Visit any of the websites that either forecast NFL season win totals or put out odds for people to wager on them, and they all have the Houston Texans forecast to win around eight games this season. In the AFC South, history tells us that may very well be good enough to win the division if it remains as ragged as it's been the past three years.
However, eight wins will not be an improvement record-wise over any of the first three seasons of Bill O'Brien's Texans head coaching career, all of which finished at 9-7. In order to outperform expectations, the Texans will need some unforeseen improvement from some lower-tier players on the depth chart. In Texans history, the patron saints of this "unexpected hero" status are Arian Foster (led league in rushing in his second season in 2010) and A.J. Bouye (Pro Bowl-level season at cornerback last season).
So if the Texans are going to be something other than a .500, middle-of-the-road outfit, who are some of the players that are in line to put forth contributions far above their individual forecasts? Well, as training camp opens Wednesday, here are five to think about...
KENDALL LAMM, OT
Right now, there are a handful of spots on this team where we have no idea who the starter will be in Week 1. Right tackle is one of those spots, and with Duane Brown a holdout possibility, there will be plenty of snaps to go around in training camp for guys (like Lamm) looking to get their feet soaking wet. Chris Clark was the next man up last season after Derek Newton went down with a couple of shredded knees, and make no mistake — Clark was awful. The team is reportedly high on Lamm, and if he solidifies right tackle opposite Brown on the left, the offensive line will be far less problematic than most think it will be right now.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
BRENNAN SCARLETT, OLB
Here's another starting position that's up for grabs, and wow, is whoever gets it the luckiest player on the face of the NFL Earth? Right now, it's Scarlett listed on the depth chart, and as scary as this sounds, there's really not a ton of competition for a guy who was an undrafted free agent just one season ago. Perhaps Scarlett was disappointed about not being drafted last season, but starting in a front seven with Clowney, Watt, Mercilus, Cushing, McKinney and Reader is about as good a "landing on your feet" situation as one could imagine.
K.J. DILLON, S
The final starting position about which we are all pretty much clueless over who might be starting is the second safety spot next to Andre Hal. There is major 2017-version-of-Bouye potential for whoever wins that spot, with snaps galore and a front seven that should create plenty of game-changing play opportunities. (Just ask Quintin Demps, who parlayed his six picks last season into $14 million from the Bears.) We will plug in 2016 fifth-round pick Dillon, who is coming back from a season-ending knee injury in his rookie season.
STEPHEN ANDERSON, TE
BRAXTON MILLER, WR
If the Texans are going to rise from the 2016 ashes of impotent passing offenses, not only will they need better quarterback play (which is nearly a lock just based on the fact that it's hard to be worse than Brock Osweiler was last season), but whoever the quarterback is will need consistent, complementary targets after DeAndre Hopkins and, one hopes, an improved Will Fuller. A third option, to move the chains or provide the occasional big play, would be welcomed. The easy choice for that role is one of the top two tight ends, C.J. Fiedorowicz or Ryan Griffin, but this post is about unexpected heroes. The team really likes Anderson, so maybe he becomes a go-to guy on third downs, and Miller has so many physical tools in his bag, it'd be a major disappointment if he didn't at least triple his 15-catch total from 2016.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.