Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for the Houston Texans' Final 53-Man Roster
With training camp just weeks away my mind has started to wonder about the players sitting on the "cut bubble" if you will on the Houston Texans roster.
With more roster turnover than usual—the team only re-signed one of its own free agents—and new coordinators on both sides of the ball, the Texans' deck of cards will be well-shuffled in comparison to who made the final 53 last year.
Obvious disclaimer: The preseason hasn't even started yet, so these predictions are based off very early results. Until the pads are put on during training camp and the preseason, most competitions—except at quarterback and right tackle—will remain up in the air.
I do however believe we have enough information available from performances in previous seasons, how they've played so far during the offseason practices and with what we know of the coaches' preferences and requirements for each position to make an educated guess.
I will be basing my predictions for the last five in and off the roster after the final cut day off those criteria—how well do the players fit, how well have they performed during offseason practices and how well they produced in previous seasons.
The decision will be weighted toward their fit and their play this offseason because I don't believe coach Bill O'Brien cares at all about how they played under a different system.
Without further delay, here are the players I expect to barely make and just miss making the 53-man roster.
In: Alan Bonner
The top four spots on the Texans depth chart at wide receiver are locked in with Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, DeVier Posey and Mike Thomas in my opinion.
Of those four, Thomas is on the shakiest ground, but I think his experience and previous performance have him ahead in the competition for the slot receiver role. If the Texans only keep five receivers—I expect them to—the final spot would come down to Alan Bonner and Keshawn Martin.
Bill O'Brien has said in the past that nearly every player at every position will need to be able to contribute in several ways except for the quarterbacks, kicker, punter and long snapper. With that in mind, the player who wins the fifth receiver spot on the roster will likely be asked to contribute as a return man on special teams as well.
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
Martin obviously has more NFL experience as a return man, but Alan Bonner returned kicks in college and is also capable in that area. Despite that edge in experience, Martin's performance level hasn't been high enough to guarantee him any loyalty or a lead in the competition at this point.
The competition will be decided on the field during training camp and the preseason, and I think that will favor Alan Bonner who Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans has called electric.
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 and showed that today.
Bottom line, we've seen what Keshawn Martin is capable of, and it hasn't been much so far during his two-year NFL career. Bonner is the better athlete with bigger upside and potential. Unless Martin takes a big step forward in Year 3 or Bonner proves not be ready as far as learning the NFL game, Bonner will win the job.
Out: Keshawn Martin
Keshawn Martin just hasn't proved he's capable of being a consistent contributor over his two years in the NFL. He's had his chance, and he's come up small.
Martin has showed brief flashes of solid play—almost entirely as a return man—but he then quickly regresses and looks like a wasted pick even as a guy taken in just the fourth round. The former Michigan State receiver had his first return for a touchdown last season but has made 10 mistakes for every good play over his career in my estimation.
Martin didn't have perfect blocking up front from a special teams unit that saw its longtime coordinator fired after the season, but he also cost himself yards at times by dancing laterally instead of getting up the field and also making poor decisions about when to take the ball out of the end zone.
Keshawn Martin receives the ball four yards into the end zone and returns it to the 15 yard line.
(Gain: 19 yards. Penalties: None)
Side Note: Keshawn, if you drop the ball in the end zone and manage to recover it, take the touchback. Any chance of making something of that play ended when you went butterfingers on the ball.
As mediocre as he's been in the return game, Martin has been invisible as a slot receiver. I thought coming out of college that Martin had the quickness in short spaces and hands to be a great slot receiver, but that hasn't been the case during his first two seasons.
Martin has a two-year total of just 32 receptions for 338 yards as a receiver in the Texans offense.
Of course it's possible the Texans' new offense under Bill O'Brien will be a better fit for Martin—in fact that's almost a certainty—but I don't have much confidence in his ability, and I think he'll be beat out for the final receiver spot on the roster.
In: Max Bullough
The addition of Akeem Dent changed the landscape for the Texans at the inside linebacker position and likely cost someone his job. Dent won't be named a starter in my opinion, but he did make the competition for reserve spots very crowded.
Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed are locks to be their starters at the position, but who the reserves will be is still up in the air. I expect veteran Jeff Tarpinian to make the roster as their best coverage linebacker and see playing time in their nickel and sub-packages, but the rest is undetermined.
If the Texans keep five players at inside linebacker, which is my expectation, then two spots remain for Justin Tuggle, Mike Mohamed and rookie Max Bullough to battle over. Tuggle gives the team versatility with experience at both linebacker spots and was also one of the few players to excel on special teams last season, so I think his spot on the roster is safe.
Some of you might assume it will be too difficult for an undrafted free agent like Max Bullough to learn the system and get comfortable in the NFL in time to pass up a veteran, but undrafted free agents seem to make the Texans roster every season. Look no further than Tuggle as proof.
