NFL1000: Houston Texans 2017 NFL Draft Preview

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2017

NFL1000: Houston Texans 2017 NFL Draft Preview

0 of 19

    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Bill O'Brien had the best quarterback in NFL history during his time as New England's quarterback coach and offensive coordinator around the turn of the decade, and he did an amazing job of turning around the Penn State program (making Christian Hackenberg look serviceable in the process) before he took the Texans' head coach position in 2014. His time with Tom Brady may have been any coach's version of heaven, so perhaps it's fitting that O'Brien now finds himself firmly in quarterback purgatory. 

    The franchise's decision to sign former Broncos backup Brock Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract before the 2016 season will go down as one of the worst free-agency moves in league annals. Osweiler was an abject disaster—so much so that he managed to waste the efforts of a top-five defense, a receiver corps led by a legitimate superstar in DeAndre Hopkins, a good offensive line and an improved running game. Eventually, the Texans shipped Osweiler and his onerous contract off to Cleveland, throwing in a second-round pick as thanks to the Browns for taking on Osweiler's cap charge and attendant baggage.

    Coming into the 2017 draft, no team in the NFL has a clearer positional need. The Texans have just about everything else needed for a deep playoff run, including placement in the NFL's worst division, but until they get the quarterback situation worked out, very little else matters. There are other needs—cornerback, safety and offensive tackle, to be sure—but the Texans have gone about as far as any team should in proving that it's a quarterback-driven league.


1 of 19

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    The NFL1000 team of scouts graded a series of important attributes for every player in their positional review. Using a scale starting at zero and going up to anywhere from five to 50 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts graded each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years. Our evaluators had specific positional assignments in their proven fields of expertise.

    Each corresponding position slide was written by the assigned scout.


2 of 19

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Scheme: Erhardt-Perkins/Zone

    Starter: Tom Savage

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Savage was a favorite of many draft analysts in 2014 coming out of Pitt because he looked the part, was tough and smart, and had a good arm. Basically, he fit the suit. Since he's come into the NFL, things have been more complicated. The Texans took him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, and he's attempted a total of 92 regular-season passes since then. Savage is still learning how to match his athleticism to accuracy, though he did avail himself well in 2016 as Brock Osweiler's backup, completing 46 of 73 passes. He was named the starter late in the season once Bill O'Brien had seen more than enough of Osweiler and led a come-from-behind win over the Jaguars off the bench in mid-December.

    It's not likely that he'll be the starter in 2017—one has to believe the Texans' next alleged franchise quarterback comes out of the first round in the draft—but Savage has turned himself into a decent backup at least.

    Backup: Brandon Weeden

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    One of the NFL's great mysteries of the decade is how and why the Browns selected Weeden in the first round of the 2012 draft. As a 28-year-old rookie, he had some major issues to work through—a lack of accurate passes to either sideline, questionable footwork and mechanics, and an inability to perform consistently under pressure. Nothing he's done in the NFL would lead you to believe that he's transcended those issues, though he did throw three touchdowns to no interceptions with Houston in 2015, leading the Texans to reward him with a two-year, $4 million contract. At age 33, he's a backup at best and a spot starter under emergency circumstances.

    Team Need: 10/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Mitchell Trubisky (North Carolina), Deshaun Watson (Clemson), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame)

Running Back

3 of 19

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Scheme: Power/Hybrid

    Starter: Lamar Miller

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 11/82

    Lamar Miller was a big free-agent acquisition for Houston in 2016, earning his money with a productive season. He rushed for 1,073 yards, added 31 catches and had six total touchdowns. Miller ran hard all year despite a late-season ankle injury that forced him to miss the final two weeks of the season. He helped carry the run game while the Texans quarterback situation turned out to be a disaster.

    He's a strong inside runner with good vision, patience and short-area quickness—a one-cut runner who plays downhill and has the strength to break tackles. Miller does not have the speed he did earlier in his career but still plays fast. Not an ideal outside runner, but he's natural in space because he'll help his offensive linemen locate. He will make defenders miss in the open field and has established himself as a very solid starting NFL running back. In the passing game he is consistent. He can operate in the flat and doesn't dance around once the football is in his hands.

