Projected Houston Texans Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition

Brian McDonaldContributor IJuly 17, 2014

Projected Houston Texans Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Without a doubt, it's still very early in the process. However, that doesn't mean it's too early to take a look at how the Texans roster will shake out.

    The true test will come when the players finally put the pads on for training camp and start hitting players who aren't on their roster when preseason starts, but that doesn't mean we can't make a few evaluations and predictions based on what happened during minicamp and OTAs.

    Most competitions won't be settled for another month, but coach Bill O'Brien has already named his starter at right tackle and quarterback. Neither Ryan Fitzpatrick nor Derek Newton have a stranglehold on their position, but they'll both be in the lineup on September 7 when the Texans take on the Washington Redskins.

    Intelligent fans could also make a pretty good guess as to who will start at other positions as well, but who will fill out the final spots on the roster is a bigger mystery.

    That's where this article will focus: Who will make the Texans' final 53-man roster at the conclusion of training camp and the preseason?

Quarterback

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Tom Savage.

    These choices weren't very hard to make since they're the only quarterbacks on the roster currently. They also all have very defined roles, which makes it easy to fill out a depth chart.

    Fitzpatrick will be the veteran leader and will start early in the season until he proves incapable of getting the job done. Keenum will be the next in line, while Savage will spend most of the year developing as their future quarterback; if he reaches the point of being ready to take over this year, he will leapfrog over the other two players.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: Not much, to be quite honest.

    Fitzpatrick has proven to be inconsistent and inefficient over the bulk of his career. Keenum and Savage both have upside but won't likely receive many snaps this season.

    The hope, of course, is that the Texans are able to get more out of their quarterbacks this season than last season; or at least avoid making as many crucial mistakes. They should be capable of playing better than Matt Schaub did last season, but I wouldn't bet my mortgage on their performance.

    The two biggest questions that need to be answered with this group of quarterbacks are if any of them are capable of being efficient enough to not get in the way of the rest of the talent on the team and if any of them are the team's future at the position?

    My gut feeling to both questions is no.

    Keenum and Savage have more future potential than Fitzpatrick does, but they also have many question marks surrounding their upside.

    The former University of Houston standout throws a great deep ball and was able to extend plays better than any quarterback in franchise history, but he struggled last season with many of the finer parts of playing the position.

    Keenum too often held on to the ball too long (overlooked wide-open underneath routes and stared down the deep patterns), struggled reading the blitz and identifying his hot throw to avoid a negative play, and was inaccurate on his short- to medium-range throws.

    On the Keenum strip sack and TD. Look at Graham. #Texans pic.twitter.com/hGgsZUx9Ir

    — PDS (@PatDStat) November 13, 2013

    This is where Keenum needs to improve. #80 has his man beat, left room for Case to throw .CK's ball ends up in blue. pic.twitter.com/dECRk2JrFI

    — PDS (@PatDStat) November 20, 2013

    Keenum has zero pressure, gets trigger happy and rushed his reads and locks onto Graham. #Texans pic.twitter.com/pcX7kst8wj

    — PDS (@PatDStat) December 3, 2013

    Keenum actually graded out worse than Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Chad Henne, Kellen Clemens and Christian Ponder on passes between one to 10 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Ouch.

    Most of Keenum's problems are fixable, but until you see him make the adjustments—which he never did last season—you can't say with much certainty that he's capable of being highly successful in the future.

    With the rookie, Savage will be given a chance to develop into a franchise player. While he has elite physical tools, I have doubts about his ability to improve enough in the other areas of the game to play at a high level.

    My very early guess is that at this time next year, the Texans depth chart at quarterback will include two new names.

Running Back

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Arian Foster, Alfred Blue, Andre Brown and Jay Prosch.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Jonathan Grimes.

    Like the quarterback position, these decisions were pretty easy to make. Foster is a lock, and the other three guys are significantly ahead of the others, in my opinion. The only reason they would be passed up is if there is an injury.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: They could carry the offense; that enough for you?

    I'm sure many fans will take a "wait and see" attitude in regards to Foster this season, but he has a great chance to have a huge bounce-back season. His age and recent injury history are certainly a valid reason to be concerned, but the improved offensive line and change to his role should lead to an increase in production.