I like Bullough to win the competition over Mohamed for the final spot at inside linebacker.
The fifth inside linebacker obviously won't see the field very often on defense, so I think that spot should be more of a specialty player who excels in one area and who can also contribute on special teams. Of course I would love to pick a player who excels in multiple areas, but those types of guys usually sit much higher on the depth chart.
Bullough is player who could be exchanged with Reed as a sub on first down or obvious run situations because of how well he excels in run defense, according to Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com.
Keys and diagnoses quickly, understands run fits and spills willingly. Physical -- good take-on/tackle strengh between the tackles. Pursues hard. Good tackler when he's able to square up ball carriers.
Bullough was the captain and leader on defense at middle linebacker for a Michigan State defense that allowed just 86.3 rushing yards per game last season and which ranked ninth overall and second amongst teams from the "power six" conferences.
What Bullough lacks in great athleticism or skill as a cover linebacker, he makes up for as a potentially great run defender. When choosing between two players for a reserve spot, if one of them has a plus skill where the other does not, I think the Texans should choose the player with the plus skill. Throw in Bullough's potential on special teams, and that puts it over the top in his direction.
Tough to make a final decision until they put the pads on—especially at a position like linebacker—but I think Max Bullough will make the roster.
Out: Mike Mohamed
The addition of Akeem Dent made Mike Mohamed the odd man out at inside linebacker.
It's just a numbers game, and the math doesn't add up for the third-year player out of California. Mohamed is behind Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed and Jeff Tarpinian for sure with no chance of passing them on the depth chart and is also likely behind rookie Max Bullough, as I explained on the previous slide.
Mohamed was mostly roster filler and a special teams player last season who hasn't shown enough on the field to impress any of the coaches most likely. He didn't make the final 53-man roster out of training camp last year but was re-signed and later promoted from the practice squad midseason after the injury bug impacted the inside linebacker position for the Texans.
His best value for the Texans is as a special teams player, but he would be hard-pressed to ever get on the field on defense. The problem for Mohamed is that other players like Max Bullough have more talent and potential at linebacker and can also do what he can do on special teams.
His contributions on special teams have value, but Max Bullough and Justin Tuggle can easily replace him in that area.
Mohamed had a role on this team last year when the position was depleted of depth, but with the additions of Dent and Bullough, I don't think that role for him exists anymore.
In: A.J. Bouye
The Texans currently have a huge question mark at cornerback after their two starters, Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. Even with Pro Bowl veteran Joseph, he's had to deal with injuries over the last several seasons, so his performance is not a guarantee.
If Jackson and Joseph are healthy the Texans will be solid to very good with their starting outside corners, but who will fill the role of their slot corner and provide depth on the outside is a complete unknown at this point.
Despite the need, the Texans didn't treat it as such after not drafting a single cornerback in 2013; they still waited until the seventh round to address the position in this year's draft. After the first two spots on the depth chart at corner, the other three to four spots are wide open, and no result would surprise me if you threw all the cards up in the air and picked up what landed first.
Second-year player A.J. Bouye surprisingly made the roster last season and has continued to get better over the course of this year's offseason practices. Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans has liked what he's seen from Bouye during OTAs and minicamp.
A new diet and focus on football specific drills, Bouye has been a nice boundary cornerback for the Texans in OTAs. With Johnathan Joseph and Brandon Harris missing time during OTAs, Bouye has filled in and made a solid impression on secondary coach John Butler.
Bouye has the frame to cover bigger receivers on the outside and his ball skills are underrated in the sense he just has the instincts to understand when the ball is intended for his receiver. Bouye’s development could be a nice boost for a secondary looking for some quality depth compared to previous seasons.
Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston also stated that he liked the upside of Bouye in his 53-man roster prediction for the Texans.
The surprising rise of the undrafted Bouye stopped prematurely last year when his season ended in October with a trip to the injured reserve. Bouye has looked good during the early practices this offseason, and I like his talent and experience to help him beat out younger players like Marcus Williams.
Out: Marcus Williams
The good news for Marcus Williams is that the other players he's competing with for spots three through six on the depth chart at cornerback don't have a stranglehold on the job. The bad news for Williams, as an undrafted free agent, is he's still unlikely to make the roster despite the Texans' need at the position.
Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson are locks—assuming they're healthy—while fourth-year player Brandon Harris is a near certainty to make the roster. That leaves three spots for a bunch of players in what will be an interesting competition to watch and track.
Marcus Williams was a playmaker with 21 career interceptions for the three-time national champion North Dakota State Bison, but the learning curve for a rookie—especially one who went undrafted from an FCS program—may be too steep to overcome.
Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans echoed some of those same feelings after watching Williams during practice.
...rookie cornerback Marcus Williams finally looked like he is understanding what the Texans are asking from him. He had a nice pass breakup on a ball intended for a receiver in the back corner of the end zone, but with his proper technique he made a solid play on the football. We had high expectations for the rookie from North Dakota State but he has gotten off to a slow start since arriving in Houston.
Williams will need to show his worth as a special teams player—especially as a return man—to make himself indispensable to the coaching staff and make this roster. He can't just be solid in the return game; he'll need to have the type of preseason that Trindon Holliday had in 2012—three returns for a touchdown—to make the roster.
In all likelihood the return job will go to a slot or reserve receiver who already made the roster like Alan Bonner or Mike Thomas. Williams will need to outperform the receivers by a wide margin as a return man to convince the coaching staff to keep him over another corner who may have played better at the position.
As was mentioned in previous slides, Bill O'Brien is big on the attribute of being versatile, so my guess is he'd prefer to keep a player who will contribute at his position in addition to return duty instead of a specialist. Williams will have to wow the Texans to stay on the roster.
His two career kickoff returns for a touchdown while in college indicate that he possesses great potential as a return man in the NFL, but potential only means it's something he hasn't proved yet.
With the veterans and other players higher on the depth chart likely to consume a large majority of the reps while they learn the new defense to prepare for the season, Williams probably won't get much of a chance to shine. He would have actually benefited from signing with a team who didn't change defensive coordinators and didn't have to worry about teaching every player a new system.
Williams' big chance will come during the first and fourth preseason games when the starters typically play just a series or two before turning it over to the reserves. If Williams plays extraordinarily well then that might keep him in the competition long enough to possibly win the job.
If he does get cut, I expect Williams to be a player they attempt to bring back for the practice squad.
In: Randy Bullock
No way to sugarcoat it: Randy Bullock was awful last season. The good news for him is he's safe in my opinion unless he performs poorly during training camp and the preseason.
The former Texas A&M Aggie had two different games with three missed field goals during his first eight starts last year. During those first eight games of the season, Bullock made just 13 of 21 field-goal attempts for a woeful 61.9 percent.
For a kicker who was supposed to have a good leg on long-distance kicks, Bullock really struggled last season on kicks over 40 and 50 yards; his rank for percentage of made attempts in the latter category was dead last.
Making matters worse was the fact that several of those missed kicks came during crucial late-game situations. In particular, his three-miss performance in a close loss against the Indianapolis Colts was vomit-inducing.
After that awful start Bullock rebounded to make his last 10 field-goal attempts over the Texans' final seven games. Was that a sign of him settling down, getting comfortable and making the correct adjustments, or was the late success meaningless because he didn't face any pressure situations with the Texans' season well over?
My answer to that would be probably a little of both.
Bullock missed what should have been his rookie season in 2012 with a leg injury, so he probably had to overcome some issues with being rusty and getting his mechanics back in sync.
I know it's hard to remember who Bullock was just a short time ago as a prospect, but he's still a kicker with tremendous upside. The 2011 Lou Groza Award winner as the best kicker in all of college football had many, including the scouts from NFL.com, believing highly in his potential as an NFL prospect.
Bullock is accurate from both short and long distances, and is capable of kicking consistent touchbacks in the NFL. He made over 87 percent of his field goal attempts during his senior year, an impressive statistic, considering he attempted more than two per game. He takes a consistent, controlled approach to each kick, getting enough rise to avoid blocks.
The NFL, like all pro sports, is a "what have you done for me lately" type of league, so his performance in college doesn't really matter. However, since he's essentially just one season removed from a successful year, I think the potential everyone saw at Texas A&M still has a chance to come out and translate to the NFL field.
It also doesn't hurt that his competition wasn't exactly automatic with his kicks during college, as I'll explain on the next slide.
Out: Chris Boswell
Chris Boswell was signed as an undrafted free agent to compete with Randy Bullock or at least push him. I believe the latter is the more likely scenario.
The former Rice player has a big leg and was the top-rated kicker on the board for CBS Sports, but I don't think he'll win the job unless he decisively outplays Bullock. The two players haven't been asked to kick much during the offseason practices, so that is more my gut feeling than anything the coaches have said about the competition.
The Texans invested a fifth-round pick in Bullock, so I don't think he'll be quickly dismissed. He certainly did his best to get cut last year during an awful stretch in the first half of the season, but he rebounded to perform well to close out the year.
If the Texans see the same performance he displayed during their final seven games last year again during the preseason, I guarantee Bullock be their starting kicker this year.
Of course, that is a huge if in which I have no confidence.
On Boswell, despite being rated so highly by CBS Sports, as I mentioned earlier, the rookie from Rice was pretty shaky last season, making just 14 of 21 attempted kicks. Overall during his four years as the Owls' starter, Boswell made just 73.9 percent of his field-goal attempts.
That 73.9 percent success rate would have placed Boswell second-to-last in field-goal percentage last season—one spot ahead of Sebastian Janikowski and actually below Randy Bullock.
