The Houston Texans have relied on a young core of players in recent years to make an effort towards qualifying for the playoffs.
Stars such as Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Owen Daniels, DeMeco Ryans, Brian Cushing, and Mario Williams have led the Texans to the precipice of playoff contention in 2009.
Over the past few seasons, players such as Steve Slaton (the 2008 version, mind you), Glover Quin, and Cushing, have helped inch the Texans towards their goal of playing amongst the league's best.
In order to finally make the big dance, the Texans will need more help from this year's crop of rookies. Major contributions will be necessary from players such as Kareem Jackson and Ben Tate. But it will take more than a few good plays from a couple of rookies to steer the Texans to the playoffs.
Let's take a look at each of the rookies and what they can be expected to do in 2010 and beyond.
While it would behoove Jackson not to write any messages on his cleats, he will still be counted on to fill Dunta Robinson's shoes.
Say what you will about Robinson post injury, but before his horrific 2008 injury, Dunta was the face of the Texans. He was a leader, a solid citizen, and the team's top player.
Having said that, he's no longer the player he once was. Robinson was often exposed in press coverage and is more suited to being a starting cornerback as compared to a shut-down number one type corner.
Jackson, a product of Alabama, is a polished player who should be counted on to crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Jackson is a physical player and should be good against the run as well as in coverage.
In a division featuring Peyton Manning, no team can have enough quality defensive backs. Jackson, who started all but one of his career 41 games at 'Bama, should be a dependable player for years to come for the Texans.
Ben Tate might not be the biggest running back in the NFL. He might not be the fastest running back in the NFL, either. But he is being counted on to be a physical presence in the running game for the Texans.
Too often in team history, the Texans have been unable to gain valuable yardage on the ground. I don't want to rehash Chris Brown's "contribution" to the 2009 team if I don't have to.
Tate, simply, falls forward. He gets tough yardage. He converts on third and one. Whichever way you want to slice it, Tate is what the Texans need on offense.
The Texans, because of their passing game success, have been labeled a finesse team by some people around the NFL. Tate should be able to help change that perception.
I'd expect Tate to emerge as a full-time starter by game six, if not sooner. I simply am not a real believer in Arian Foster as a starting back in the NFL. And we all know Steve Slaton is better in space than he is pounding the ball between the guards.
In the long term, I envision Tate as the thunder to Slaton's lightning. Pairing the two backs will not only prolong both back's careers, but the balance and complimentary styles will help the Texans in the playoffs for years.
Earl Mitchell, who played his high school football at Houston's North Shore High School, is coming home. He's not coming home to watch from the sidelines either as he learns from disappointing Amobi Okoye.
Mitchell is here to push Okoye into developing into the player he was envisioned to be or to replace him in the starting lineup. He knows how to create havoc in the backfield, as his 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss in 2009 demonstrate.
Big Earl, who also played H-back and tight end during his career at Arizona, is an athletic penetrating type tackle. He's fairly stout at the point of attack, but nobody is going to compare him to Ted Washington or Sam Adams in terms of shutting down the run.
What he does, however, he does well. Look for Mitchell to be a big part of the rotation at tackle immediately and perhaps take a starting spot from Okoye towards the end of 2010.
With the exception of perhaps wide receiver, no position on the Texans boasts as much talent as the line backing corps.
DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing are stars. Zac Diles is a very good player. Xavier Abidi is a talented if unproven player.
Adding Darryl Sharpton adds even more talent to an already loaded position. He's a speedy and rangy player. Perhaps best suited to play on the weak side, Sharpton will initially back up DeMeco Ryans in 2010 and make most of his contributions on special teams.
Darryl is a solid tackler and rarely misses plays, even in space. He is also a solid citizen and was a leader at Miami. Not only does the linebacking corps gain a good player, a solid lockerroom adds another good guy to the mix.
Imagine the following scenario: The Texans use a mid round pick on a versatile player from Wisconsin to add to the mix at tight end. He's athletic, has good hands, and should be counted on immediately to help in the passing game.
I'm not talking about Owen Daniels. I'm talking about Garrett Graham.
Graham is a virtual clone of Daniels. Graham is a big guy—he's 6'3" and weighs close to 250 pounds—but he is also speedy. He can use his size and leverage to help in the passing game and has the hands to contribute in the passing game.
Graham has a chance to emerge as another weapon for a loaded Texans' passing attack. He will back up Daniels at first as a tight end in 2010 and may even replace Daniels in coming seasons if Owen leaves Houston.
In my eyes, Graham won't be competing with last year's tight end selections James Casey and Anthony Hill because all bring different strengths to the table.
Hill is better suited for the running game and is a punishing blocker. Casey is more of an H-back and will play off the line and go in motion more often than either Daniels or Graham.
Like I stated earlier, any team that has to play the Colts twice a season (and has only beaten them once in eight years) has to be able to defend against the pass.
Adding a player who has nine career interceptions and was an All-Big Ten player as a senior is a strong move. McManis was also a captain in his senior year.
McManis has both good size (5'11, 195) and speed. He may be better suited to playing outside as opposed to the slot, but he should be a valuable member of substitution packages in 2010.
McManis may also compete for reps in the return game as a rookie as well as a gunner on the punt team.
Drafting a guard in the sixth round may not be the sexiest move of all-time, but adding depth to a position that was riddled with injury in 2009 is a smart and sensible move.
Smith is capable of playing either guard or center for the Texans. He weighs more than 300 pounds and is a strong run blocker. Smith was a three year starter at Colorado State, and, like McManis, was a team captain his senior year.
In 2010, Smith will provide depth to the team at all three interior line positions. He will most likely not be active for games barring injury. But he could be in the mix for a starting role along the middle of the offensive line sooner rather than later.
Trindon Holliday, the speedster from LSU, has a chance to be a real difference maker in the NFL. Provided, of course, he makes a roster.
Looking at the positives first, Holliday is a blur on the field. He was one of the fastest players in the 2010 draft. He's also very elusive. His lack of height helps him disappear as well.
Holliday can help immensely in the return game immediately. He can have a Dante Hall (Kansas City days only) like impact on the Texans.
That can only happen, however, if he learns enough about playing offense to be added to the roster.
Coach Gary Kubiak indicated that Holliday was having some trouble picking up the offense. He's never really played wide receiver before and is entirely too small to play running back.
Trindon will have to improve his route running and recognition, as well as understanding of the offense, before he will be counted on by the Texans.
I hope he does more than redshirt, if you will, in 2010, but I predict Holliday's best seasons will begin in 2011.
Dorin Dickerson played tight end at Pittsburgh. He won't be playing tight end for the Texans, however. I predict the 6'1" player will redshirt in 2010 and learn from Andre Johnson on playing wide receiver in the NFL.
Dickerson ran a 4.4 40 yard dash at the Combine but also had a vertical leap of more than 43 inches. Athleticism is not a problem for Dorin. Learning to be an NFL receiver, however, is a project he must take on.
Imagine a goal line package with both Dickerson and AJ on the outside. Both players can out-muscle any cornerback in the NFL. I'd look for that to happen in 2011.