The NFL has unveiled over two thirds of its annual Top 100 list, with players 30 through 21 set to be made public tonight on the NFL Network. You can go see who the first 70 players named have been thus far on the NFL's website, but as you know, I've tried to predict where some of the Houston Texans would land on the list each of the last two seasons.
So far, this year, I've been a LITTLE bit off. From my prediction post last week, here are the five Texans that I thought would crack the NFL Top 100 and where they would land:
DeANDRE HOPKINS, WR (2018 RANK: 13th)
Hopkins had, by far, his highest finish of his career in last year's Top 100, finishing 13th overall. After a season in which many believe he ascended to the top of the mountain for receivers in the NFL, Hopkins is poised to become the fourth Texan (Watt, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster) to finish in the Top 10.
OVER/UNDER NFL TOP 100 RANK: 7.5
J.J. WATT, DE (2018 RANK: 84th)
Watt had, by far, his lowest finish in the Top 100 since he began appearing in it regularly after the 2012 season. Two seasons with just eight games played will do that. Actually, Watt's finishing 84th was, in a way, a sign of respect, proof that his peers still believed in him despite the two year run of debilitating injuries. After a first team All Pro return in 2018, Watt skyrockets back into the top 20.
OVER/UNDER NFL TOP 100 RANK: 13.5
JADEVEON CLOWNEY, OLB/DE (2018 RANK: 32nd)
Clowney's 32nd place finish in last year's list was a mild surprise, and proof that Clowney's peers may value him more than the NFL's media, and possibly his own employer, who has him on the franchise tag right now. Clowney's 2018 season shouldn't dampen the spirits of his backers around the league.
OVER/UNDER NFL TOP 100 RANK: 29.5
DESHAUN WATSON, QB (2018 RANK: 50th)
I have no idea what to make of Watson's stock around the NFL on lists like this. Last year, I was convinced that his six game tour de force as a rookie was enough to put him in the top 30. He finished 50th. Now, subjective lists like this seem to be slow playing Watson, what with Patrick Mahomes' rise to league MVP and the flavor du jour that is Baker Mayfield. Still, I think Watson did enough to ascend from last year's finish.
OVER/UNDER NFL TOP 100 RANK: 43.5
BERNARDRICK McKINNEY, ILB (2018 RANK: N/R)
This is my Texans wild card. In the 2018 season, after getting one of the top deals in the market for an inside linebacker, McKinney made the Pro Bowl, and has begun receiving recognition on various offseason lists as one of the top ten inside linebackers in the league. I'll take a wild stab that he may show up here.
OVER/UNDER NFL TOP 100 RANK: 78.5
Well, they've been releasing the list in groups of ten for the last week or so, and if we haven't heard Bernadrick McKinney's name yet, then I doubt heavily that he is in the top 30. The two Texan players whose rankings are out, as of today, are Jadeveon Clowney and Deshaun Watson, who were ranked 63rd and 51st, respectively.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
So both guys were rated lower than I anticipated, Watson by a small margin, and Clowney by a much, much bigger margin. With the 2019 season starting for the Texans six weeks from today in New Orleans, these rankings beg the question "What if they're accurate?" Let's examine:
What if Jadeveon Clowney plays like the 63rd best player in football in 2019?
Clowney playing like the 63rd best player in football is probably a bigger story for Clowney's wallet than it is for the Texans in 2019. In 2018, his peers rated him 32nd, and in 2019, they bumped him down over 30 spots. The truth as to where Clowney sits is probably somewhere in between. If Clowney is a top 65 player in 2019, they're probably getting what's become a "normal Clowney year" — nine sacks, several TFL's, and lots of very stressful disruption for opposing offenses. The Texans are probably cool with this. The problem for Clowney is that a season where he's the 63rd best player in the league will not get him the top of market contract that he wants, which means we are probably looking at a second franchise tag in 2020, or more likely, a trade. Clowney needs to play like a top 20 player to get paid what he wants.
What if Deshaun Watson plays like the 51st best player in football in 2019?
With the opposing slate of quarterbacks on the Texans' schedule, I can put this quite simply — if Deshaun Watson is the 51st best player in the league, the Texans are likely, at best, an 8-8 team. Watson is going to have stand in toe to toe with names like Brees, Rivers, Newton, Ryan, Mahomes, Luck (twice), and Brady, and he is going to have to win his fair share of these games. Playing like the 51st best player in the league (which probably means playing like the 12th or 13th best QB) simply will not be enough, if the Texans want to improve upon their 2018 season.