Can the Texans Go From Worst to First in 2018? Pro Football Weekly Discusses Their Chances

There’s been plenty of buzz around the Texans since the NFL Draft nearly two weeks ago, as many think that the turnaround for the team will be swift, and not the long drawn out process that it’s taken for the team to start winning.

Today Pro Football Weekly’s Eric Edholm put out an article ranking all eight last place teams from the 2017 season, and if there’s a chance they can make it all the way to first place in 2018.

According to the article, the Texans have the third best shot to unseat the Titans for the Division title in 2018 – a feat that won’t come easy.

3. tie — Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans (4-12)

Yes, we’re entering cheat mode here — two last-placed teams for the price of one. We like the odds. Especially when we’re talking about teams that featured franchise quarterbacks who both missed more than half the season in 2017.

We’re coming up on 500 days since the last time Andrew Luck took the field for a game, and he’s still not throwing actual footballs, so it’s hard to really know where he stands. Plus, the Colts — despite adding some nice talent in the draft the past two years and being mostly competitive sans Luck last season — are very much mid-reboot. Straight up, winning the AFC South would be a stunning result for first-year head coach Frank Reich.

There’s more optimism in the short term, though, for the Texans. They were perceived contenders entering last season but mishandled Deshaun Watson prior to Week 1 before watching him go down for the season after a brilliant seven-game run. Assuming his knee is back to full strength, Watson rightfully deserves to be mentioned as one of the league’s great stars in bloom.

There weren’t too many teams that suffered more injury-wise than the Texans, who also lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus in a short span, and there’s more optimism now on both returning to form. If that happens, the front seven stands as one of the better units in the NFL, and the secondary at least looks improved on paper.

Can the Texans win the South? The emergent-power Jaguars might scoff at that idea after thoroughly dominating them twice last season, but you can’t eliminate the possibility of a heroic Watson pulling out some Year 2 magic and the Houston defense bouncing back enough to give them a shot.

Video: Can the Texans Challenge the Patriots as the Top Team in the AFC in 2018?

The Texans are looking to rebound with their franchise QB in place in 2018 along with a defense that should be healthy and better. DeAngelo Hall seems to feel they are a team that can challenge for a top spot in the AFC – here’s a video of him talking about the Texans on NFL Network.

RB Alfred Blue Coming Back to the Texans on a One-Year Deal

The Texans have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with veteran running back Alfred Blue, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports

Blue rushed for a touchdown during the Texans’ season finale loss to the Indianapolis Colts, finishing with 39 yards on 13 carries. He also caught four passes for 36 yards.

As an unrestricted free agent, he drew interest from the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants and other NFL teams.

He rushed for 262 yards and one touchdown last season after overcoming a high-ankle sprain.

In four seasons for the Texans, the 6-2, 225-pound former LSU standot has rushed for 1,908 yards and six touchdowns and caught 49 passes for 316 yards and two scores.

Texans Earn an ‘B’ for Their Draft According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.

The draft grades from ‘Draft Guru’ Mel Kiper Jr. are out, and one team that got a very good grade is that of the Texans, who according to Kiper got an ‘B’ for their collection of players over the two days.

Here’s what he had to say:

Houston dealt both of its top picks to the Browns — one in the trade up for Deshaun Watson on draft day last year, and the other in the salary dump for Brock Osweiler. So it’s tough for a team to hit every need without those premium picks. It helps the Texans to have two extra third-round picks — one compensatory, one from Seattle in the trade for Duane Brown last year — and I thought they got value with all three.

I wouldn’t have been shocked if safety Justin Reid (pick 68) slipped into the first round. He tested well at the combine (4.40 40 and 4.15 20-yard shuttle). And he was versatile at Stanford, playing deep safety, corner, strong safety and nickel corner. With Reid and the signing of Tyrann Mathieu, Houston has upgraded at safety this offseason. Martinas Rankin (pick 80) played left tackle in college, but he could move inside to guard or center in the NFL. The Texans have competition at all five spots.

Jordan Akins (pick 98), a former minor league baseball player, is already 26, but he could start at tight end for Houston, which lost C.J. Fiedorowicz. He played a big part of UCF’s undefeated 2017 season. The Texans got only two touchdowns out of tight ends last year. Houston grabbed another with Jordan Thomas at No. 211. His nickname “Bone Crusher” is phenomenal. Keke Coutee (pick 103) is a speedy slot receiver who can help in the return game. Defensive end Duke Ejiofor (pick 177) had 16.5 sacks over the last two seasons.

