When you improve from 2-14 to 9-7 in one season, and do it by playing four different quarterbacks, many of the glaring deficiencies (if not complete football malpractice) get swept under the rug of "feel good." Hey, a seven game improvement! Sure, there are things that need to be fixed, but…. SEVEN GAMES!
So as we head to training camp, now is a pretty good time to point out (or reiterate, for those who were listening as the season was ongoing last year) that the Texans got virtually nothing from last season's rookie class. That wouldn't be as big a red flag if they hadn't gotten even less out of the previous season's rookie class (well, guys not named DeAndre Hopkins).
In some sense, you can't talk about the 2014 rookies without talking about the 2013 rookies, two draft classes so bereft of so many things — health, talent, football IQ, societal IQ — that they basically blend together in one big two year sea of football evaluation sadness. Of the nine rookies in the Texans' draft class of 2013, two seasons later, only two are still with the team — Hopkins and sixth round tight end Ryan Griffin. Five players have been let go (including second rounder D.J. Swearinger and two third rounders, tackle Brennan Williams and whatever-he-was-that-day Sam Montgomery) and the other two are currently on preseason injury/illness lists (David Quessenberry and Alan Bonner).
That's beyond awful. At a time when most teams should begin evaluating the chances of a player being a second contract guy for their franchise, the Texans only have two active bodies from their 2013 draft class.
Now, if their 2013 draft class is a talent/scheme fit cautionary tale, the 2014 draft class was marked more by their medical trials and tribulations. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle , owner Bob McNair said as much:
We were criticized with our draft the year before but it was mainly injuries. No one can foretell injuries. The guys who got injured were previously very healthy. And when you take three of your guys with injuries who were in your top four picks, you’re not going to get much production out of that class until they come back. This year, they’ll be back.
"They" are outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and nose tackle Louis Nix III. Clowney's rookie story is well documented. He suffered a freak non-contact torn meniscus, the surgery on which revealed cartilage damage that led to microfracture surgery. As of Monday afternoon, Clowney had been moved to the Active/PUP list. Nix, a third round pick out of Notre Dame, was injured his senior year in college with a similar knee injury to Clowney's. He suited up for a handful of practices, but went to the inured reserve list before camp was over, and spent most of 2014 in Bill O'Brien's doghouse.
The other two picks in the first three rounds of the draft were not much more productive than Clowney and Nix. Second round guard Xavier Su'a-Filo couldn't beat out third year player Ben Jones at left guard, and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz was a mess as a pass catcher and not much better as a blocker (which is the purpose for which he was drafted).
Tom Savage, Jeoffrey Pagan, Alfred Blue, Jay Prosch, Andre Hal, Lonnie Ballentine. That's the rest of the 2014 rookie class. Other than Blue's 528 yards rushing, there's really nothing there in terms of production. A few guys got some snaps — Prosch as a blocker, Pagan, occasionally Hal — but this class somehow actually wound up less productive than the 2013 group (okay, less productive than Hopkins).
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However, the 2013 group is what it is and what it's going to be. It's Hopkins, it's Griffin, and we pray for Quessenberry for reasons beyond football. The 2014 group still has a chance, in theory, to be a very good class, but it needs Clowney and Nix to return to the form they flashed in college, and Su'a-Filo to become a solid, if not superb, starter at left guard. The fortunes of the class and this team could hinge on those three guys.
Put it this way — if Clowney, Su'a-Filo, and Nix don't become solid NFL players, you're talking about two straight draft classes yielding nearly nothing. You can't live that way, not in the NFL. The class of 2014 living up to the hype is a necessity this coming season.
Better late than never.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.