With the 2011 NFL Draft done and gone, the next step for NFL teams will be free agency. That is backwards from the norm, but that is the reality for the NFL in 2011. This time before free agency starts will provide NFL teams with valuable time to assess their drafts and further evaluate needs that need to be filled.
The Houston Texans, by many accounts, had a successful draft. Many national level football analysts are praising the efforts of Gary Kubiak, Rick Smith and most notably Wade Phillips because it is obvious that his fingerprints were all over the six defensive players that were selected.
The team still has many holes to fill during free agency though. It is somewhat obvious where the major holes are, but some of the positions that need depth are more obscure. A lot depends on what free agency rules the league will play under in 2011, as this will change who the Texans might lose.
For this reason, I decided to examine the Texans roster as it stands now, position by position. This won’t be a full hypothesis of the eventual depth chart the Texans will have in 2011 because there are too many questions left unanswered, rather it will be a look at which positions are likely to receive attention in free agency.
This session will concentrate on the offense, and the defense will be analyzed soon. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or contact me directly on twitter (@JakeBRB).
Starter: Matt Schaub
Backup: Dan Orlovsky
Third Quarterback: T.J. Yates
Analysis: I know that many Texans fans saw the pick of T.J. Yates as a sign that Orlovsky’s time as backup quarterback was over, but that likely won’t be the case.
Yates is a raw, developmental prospect who will need some time to be coached into position.
This will make many Texans fans who see Orlovsky as inept unhappy, but you can’t force a late round rookie quarterback into significant time if Schaub is injured. For proof, go watch the Titans game last season when Rusty Smith got the start as their signal caller.
Starter: Arian Foster
Third Down/Goal Line Back: Ben Tate
Backup: Derrick Ward
Analysis: People will expect a similar production from Arian Foster next season, especially fantasy football players.
It won’t happen. Foster will still be the focal point of the running game, but Ben Tate who lost his season to injury in 2010 will play a significant role next year to include goal line touches.
The re-signing of Derrick Ward right before the end of the league year in 2010 was probably the harbinger of doom for Steve Slaton as a Texan.
Ward will have minimal touches though, and provide primarily depth. I doubt any more backs to be added in free agency barring injury.
Starter: James Casey
Analysis: Vonta Leach did not receive one of the last second deals handed out by Rick Smith, leading many to believe (including Leach himself) that the 2010 All-Pro full back would not return to the team.
I don’t fault the Texans for this either, as there are much smarter uses for their money in free agency.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Leach and would love to see him back, but if he is demanding a huge deal, the team simply can’t afford to spend money on such a non-critical position.
If Leach does walk, Casey will not be as good but the difference between the two will be negligible. If Leach is re-singed, it probably will be after he tests the market.
Starters: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter
Backups: Dorin Dickerson, David Anderson
Analysis: I was very surprised that the Texans did not add a wide receiver in the draft. Andre Johnson finally showed he was mortal last year, not in his production but in his durability.
Walter lost some of his explosiveness that made him so productive the previous couple of seasons, and Jacoby disappointed after looking to be on the verge of success and is headed to free agency.
Their lack of attention to the receiver position may either mean that they have faith in late round developmental project Dickerson as a deep threat, or they simply didn’t want to deviate from the defensive agenda.
It is possible they will look to add someone in free agency, but I doubt they will put it as a higher priority than defensive needs. Jacoby may be re-signed if he is willing to give the Texans a reasonable price.
Starters: Eric Winston, Duane Brown
Backup: Derek Newton
Analysis: Brown and Winston will start as bookends for the fourth straight season as one of the more underrated tackle tandems in the league.
Rashard Butler, however, will likely draw a reasonably lucrative contract in free agency elsewhere after performing admirably in the stead of Brown during his four game suspension.
Due to this reality, seventh round draft pick Derek Newton is currently the swing tackle on the Texans roster.
It is likely that the Texans will look for a backup tackle in free agency, but the price tag will be far less than what it would cost to re-sign Butler. Newton seems to be a likely candidate for the practice squad.
Starters: Wade Smith, Antoine Caldwell, Chris Myers
Backups: Kasey Studdard, Shelley Smith
Analysis: The Texans offensive line gelled last year as a run blocking unit, performing the zone blocking scheme very effectively.
Caldwell will be given this year as a starter to prove that he was worth his draft status, Myers had a good year in 2010, and Wade Smith was a quietly very good free agent acquisition last year.
Studard performed acceptably in rotational work last season, but Brisiel is technically a free agent.
With Shelley Smith apparently developing nicely, I doubt that any attention is given to this position group in free agency other than possibly re-signing Brisiel for a reasonable contract.
Starter: Owen Daniels
Backups: Joel Dreessen, James Casey, Garrett Graham
Analysis: It is widely known and joked about that Gary Kubiak collects tight ends like baseball cards, but I think there was a method to his madness.
Daniels proved that the offense was more dynamic with him in it and healthy at the end of last season, and therefore deserved the contract he received a few months ago.
Dreessen was serviceable as a backup, but failed to claim the starting role. Graham will likely claim ownership of the backup role in 2012 after Dreessen becomes a free agent.
I believe that Casey has been groomed to take over the full back role in the expectation that Leach might leave. Obviously there is no free agents need here, and Anthony Hill is likely to be cut.