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Without first- and second-round picks, it’s tough for the Texans to do better than they did.

Round/Pick Name Pos College
3/68 Justin Reid S STANFORD
3/80 Martinas Rankin C MISSISSIPPI STATE
3/98 Jordan Akins TE UCF
4/103 Keke Coutee WR TEXAS TECH
6/177 Duke Ejiofor DE WAKE FOREST
6/211 Jordan Thomas TE MISSISSIPPI STATE
6/214 Peter Kalambayi OLB STANFORD
7/222 Jermaine Kelly CB SAN JOSÉ STATE

Texans Agree to Terms with QB-WR Joe Webb

The Texans signed versatile quarterback-wide receiver Joe Webb, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports.

Webb, 31, played last season for the Buffalo Bills. He completed 2 of 7 passes for 35 yards and one interception.

He has also played wide receiver and special teams and has previous stints with the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills.

He has completed 90 of 159 career passes for 888 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions.

Texans Coach Bill O’Brien Feels QB Deshaun Watson Will Be Able to Protect Himself

The Texans — and the rest of the NFL — found out last season that perhaps the most impressive part of Deshaun Watson’s game was his ability to use his legs to extend plays. Now, coming off ACL surgery, Watson has to be especially smart about doing so, although head coach Bill O’Brien said he is confident in his young quarterback’s instincts to protect himself, Sarah Barshop of ESPN reports.

In six starts last season, Watson frequently made plays after the pocket collapsed and was a big part of the reason why Houston ranked 14th in the league in rushing; in seven games, Watson ran for 269 yards on 36 carries for 2 touchdowns.

Watson tore the ACL in his right leg during a practice last season on a drill in which he was simply handing the ball off to a running back — although he told ProFootballTalk this offseason that he thinks he loosened his ACL on a hit he took the Sunday prior against the Seattle Seahawks.

“He has a really good instinct for maybe gaining the 5 or 6 yards and then going down before he takes the shot,” O’Brien said. “That’s a big thing that young quarterbacks usually have a problem with. He seems to have an instinct for being able to stay out of harm’s way.”

Although Watson has good instincts to protect his body, O’Brien said the coaching staff has gone over being smart outside the pocket with the 22-year-old.

“You have to have what we call a silent alarm,” O’Brien said. “When you drop back to pass, one thousand-one, one thousand-two, like, if you’re getting into that three-second range in this league and you haven’t thrown the ball yet, I would say that you better start thinking about doing something, because they’re coming.”

“It’s hard [to coach a quarterback out of never giving up on a play],” O’Brien said. “I think, when you look at all these guys are such great competitors — if you look at [Ben] Roethlisberger and [Carson] Wentz and Andrew Luck, they don’t think that the play is ever over. So they’re going to try to keep the play alive. Same thing with Watson.

“They’re going to try to keep the play alive and they don’t think it’s ever over. They’re the ultimate competitors. So, you just have to talk to them, in my opinion the guys that I’ve dealt with like that, ‘Hey look, here’s the deal.’ Again, going back to I have a clock in my head, and when this clock reaches a certain point with the protection we’ve called, you better either think about taking off, sliding, throwing it away. You don’t need to take an unnecessary shot, but I don’t think it’s easy to coach that with every single guy.”

Texans Gab 2018 NFL Draft Scouting Report: USC QB Sam Darnold

The hype for USC quarterback Sam Darnold has b3en growing by leaps and bounds the last few weeks, to the point where many feel he’s going to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft in April.

At 6-4, 220 pounds, he’s got the look of a player who with some time learning could be a very good to excellent quarterback in the NFL, but time will tell when he might get that chance.

In his final season at USC, Darnold threw for 4143 yards, with 26 touchdowns to go along with 13 picks. This after throwing 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions the season before.

Here’s a look at Darnold and what various places are saying about him in our latest scouting report.

