Houston Texans 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Safety

Kendrick Lewis and Danieal Manning both played well last season, grading out above average on 1097 snaps and 591 snaps respectively. However, both are free agents this off-season. The Texans still have DJ Swearinger, but he plays around the line of scrimmage instead of a linebacker in sub packages and he struggled last season anyway, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 78th ranked safety out of 87 eligible. Even if they keep the 2013 2nd round pick as a starter, even though he’s struggled in that role in both of his two seasons in the NFL, they need significant help at this position.

Cornerback

Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph were a solid pair of cornerbacks last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus 11th ranked cornerback and 23rd ranked cornerback respectively. However, Jackson is a free agent this off-season, as the 2010 1st round pick’s 5-year rookie deal expired, while Johnathan Joseph could be a cap casualty this off-season. He’s owed a non-guaranteed 8.5 million in 2015 and the Texans could save that entire amount on the cap if they let him go. The Texans are somewhat backed up against the cap so it might be tough for them to bring back both in 2015. AJ Bouye, their #3 cornerback, did not appear ready for a starting job in 2014. The 2013 undrafted free agent struggled in the first significant action of his career.

Quarterback

Ryan Fitzpatrick graded out below average in every season from 2008-2012, with Buffalo and Cincinnati, but he’s graded out above average in each of the last 2 seasons. In 2013 with the Titans, he was Pro Football Focus’ 21st ranked quarterback and last season he was 12th, completing 63.1% of his passes for an average of 7.96 YPA, and a 17:8 TD:INT ratio, all career bests in Bill O’Brien’s system. In the 11 games he started and finished, the Texans moved the chains at a 71.90% rate, as opposed to 66.06% in their other 5 games, when Fitzpatrick was out with a broken leg. Fitzpatrick is signed cheaply for 2015 at 3.25 million and should return as the starter, but the issue is long-term. Fitzpatrick is going into his age 33 season, off of a serious injury, and it’s a contract year. Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage, and Case Keenum all graded out below average in his absence last season. Mallett was brought in last off-season to compete for the starting job, but he only made 2 starts, one of which he played with a torn pectoral. It’s still unclear if he can be a starter in the NFL and now he’s a free agent. Tom Savage was brought in as a potential long-term solution with a 4th round pick last year, but he struggled as a rookie and he was only a 4th round pick, which historically suggests he’ll struggle to make an impact at the quarterback positon. Keenum, meanwhile, was only signed late in the season out of necessity and is a free agent again now. They’ll need to add someone else to the mix with Fitzpatrick and Savage if Mallett can’t be retained.

Wide Receiver

DeAndre Hopkins had a breakout year in 2014 in his 2nd year in the league, catching 76 passes for 1210 yards and 6 touchdowns, but Andre Johnson went under 1000+ yards for the first time in a 15+ game season since his rookie year in 2003. That’s concerning to see, as he’s going into his age 34 season in 2015. Johnson is currently #12 on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, but even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. They need a long-term solution opposite Hopkins because their depth was terrible at the position last season. Hopkins and Johnson were the Texans’ only two receivers who graded out above average, while #3 receiver Damaris Johnson was Pro Football Focus’ 107th ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible last season.

Defensive End

Everyone knows what JJ Watt did last season (and what he’s done for the last 3), but Jared Crick is a solid starter opposite him, making 15 starts and grading out about average. However, their depth at the position is terrible. All the rest of the Texans’ 3-4 defensive ends graded out below average last season, while their top reserve at the position, Tim Jamison, graded out 44th out of 47 eligible at the position. Depth needs to be added this off-season, especially with Crick going into a contract year.

Offensive Tackle

Duane Brown remains one of the better blindside protectors in the NFL at left tackle, while Derek Newton had a breakout year this off-season. However, Newton will become a free agent this off-season. If they can’t re-sign Newton, they’ll need to find a replacement, as their depth at the position is less than stellar.

Defensive Tackle

Jerrell Powe was horrible at nose tackle last season. He was Pro Football Focus’ 6th worst ranked defensive tackle last season, despite playing just 252 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worst at his position. The Texans still like Louis Nix, their 3rd round pick from 2014, but he didn’t play at all as a rookie because of injuries and he had injury problems in his final season at Notre Dame as well, so he’s no sure thing going forward. They could add more here this off-season.

Center

Chris Myers has done a great job in recent years for the Texans at center, grading out above average on Pro Football Focus in every season since they began in 2007, but last season was the worst recorded season of his career, as he was only Pro Football Focus’ 16th ranked center. That’s concerning because he’s going into his age 34 season contract year and might not even be back next season. The Texans can save 6 million in cash and cap space this off-season by cutting him and that just might be too much money for a cap strapped team to have devoted to an aging, declining center. Even if he’s back, they need a long-term solution at the position.

Key Free Agents

CB Kareem Jackson

Kareem Jackson was Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked cornerback in 2014 and he’s not a one year wonder, because he graded out 12th among cornerbacks in 2012 as well. However, he’s graded out below average in his other 3 seasons in the NFL, including each of his first two seasons after the Texans drafted him in the first round in 2010. There’s two ways to look at this. One is to see him as an inconsistent player. The other is to see him as someone who got off to a slow start in his career, but has generally been good since then. He’ll get a good money of money on the open market, but he’s a risky signing.

