Houston Texans
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The 2018 season was a successful one for the Houston Texans. But after a disappointing postseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts, there’s work to be done this offseason for the Texans to take the next step.

Coming off just 4 wins the previous year, 2018 was an excellent season for the Houston Texans. After losing the first 3 games, second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson, backed by the stifling Houston defense, led Houston on a 9-game win streak. Their 11-5 record won the AFC South and earned Houston the 3rd overall seed in the AFC.

But when the playoffs came around, Houston’s offense was smothered by a dominant Indianapolis Colts defense. While the defense did its best to hold back the Indianapolis offense, allowing no second-half points and only 140 total yards, Houston’s offense could not move the ball.

The 2018 Texans defense was one of the best units in the National Football League. The Texans finished 4th in the league in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed. Defensive ends J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney held the line of scrimmage for the defense with 18 and 16 tackles for loss respectively. They also wreaked havoc on the quarterback. Watt racked up 16 sacks while Clowney brought down the QB 9 times.

Offensively, the Texans were average in 2018, ranking 15th in total yards. Having Deshaun Watson for a full season provided the offense with a punch that was missing in the second half of the 2017 season. But Houston’s offensive line continued to be a liability. Watson was sacked 62 times this past season, and the rushing attack was mediocre throughout the season. With playmakers like Watson, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, and running back Lamar Miller the Texans were able to make enough plays to win games despite their offensive line woes.

The Texans will have 7 picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, including 2 second-round pick (one via the Seattle Seahawks). Houston also has over $70 million in cap space heading into the offseason. While that number is pretty large, Houston might be allocating a lot of it to resigning expiring contracts. They have 20 players that are either restricted or unrestricted free agents. Let’s take a closer look.

Free Agency

The Texans have some vital defensive pieces hitting free agency this year. Jadeveon Clowney played the final year of his rookie deal and had the best season of his career. Missing just 1 regular season game, he set career-highs in sacks and tackles for loss. Clowney has missed only 3 games over the past 3 seasons after missing 15 games during his first 2 seasons due to various injuries. While the Texans should be wary of his injury history, his chemistry with fellow All-Pro pass rusher J.J. Watt is a sight to behold. The Texans should look to re-sign Clowney and continue to have a suffocating pass rush for years to come.

Houston has to answer some more questions in the secondary since they have four players hitting the free agent market. Veteran cornerback Kareem Jackson is coming off of a great season, finishing with an overall 2018 season grade of 85.7 according to Pro Football Focus, ranking him as the 5th overall cornerback. He received $8.5 million in 2018 and will likely earn about the same amount in 2019 based on his performance.

Free safety Tyrann Mathieu is a different case. Having earned $7 million on a one-year prove it deal in 2018, Mathieu racked up 80 total tackles,  including 30 for a loss or no gain. However, he also gave up 594 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. If a team is willing to outbid Houston for Mathieu, the Texans should look to the draft or to other free agent options to replace him.

On the other side of the ball, the Texans have a couple of notable free agents. Long-time backup running back Alfred Blue will become an unrestricted free agent. With third-year RB D’onta Foreman returning from a torn Achilles, the Texans may choose to rely on Foreman, who is still on his rookie contract, and let Blue go somewhere else.

The Texans also need to decide what they are going to do with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The Texans acquired Thomas from the Denver Broncos for a 2018 4th round pick (and a swap of 7th round picks) last year at the trade deadline. Thomas only caught 23 passes for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns, which does not coincide with his $14.5 million salary cap hit. Thomas has already expressed his interest to stay in Houston but will need to take a pay cut to remain with the team.

As for potential free agent targets, one player the Texans should look at is Miami Dolphins right tackle Ja’waun James. While 2018 was a down year for James, he has been one of the few bright spots on a miserable offensive line in Miami the past few years. James will be looking for his first big contract after the expiration of his rookie deal. But with the Dolphins facing a likely rebuild, it’s unclear if Miami will re-sign him. If they do not, Houston will have an opportunity to offer him a deal to strengthen their offensive line.

Draft

Here’s where things get fun, the Texans have the 7 draft picks shown below:

1st Round: 23rd pick (23rd overall)

2nd Round: 22nd pick via the Seattle Seahawks (54th overall), 23rd pick (55th overall)

3rd Round: 23rd pick (86th overall)

5th Round: 23rd pick (161st overall)

6th Round: 23rd pick (195th overall)

7th Round: 6th pick via the Denver Broncos from a previous trade with the New York Giants (220th overall)

The Texans should use their 1st round pick to add depth and talent to their offensive line. Luckily there is a lot of talent available along the offensive line in this year’s draft. Who they target will likely depend on who they sign in free agency. If the Texans can sign Ja’Waun James from Miami, then they should target guard Chris Lindstrom out of Boston College. But if they don’t address offensive tackle in free agency, there are several prospects Houston could target in round 1. Two are Yodny Cajuste, the athletic tackle out of West Virginia, and David Edwards, the run game mauler out of Wisconsin.

Another position Houston might want to prioritize early in the draft is the tight end position. The Texans only had one TE break 300 receiving yards in Ryan Griffin. They need to find someone who can be a more dominant threat at that position. With two 2nd round picks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Texans trade up to draft TE Noah Fant of Iowa. Many compare Fant to play-making tight ends Evan Engram and George Kittle.

The Texans have a solid core to build upon, but must solidify a few positions this offseason. If the team can fill voids on the offensive line and at tight end in the draft while addressing their defensive free agents, Houston should be able to compete for the Lombardi trophy in the 2019 NFL season. Assuming the defense continues to find success as a top-5 unit in the league, improving their offense should help get the Texans to take that next step.