    Overall, Miller will continue to be the Texans starter and a player the Texans depend on every week.

    Backup: Alfred Blue

    NFL1000 Scores: 68.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 57/100

    Alfred Blue only had 100 carries in 2016, the lowest number of his career, yet still averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Blue started two games and backed up Miller the entire season. He's a natural inside runner who plays vertical and runs really hard. While he is a little tight, he has good feet and runs powerfully on contact. Not a major threat to break long runs—25 yards was his season long—but he can get the tough yards. Blue is good in short-yardage situations and will keep his feet moving when the initial defenders engage. He is average in the passing game—only 42 career catches—and notched 3.3 yards per catch in 2016. Overall, Blue is a dependable backup whose ceiling is limited, and he'll always be fighting to keep his role and roster spot.

    Backup: Akeem Hunt

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Akeem Hunt has spent his first two seasons in Houston and played a limited role over that time. He has only played in 15 games with 37 carries and has never had an NFL touchdown. With the addition of Tyler Ervin in 2016, Hunt's roster spot will be in jeopardy heading into training camp if Ervin can improve.

    Backup: Tyler Ervin

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Tyler Ervin was drafted in the fourth round in 2016 but struggled to make a big impact on the Texans offense. He only had one carry but was the kickoff return man and also returned punts. The Texans had high hopes for Ervin, but he will need to improve at holding on to the football with three fumbles on special teams alone as a rookie. Ervin should compete to be the backup running back this offseason and could see his role dramatically increase if he can take the much-anticipated sophomore jump.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Joe Mixon (Oklahoma), Alvin Kamara (Tennessee)


4 of 19

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Scheme: Hybrid/Power

    Starter: Jay Prosch

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 8/20

    Jay Prosch has established himself has one of the more consistent fullbacks in the NFL. He helped the Texans become a top-10 rushing offense in 2016, which is impressive because their passing offense was near the bottom of the NFL in every statistical category.

    Prosch is an old-school physical hammer who is excellent at locating and moving defenders. He plays hard and adds a toughness to this offense. He isn't a threat in the run game, but he can function in short-yardage situations. He is a solid blocker in pass protection but brings nothing to the table in the passing game as a receiver. Prosch should continue to excel as the lead blocker for the Texans while contributing on special teams.

    Team Need: 1/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Could bring a guy to camp, but the Texans have their starting fullback in Prosch on the roster.

Wide Receiver

5 of 19

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Scheme: Erhardt-Perkins

    Starter: DeAndre Hopkins

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 22/155

    After two very strong seasons, DeAndre Hopkins saw his numbers drop in 2016. He caught 78 passes for 954 yards and four touchdowns, perhaps due in part to very inconsistent play from the quarterback position. Hopkins remains one of the most talented young receivers in the NFL with the speed and quickness to gain separation on nearly every route in the passing tree.

    Those traits make him dangerous not only in the vertical aspect of Houston's offense, but also on routes breaking off the stem, where he can sell the deep route and break back toward his quarterback. The Texans use him all over the field, aligning him as an X receiver, moving him off the line as more of a Z and even putting him in the slot at times to get favorable matchups. With improved play at QB, look for Hopkins to return to the kinds of numbers people expect him to produce.

    Starter: Will Fuller V

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 62/155

    Fuller, selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft, was known for his speed and vertical playmaking ability coming out of Notre Dame. But an area of concern was his ability at the catch point, as he committed more than a few drops during his time in South Bend. As Fuller transitioned to the NFL, he showed signs of shoring up that aspect of his game, executing a number of impressive catches as a rookie. This was evident not only on throws down the field but also on shorter routes.

    Against Jacksonville in Week 15 he caught a quick hitch route in a contested catch situation and broke the tackle, turning it into a quick 22-yard gain. Plays like this will make Fuller a strong asset for the Texans going forward. His combination of downfield speed, change-of-direction ability and improvement with his hands is a great sign for his development as a professional.

