The Houston Texans, like all other NFL teams, have some apparent holes to fill in their present roster. With free agency and the NFL Draft approaching, it will be interesting to see how the Texans address their obvious needs. Will they let tenured Texans players walk, like Antonio Smith and Earl Mitchell, in order to address their positions in the draft or free agent market? Or will they be extremely frugal during free agency and focus on the draft? Either way, there are five specific positions that the Texans must address in order to improve the team for this upcoming season. While there are obviously other position needs, these are currently the most pressing needs. In order, the most important positions the team needs to address are quarterback, right tackle, defensive tackle, inside linebacker, and outside linebacker.
The most obvious position that the Texans need to address is quarterback. As seen last season, whoever was throwing the pigskin, whether it was Matt Schaub, T.J. Yates, or Case Keenum, was downright ineffective and below average. Keenum did have his moments, but his subpar moments definitely outweighed his positive moments. The Texans will address this position in either the draft or free agency. When looking at the free agent market for quarterbacks, there is not anyone who pops out as starter material. In my opinion, the most viable option that will be available on the market will be Matt Cassel. Although Matt Cassel is not necessarily the most exciting quarterback, when his number has been called he has produced. Most likely, the Texans will draft a quarterback with their first pick. There is a possibility that the Texans keep Schaub in order to let whoever the Texans draft learn Bill O’Brien’s system and not just get thrown into the fire. Although this possibility is a small one, considering Schaub’s massive cap number, there is a chance that Texans fans have not seen the last of Matt Schaub. Nonetheless, the Texans recognize this as the most important position they need to fill and will address it accordingly.
The second position that the Texans need to fill is right tackle. It has been well chronicled how putrid starting right tackle Derek Newton’s play was last year. Granted, the Texans offensive line as a unit did not perform particularly well last season; however, they still have the pieces to be one of the NFL’s best. That is, if the Texans find a competent RT (and a solid guard to replace Wade Smith). I doubt that the Texans will pay bookoos of money for a free agent RT, so more than likely they will look to the draft. If I were Rick Smith and company, I would strongly consider drafting a quality RT with their second round pick. Players who may be available include Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Antonio Richardson (Tennessee), and Cyrus Kouandijo (Alabama). Although all three have their flaws, I suspect that any of them would be an immediate upgrade over Newton, provided that they are healthy.
Third, the Texans need to look at defensive tackles. This position is crucial in Romeo Crennel’s “two-gap” 3-4 scheme. Crennel normally employs huge, space-eating monsters (like Vince Wilfork and Dontari Poe), to man his nose tackle (NT) position. Because of this, Earl Mitchell, who is an undersized NT, has probably played his last game in a Texans jersey. Texans fans have fantasized about having a massive NT for years, and this may be the year that the fantasy becomes a reality. One free agent that I would pay close attention to is Paul Solia of the Miami Dolphins. Solia is an imposing force at 6’4, 340 pounds and is a NFL veteran. Solia will not necessarily come cheap, but he will not be asking for a Powerball payday either. Draft wise, the Texans could use their first pick of the second round on Louis Nix (Notre Dame). Nix impressed at the Combine, although there is a league-wide concern about the durability of his knees. If he were to fall to the Texans, I think he would be a huge steal and a solid, day-one starter on the defensive line.
Fourth, the Texans need to address their depth at ILB. Brian Cushing, who is coming off his second knee surgery in as many years, is the only solid player that the Texans currently have in the books. Joe Mays, who was serviceable, is a free agent, as is Daryl Sharpton, who cannot seem to stay healthy. That being said, it is absolutely imperative for the Texans to sign/draft an ILB who can be paired with Cushing. Two names that intrigue me are Daryl Smith of the Baltimore Ravens and Brandon Spikes of the New England Patriots. Smith was productive last season for the Ravens in place of recently retired Ray Lewis. Spikes, who was the Patriots second-leading tackler, has some off-field issues, but from a football standpoint is an excellent player. As far as the draft, look out for Shayne Skov (Stanford). The fifth-year senior put up some solid numbers for the Cardinal and is projected to be in play in the second to third rounds.
Finally, the Texans need to look for some pass-rushing OLB fiends. Although some would consider this a luxury pick, the reality is that it is a position of need. Current OLBs Whitney Mercilus and Brooks Reed have been serviceable, but they have not been consistent. The market for OLB looks incredibly weak, so I think the Texans will address this come draft time. The most obvious name that is being thrown around is Jadeveon Clowney. If the Texans do draft him, there is a great possibility that he would be moved to SAM linebacker. Two other names I would look out for are Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Kyle Van Noy (BYU). Both are projected to be available in the second to third rounds.
In order for the Texans to make a jump back into NFL relevancy, the Texans front office must recognize their biggest roster holes and address them accordingly. While I do not doubt Rick Smith and company will do their job, they have a lot of pressure on them to make smart signings in free agency and hit home runs with their draft picks. If they are able to do this, the future of the franchise will be bright.