    I'd be shocked if he broke his single-season rushing mark, but his personal bests for receptions and receiving yards are certainly within reach given how Bill O'Brien plans to use the veteran back.

    Health is everything when we talk about the potential production from Foster this season. If he's healthy, he's still capable of being a top-five running back.

    Behind Foster on the depth chart in case he does stumble or just needs a rest are a pair of talented, but untested backs.

    Alfred Blue and Andre Brown both bring a lot to the table but have had to deal with various injuries that leave room for doubt. Of the two players, I find Blue to be the most intriguing.

    Blue has a similar build, running style and ability as a receiver to Foster. Until the team puts the pads on, it will be impossible to know for sure what he's capable of, but he has the raw talent and ability to make people forget about Ben Tate.

    At fullback, the Texans have a player that I'm very excited about. Prosch is a throwback player at the position and reminds me favorably of a former Texans fullback named Vonta Leach.

    Like Leach, Prosch is a player who seems to love to hit guys in the mouth; draft analysts love his upside as a run-blocker. He also gives off the impression that he's totally in love with the sport and should be a great teammate. Prosch was a steal in the sixth round.

    Foster should be ecstatic to have Leach 2.0 on the roster and opening up holes. Along with an improved offensive line, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Texans running game this season.

Wide Receiver

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, DeVier Posey, Mike Thomas and Alan Bonner.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Keshawn Martin.

    Unlike the previous two positions on this slideshow, the wide receiver position will have several intense battles taking place during training camp and the preseason. The competition will mainly be for who the team's primary slot receiver is and who will be the fifth and last receiver on the roster.

    The players who will battle it out in both competitions will be Mike Thomas, Alan Bonner and Keshawn Martin. All three players have similar skill sets as receivers and can contribute on special teams as the return man, so it will be a tough competition.

    My gut feeling is that Martin will be the odd man out. He's had a two-year audition with the Texans and underperformed. I think Thomas and Bonner both have more upside in this offense.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: Assuming Andre Johnson returns and is a good soldier this season, this group could produce multiple Pro Bowl players.

    Even at his age, Andre Johnson is still one of the top three to five receivers in the entire league. Johnson has topped 1,400-plus receiving yards in each of the last two seasons; a feat only matched by Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas.

    DeAndre Hopkins didn't come close to approaching those same totals, but his stat line of 52 receptions for 802 yards is very respectable. Hopkins' stat line from last season wasn't that far off from what Johnson posted during his rookie year; impressive considering the level of quarterback play on the team last season.

    The Texans should get great production out of their two outside receivers, but what could be different this year is the solid production I expect to see from their slot receivers.

    Both Thomas and Bonner fit the mold of a slot receiver perfectly. What's also exciting about their potential this season is how they'll be used. Former coach Gary Kubiak didn't treat the position as an important part of the offense; that will change under new head coach Bill O'Brien.

    From Tania Ganguli—per ESPN Stats & Info—the Patriots, under Bill O'Brien in 2011, targeted their slot receivers 52 more times than the Texans did over 2012 and 2013 combined.

    New coach, new approach.

    Attention fantasy owners: Whoever wins the gig as the Texans' primary slot receiver will be worth having on your team.

Tight End

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Zach Potter and Anthony Denham.

    There is an argument to be made on behalf of keeping a fourth tight end, but keeping just three is more likely. With how often multiple-tight end sets will be used in this offense and because players at tight end often make good special teams players, a fourth tight end would be useful. However, they're more likely to use that spot at another position where they need more depth.

    Denham could end up on the practice squad if he's not picked up by another team.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: In two words: great production.

    As I mentioned earlier, the position is important to this offense. In 2011 when Bill O'Brien was the offensive coordinator in New England, his top two tight ends combined for 169 receptions, 2,237 receiving yards and 24 receiving touchdowns.

    Graham, Griffin and Fiedorowicz aren't the caliber of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but they're all talented enough to post big numbers in this offense. Taking nothing away from Griffin, who played well last season, but I'm particularly optimistic about the potential of Graham and the rookie Fiedorowicz.

    In the eight games Graham played after the injury to Owen Daniels, he averaged four receptions for 50 yards per game. That may not seem like a great average, but multiplied out over a full 16-game season, it comes out to a total of 64 receptions for 800 yards.