    Starter: Braxton Miller

    NFL1000 Scores: 62.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 111/155

    Rookie Braxton Miller stepped into the Texans' Week 1 lineup, taking advantage of the injury to Jaelen Strong. He appeared in 10 games with six credited starts and caught 15 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. His best game of the season came in Week 11 against the Raiders when he caught five passes for 25 yards and a touchdown. On the scoring play he displayed the ability to truly sell a route, as he ran a post pattern in the red zone and sold the defender on a corner route using a dino stem on the play.

    For a former quarterback, Miller seems to be developing well into a WR in terms of running routes and his ability to contribute as a blocker. Miller was placed on injured reserve in December with a shoulder sprain but should be healthy for training camp.

    Backup: Jaelen Strong

    NFL1000 Scores: 61.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 114/155

    Strong, selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, suffered an ankle injury in Week 8 and was placed on injured reserve. That ended what was another slow start, which has been a trend through two NFL seasons. He caught 14 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, and at the time of his injury he had 14 receptions for 131 yards. At his best, he is a physical receiver with the ability to use his strength to beat the press and to beat defenders at the catch point. But one drawback to his style of play is that he can struggle with drops at times. He should be ready for training camp but might struggle to break the starting lineup given the talent the Texans have at this position.

    Backup: Keith Mumphery

    NFL1000 Scores: 60.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 125/155

    Mumphery saw an increased workload for the Texans down the stretch as Miller battled injuries. He was used primarily out of the slot and was effective at finding space against zone coverage, whether on deep curl routes or working toward the outside on out routes. Mumphery is also above-average as a blocker for a wide receiver and can contribute to the Texans offense in the running game with some blocks on the edge in zone or power designs. With Strong and Miller both expected to be healthy in 2017, Mumphery may find himself contributing more on special teams in the year to come.

    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Curtis Samuel (Ohio State), Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), Isaiah Ford (Virginia Tech), ArDarius Stewart (Alabama), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky)

Tight End

6 of 19

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Scheme: Erhardt-Perkins

    Starter: C.J. Fiedorowicz

    NFL1000 Scores: 65.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 21/96

    Drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft out of the University of Iowa, Fiedorowicz turned in his best professional season last year, catching 54 passes for 559 yards and four touchdowns. He is a more prototypical tight end with the ability to serve as an in-line TE and block in the running game, while still being able to release into a route off the line of scrimmage and get separation in the passing game. He is generally reliable with his hands but did have a few noticeable drops late in the season, which is something to watch in 2017.

    Another area where Fiedorowicz excels is the ability to chip a defender off the edge and release quickly into his route, making him valuable in pass protection. He can get separation on routes whether against man or zone coverage but is at his best working in the intermediate area of the field, making him a good fit for the Houston scheme.

    Backup: Ryan Griffin

    NFL1000 Scores: 64.7/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 34/96

    Former UConn Husky Ryan Griffin also completed a career-best year for the Texans, catching 50 passes for 442 yards and two touchdowns, all setting or tying career highs. Griffin was basically a starter for the Texans, and he saw significant playing time whether in two-tight end formations or when he was brought on to give Fiedorowicz a breather. He fits the mold of a move tight end, and Houston used him both in-line as well as on the wing or even split outside.

    Griffin is a decent route-runner with the ability to find space on vertical routes such as seams or post routes, as well as work underneath against zone coverage on curls or crossers. He might not have the all-around ability of Fiedorowicz, but he is a solid second option for the Texans.

    Backup: Stephen Anderson

    NFL1000 Scores: 59.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Ranking: 67/96

    Anderson, who was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2016 NFL draft, made the switch to TE after a solid career at the University of California as a wide receiver. He caught 11 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown last season and seems to be handling the position switch well. He is slightly undersized for the position, but with his experience as a WR Houston used him more as a "big wide receiver," aligning him in the slot or on the outside. His route-running and quickness for the position make him a tough matchup from a defensive standpoint. The Texans could consider using him more as a wide receiver this upcoming season if Strong or Miller struggles.

    Team Need: 1/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Left Tackle

7 of 19

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Scheme: Gap/Power and Zone

    Starter: Duane Brown

    NFL1000 Scores: 74.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 17/40

    Duane Brown suffered a rash of injuries in the final weeks of the 2015 season that would cause him to miss the first four weeks of 2016 as he worked to be at full strength.

