STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Texans have come a long way since their disastrous 2-14 season in 2005, but the team has mostly stagnated for the past three years. Although the franchise secured its first winning season with a 9-7 record in 2009, it wasn't much of an improvement over the two 8-8 seasons preceding it. Plus, the team still didn't make the playoffs.
One reason the Texans might be optimistic heading into 2010 is the fact that quarterback Matt Schaub started all 16 games last year after playing in just 11 in each of the two previous campaigns. Schaub made the most of the bigger workload, throwing 29 touchdowns and leading the league with 4,770 passing yards in what was by far the best season of his career.
Of course, playing quarterback can't be too hard when you're throwing to a receiver like Andre Johnson. The unstoppable wideout caught 101 passes for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009, his third 100-plus-catch performance in the past four years. Tight end Owen Daniels also played at a very high level before suffering an ACL tear in Week 8, catching 40 passes for 519 yards and five touchdowns up to that point.
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off the running game in 2009, and the offense couldn't find any balance. Despite a highly encouraging rookie season in 2008, Steve Slaton was largely ineffective as a runner
and lost five fumbles in just 11 games. Undrafted rookie Arian Foster ran impressively towards the end of the year, but the team still felt compelled to draft Auburn back Ben Tate in the second round of the
2010 draft in hopes of solidifying the position.
As always, the Houston defense was average at best in 2009. Although the defense allowed a respectable 312 points (19.5 per game) last year, end Mario Williams was the team's only viable pass rusher, and the team ranked 25th with just 30 sacks.
What really hurts is the fact that the brightest spot on the defense, linebacker and Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing, tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for the first four games of the upcoming season. Losing top cornerback Dunta Robinson in free agency will sting, too.
Although the Texans failed to take the next step in 2009, anything is possible this year. If Schaub stays healthy again, the Texans will be able to compete with most teams. Players like Schaub, Johnson, Daniels, Williams, Cushing and linebacker DeMeco Ryans give the coaching staff some star talents to work with, but Houston needs role players to step up in the running game and on defense to give the squad some balance.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (20) Kareem Jackson, CB, Alabama-Best cover man from smothering Tide D.
2. (58) Ben Tate, RB, Auburn-Mostly a straight-line runner, but very good speed and runs tough.
3. (81) Earl Mitchell, DT, Arizona-Not an ideal every-down option, but disruptive.
4. (102) Darryl Sharpton, LB, Miami (FL.)-Productive for the Hurricanes despite lack
5. (144) Sherrick McManis, CB, Northwestern-Playmaker in college but might be better at free safety.
6. (187) Shelley Smith, G, Colorado State-Very good athlete for a lineman.
6. (197) Trindon Holliday, WR, LSU-Incredibly fast but probably just a returner.
7. (227) Dorin Dickerson, WR,Pittsburgh-A burner without a position, just like Holliday.
Wade Smith, G (Chiefs) Versatile enough to play almost any offensive line spot.
Dunta Robinson, CB (Falcons) Cornerback position was a weakness even before he left.
Chester Pitts, G (FA) Started each of Texans’ first 114 games before 2009 knee injury.
Rex Grossman, QB (Redskins) Played miserably in his brief 2009 appearance.
POTENTIAL NIGHTMARE AT RUNNING BACK?
The selection of Ben Tate in the draft means the Texans obviously weren't happy with their 2009 running back options. Tate is faster and stronger than his competition, Arian Foster and Steve Slaton, but he hasn't played in a pro-style offense and isn't the shiftiest runner. Foster played very well at the end of 2009, and we think Slaton is too talented to give up this spot without a fight, so this could result in a situation where the workload is unpredictable. Although running back committees are increasingly difficult to avoid these days, this is a backfield you should approach with caution or at least modest expectations. Slaton remains an excellent pass catcher so he might have an edge in PPR leagues.
SECONDARY AT RISK WITH NO ROBINSON
Kareem Jackson is a very good cornerback prospect, but if the Texans think the rookie will team up with the likes of Glover Quin and Jacques Reeves, and contain a player like Reggie Wayne or Mike Sims-Walker, severe disappointment awaits. Dunta Robinson was the team's only especially respectable corner in recent years, and his departure means Houston has a chance to field one of the league's worst pass defenses in 2010. On the bright side, at least Houston found strong safety Bernard Pollard as a free agent during September of last year. He totaled 102 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four interceptions and one touchdown in just 13 games from that point.
SEASON HANGS ON SCHAUB’S DURABILITY
If Matt Schaub can stay on the field for the duration of 2010, then Houston has a shot at seizing a wild-card bid this year. If he doesn't, it will probably be one of the weaker teams in the league. Luckily for Schaub, both offensive tackle spots are held down by competent players, so his susceptibility to the edge rush is somewhat limited. Although tackles Duane Brown and Eric Winston are steady, the interior Houston offensive line is in a bit of disarray. Chester Pitts appears to be long gone, leaving Wade Smith, Antoine Caldwell, Kasey Studdard, Mike Brisiel, Chris White and Shelley Smith to scramble for the remaining three starting spots.
Mario Williams NEEDS HELP ON D-LINE Houston's 25th-ranked pass rush needs to improve if the young Texans cornerback group is going to survive the year. Williams is a franchise defensive end and a complete player, but he can't do everything himself. His nine sacks from last year are twice as much as the next highest player's, and 6.5 of the team's 30 sacks came from linebackers or safety Bernard Pollard. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and defensive end Antonio Smith don't offer much pass-rushing ability, so it will be up to defensive end Connor Barwin (4.5 sacks as a situational player last
year) and rookie Earl Mitchell to draw some attention away from Williams.
Rising: Matt Schaub was probably one of the later starting fantasy quarterback selections in most 2009 drafts, but he’ll be one of the first to go in ‘10.
Declining: Steve Slaton looked excellent as a rookie, but last year’s disaster will make him a risky pick.
Sleeper: Ben Tate might turn out to be more of a trendy pick than a sleeper, but he still has high upside.
Supersleeper: Jacoby Jones had six touchdowns on 27 catches last year (plus one more on a kick return) and could become Houston’s second-best fantasy wideout.
DeMeco Ryans, LB Extremely reliable, even if he never matches his rookie numbers.
Bernard Pollard, S Highly productive in 13 games last year.
Brian Cushing, LB He’ll probably be among the best IDP options in the last 12 weeks.
RotoWire Rank: 27