I don't think anyone doubts he has an NFL leg, but it takes more than a cannon attached to his hip to be a great kicker at the pro level. Inconsistent accuracy was the big weakness the scouts from CBS Sports highlighted in their draft evaluation of Boswell.
Placement can be streaky on kicks of 40+, connecting on 53.3% of his attempts in 2013 (6-for-9 40+ and 2-for-6 50+). Has a wiry, lean frame and lacks ideal size for the position. Needs to stay focused and show a shorter memory after missed kicks.
Big leg with shaky accuracy and a tendency to let missed kicks bring him down; sounds like another kicker the team already has on the roster.
I have no doubt the competition is open enough for Boswell to have a real chance to win the job, but I don't think he will.
While it wasn't this coaching group, general manager Rick Smith invested a fifth-round pick—very high for the position—so I don't think he'll cut Bullock loose unless his performance during the preseason leaves him with no other choice.
A fifth-round pick spent on a kicker to me is the equivalent of a more important position being selected in the second or third round; teams typically don't give up on those players after one bad season.
In: Ricardo Mathews
Before breaking down this specific competition, it deserves mentioning that the health of Jeoffrey Pagan could be a factor. The rookie sixth-round pick has yet to participate in any offseason practices while recovering from surgery, so if he's unable to go, then both Tim Jamison and Ricardo Mathews would likely make the roster.
A player selected in the sixth round is by no means a lock to make the roster, but if he's able to return by the start of training camp and doesn't look completely lost, I believe they'll give him a shot this season. If Pagan isn't healthy enough to play, either being put on IR or cut would open up an additional roster spot for a veteran.
The Texans signed Ricardo Mathews this offseason after he spent the first four years of his career playing for their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. Mathews is a player who offers some versatility with what he can offer as a defensive lineman because while he fits the size requirement to play 3-4 defensive end, his game is better-suited to line up as a defensive tackle in a four-man front.
The Texans will likely use Mathews as a rotational player and a specialist on third down and in obvious passing situations. Along with playing end, expect the Texans to use his versatility when they go to a four-linemen look in their nickel package.
In years past the Texans would slide their ends inside to tackle and move their outside linebackers to end with their hands on the ground in their sub-package; Mathews is a good candidate to line up next to J.J. Watt in those situations.
The Texans' official website has him listed as a defensive tackle, which normally isn't a term used for a lineman in a 3-4 defense. I think that points to Mathews being used as a hybrid player who will play end and tackle in their three-man fronts and also play tackle when they go to a four-man line.
Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans has been impressed so far with Mathews as a pass-rusher during offseason practices.
Ricardo Mathews has shown in two days why he could possibly be a solid free agent signing this offseason. Today while running stunts he does it at a faster pace and can create a push from the middle at 300 lbs. He will be counted on to make things happen in pass situations. He should not to be overlooked heading into training camp.
Coach Bill O'Brien has made versatility a priority with this roster. The capability of Mathews to play multiple positions will give him the edge over other defensive linemen competing for the last spot such as Tim Jamison.
Out: Tim Jamison
With Antonio Smith now playing for the Oakland Raiders after spending five seasons in Houston, the Texans have a big hole to fill at the defensive end spot opposite J.J. Watt. I think Jared Crick is the most likely to get the first shot at the job, so the more unsure question is who will be behind him to provide depth at the position?
One name in consideration is Tim Jamison.
Since joining the Texans in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, Jamison has almost always surpassed expectations. Unfortunately for him, I don't think he has a spot on the Texans roster any longer.
Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans discussed the possibility of Jamison being the odd man out.
Jamison was not the same after he tore his Achilles in 2012, and in 2013 the once impressive spark off the bench was hardly used. Jamison only played 43 snaps in 2013 and was inactive for 11 games.
With Romeo Crennel coming to Houston, it is a high possibility that Jamison could be a victim of potential cost cutting cuts for the upcoming season. Jamison does not posses the size that Crennel looks for at the defensive line position and they could use his contract money elsewhere.
Jamison—who was the size of a small 4-3 end in college—is the best fit to play 4-3 defensive tackle, which has been an issue ever since the Texans switched to a 3-4 defensive scheme starting in the 2011 season under Wade Phillips. Add in his drop-off in production after the Achilles injury suffered several years ago, and what Jamison can offer the team at this point is a big question.
He can put on weight, but I just don't think he has the size or frame to play as a two-gap 3-4 end in Romeo Crennel's system. Jamison could excel in Houston's sub-package as a defensive tackle in a four-man front, but I don't think that skill provides enough value to justify keeping him on the roster.
For one, how often will the Texans use that look? Not enough to keep a guy on the roster for only that purpose. And the production he could provide can be replicated by Ricardo Mathews who offers more positional versatility.
This appears to be the end of the road for Tim Jamison.