OT Derek Newton

Derek Newton, a 7th round pick in 2011, has been a starter on the right side for the Texans for 3 seasons, making 46 starts. Newton was horrible in 2012 and 2013, grading out 64th out of 80 eligible offensive tackles in 2012 and 72nd out of 76 eligible offensive tackles in 2013, but he turned in the best season of his career in 2014, just in time for his contract year, as he graded out 19th. He could get a decent amount of money on the open market, as an experienced starter coming off of the best year of his career. However, he’s still only a one year wonder and, even during his good year, he graded out below average as a pass protector, getting by on strong run blocking. He could get overpaid.

OLB Brooks Reed

Brooks Reed, a 2011 2nd round pick, has graded out above average in 3 of the 4 seasons he’s been in the league, making 54 starts in the process. The only exception was 2013, when he graded out 41st out of 42 eligible players. However, Reed has graded out negatively as a pass rusher in all 4 seasons, doing his best work against the run and, to a lesser extent, in coverage. Because of that, there has been talk that he’d be better off as a 4-3 outside linebacker or moving to middle linebacker in a 3-4. He’s a decent player and he has some versatility, but he won’t break the bank for anyone.

S Kendrick Lewis

Lewis was a mere 5th round pick in 2010, but he still started for 4 years with the Chiefs before coming to Houston, making 51 starts from 2010-2013. Lewis graded out above average in his first 2 seasons in the league, but below average in 2012 and 2013, the final 2 years of his rookie contract in Kansas City, which led to a depressed market for him last off-season, forcing him to settle for a cheap, one-year deal in Houston. With the Texans, he had a bounce back year, grading out above average. Now he hits free agency again with 67 career starts in 5 seasons with a solid history of success as a starter, including a solid contract year. He should get more money and years than he did last off-season, but he could still be a cheap starting option for a team that needs one.

QB Ryan Mallett

Ryan Mallett was a 3rd round pick by the Patriots in 2011, but he attempted just 4 passes in 3 seasons with New England (completing just 1) and not showing much in the pre-season. Texans’ Head Coach Bill O’Brien was on New England’s offensive staff when they drafted Mallett and brought him to Houston with him last off-season for the price of a late round pick. Mallett was briefly given the starting job over Ryan Fitzpatrick mid-season, but lasted just 2 games before going down for the season with a torn pectoral. He actually played one of his starts with that torn pectoral and, as you can imagine, it was a trainwreck, as he completed 21 of 45 for 189 yards and an interception. He was better in his other start, completing 20 of 30 for 211 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception, but he heads into free agency still completely unproven. He’ll get a decent amount of money on the open market because there are still people in the league who like his potential and he could make a few starts next off-season, but he’s going to have to work for whatever playing time he gets in 2015.

S Danieal Manning

Daniael Manning looked done last off-season, as an aging safety who graded out below average in both 2012 and 2013 and was limited to 6 games in 2013 by injuries. However, Manning bounced back in 2014 with his former team, the Texans, grading out above average on 591 snaps as a 3rd safety who came into the game in sub packages, when Swearinger would move to the line of scrimmage in place of a 2nd linebacker. That being said, Manning is going into his age 33 season, so he won’t have a hot market this off-season, but, if he wants to keep playing, he should get a chance to.

Cap Casualty Candidates

OT Tyson Clabo

Clabo was once a solid starter on the right side in Atlanta, but he struggled in 2013 in Miami and played just 101 snaps as a reserve in 2014 with the Texans. The Texans don’t need to be paying him a non-guaranteed 1.22 million to play a reserve role, especially since he’s declining and going into his age 34 season.

CB Johnathan Joseph

The Texans signed Johnathan Joseph to a 5-year, 48.75 million dollar deal four off-seasons ago and it’s largely been a good deal for them as Joseph has missed just 4 games in 4 seasons and graded out above average in all 4 years. Joseph’s best season came in the first season of his deal in 2011, when he graded out 11th at his position, but he’s played at about a level lower in the other 3 seasons, grading out 44th, 25th, and 23rd. Joseph is now going into his age 31 season owed a non-guaranteed 8.5 million, all of which the Texans can save on the cap by releasing him ahead of his contract year. While Joseph still has a lot to contribute to a team, the Texans might not find him worth it. As I said earlier, it’s going to be tough for the Texans to be able to bring back both Joseph and free agent Kareem Jackson.

WR Andre Johnson

This one is really a long shot, but Johnson is going into his age 34 season coming off the worst statistical season of his career in terms of yards per game since his rookie year. Johnson is currently #12 on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, but even the average top-20 receiver (in terms of yardage all-time) has his last 1000 yard season at age 34-35, averages 48 catches for 594 yards and 3 touchdowns for 2 more seasons after age 34-35, and is done playing by age 36-37. Johnson is a declining player who could soon become a rapidly declining player and he’s owed a non-guaranteed 8.5 million in 2015, an amount the Texans can save on the cap entirely by letting him go this off-season. They reportedly want him to take a pay cut and, if he doesn’t agree to one, they could pull the trigger on his release.

C Chris Myers

Like Johnson, Myers is an accomplished player, but an aging, declining, and expensive one as well. He’s also going into his age 34 season and, though he’s graded out above average in every season since Pro Football Focus started in 2007, he had his worst recorded season in 2014, grading out 16th among centers. He also especially struggled in pass protection, getting by largely on strong run blocking. The Texans owe him 6 million non-guaranteed in his contract year in 2015 and can save that amount on the cap by letting him go.

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