It's always a fun exercise trying to project the Texans 53-man roster. The draft is complete and free agency has obviously slowed to a halt...for now. So with full knowledge there will still be some new players added before the season begins, here's my best guess on what general manager Nick Caserio's first roster will look like.
QB (2) - Tyrod Taylor, Davis Mills
I imagine you noticed Deshaun Watson’s name is not listed. That’s because I do not expect him to play next season for the Texans. He’ll either be on the commissioner’s exempt list (likely) or he’ll be on another team (less likely). Or he’ll choose to sit out, which also would not count against their roster. Taylor will be the starter to open the season with the team hoping Mills can take over at some point. No need for Ryan Finley to be on the roster, either he or a comparable talent can be carried on the practice squad. Either way it’s a developmental year for their top pick with game results not carrying great weight. Which will be interesting as they approach next year’s draft with a likely very high pick, maybe the no. 1 overall pick, with clearly more talented prospects available. Some names we’ll be talking about for the next year: Sam Howell (UNC), Malik Willis (Liberty), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), Spencer Rattler (OU), Kedon Slovis (USC), J.T. Daniels (Georgia), Jayden Daniels (Arizona St.)
RB (4) - Philip Lindsay, David Johnson, Mark Ingram, Buddy Howell
Should have been a total overhaul of the backfield, but Caserio decided to restructure Johnson’s deal rather than just release him. Now they have three veteran running backs - all on one year deals. Lindsay has the most juice and will be playing for his next contract. Would’ve liked to see a rookie running back brought in, but that will eventually come on the practice squad, probably more than one player.
WR (6) - Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Keke Coutee, Chris Conley, Nico Collins, Andre Roberts
Caserio has attacked this wide receiver position like a shark when he smells blood. He restructured Cooks deal, declined to slap the franchise tag on Will Fuller or really pursue his return on a new long-term deal, then he signed Chris Moore...and Donte Moncrief...and Alex Erickson...and Chris Conley...and Andre Roberts in free agency. Then moved up in the draft to grab Nico Collins. But the reality is, in an effort to create competition, he essentially just wasted his time and a little of their cap space with guarantees that’ll hit their cap as dead money. I’ve got just one of those free agent signings, Conley, sticking as a wide receiver. Roberts will be their returner, but he’s caught less than 15 passes in six straight seasons and had just seven receptions combined the last two seasons. Texans 5th round pick in 2020, Isaiah Coulter, is not among their top six. Erickson could make the cut if there are any injury issues or the team decides to move on from Coutee in the final year of his rookie deal.
TE (4) - Jordan Akins, Pharoah Brown, Kahale Warring, Brevin Jordan
Again, much like the wide receiver position, Competition Caserio, was bleeding pen ink all offseason at this position. They re-signed Brown to a one-year deal, so that gave them three returning tight ends, all now on expiring deals. He released Darren Fells, which saved some cap space. Then traded for Ryan Izzo, signed Paul Quessenberry and Antony Auclair and drafted Brevin Jordan. The former three are training camp fodder. Warring is not a lock to make it if they decide to carry only three tight ends, but I believe he’ll make it through year three of his rookie contract here in Houston.
OL (9) - Laremy Tunsil, Lane Taylor, Justin Britt, Marcus Cannon, Tytus Howard, Max Scharping, Justin McCray, Rod Johnson, Charlie Heck
This is probably the only area of the offense that was upgraded this offseason. Provided Marcus Cannon isn’t rusty from the year off and slides in seamlessly at right guard after all the years at right tackle, the Texans could have three above average players on their line for the first time in years with Tunsil, Howard and Cannon. Two other potential starters, Taylor and Britt, did not play in 2020 following injuries, so there is some risk. But the odds of either or both of them outplaying the players they are replacing is still pretty high. It’s also prove-it time for Scharping who I think will do just that and challenge for the starting left guard spot.
DL (10) - Shaq Lawson, Whitney Mercilus, Jordan Jenkins, Jacob Martin, Jon Greenard, Maliek Collins, Charles Omenihu, Demarcus Walker, Ross Blacklock, Roy Lopez
Tough to guess the numbers here and at linebacker for the Texans with the shift to Lovie Smith’s 4-3 front. The AFC East newcomers, Lawson and Jenkins, will likely play big roles, along with Mercilus in what now is a contract year for him after he restructured his deal. A Collins rebound season is a big need on the interior and Omenihu shows plenty of signs of emerging as a real threat up front. Walker might end up being a very key addition from Denver and Blacklock hopefully used his first NFL offseason to get stronger and more focused on the job. Lopez and maybe free agent signing Vincent Taylor provide depth, though Lopez is no lock to make the roster in my opinion and I don’t have Taylor among the keepers. It’ll be interesting to see how undersized edge rushers Greenard and Martin fit in, not to mention Duke Ejiofor, who’s missed the last two seasons with injury, thus I didn’t have him making the final cut.
LB (5) - Zach Cunningham, Christian Kirksey, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Garret Wallow, Kamu-Grugier Hill
This is an awfully small number to hit the season and it has to be an area they are looking to add to before or after training camp. Kirksey’s had some recent injury history that is a concern and Pierre-Louis only recently emerged as a significant snap player. Even with top talent Cunningham in the group, this might be the weakest group on the roster.
CB (5) - Bradley Roby, Terrance Mitchell, Desmond King, Keion Crossen, Tavierre Thomas
Who knows if the results will be great, but the trio of Roby, Mitchell and King should be a massive upgrade over what their top trio was a season ago, especially in the last five games when Roby was suspended. King had struggles with both the Chargers and the Titans last season, but should be a legit starting caliber defender. Mitchell elevated his game last year in Cleveland and might be the best signing Caserio made this offseason. Re-signing Hargreaves was the opposite. Again, not a huge expense on the cap when they release him, but it’s space they’ll be wasting. Tremon Smith definitely has a chance to stick, may come down to him or Thomas, who signed a two-year deal. Eric Murray lasts just one season after the previous regime signed him to a three-year deal last offseason.
S (5) - Justin Reid, Lonnie Johnson, Jonathan Owens, A.J. Moore, Terrance Brooks
Surprisingly, this group will return almost intact. Huge year for Justin Reid, who might not have an extension signed before he plays this final year of his rookie deal. Johnson gets to stay at one spot finally after the previous regime bounced him between corner and safety his first two seasons. I think Owens has a chance to really develop and Moore will be the leader of the special teams.
LS Jon Weeks, PK Ka’imi Fairbairn, P Cam Johnston
Weeks is the longest tenured Texan and Fairbairn is one of the highest paid kickers. They swap out Anger who had one year left on his deal at just under three million a season for Johnston who signs a three deal at $3 million per season.
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