3 breakout candidates for the Houston Texans highlighted by Davis Mills

3 breakout candidates for the Houston Texans highlighted by Davis Mills

The Houston Texans are unlikely to compete in 2022, but they have several breakout candidates ready to develop next season. If Houston’s young core can show growth, the Texans will be set up to take more swings in free agency and the draft in 2023. Which Texans are on the brink of a breakout in 2022?

Top Houston Texans players to breakout in 2022

Davis Mills, QB

Davis Mills wasn’t near the top of the star-studded 2021 quarterback class that saw five signal-callers — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones — come off the board within the first 15 picks. In fact, two more QBs (Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond) were drafted before the Texans selected Mills at No. 67 overall.

But by the end of the season, Mills’ statistics looked better than any rookie quarterback aside from Jones, even though the former Stanford Cardinal was pressed into action for one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Mills entered the lineup after Tyrod Taylor suffered an injury in Week 2, and the rookie struggled over his seven games. He threw seven touchdowns to eight interceptions while posting a significantly below-average EPA + CPOE composite. Taylor took over again from Weeks 9-12, but in Week 13, Houston named Mills the starter to close out the season.

Over the rest of the year, Mills tossed nine touchdowns and two interceptions, ranked 14th in the NFL adjusted net yards per attempt (the passing metric that best correlates with winning), and generally offered league-average quarterback play. With a few more offensive pieces around him, can Mills take another step in 2022?

Houston didn’t select a quarterback in 2022, but they will have the draft ammunition to choose a signal-caller in 2023. If Mills, the top QB in the 2017 recruiting class, shows enough to become the Texans’ long-term starter, he’ll become a rare third-round quarterback success story. If not, Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud could arrive in Houston next April.

Nico Collins, WR

Mills should benefit from continuity with the Texans’ two leading receivers from last season, Brandin Cooks and Nico Collins. Cooks returns as the club’s No. 1 option in the passing game, but Collins could be on the verge of a breakout after posting 33 receptions for 446 yards and one score in his rookie campaign.

Collins shouldn’t have any trouble entering the 2022 season as a starting outside receiver. Second-round rookie John Metchie III is still recovering from a torn ACL, and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play. Even when he is available, Metchie figures to spend most of his time in the slot. Journeymen Chris Conley, Phillip Dorsett, and DaeSean Hamilton don’t seem like realistic candidates to usurp Collins on Houston’s depth chart.

At 6’4″, 215 pounds, Collins should be able to become a physical perimeter target for Mills. The Michigan product tested like an elite athlete and managed 19.7 yards per reception in his final season with the Wolverines. In his first year with the Texans, Collins put up 13.5 YPR and ranked fourth among all rookie receivers in average depth of target (10.6).

With Pep Hamilton now calling the plays, Houston’s offense should show signs of improvement in 2022. If Collins can make a leap, he and Metchie could give the Texans a solid set of complementary receivers and allow the club to target a true No. 1 option in next year’s free agent market.

Jonathan Greenard, EDGE

Despite finishing fourth on the Texans with only 215 pass-rush snaps in 2021, Jonathan Greenard ranked first on the team with eight sacks. The 2020 third-round pick played only 36% of Houston’s defensive snaps a season ago. But Jacob Martin (60%), DeMarcus Walker (39%), and Charles Omenihu (19%) are no longer on the roster.

Houston did sign veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison to two-year contracts with more than $10 million in combined guaranteed money. Those deals indicate both Hughes and Addison will almost assuredly make the Texans’ roster.

Still, it’s hard to see a rebuilding team choosing to give snaps to two players in their mid-30s instead the 25-year-old Greenard. If anything, Hughes and Addison might take time away from fellow free agent addition Rasheem Green.

Greenard spent the offseason working on pass-rushing details. Now, he’ll play under new Texans defensive line coach Jacques Cesaire, who helped Gregory Rousseau to an excellent rookie season as an assistant with the Buffalo Bills. With a higher snap rate, Greenard could become the face of Houston’s front seven in support of a revamped secondary that now features Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre.