I spent last week watching the Texans practice five times in West Virginia, which makes me one of the only Houston media members who've now watched Deshaun Watson play in pads against live NFL players with my own two eyes. I also got to watch the other 89 players in Texans camp (although I must admit, I am smitten with Watson), so I figured the best way to give a quick hit stock up/stock down on the whole bunch would be to reveal a new mock 53-man roster.
So let's do this, kids. Here is what my Texans 53-man roster would look like if the league made a new rule this morning and said, "All teams must cut to 53 men before the first preseason game." (For the record, do not put it past Goodell to do something as silly as this. It's more logical than whatever method he uses to determine the number of games in a disciplinary suspension.)
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden
Not much to discuss here, except the order on the depth chart. Savage has drawn high praise from other reporters, as had Watson. I'll be honest, in the practices I watched in West Virgnia, Watson made several decisive throws, some downfield, that I did not see Savage make. At this point, Watson has only run with the second team, so until he gets reps with the first team, there really is no competition.
RUNNING BACK (2): Lamar Miller, D'Onta Foreman
Same pair as last week. Foreman did some nice things in the practices I watched. The Texans used him more in the passing game in three padded practices than Texas did his whole time on the Forty Acres. Foreman is going to be a nice weapon for whoever starts at QB.
WIDE RECEIVER (3): DeAndre Hopkins, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong
We remove Will Fuller from this group, as his broken clavicle is said to keep him out for 2-3 months, which means he will return sometime in October, in all likelihood. If there are no other big injuries, then chances are the Texans start the season with Fuller on injured reserve, knowing they can bring him back.
TIGHT END (2): C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin
Both of these guys were solid during my time in West Virginia. Griffin had a day off to rest a dinged-up Achilles, but was back the next day catching balls in pads.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Duane Brown, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Nick Martin, Jeff Allen, Julien Davenport, Greg Mancz, Kendall Lamm
We add Kendall Lamm to the "locks," even though he spent big chunks of the week being rag-dolled by J.J. Watt. He is clearly the frontrunner to start at right tackle right now. Greg Mancz, on the strength of last season and a consistent camp so far, is the reserve "swing" interior lineman.
DEFENSIVE LINE (4): J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington
This four stays the same; however, it's worth noting that Clowney goes through individual drills, oftentimes, with the linebackers. He is also listed as the starting "Jack" linebacker in the first depth chart. His versatility is a luxury that might allow the Texans to go closer to "best available" with the final couple of spots on the roster (as opposed to filling by positional need).
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (2): Whitney Mercilus, Brennan Scarlett
Both of these guys had good weeks at camp last week.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Brian Cushing, Bernardrick McKinney, Zac Cunningham
Same three as last week. Cunningham got a ton of work with the first team last week, as McKinney got a couple of days of rest to heal some minor dings. The coaches are riding the second-round rookie hard in camp, a sign of just how crucial a role they see him playing.
CORNERBACK (3): Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson
This is as good a top three corner rotation as any team has, and Johnson appears ready to take the next step in his ascension. His foot is fully healed and he is listed as the first team corner on the depth chart, with Jackson getting a lot of slot work.
SAFETY (2): Andre Hal, Eddie Pleasant
I am adding Pleasant to the locks here. He had an astoundingly good week in drills and 11-on-11, and the team clearly sees him as a crucial role player, given his work on special teams as well.
SPECIALISTS (2): Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (17): 3 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 2 TE, 7 OL
DEFENSE (14): 4 DL, 2 OLB, 3 ILB, 3 CB, 2 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 P, 1 LS
33. Jay Prosch, FB
I didn't see Prosch do much in camp, but the Texans seem like a team that would keep a fullback, and he is the only one they have.
34. Tyler Ervin, RB
Ervin flashed some good things. Like Clowney as a defensive end and linebacker, if Ervin can show that he can be a plus player outside of the return game, then maybe you rationalize keeping him instead of a fifth receiver, designating him an "offensive playmaker" more than an actual running back. Put simply, an advancing Ervin might allow you to keep, say, Akeem Hunt AND Alfred Blue, as opposed to keeping one of them with, say, Wendell Williams.
35. Riley McCarron, WR
The Texans have not really had a true slot receiver under O'Brien, and McCarron — the Big Ten's leading receiver in 2016 — was catching nearly everything thrown his way in camp, and they threw to him A LOT. With the receiving corps so thin, until they go sign a veteran off the street, I am putting McCarron in here.
36. Stephen Anderson, TE
I am leaving Anderson on the 53-man roster for now, but he's missed nearly all of camp, and undrafted free agent Evan Baylis (TE out of Oregon) is gaining on him QUICKLY.
37. Bruno Giacomini, OT
38. Chris Clark, OT
The Texans signed Terry Poole off waivers from Miami, and entertained Austin Howard last week before he signed with the Ravens, so this position is completely fluid right now.
39. David Quessenberry, OG/OT
Quessenberry ran with the first team in the first few practices until Su'a-Filo came back from injury. He struggled at times last week, but not enough to where I'd move him off the 53. The preseason games will be really crucial for him.
40. Carlos Watkins, DT
Like his Clemson teammate Reader last season, Watkins looks like a very solid pick.
41. Brian Peters, ILB
Special teams play is the differentiator for Peters and the other reserve inside linebacker candidates.
42. Eric Lee, OLB
Lee is as good a guess as any here right now.
43. Robert Nelson, CB
44. Treston Decoud, CB
Nelson is the non-lock in this article who came closest to getting "lock" status. He was very solid all week last week (including a pick of Savage in 11-on-11), and they also gave him some opportunities in the return game.
45. K.J. Dillon, S
46. Corey Moore, S
47. Marcus Gilchrist, S
Gilchrist is the new addition, and a decent bet to start opposite Hal in their base defense. Lonnie Ballentine struggled badly, and his years of paid injury rehab might be over.
48. Nick Novak, K
I'm leaving Novak in here, but I find it less easy to answer when people ask me who the kicker is going to be. Ka'imi Fairbairn has looked solid.
Here's where we stand now...
OFFENSE (24): 3 QB, 4 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 10 OL
DEFENSE (21): 5 DL, 3 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 4 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So we have five spots left, two more than we had on the first go-round, which basically means that I feel, after ten practices, the level of mystery as to who will make it has actually INCREASED... so what do we need?
49. Akeem Hunt, RB
Hunt looked REALLY good all week — catching the football, running between the tackles, running outside, in the return game, all of it. There is overlap between his skill set and Irvin's, but Fuller's injury almost gives O'Brien license to be a little unconventional with his 53-man in Week 1.
50. Sio Moore, ILB
Veteran gets the spot if the team is comfortable putting Dylan Cole on the practice squad.
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51. Kurtis Drummond, S
Drummond struggled at times in 11-on-11, but they need another body in the secondary, and he is a solid special teams player.
52. Joel Heath, DT
Need another big body on the defensive line, and they like Heath.
53. Alfred Blue, RB
...but I'm one good preseason game away from replacing Blue with Dare Ogunbowale. And if you think I'm kidding, just try me, Alfred!
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