    The previously mentioned Daniels has had just one season where he topped both numbers, and that was six years ago.

    The rookie the Texans drafted out of Iowa should also be an impact player at the position. Fiedorowicz has size, good hands and excelled in college as a run-blocker; he could develop into the total package.

    If he hits his potential, he would not only improve his position on the field, but he would also help with how versatile the Texans are able to be on offense. With Fiedorowicz lined up next to the tackle as the "Y" or traditional tight end, that will allow Graham to split out as a receiver on occasion and also allow the use of Griffin as an H-back in the backfield to create matchup problems in coverage for the opponent.

    There's a lot to be excited about with the potential of Fiedorowicz. Greg Cosell of NFL Films even went so far as to say, "I'm fascinated by the tight end from Iowa. I think Bill saw similarities with Gronkowski."

Offensive Line

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Duane Brown, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Chris Myers, Brandon Brooks, Derek Newton, Ben Jones, Will Yeatman/Brennan Williams and Cody White.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Bryan Witzmann and Alex Kupper.

    One small note, if Brennan Williams is healthy, then he'll take the spot of Yeatman. If not, he'll be put on IR again instead of being cut. David Quessenberry will also remain on the team while not taking up a roster spot.

    The starters are set on the offensive line unless an injury shakes things up, but the depth is a concern. After the loss of Quessenberry, the Texans were left scrambling to fill the void at tackle. At this point, depth at that position is still an issue.

    If Brennan Williams isn't ready to go for training camp or doesn't play well, I expect the Texans to add a veteran to the roster as the backup for both Brown and Newton.

    The offensive line is at the moment the position with the most room for change between now and the start of the season in terms of who makes the roster and who doesn't. Brown, Su'a-Filo, Myers, Brooks, Newton and Jones are all near locks to make the roster, but the other two spots are very much up in the air.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: Noticeable improvement from their starters. If one of them gets hurt, reach for the panic button. Except for the center position, the Texans' depth on the offensive line is below average at best.

    Dealing with the positive, if they all remain healthy, this group has a chance to be the Texans' best offensive line unit since 2011. Of course, what changed after 2011 was the departure of Mike Brisiel in free agency and the release of longtime tackle Eric Winston.

    The Texans struggled to replace those two players but are definitely closer to that goal. Brooks has Pro Bowl potential in the near future and while the performance of Newton concerns me, he showed up to practices this year healthy and in great shape, which wasn't the case in previous years.

    The Texans also replaced their left guard with the addition of Su'a-Filo. The spot was previously occupied by Wade Smith, who had a few good seasons here, but his level of play dropped off dramatically last season. Su'a-Filo profiles as a bully in the run game with the potential to be a solid pass-blocker as well; I love the selection of the UCLA lineman.

    Brown and Myers are rocks; I'm not worried about them at all. If the performance from the other three positions improves as I think it will, the Texans offensive line will open some massive holes for Arian Foster this season.

Defensive Line

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: J.J. Watt, Louis Nix III, Jared Crick, Jerrell Powe, Ricardo Mathews and Jeoffrey Pagan.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Tim Jamison

    Like the offensive line, the starters along the defensive line appear to be set at first glance, but the depth behind the starters is a concern. Both Powe and Mathews are unknown factors, as they weren't major contributors with their previous team, and Pagan has yet to practice during the offseason; what the Texans will get from those guys is a mystery.

    Quick side note: If Pagan isn't able to get on the field soon, he could be an IR candidate with his spot going to Jamison.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: A great deal from the starters. As for the reserves behind them, well let's just hope the starters don't get hurt.

    The Texans added a nose tackle with Pro Bowl potential with the selection of Nix. With the best defensive player in the league lined up next to him, that has potential of becoming a very scary defensive line for opponents to game-plan against.

    The interior push from Nix will improve the Texans pass rush a great deal. If quarterbacks aren't able to step up in the pocket and can't escape on the outside with Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in pursuit, they're in trouble.

    Watt could be in for an historic season if his two new teammates live up to the hype.

    While Watt and Nix will grab most of the headlines, the other defensive end could also make an impact.