    Brown, who has 132 career regular-season starts, went on to notch 12 regular-season starts and two playoff nods last season and surrendered just one sack in those 14 games.

    Brown still provides physical yet effective run blocking while registering above-average pass protection for Houston at left tackle as he enters his 10th season.

    Backup: Kendall Lamm

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Kendall Lamm enters his third season as a professional after going undrafted in 2015 out of Appalachian State. He has accumulated seven career starts and 30 game appearances.

    Lamm has experience at both left and right tackle, which has allowed him to jump into key situations where Houston has desperately needed a stopgap player.

    Lamm is still developing many aspects of his game, most notably his consistency in transitioning his kick-slide to anchor against powerful edge-rushers.

    Team Need: 7/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Cam Robinson (Alabama), Antonio Garcia (Troy), Dion Dawkins (Temple)

Right Tackle

8 of 19

    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Scheme: Gap/Power and Zone

    Starter: Derek Newton

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 10/38

    On paper Derek Newton is slotted as the starting right tackle for the Houston Texans, but he suffered a horrific injury in Week 7 against Denver, rupturing both patellar tendons and other ligaments in the knees.

    Due to the nature of Newton's injury, the harsh reality is that his career is in serious jeopardy. Many players have struggled to return to form after a single patellar rupture, but a double rupture is almost a death sentence for a massive offensive line athlete who depended on lower-body mobility and agility. Newton is unlikely to see the field for the Texans in 2017 and has a long road to recovery.

    Backup: Chris Clark

    NFL1000 Scores: 67.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 34/38

    Chris Clark started the first four games of 2016 at left tackle and would go on to start 12 games at right tackle, including the AFC Wild Card and Divisional playoff games.

    Clark has been both a full-time starter and primary reserve at various points of his nine-year career, but he has never been a guy teams wanted to start for an extended period of time.

    In 2016 Clark was a complete liability in pass protection, surrendering eight sacks, 10 hits and 55 pressures—all career highs. Assuming Derek Newton will be unavailable for 2017, Houston can't consider Chris Clark the answer at right tackle.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Cam Robinson (Alabama), Antonio Garcia (Troy), Dion Dawkins (Temple)

Offensive Guard

9 of 19

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Scheme: Gap Flex

    Starter: Xavier Su'a-Filo

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 44/78

    Su'a-Filo took a step forward in Year 3, but not enough to justify his draft position, which stings—as Texans fans know, Su'a-Filo was selected just ahead of Derek Carr. While he displays impressive physical tools on tape, Su'a-Filo has never put it together consistently from a technical standpoint, especially in pass protection.

    Starter: Jeff Allen

    NFL1000 Scores: 67.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 64/78

    A lot of people talk about how bad the Brock Osweiler signing was last year, and while that was truly on another level, giving Allen $7 million per year may have been the second-worst move of the 2016 offseason. Allen's tape was downright brutal at times last year. He was routinely beat out of his stance, which limited his vertical leverage opportunities, and allowed gap shooters to go around him before he could slide and set a base. Allen would cheat at times to counteract this, resulting in his opening his hips early to try to get a leg up in recovery and opening the floodgates.

    His play is a huge drop-off from Brandon Brooks, who Houston let sign with the Philadelphia Eagles for similar money. The Texans can get out of the deal after this year and may want to draft a competitive option/eventual replacement in the middle rounds to push him.

    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh), Jessamen Dunker (Tennessee State)


10 of 19

    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Scheme: Gap Flex

    Starter: Greg Mancz

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 22/38

    Greg Mancz did an admirable job filling in for an injured Nick Martin last year, only surrendering one sack in over 1,200 snaps. If the Texans want to get their three best interior guys on the field going forward, it may make sense to slide Martin to guard and let him compete for one of those jobs, especially because Xavier Su'a-Filo is in a contract year and Jeff Allen will likely be a cap casualty next year.

    Backup: Nick Martin

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Nick Martin was a fantastic pass protector at Notre Dame and does a great job keeping a consistent half man relationship with defenders. His medical is a question after he missed his entire rookie year, and hopefully he didn't lose any power or functional strength going forward because of that.

