When it comes to the later rounds of the NFL Draft, the Houston Texans have historically failed to attain impact players. Brian Gaine looks to put an end to that trend. The 2018 draft class will do just that.
Despite lacking a pick in the first and second rounds in 2018, Gaine brought in a good batch of players. Last season, Texans’ rookies played more than any other team. Members of that group are primed to take that next step this year and achieve breakout status.
WR Keke Coutee
I’m not one to place too much stock into offseason hype. However, Deshaun Watson has raved about Keke Coutee. It means a little more when the praise comes from your franchise quarterback. Especially since Coutee missed most of his rookie season with a hamstring injury. When he was on the field however, the flashes were enticing.
Even with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, a healthy Coutee could bring another dimension to Houston’s passing offense. Hopkins is your number one receiver who can win in the intermediate or deep levels of the field. Will Fuller is your burner who is relied upon to stretch the field. In the case of Coutee, he lined up all over for Houston last season.
Often utilized in the underneath game, Coutee took advantage of his role and showcased his shiftiness after the catch on big plays. He was impressive when it came to route manipulation and stop and go ability. Coutee posted decent numbers in just six games last season. Projecting his stats for a full 16 game season; he would’ve finished with 73 catches, 764 receiving yards, and two scores. That receiving yards total would rank him -third among rookie wide receivers behind Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore – the only receivers drafted in the 1st round in 2018.
With Fuller’s ongoing durability concerns, this is the perfect time for Coutee to slide in and steal reps. If he can continue to build off his impressive performance in the AFC Wildcard round this past winter, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Coutee supplant Fuller on the depth chart.
#Texans WR Keke Coutee was the focal point of the Houston offense in his NFL debut. Coutee was used creatively all over the formation and Houston didn’t even utilize his deep speed to take the lid off of the defense.
-2 Yards pic.twitter.com/TcnGOOp5tV
— Steve Frederick (@_SteveFrederick) October 1, 2018
TE Jordan Thomas
Someone from this tight end group has to step up, and my money is on Jordan Thomas. As outlined in my Houston Texans TE preview, Thomas appears to be the early favorite to corral the starting job. A sixth-round selection in 2018, he entered the league with the “project” tag. However, Thomas’ rookie season was extremely encouraging. Aside from his supreme athleticism and size, he brings a balanced archetype at the position.
With a background as an offensive tackle, it’s no surprise that Thomas excelled as a blocker in his rookie year. I’d say he’s the best blocking tight end on the roster, but we’ll see how Kahale Warring translates. With his blocking prowess, Thomas also boasts tremendous upside as a receiver, largely due to his athleticism.
Perhaps the biggest knocks coming out of college were his rawness as a route runner and inability to use his massive frame to his advantage. Well, in his rookie season he showed major improvements in both departments. Thomas made his money in contested catch situations displaying concentration and strong hands to win the 50/50 balls. He added to his route running repertoire but still needs to tighten up the screws a bit there.
Likely to implement a tight end by committee, we’ll get a fair shot to see all the tight ends for Houston this season. Even then, Thomas should see most of the snaps due to his well-rounded skill set and enormous upside. He still may be a year or two away from national prominence, but Thomas will emerge as a mainstay in the Texans offense this season.
OL Martinas Rankin
The Houston Texans fielded the worst offensive line in the league last season and Martinas Rankin was part of the problem. The second draft pick of the Brian Gaine era struggled mightily as a rookie. Rankin appeared in all 16 games, starting three games at left tackle and one at left guard. While he was among the league leaders in pressures allowed, there are reasons to expect substantial growth in year two.
During the 2018 draft process, Rankin dealt with a leg injury. This forced him to not only miss the NFL Combine but all of OTAs and the majority of training camp last year. His approach to this season should bring a breath of fresh air, now that he’s healthy with a year under his belt.
It remains to be seen what the starting offensive line will look like, although I can guarantee a mass of rotations throughout the year. Regardless, Rankin’s most valuable characteristic may lie in his versatility. On a line which will likely lack stability, Rankin will be thrown into multiple spots maximizing his reps. Coming out of Mississippi State, he had experience at all five OL spots. Bill O’Brien noted Rankin’s versatility and stated he likes him best at left guard.
Rankin landed 25th overall on my 2018 NFL Draft big board. He has the tools to be a longtime NFL lineman and the most potential on the Houston Texans OL. It’s almost impossible to predict Houston’s opening week offensive line. However, my money is on Rankin to start at left guard and flourish.
LB Dylan Cole
This is the most under the radar we’re going to get on this list and the only player from the 2017 class. An undrafted free agent out of Missouri State, Dylan Cole defied the odds and made it to the NFL with the Houston Texans. After a pleasantly surprising rookie year, Cole was expected to fill a solid depth role last season. Then a wrist injury forced him on injured reserve.
Cole is an athletic specimen. A monster pro day is what garnered attention from NFL teams and ultimately landed him on an NFL roster. He posted an elite Relative Athletic Score which landed him top 15 all-time among linebackers in the RAS database. That is special territory and certainly an indication of how much potential Cole offers.
With Benardick McKinney and Zach Cunningham starting at inside linebacker, Cole will likely secure a role in sub packages. Based on what we’ve already seen from him in coverage, Cole showcases his athleticism and can run with tight ends or running backs. Add in his experience on special teams and Cole should see valuable reps in his third season.
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 6, 2017
S Justin Reid
The inaugural pick to the Brian Gaine tenure in Houston was a great one. Justin Reid quickly emerged as an integral piece on the Texans defense. He finished his rookie season with 81 tackles, 10 passes defended and three interceptions. Reid was the tone setter in the secondary and brings value defending the pass or sniffing out runs up in the box along with a high football IQ.
With his rookie production, Reid expectedly generated a lot of noise. However, I expect him to reach that next level of national notoriety. He’s a natural born leader and will cement himself as the leader of the backend sooner than later. Even J.J. Watt praised Reid‘s talent, smarts, and leadership.
With quite the overhaul to the secondary, he’ll be the glue that brings this unit together. Between his tools and intangibles, Reid has Pro Bowl potential and could achieve that prowess as early as this season.
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 19, 2018