There might be a spot for the losing player on the practice squad if he's eligible.
As of now I think Martin is their sixth receiver on the depth chart and is in danger of being cut during training camp.
Bonner, the former sixth-round pick, missed all of last season but looks poised to step back in and claim a roster spot so far through OTAs.
He is in the running to be the Texans' primary slot receiver, but at the very least, he would be someone they would consider as a practice-squad player. Bonner will also get a look as a return man which will increase his chances of making the team if he performs at both spots.
Most likely, Bonner is competing with third-year player Keshawn Martin for the fifth wide receiver spot with Johnson, Hopkins, Thomas and Posey ahead of him. Martin has a slight advantage as the veteran with NFL experience, but according to Patrick Starr of the State of the Texans, Bonner has been impressive.
Second year wide receiver Alan Bonner is convinced this offense reminds him of what he was able to do in college, create out of the slot. Completely healthy from a hamstring injury from last year Bonner made it clear that he did not get healthy until mid way through last season.
Wide Receiver Alan Bonner is borderline electric when he touches the football in the middle of the field. Bonner can go from a stop to getting upfield in a hurry.
Bonner also impressed former scout and coach John Harris of HoustonTexans.com.
During last year’s training camp, whether it was as a backup receiver or as a punt returner, Bonner had everyone’s attention. After missing the year, Bonner looks as healthy as ever and caught my attention on day one again. He’s so explosive running his routes and caught nearly everything.
As such, it’s evident that he makes defensive backs uncomfortable with his route running. Taking advantage of the expected emphasis on utilizing a true slot receiver, Bonner might be of more value to this staff than the previous one.
Call me crazy, but I think Bonner will beat out Martin and make this team as the Texans' fifth receiver and return man.
It takes a full year to completely recover from major surgery to fix an injury like the Achilles injury Posey suffered during the final game of his rookie season. Posey got back on the field quicker than most expected, but he looked a step slower than his rookie season as he worked to get back into game shape.
On the season Posey finished with 15 receptions for 155 yards and still doesn't have a regular-season touchdown reception during this two-year career. The recovery from the injury and surgery should no longer be a factor going into this season for Posey, but if everything goes as planned, there likely won't be a lot of passes available with who is ahead of him on the depth chart.
With his size and speed Posey is best suited to play on the outside but has almost zero chance to pass either Johnson or Hopkins on the depth chart. That means at best Posey will be the Texans' fourth receiver and will see snaps in their spread formations and when either Hopkins or Johnson needs a few plays off to rest.
I expect the Texans to use some combination of one running back and either two tight ends or one tight end with one fullback with most of their formations. If that turns out to be true, Posey won't get many snaps as the team's fourth wide receiver.
Don't expect to hear Posey's name called much during the regular season.
However, Posey has been given an opportunity to impress the coaches with additional playing time during OTAs and minicamp due to Johnson skipping practice, as Patrick Starr of State of the Texans pointed out.
If there is one wide receiver who has benefited the most from a certain players absence look no further than DeVier Posey. It has been a mixed bag for Posey since he arrived to Houston two years ago. Now entering his third year with the team, he is grasping the new offense.
His time on the field has been increased and he is making some good connections with the quarterback group and that is key for his production on the field at the moment. Posey looks fully recovered from his Achilles injury that slowed him last season and he has been steady on the field.
Posey has to make as much headway as he can before Andre Johnson arrives back to camp where his time will once again become limited.
Posey has the raw natural talent of an impact player, but his role on this team as the fourth receiver will limit his production. If he's able to overcome the mistakes and the learning curve that hold back young players and is truly 100 percent healthy, then he'll be a nice asset as another tall receiver for the Texans quarterbacks to target.
As of now expect Posey to be the team's fourth option and receive limited playing time.
Coach Bill O'Brien didn't initially think he had a player capable of filling the slot receiver position which he called important to his offense. After getting a better look at his roster, the position appears to be in better shape than initially thought.
Thomas has played well in the slot so far during OTAs and has opened Coach O'Brien's eyes, according to Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.
...now being out here for a few days, including our coaching sessions, there are a few guys, including Mike, that have the skill set to play in the slot and to play outside. That’s why these camps are good.
The slot receiver position has been very productive under O'Brien and his offense, which Thomas has certainly noticed, according to Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.
I don’t think you can really look over that. You have guys … you know, Wes Welker was obviously a big part of that and (Danny) Amendola (who played his first season in New England last year) and some of the other guys.
They use pretty much anybody they can find in New England to get the job done. So I definitely have had that thought and have looked at it and imagined.
Thomas was successful in Jacksonville before being cut after less productive stints with the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals. In 2010 Thomas led the Jaguars in both receptions, with 66, and receiving yards, with 820.
The former Jaguar also has NFL experience as a return man with 105 combined kick and punt returns over his career. Like he did as a receiver, Thomas also excelled as a return man in 2010 with an average over 10 yards per punt return and one touchdown. That versatility will go a long way toward Thomas making the roster.
"Versatility is a key word in this process." Bill O'Brien #Texans— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaro) May 10, 2014
O'Brien says every position except quarterback, punter, long snapper and kicker needs to be able to do more than one thing. #Texans— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) May 27, 2014
Thomas isn't Welker, but he's capable of producing out of the slot. He's on track to be their third receiver, unless one of the younger guys steps up and outplays him during training camp and the preseason.
Hopkins has the talent of a No. 1 receiver but had trouble getting that talent to translate to his performance on the field last season. Hopkins caught 52 passes last year for over 800 yards, but rookie mistakes held him back at times.
The former Clemson star was always known for being able to jump higher than his defender, high-point the ball and catch everything that touched his hands, but some of the finer points of the game like his route running and winning off the line were weak spots during his rookie season.
From Patrick Starr of State of the Texans, Hopkins has been impressive so far during OTAs.
Anything that was thrown DeAndre Hopkins was today was plucked out of the air with ease. In team and 7 on 7s, he looked in tune with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the passing game and appears to be a building an on field knowledge of each other.
Hopkins looks like he has polished up his route running from last season and has done a better job of boxing out cornerbacks trying to break up passes. He made some nice sideline receptions during the two-minute drill to extend the offensive drive during their field work.
He has kept on the slow grind during practice and his concentration on strength have helped him early on during OTAs.
The hard work from the offseason has paid off.
#Texans' DeAndre Hopkins spent two months this offseason training on 100-yard hill about five minutes from Clemson. Focused on stride length— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) May 30, 2014
Hopkins is a lock as the Texans' second receiver and will start every game this season on the outside as long as he's healthy. Expect Hopkins to go over the 1,000-yard mark this season and put up numbers similar to what Andre Johnson did during his second season.
Assuming he's still on the roster when the season starts—I do think he will be—Andre Johnson will be the Texans no-doubt No. 1 receiver.
Despite turning 33 next month, Andre Johnson is still in his prime. Johnson has gone over 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons; a feat only matched by Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.
He is still more physically gifted than all but a few receivers in the league, still has a knack for getting open and still catches everything that touches his hands.
The only question surrounding him is not his talent level or his impact on an offense but rather when he'll show up for practice after publicly stating that he was unhappy last month. Johnson missed all of their voluntary veteran minicamp, OTAs and is expected to skip their mandatory minicamp coming up this month.
O'Brien was asked if he expects Andre Johnson at mandatory minicamp. Said he doesn't know. Johnson has said he's not coming. #Texans— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) June 13, 2014
If Johnson misses all of the mandatory minicamp, the most the Texans can fine him is just under $70,000, according to Dave Zangaro of CSNHouston.com.
The Texans have only had a winning season in three of the 11 seasons he's been on the team, so his frustration is understandable. However, even if the Texans were willing to trade him, eathing the remainder of his guaranteed money and finding a team willing to give them fair compensation will be difficult.
The losing is certainly a factor, but I don't think it's the biggest issue keeping Johnson from returning to the team. He may not admit it, but like most things, I think this is about the money.
Johnson also missed offseason practices in 2010 when he was unhappy with his contract. This time around I think it's less about the total dollar amount and more about having security.
The Texans could save a lot of money by cutting Johnson after the 2014 season. According to Over the Cap, the Texans could save north of $20 million by cutting their star veteran receiver after the season is over.
If the Texans are willing to guarantee more of his contract and promise not to cut him, my guess is he would be satisfied by the show of loyalty and return to the team.