    Crick has waited his turn for a couple seasons now behind Antonio Smith and is finally expected to be a starter. The fourth-round pick had two great seasons at Nebraska while lined up next to Ndamukong Suh, so it isn't crazy to think that he could play at a high level again while lined up next to other impact players like Watt and Nix.

    If Crick is able to perform at that level, no other team in the league will have a better interior pass rush from their defensive line.

Linebacker

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Brian Cushing, Akeem Dent, Justin Tuggle, Jeff Tarpinian, Max Bullough, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed, Jason Ankrah and Ricky Sapp.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Trevardo Williams and Mike Mohamed.

    Keeping 10 linebackers is a lot, but they need the depth and linebackers usually make good special teams players, so it's worth it in my opinion.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: There's a lot of boom or bust in this unit. I'm leaning strongly toward boom, but there's no doubt that the opposite is possible.

    Let me briefly make a "glass half empty" argument about the strength of the position.

    Cushing's knee continues to be an issue, Clowney and Reed struggle adjusting to new positions and Mercilus doesn't develop into more than just being a situational pass-rusher; nothing unreasonable about that scenario. I'm betting on the opposite, but things could go wrong in a hurry.

    Now for the "glass half full" breakdown of the position.

    Healthy Cushing is a Pro Bowl player and one of the best inside linebackers in all of football. Clowney is an amazing physical freak that will cause opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to have nightmares the week of a game. The skill set of Reed is a better fit at inside linebacker, and the move increases his production. Everything finally clicks for Mercilus, and his huge potential starts to translate into on-the-field success.

    Also nothing unreasonable about that scenario. The answer, of course, is usually somewhere in between.

    If the defensive line is able to control the gaps and blockers as well as I believe they can, the linebackers could all have a huge season. Cushing, more than anyone, was probably excited about the change in defensive strategy and the selection of Louis Nix III.

    With the lineman being asked to two-gap more often and a true nose tackle finally being added to the roster, Cushing should have the freedom to roam and make plays more often than he had in previous seasons.

    Regardless of what position they list him as, Clowney will be a guy the Texans ask to get after the quarterback. The sports hernia injury obviously slowed him down, but it's not an ACL or Achilles tear, so don't get worried about his health in regards to the regular season

    When he was on the field—no pads yet, of course—he looked like a No. 1 overall pick. There were times when Clowney beat the tackle across from him before he could even get out of his stance. There were other times when he closed the gap and made a play after a running back was out in front of him.

    Seeing Jadeveon Clowney move is a sight to see. He ran down Alfred Blue on a swing pass where Blue had a 5 yard head start. #Texans

    — PDS (@PatDStat) May 16, 2014

    His physical talent and potential is hard to even quantify; it's enormous.

    With all the attention that will go to Clowney and Watt for obvious reasons, Mercilus should be in for a season filled with one-on-one blocks. If Mercilus has even 80 percent of the talent that made him a first-round pick, then he's in a great situation to have a career season.

    Their depth at linebacker—especially on the outside—is a little thin, but the Texans have never had more talent at the position in their history.

Defensive Back

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris, A.J. Bouye, Elbert Mack and Andre Hal at cornerback.

    D.J. Swearinger, Kendrick Lewis, Chris Clemons, Shiloh Keo and Lonnie Ballentine at safety.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Marcus Williams, Eddie Pleasant and Josh Victorian.

    Cutting Williams and Victorian would be tough as both have played well during offseason practices. What could save Williams' job is if he shows potential as a return man on special teams. He'd have to be great at it because the Texans have other options, but it's one way to stay on the team.

    If the Texans do cut Williams, he would be a good candidate to return to the team as a member of the practice squad.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: The performance of the secondary is often tied to how effective the team's front seven is at getting a consistent pass rush.

    The Texans have solid starters on the outside at cornerback, but no corner can cover forever if the players up front aren't getting to the quarterback. Getting a consistent pass rush shouldn't be an issue this year, so expect the performance level of the secondary to improve a great deal.

    In 2013, the Texans tied for 29th in sacks with just 32; that number should improve greatly. If they do get more pressure it should also help another area with room for improvement: creating turnovers. The Texans finished dead last in 2013 in interceptions and turnovers, but getting bodies around the quarterback and speeding up his clock will create havoc and cause more mistakes from their opponents.

    More pressure almost always equals more turnovers.

