Slowly, the wheels are turning in the NFL to get us back to having football on the field, in some form, in September. Even little things like, late last week, Roger Goodell's announcing that some of the non-football staff are allowed back in facilities is a big deal, because it's a small step toward overall normalcy. Soon enough, we hope, players and coaches will be allowed back in, and we can at least carefully coexist with this COVID fiend while we find a vaccine.
In the meantime, we continue to appreciate the nostalgia, and live, in our minds, in a simpler time and place, back when football was being played, and people were allowed to sit six inches from one another, and not stand nervously six FEET away from one another. With that in mind, and especially as we continue into Year 4 of the Deshaun Watson Era, let's look back and answer the question "Which Texans had the most FUN periods of dominance to watch, in team history?"
I know "fun" is about as subjective a label as you can affix to something, but that's what makes this exercise... well... FUN! For me, the definition of "fun" is a combination of the "HOLY BLEEP!" moments, along with, secondarily, some overall team success so that there's an actual big-picture payoff on the "HOLY BLEEP" moments. In the end, there's not much empirical to this. It's about feeling and emotion.
So with that in mind, here are my most fun individual three year stints in Houston Texans history:
10. Johnathan Joseph, 2011-2013
The greatest free agent signing in team history also put together the greatest three year stint for a cornerback in the history of the team. Joseph made the Pro Bowl his first two seasons after coming over from Cincinnati, and racked up nine picks in those three seasons, along with a very memorable pick six in a rout of eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore in 2012.
9. Matt Schaub, 2009-2011
Picking a three year stint for Schaub is an interesting task, because it's either 2009-2011 or 2010-2012. 2009 included Schaub's first Pro Bowl, a Pro Bowl in which he took home MVP honors, and a season in 2009 where he threw for nearly 5,000 yards. It was his breakout season. 2012 was the best season in team history in terms of record, 12-4 overall, but by the end of the season, Schaub was beginning to break down (a breakdown that became a full on catastrophe in 2013). I had more fun watching Schaub himself in 2009 through 2011, personally. If he stays healthy in 2011, the Texans may have won the Super Bowl.
8. DeMeco Ryans, 2006-2008
In a perfect world, we'd have found Mario Williams' name somewhere on this list, but instead, it's his draft classmate, Ryans. There was so much to love about DeMeco Ryans early in his career. First and foremost, the dude was a great leader, but he was also super productive. In his rookie season, he led the league in solo tackles with 126, on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. In 2007, he made the Pro Bowl, in helping the Texans get to the .500 mark for the first time in franchise history.
7. Jadeveon Clowney, 2016-2018
This will be one of my more controversial opinions in this post, but I LOVED 2016-2018 Clowney. For one, he was largely healthy, playing in 45 of 48 possible games. He made the Pro Bowl all three seasons, had 24.5 sacks and 53 tackles for loss. He had an interception in a playoff win. More than anything else, for the month of December in 2016, he carried the defense, a defense that finished first in yards allowed WITHOUT J.J. Watt on the field.
6. Brian Cushing, 2009-2011
As revered as Brian Cushing is inside the walls of NRG Stadium (and by many outside those walls, too), he peaked as a Houston Texan in his rookie season, his only Pro Bowl season. He also won Defensive Rookie of the Year that year. 2009 Cushing was like nothing this city had seen since the Oilers left town. 2010 was Cushing's PED suspension year, but then a move to inside linebacker under Wade Phillips hit big in 2011. A 2012 knee injury in Week 5 was the beginning of Cushing dropping a few notches for the rest of what was a stellar, but not spectacular, career.
5. Andre Johnson, 2008-2010
Now we are starting to get into some of the big dogs, the players who will eventually have conversations about Canton associated with them. So it seems a little harsh that the second best player in franchise history has only the fifth most "fun" stint of dominance, right? Maybe, but keep in mind, the Texans' record in these three seasons, where Johnson attained his only two All Pro honors, was only 23-25! That takes a little starch out of it for me.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, 2017-2019
Now, right above Johnson in these rankings is Hopkins, whose star are nearly identical to Johnson's over his three year stretch. What makes Hopkins' stint more fun? Well, more highlight reel catches, for one. Hopkins has the best sizzle reel of any wideout over the last ten years. Also, more team success! The Texans won two divisions over those three years. It's close, but the edge, for me, goes to Hopkins.
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3. Deshaun Watson, 2017-2019
So who was throwing the ball to Hopkins for most of those three seasons? Why, Deshaun Watson, of course! Watson's first six starts of his career might have been the most fun I've had watching a Texan. Their record was only 3-3 in those games, but two of the losses were nail biters at New England and at Seattle, losses you could pin easily on Bill O'Brien's game management. Let's just move on, before I get angry.
2. JJ Watt, 2012-2014
When Watt eventually goes into the Hall of Fame, a vast number of his highlights will come from this three year period, a window in which he topped the 20 sack mark twice, and took him two of his three Defensive Player of the Year honors. 2014 Watt was the greatest season of any Texan in franchise history.
1. Arian Foster, 2010-2012
In the end, had 2013 and its 2014 record not been part of Watt's three year window, he might have nosed out Arian Foster. However, Foster was so dominant, and other than a brief hamstring injury to start 2011, so durable, and worked his magic during the first true ascent of the team in franchise history, I just feel a different kind of way watching his highlights and rewatching those games from 2010 through 2012. Foster AVERAGED 1,900 yards from scrimmage during those three seasons and was a force in the red zone, scoring a total of 41 rushing touchdowns. Peak Arian Foster was as good a running back as I've ever watched. Unfortunately, in 2013, the 351 carries from 2012 caught up to him, and he was never REALLY the same after that.