I'm sure if any Houston Texan football players (or anyone with a job that requires more physical duress than "sports talk radio host," which is really every other job on the planet) is going to read my typing this and think "Holy crap, is this guy a wuss," but here goes — I feel like I needed a Texans bye week more this season than any other season where I've covered the team.
If you think I'm a wuss, you're right, but if you agree with me, then you are also right. This has been a strange, stressful season, starting with the Brian Gaine firing, segueing into the Nick Caserio (maybe) tampering saga, then Swap Meet Saturday where William O'Brien, GM, shuffled half the roster, and then finally, in actual football, the Texans playing their first eight games inside of one score into the waning minutes of each matchup. Your hair gets gray fast rooting for this team.
However, we do have Deshaun Watson as our quarterback, which makes us the envy of all but maybe three or four other cities in the country (and even those three or four would gladly take Deshaun, they just happen to have guys they're happy with, too). So with the bye week upon us, let's hand out some figurative hardware for our Texans Midseason Awards:
MVP - NNDW (MVP not named Deshaun Watson): DeANDRE HOPKINS
Watson is in the conversation for bigger MVP awards than that of his own team, so let's hand out a team MVP to someone OTHER than Watson, and like the last few seasons, the choice is Hopkins. While he's only averaging 9.8 yards per catch, which will lead some to think he is having a down season, that's more a function of the Texans using the passing game as a key component of ball control and clock control. Hopkins is tied for fourth in the league in 3rd down catches for a first down (13), and leads the league in targets (94). He is still the key weapon for Watson, and within the context of what the Texans are doing offensively, the perfect player on the outside.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: J.J. WATT
This is an award for the first nine games of the season, and over that chunk of schedule, Watt was easily the most impactful defensive player on the Texans, with 55 QB pressures and 16 QB hits, among the league leaders. Now that Watt us gone for the season for the third time in four years, the big problem will be if we are still giving him this award after the full regular season is over.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: MAX SCHARPING
Bill O'Brien said he looks for players who are "tough, smart, and dependable." I would also say availability is key. Just ask any young player that misses consecutive practices during training camp with any ailment, ask them how that OB shade feels. The three rookies in this conversation are Scharping, Tytus Howard, and Lonnie Johnson. The latter two, though, have missed some time, and Scharping has been VERY solid at left guard.
BEST NEWCOMER (non-rookie): DUKELOS HYDESON (the RB combo platter)
That would be the combo of Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde at running back, an amazing tandem when you consider that neither was a Houston Texan until after the start of training camp, and neither took a snap as a Texan in training camp. Hyde was an afterthought, about to be released by the Chiefs, and O'Brien decided to trade Martinas Rankin to Kansas City for Hyde. All Hyde has done is rack up the eighth best rushing total in the league on 4.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Johnson has caught 22 passes and been a nice complement to Hyde's more physical style. This time last year the RB position was Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue. This season's tandem is an exponential upgrade.
WORST HAMSTRING: WILL FULLER
While there is plenty of competition, with at least a half dozen players, including Bradley Roby, suffering hamstring injuries, I feel like this award should be named after Fuller, whose balky hammy rose up once again to put him on the bench. It will be fascinating to see how the Texans handle Fuller long-term when the time comes to decide what to do with a second contract. I'm guessing it will be heavily based on games played.
LEAST MISSED FORMER TEXAN: AARON COLVIN
This is an easy one — if Colvin lines up and does his job right on the inflatable play from scrimmage, before the game winning field goal, against the Saints, the Texans are 7-2 and control their own destiny for top seed in the AFC right now. Definitely, the worst free agent signing of the brief Brian Gaine Era.
JACK EASTERBY OVERACHIEVER AWARD: DARREN FELLS
Fells was brought in on a one year, small money deal after being let go by the Cleveland Browns, and was thought to be brought in largely for his blocking skills to help what we all anticipated to be a subpar left tackle. However, Bill O'Brien traded for Laremy Tunsil, and all of a sudden, Fells became a viable weapon in the passing game, leading all tight ends and tied with the second highest total in the league for touchdown passes (6). Again, like with running back, here is where I point out that last season at this time, Ryan Griffin was your starting tight end. Man, these upgrades offensively have been huge.
BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR: THE FACE KICK TOUCHDOWN
Doesn't get any better than this....
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Not to wish injury on anybody, but apparently Raiders defensive lineman Arden Key, the person who dared to accidentally kick Deshaun Watson in the eye, has a broken foot. I'd like to think that he broke it kicking the immortal Deshaun Watson in the face.
BEST SOUNDBITE: O'BRIEN on MARRONE LONDON ADVICE
My favorite part of this soundbite is how O'Brien changes personalities halfway through, pivoting from back-slapping, super casual "HE NOT GONNA HELP ME" to super serious coach speak on a dime!