    Team Need: 0/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

Defensive End

11 of 19

    J Patrick Schneider/Associated Press

    Scheme: 3-4

    Starter: J.J. Watt

    NFL1000 Scores: Did not have enough snaps to qualify

    Watt ended up missing the season with a back injury after playing three games in pain. Everyone knows what he is at full strength—maybe the league's best defensive player. If the Texans get the old J.J. Watt back for a defense that carried them to the playoffs in 2016, they should be even better.

    There's always some concern when a player misses the season with a back injury, and the Texans may look to secure depth at this position through the draft.     


    Backup: Christian Covington

    NFL1000 Score: 58.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 48/53

    The Texans defense relied heavily on Covington after J.J. Watt was deactivated and Houston ran through a few veterans who couldn't get the job done. Over the first half of his regular-season total of 414 snaps, Covington had more downs than ups. He's not the most athletic guy but is nimble enough to catch your eye. There's some power in his thick build, and the way he improved over the course of the season should give the Texans hope that they have a solid NFL contributor.

    Backup: Joel Heath

    NFL1000 Score: 61.4

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 36/53

    Heath played sparingly but had some moments as a run defender and pass-rusher. In only 233 regular-season snaps, he had two sacks and a handful of healthy pass rushes. I'm not sure what his upside is, but he flashed enough to keep me interested. It's unclear who's better out of Heath and Covington, but the combination of the two keeps this position on the backburner during the draft.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Malik McDowell (Michigan State)

Defensive Tackle

12 of 19

    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    Scheme: 3-4

    Starter: D.J. Reader

    NFL1000 Scores: 62.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 55/99

    Reader will step in as the starting nose tackle for the Texans with the expected retirement of Vince Wilfork, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. The 22-year-old progressed each week during the season and became a force against the run. His pass rush will never be a huge strength, but he was able to make some freaky plays against the pass last season, including a sack in the Wild Card Round against the Raiders. Reader already looks like a steal of a fifth-round pick.

    He is the only nose tackle on the Texans roster, so he'll need a backup at some point in the draft.

    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA), DeAngelo Brown (Louisville)

Outside Linebacker

13 of 19

    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Scheme: 3-4

    Starter: Jadeveon Clowney

    NFL1000 Scores: 78.9/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 1/65

    Clowney was graded at OLB in 10 games in 2016, including both playoff games and six of the last seven regular-season games. He finished as the NFL1000's best player at the position. Quick, violent and powerful, he has the perfect blend of athletic attributes for playing on the edge and inside as an interior rusher. Outsiders will look at his six sacks last season and wonder what happened, but Clowney was as consistently dominant and disruptive as any defensive player in football in 2016. The numbers will eventually come in bunches for the top pick in 2014.

    Starter: Whitney Mercilus

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.1/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 4/65

    Mercilus can be forgotten within a defense featuring Clowney and Watt, but Houston's first-round pick in 2012 is as good as any edge-rusher in the game. He finished fourth among 3-4 OLBs at NFL1000 after producing 7.5 sacks and recovering four fumbles. Mercilus lives in the backfield, creating disruption in the passing game and negative plays against the run. He signed a four-year contract extension in 2015, keeping him in Houston through the 2019 season.

    Backup: Brennan Scarlett

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    An undrafted free agent, Scarlett played in seven games as a rookie in 2016, tallying 13 combined tackles. He returned from a hamstring injury to give the Texans snaps on the edge late in the season. The Stanford product plays physically, but he needs to grow as a pass-rusher. His snaps could go up with the departure of John Simon in free agency.

    Team Need: 5/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Carl Lawson (Auburn); Daeshon Hall (Texas A&M); Dawuane Smoot (Illinois); Avery Moss (Youngstown State)  

Inside Linebacker

14 of 19

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Scheme: 3-4

    Starter: Benardrick McKinney

    NFL1000 Scores: 73.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 9/65

    Benardrick McKinney is rapidly growing into one of the best linebackers in football. Without Watt last year, he shone as the leader of a Texans defense that was good enough to compete in the AFC. With any sort of offense, Houston could be considered one of the favorites to challenge the New England Patriots in 2017. The defense begins with McKinney, who can rush the passer as well as any linebacker in the league while also showing up in run support.