    Joseph and Jackson specifically weren't bad last season, but the overall coverage ability of the secondary was lacking. In particular, Joseph had a good season last year, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Back to the mistakes in coverage, specifically the guys lined up in the slot and at safety have to do a much better job this season. The players who will start at safety seem obvious (Swearinger and Lewis), but I'm not so sure the situation at slot receiver is the same.

    Most would assume that former second-round pick Brandon Harris would inherit the job after the team released Brice McCain, but that's not a given. Both A.J. Bouye and Andre Hal have played well during offseason practices and are alive in the competition.

    Patrick D. Starr of State of the Texans believes Bouye has made a solid impression during OTAs while filling in for a couple veterans.

    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.

    It wouldn't shock me if Bouye beat out Harris for the job.

    The addition of Lewis at safety should also improve their coverage. Last season, their safeties struggled and were too often out of position, which led to big plays. Nobody will confuse Lewis with a Pro Bowl player, but one thing he can do is cover as a center fielder or Cover 2 safety.

    His performance dropped off over the last two years, which is likely what made him expendable to Kansas City, but Lewis had his best seasons under Romeo Crennel and could be a valuable asset now that the two have been reunited.

    The other safety spot should also see improvement, but without a change in personnel. Through offseason practices, Swearinger seems more comfortable with what he's being asked to do which could lead to him making plays instead of getting burned.

    Swearinger has good physical tools, which translated into him playing well as a box safety last season, but if he's able to play under control and play with more focus in regards to his positioning and assignment, he could actually be solid in coverage as well.

    The Texans didn't make any flashy moves or additions to the secondary, but with the help of an improved pass rush, young players continuing to develop and a veteran with experience under Crennel, the performance from the secondary should be improved.

Special Teams

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    David Seelig/Associated Press

    Who Will Make The Roster: Randy Bullock, Shane Lechler and Jon Weeks.

     

    Who Just Missed The Cut: Chris Boswell.

    The only thing that could possibly shake up this prediction is if the undrafted free agent Boswell performs at a high level during the preseason. Bullock was shaky early last season but finished strong by making his last 12 kicks in a row. Boswell has a big leg, but his accuracy was shaky in college, so I don't think he'll take Bullock's job.

    Bringing him in as competition to push Bullock was a great idea, but I think good competition is all that it will be.

     

    What Should You Expect From This Group: Lechler is a rock; as solid as they come. You don't often hear Weeks' name mentioned on TV—which is a good thing for a long snapper—so he's also solid. The wild card is what is in between the ears of Bullock.

    The former Texas A&M Aggie has a huge leg but really struggled with his accuracy during the first half of last season. Not sure if the pressure was more than he could handle during his first pro season, but he came up small too often when asked to make a big late-game kick.

    Was his streak of made kicks a sign that he overcame that mental obstacle or was it simply due to him not facing many pressure-filled situations during the second half of a 2-14 season?

    No way of knowing for sure until the season starts, unfortunately.

    One thing is for sure, the Texans—with a good running game, potentially great defense and questionable play at quarterback—will probably be in many close games during the 2014 season. How Bullock answers the bell could be the difference between a winning or losing season.

Full Roster

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press
    Quarterback (3)Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Tom Savage
    Running Back (4)Arian Foster, Andre Brown, Alfred Blue and Jay Prosch
    Wide Receiver (5)Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Thomas, DeVier Posey and Alan Bonner
    Tight End (3)Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz
    Offensive Line (8)Duane Brown, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Chris Myers, Brandon Brooks, Derek Newton, Will Yeatman/Brennan Williams, Ben Jones and Cody White
    Defensive Line (6)J.J. Watt, Louis Nix III, Jared Crick, Jerrell Powe, Ricardo Mathews and Jeoffrey Pagan
    Linebackers (10)Brian Cushing, Akeem Dent, Justin Tuggle, Jeff Tarpinian, Max Bullough, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Brooks Reed, Jason Ankrah and Ricky Sapp
    Defensive Backs (11)Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris, Elbert Mack, A.J. Bouye, Andre Hal, D.J. Swearinger, Kendrick Lewis, Chris Clemons, Shiloh Keo and Lonnie Ballentine
    Specialty (3)Randy Bullock, Shane Lechler and Jon Weeks