Early in the preseason's final week, the hay is pretty much in the barn for Bill O'Brien and Rick Smith when it comes to constructing the Texans Week 1 53-man roster. There are just a handful of spots still up for grabs, and the coaches won't have another game to use for player evaluations, since the Cowboys-Texans matchup scheduled for Thursday was canceled.
This year, for the first time, there was no cut-down from 90 to 75 players with a week to go in the preseason. Instead, the league amended the rules so that most teams will cut from 90 (or close to 90) to 53 all in one fell swoop. Seriously, Saturday is going to be like a gigantic NFL castoff flea market.
Which Texans do I think will get that daunting phone call to turn in their playbook, and which ones will walk into the locker room to see their names still on the wall? Here are those answers...
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
Easiest position to call. Now the question becomes "How soon until Deshaun Watson take over for Tom Savage as the full-time starter?" Injury is always a possibility (hell, it's damn near a likelihood with Savage), but if we are caveating that it's based on performance, there are two potential schedule points to look at — one is after Week 3, the trip to New England, and the other is after the bye week (Week 7), which would give Watson two weeks to morph into the starter, although the latter option means a trip to Seattle for his starting debut. Yikes.
RUNNING BACK (4): Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman, Alfred Blue, Jay Prosch
Two of these three missed the game against the Saints on Saturday, but both slide right back into their spots on the depth chart when they're healthy. The intriguing thing about this position group will be the evolution of the workload as the season progresses. Foreman is the most talented of the three, and, like Watson, an eventual starter for this team. Prosch got an extension yesterday, so he is on this team.
WIDE RECEIVER (4): DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong, Bruce Ellington
Another position that has been wrecked with injuries in this preseason. The top three wideouts heading into training camp — Hopkins, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller — are all banged up. Hopkins is dealing with a hand issue, Miller an ankle injury, and Fuller will miss the first couple of months of the season with a broken collarbone. Jaelen Strong has been solid, if unspectacular, in training camp, but the Texans may need him to finally realize his potential if they're going to do any significant damage through the air early in the season. Ellington gets added as a lock after hauling in eight catches in two preseason games.
TIGHT END (3): C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson
Reluctantly, I add Stephen Anderson here because I think the coaches like him, but that tight end spot is one they should be looking to upgrade. I like undrafted rookie Evan Baylis, who probably makes the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Duane Brown, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Nick Martin, Jeff Allen, Julien Davenport, Greg Mancz, Kendall Lamm, Breno Giacomini
We add Giacomini here as he's moved into the starting lineup in Chris Clark's absence and has been drawing decent reviews of late. We will need a couple more offensive linemen between now and the end of this article.
DEFENSIVE LINE (4): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington
A ton of bodies vying for the fifth spot after these four mortal locks.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett, Ufomba Kamalu
Kamalu has been a beast the last couple of preseason games, so I am adding him as a lock, which means we get to add this video, too...
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Brian Cushing, Bernardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham, Brian Peters
Adding in Peters, who probably makes it on the strength of his special teams play.
CORNERBACK (4): Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson, Treston Decoud
The rookie Decoud has looked the part the last couple of games, and I can't imagine them leaving him exposed on the practice squad, especially with so many bad teams who won't be afraid to swipe good teams' practice squad players and carry them on their 53-man roster (which, by rule, they must do if they take them off another team's practice squad).
SAFETY (3): Andre Hal, Eddie Pleasant, Corey Moore
The Achilles heel of what should be the best defense in franchise history.
SPECIALISTS (2): Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler
As it has been since the beginning of camp.
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (22): 3 QB, 4 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 8 OL
DEFENSE (18): 4 DL, 3 OLB, 4 ILB, 4 CB, 3 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 P, 1 LS
43. Tyler Ervin, RB
Ervin will probably make the team (and I'm trying to be correct in this post), but it would be a pretty ballsy move to let Jordan Todman take a crack at the designated return specialist role. Won't happen, but that would be a "WOW" roster move for Texans fans intrigued by back-end-of-the-roster moves.
44. Chris Clark, OT
Clark has been banged up, but they value his leadership and experience (even if he was putrid last season when he was starting at right tackle).
45. Carlos Watkins, DT
As a mid-round draft pick, Watkins probably makes the team, but he has plenty of competition from guys who have flashed at times (Matthew Godin, Rickey Hatley).
46. Denzel Rice, CB
I'm flipping on Robert Nelson, and taking a chance on Rice.
47. Marcus Gilchrist, S
48. Kurtis Drummond, S
Needless to say, safety is a concern.
49. Nick Novak, K
I still have Novak winning this competition, which has been tough to judge in the wake of a game where the Texans were shut out, 13-0.
Here's where we stand now...
OFFENSE (24): 3 QB, 5 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 9 OL
DEFENSE (22): 5 DL, 3 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 5 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So we have four spots left. Let's shop for these spots, shall we?
50. Chris Thompson, WR
Thompson makes it as the fifth wide receiver and a designated speed guy on special teams coverage units.
51. David Quessenberry, OT/OG/C
Quessenberry wins his position battle with Chad Slade and completes one of the greatest comebacks in league history.
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52. Dylan Cole, ILB
Undrafted rookie makes the team on the strength of his nose for the football.
53. Joel Heath, DT
Heath beats out Brandon Dunn for a spot along the defensive line.
Near Misses: Akeem Hunt (RB), Evan Baylis (TE), Chad Slade (G), Riley McCarron (WR), Brandon Dunn (DT), Matthew Godin (DT), Tony Washington (OLB), Eric Lee (OLB), Robert Nelson (CB), K.J. Dillon (S), Ka-imi Fairbairn (K)
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