    McKinney is a linebacker in the mold of C.J. Mosley, a player who can do a little bit of everything and affect games differently each week. The Texans have no need to replace McKinney anytime soon, but they should be looking for an adequate running mate and one who can help him as a centerpiece of the defense.

    Starter: Brian Cushing

    NFL1000 Scores: 70.0/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 26/65

    Brian Cushing has three more years on his contract with the Texans, and he'll be lucky to finish them at the current rate. While Cushing is a solid starter, he's been largely hampered by injury and doesn't offer the same violence or explosiveness he did a few years ago. He wins with aggression and passion but lacks any skill in coverage and can become reckless in pursuit of the football.

    He's an excellent leader with the energy to encourage an entire defense, but he isn't the same player he was when the Texans signed him. He can hang as a starter for another year or so, but don't be surprised to see the Houston front office replace him in this draft with a rookie who brings a more well-rounded skill set.

    Backup: Max Bullough

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.6/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 30/65

    Bullough is the quintessential backup who's good enough to keep his team in games and bad enough to keep himself on the bench. He played plenty of snaps in 2016 in injury relief of Cushing and was impressive given his status on the squad. He comes without much fanfare, but he plays as expected and can be considered consistent despite not being a dynamic defender. He's not much of a downgrade from Cushing in run defense and offers slightly more athleticism in coverage. As a backup, the Texans have to be happy knowing that Bullough can step in at any time and keep the ship afloat.

    Team Need: 7/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Haason Reddick (Temple); Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State); Duke Riley (LSU); Tanner Vallejo (Boise State); Dylan Cole (Missouri State)


15 of 19

    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Scheme: Cover 1

    Starter: Johnathan Joseph

    NFL1000 Scores: 68.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 25/133

    Joseph didn't have an interception for the first time since 2006, but the 33-year-old has aged well. He's not a ball hawk, but the veteran brings the kind of consistency at the position that teams struggle to find.

    Joseph consistently scored among the top 40 corners in the league throughout the season. Knowing what you're getting on one side makes life easy as a play-caller. Joseph isn't a speed demon anymore, but he's not giving up chunk plays, either. 

    Starter: Kareem Jackson

    NFL1000 Scores: 66.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 35/133

    Like Joseph, Jackson isn't a ball hawk. He is the ideal slot corner, however—a good run defender, smart in off coverage and long enough to make a difference in press coverage. Jackson was the beneficiary of playing with two good corners, though. A.J. Bouye usually took the toughest receiver, and if he didn't, Joseph did. Jackson camped out in the slot and usually had help.

    With Bouye gone, Jackson may get more responsibility, though it could go to corner mentioned next. I imagine he'll remain in his slot role. Jackson is approaching the end of a four-year, $34 million deal. He's a solid role player in the Texans defense. But if he wants to get a similar contract this go-round, he'll have to up his game a bit.

    Nickel: Kevin Johnson

    NFL1000 Scores: 69.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 14/133

    Johnson played the first six weeks of the season and was performing quite well. He fits the press-man scheme the Texans employ. He's long, fast and patient in coverage. He was on his way to a strong season until he broke his foot. Johnson also played through a foot injury in 2015—though he didn't miss a game—and had that repaired in the offseason. That's two injured years in a row.

    This season, the Texans don't have any luxury reserves in the event he does get hurt. Houston needs Johnson to put it all together in Year 3 and stay on the field. He's shown he's capable. 

    Team Need: 6/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Sidney Jones (Washington); Fabian Moreau (UCLA); Adoree' Jackson (USC)

Free Safety

16 of 19

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Scheme: Cover 1

    Starter: Andre Hal

    NFL1000 Scores: 71.5/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 20/50

    Hal didn't play to his potential last season. The 2014 seventh-round pick converted from corner to free safety in 2015 and flashed plenty of ability as a coverage safety in 2015. He didn't manage to build on that in 2016. He still showed good ability in coverage, particularly rotating down to cover tight ends and slot receivers, but most of his troubles came against the run and with tackling.

    As a former corner, Hal isn't used to having various run fits on any given play, and it led to his being out of position at times. He also missed too many tackles (15, including one in the Wild Card Round), which can't happen at safety. At 24, Hal is still young and worth developing. His coverage ability gives Houston flexibility with coverages and blitz schemes, but he needs to sort out the tackling issues.