Walter Football

Strengths:
Naturally accurate passer
Fits passes into tight windows
Excellnt ball placement
Throws a catchable ball
Pocket presence
Has poise
Advanced anticipation; instinctive thrower
Throws with good timing
Can accelerate his throwing motion
Quality arm strength
Pushed team to wins
Good internal clock
Mobility
Throws very well on the run
Throws accurately off platform
Displays some feel in the pocket
Not easy to sack
Can hurt defenses on the ground
Can make all the throws required
Can pick up yards on the ground
Threads passes into tight windows

Weaknesses:
Ball security
Too many interceptions
Too many fumbles
Had some confidence issues in 2017
Doesn’t secure the ball well when getting sacked
Good enough not doesn’t have elite arm strength
Throwing mechanics are a bit unorthodox
Needs to start games faster

Summary: Darnold took college football by storm during the 2016 season, and even though he wasn’t eligible for the 2017 NFL Draft, the redshirt freshman had scouts buzzing about his pro potential. After a 1-2 start to the 2016 season for USC, Darnold was made the starting quarterback. For his debut season, he was an extremely efficient passer who led the Trojans to a 10-3 record. Darnold lost his first-ever start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

The 2017 season was more of a mixed bag for Darnold. The redshirt sophomore completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He had an up-and-down season with too many turnovers – fumbles were a particular issue beyond the interceptions. Darnold also made some beautiful anticipatory throws with excellent accuracy in just about every game.

There is a lot to like about Darnold as a future starter in the NFL. First and foremost, he is an accurate pocket passer who throws with good ball placement and is very precise in the short to intermediate part of the field. Darnold has excellent anticipation to know when and where receivers are going open. With his feel and timing, Darnold hits receivers on the run, leading them to picking up yards after the catch. He also regularly will throw receivers open and help them to find space to beat tight coverage. Darnold is a natural rhythm thrower who would fit best in a West Coast system to maximize his ability to throw accurately in the short to intermediate part of the field. He is a smooth precision passer who can be deadly when he gets into a good groove.

Darnold is comfortable in the pocket, but also has the ability to move around to buy time. While he is not a running quarterback, he is functional to avoid sacks and will move around to help his offensive line and receivers. Darnold made a number of really nice plays during the past two years when things went off script as he got creative to move the ball for his offense. Routinely, Darnold would buy time with his feet and then make an accurate throw downfield with the rush closing in on him.

The Drafster

In my eyes, Sam Darnold is a very odd prospect. Talked about as a number 1 overall draft pick. Talked about as the best Quarterback coming out of college this year. However, I am not seeing any of this. When I watch Darnold, I see one of the most streaky Quarterback play I think I have seen in awhile. At time looks very hesitant to throw, missing an opportunity. Other times he looks too eager and makes a bad decision. He has his good moments, but then a play later he will have a combination of bad plays. Moving in the pocket too early and too often, inconsistent accuracy, and staring down a play for too long are major turn offs to me.

The first thing I notice about Darnold when watching him is that he seems to ignore his dump off routes. He seems so locked in on making a big play, he forgets about the guys that are 5 yards away from him. I can respect wanting to make a big play for the team, but after staring downfield for eternity it’s time to hit your shallow routes. At least LOOK at them to see if they are open. There is no shame in taking an easy three to five yards. Not every throw has to get the crowd on their feet.

The second thing I notice is how much he likes to move around in the pocket. And that is just not his style. I get running to avoid a sack, but too many times I saw him run with a clean pocket. Multiple times he would take off to the outskirts of the pocket, making it easier for defenders to get off their block. He seems to just panic unless he has the cleanest pocket one could possibly have. If he would stand tall in the pocket and deliver, his accuracy issues would go down as well. His deep balls are inconsistent, and the times he does go to dump it off, those are not always pretty either. His best throws come from his 10-15 yarders. Which always happen to be when he stands his ground.

I will say though, 4th quarter Sam Darnold seems to be a better player than in other quarters. He reads the field better, has better ball placement, and doesn’t try to run around as much. It just seems something clicks a bit better for him during the 4th. Like he has calmed down. He just needs to be able to play similar to that all game if he is gonna be the number 1 overall pick this upcoming draft.

I think Darnold has a lot to work on. Personally there are 4 other Quarterbacks I would take before drafting him. He does good things, unfortunately, his good things just are not consistent enough and are overshadowed by his flaws. I believe if he can work on sitting in the pocket longer instead of trying to escape right away (while not holding the ball for too long), a lot of his issues will start fading. I think Darnold will have a real rough start to his career, but if keeps his confidence and keeps fixing his game, it will work out for him in the long run.

Cover 1 Scouting Report

Strengths:

Darnold’s entire game is predicated upon his ability to create. Darnold is an athletic player; he is able to pull the ball down and gain chunks of yardage with his legs. His agility and change of direction catch many defenders off guard.

That is why offensive coordinator Tee Martin built an offense that maximized his legs. USC ran a heavy dose of run pass options (RPOs), a concept that gave Darnold many options pre- and post-snap, and he absolutely flourished. On a majority of their plays, Darnold had the ability to give the ball to star running back Ronald Jones, keep it as a runner, or throw it to one of his many weapons outside. This multi-dimensional structure of a play was obviously super productive. His decision making was very good all season, especially on these RPOs. He can process the coverage, find the conflict defender, and distribute the ball quickly.

But what is often overlooked is the accuracy and velocity needed on these kinds of concepts. At times, after the mesh with the running back or play fake, the passing lane is cluttered with defenders coming downhill to defend what they perceive to be a run. Once they realize that it is a pass, they immediately try to get their hands up in the passing lanes. Darnold makes these throws look easy. Standing at 6’4? and 220 pounds, he is able to place the ball in optimal locations, allowing his weapons to make plays.

At the next level, Darnold is going to make his money in the short area. While his elongated release and sloppy footwork will cause issues at times, something I will cover later, it isn’t an issue from 0-9 yards. That bodes well for Sam, because that is where football is won and lost on Sundays. His mechanics aren’t an issue because he is throwing in rhythm and not having to worry about mechanics.

According to SportsInfo Solutions (SIS), Darnold’s short game is phenomenal. From 0-9 yards, he had the highest completion percentage (75.4%), the 4th-most passing yards (1,534), 12th-most touchdowns (10), the 3rd-highest yards per attempt (7.6), and the 5th-highest rating (107.2).

Weaknesses:

As productive as Darnold was over his 27 games at USC, he has some serious flaws that need to be addressed, the first of which is turnovers. Darnold threw 22 interceptions over two years and added another 20 fumbles. This lack of ball security will get you benched quickly.

While the offense surrendered an average of 2.14 sacks a game and a grand total of 30 sacks in 2017, he admitted that he was pushing it too much.

Many of his turnovers are linked to his mechanics. Darnold has some of the worst mechanics I have ever seen from a quarterback. Let’s start with his delivery. Typically, a quarterback with an elongated delivery like Darnold’s will struggle at the next level. From the time he begins his delivery to the time of release is often the difference between a tight window completion and an interception. Defensive backs are just too good on Sundays. If he is slightly late anticipating a throw and needs to drive a pass, the split second longer that it takes to release the ball due to his delivery could lead to an interception, much like it did versus Washington State. The safety bails post-snap, baiting Darnold to throw the speed out as he gets the 1-on-1 coverage. The defensive back reads the route, breaks, and picks him off.

What Matt Miller says about Darnold – Ranking him as the #1 QB on the board

1. Sam Darnold, USC

A two-year starter at USC, Sam Darnold is widely praised for his toughness, football IQ and leadership. A coach with the Trojans told me Darnold only cares about football and not the benefits of being a star quarterback. He did turn the ball over 22 times in 2017, which should at a minimum send scouts back to the tape to find the context of each turnover. But Darnold’s tangible and intangible traits are tops in the class.

Scout’s Quote: “Crystal clean off the field. Smart, poised, tough, accurate. He might be the only one that could work in Cleveland because he won’t let the pressure go to his head.”

Coach’s Quote: “The release and turnovers bother me, but he has the makeup to be good. He’s better than [Mitch] Trubisky was last year but he’s not on the level of [Carson] Wentz or Jared [Goff].”

Scout’s Comparison: Tony Romo, retired

Darnold impressed at his Pro Day, throwing in the rain back on March 21st

Texans Bring Back Brandon Weeden as Backup QB

The Texans are bringing back Brandon Weeden as their backup quarterback behind Deshaun Watson, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports.

Weeden, 34, played for the Texans in 2015 and 2016 before getting cut in September of last season and signed with Tennessee.

Weeden knows coach Bill O’Brien and has experience in his system.

Weeden also has played for Dallas and Cleveland.