    Backup: K.J. Dillon

    NFL1000 ScoresDid not have enough snaps to qualify

    Dillon was the underrated partner to Karl Joseph in college at West Virginia. He played the deep third to free up Joseph for various other assignments. The Texans drafted Dillon in the fifth round last year with hopes of developing him behind Hal. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL, ending his season in October, so he missed the majority of his rookie season. Dillon should be ready to go for training camp but will likely only challenge for a backup spot.

    Team Need: 4/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Marcus Williams (Utah); John Johnson (Boston College); Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)

Strong Safety

17 of 19

    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    Scheme: Cover 1

    Starter: Corey Moore

    NFL1000 Scores: 67.9/100 

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 43/50 (Graded at FS)

    With Quintin Demps' departure in free agency, the Texans have an open starting spot at strong safety. Moore switched between strong and free safety last season, but his best chance to start is at strong. In a couple of games near the beginning of the season (Weeks 5 and 6), Moore played well and provided a spark with a few big hits and some nice plays in coverage.

    However, his performance fell off. He was poor down the stretch, though he improved during the playoffs. Moore, like Hal, is still young at 24, so the Texans should give him time to develop. But they might be better off finding a starter in the draft and having Moore develop behind him.

    Backup: Eddie Pleasant

    NFL1000 Scores: 67.3/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 51/53

    Pleasant was an undrafted free agent in 2012 who caught on with the Texans and worked his way from the practice squad to the final roster. He plays as the dime linebacker, which can be a tough role in Houston's defensive scheme. The Texans love to send plenty of blitzes from multiple fronts, which means Pleasant will move around and match up in pure man coverage a lot of the time.

    But the 28-year-old struggles in coverage against quicker running backs and bigger tight ends. He also has some troubles in the running game, where he can too easily get caught in traffic and fail to fill his gap. The Texans have put plenty of time into developing Pleasant, but they might want to consider finding a younger player with more upside to challenge him.


    Team Need: 7/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut); Budda Baker (Washington); Josh Jones (NC State); Marcus Maye (Florida)


18 of 19

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Starter: Nick Novak

    NFL1000 Scores: 65.4/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 29/34

    In terms of raw field-goal accuracy, Nick Novak tied for 12th among qualified kickers in 2016. However, Novak's average attempt distance came from nearly a yard shorter than the NFL average, and he also posted extra-point accuracy of just 88 percent—only three qualified kickers notched worse marks on the year. Novak is a capable short-distance option on field goals but struggles at longer distances, as he is just 5-of-11 from 50-plus yards over the past two seasons.

    In 2012 and 2013, Novak was accurate on over 90 percent of his field goals, including a 13-of-13 mark on kicks between 40 and 49 yards. His recent numbers suggest that if he is able to square away his long-distance problems, he can still be an average to slightly above-average kicker in the NFL (though at 35 years old, leg strength tends to trend slightly downward in each new season).

    Nevertheless, at cheap money ($900,000 base salary) for 2017, Novak represents good value for the Texans, who may still look to bring in one or more undrafted free agents to scout long-term replacements for the post-Novak period.

    Team Need: 3/10

    Potential Draft Fits: Unlikely to draft but may bring in undrafted competition to scout for 2018.


19 of 19

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Punter: Shane Lechler

    NFL1000 Scores: 68.8/100

    NFL1000 Position Rank: 8/34

    Despite entering the 2016 season at 40 years old, Shane Lechler had one of the best years of his career, displaying the leg strength he has shown since his first game in the NFL. Only two punters in the league graded out better from a raw distance perspective, and Lechler produced roughly average hang time, as well as slightly above-average directional numbers—some of the best of his career.

    While Lechler's age may make Texans fans wonder if retirement is around the corner, the type of performance he showed in 2016 suggests there is no imminent slowdown. He may not want to play another five years, but right now, there is nothing to suggest he cannot continue to be an effective contributor at the NFL level.

    Team Need: 2/10

    Potential Draft Fits: None

    Advanced stats via Pro Football Focus.