The long, slow grind of the NFL's preseason is almost over. Week 1 of the regular season, which means a trip to New England for the Houston Texans, will be here soon. Until then, the only thing standing in between now and roster cut-downs is a game this Thursday pitting the Texans' backups against the Dallas Cowboys' backups. Last season, this game was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey, so meaningless as it may seem, it's nice to have it back.
Once that game is over, the Texans will cut 37 players to get to the requisite 53-man roster by Friday afternoon. So knowing full well that they may shop for some upgrades among other teams' leftovers, here are the 53 names that I think will be dotting the Texans' 53-man roster come Friday:
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb
Nothing shocking here. Watson is the face of the franchise, Weeden is the veteran-backup-who-knows-the-system, and Webb is the third quarterback, who happens to provide the luxury of an extra receiver and/or a guy to run down and cover kicks on special teams.
RUNNING BACK (2): Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue
When the nuclear bomb hits, all that will be left are rats, cockroaches, and Alfred Blue.
WIDE RECEIVER (4): DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, Bruce Ellington
Same as last version of the roster prediction, the main difference being Coutee is healthy again. I'm anxious to see how quickly they assimilate him into the offense. For what it's worth, he didn't play one snap against the Rams on Saturday. I'm guessing we will see plenty of him on Thursday night.
TIGHT END (3): Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas
When you see that Stephen Anderson doesn't make this team, just remember who told you from the get go that he wouldn't make this team. Hell, Matt Lengel and MyCole Pruitt were getting more run time than Anderson on Saturday.
OFFENSIVE LINE (7): Zach Fulton, Senio Kelemete, Nick Martin, Julien Davenport, Seantrel Henderson, Greg Mancz, Martinas Rankin
Rankin is back at work after surviving a broken foot in the preseason. It will be interesting to see how quickly (or even IF) he can push Davenport and Henderson for their spots, or perhaps someone else along the line. Rankin can play any of the five positions along the line.
DEFENSIVE LINE (3): J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Christian Covington
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Brennan Scarlett, Duke Ejiofor
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Bernardrick McKinney, Zac Cunningham, Dylan Cole, Brian Peters
Watt is back, and I think Reader and Covington are in line to have their best seasons yet. The outside linebackers are all trending upward, and Ejiofor could be a find. Inside linebacker might be the best position group overall on the team. This will be a fierce front seven.
CORNERBACK (4): Aaron Colvin, Johnathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson, Johnson Bademosi
SAFETY (3): Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Reid, Kareem Jackson
Adding Bademosi to the locks, and truthfully, he probably should have been there all along. The secondary doesn't have the chops of the front seven, but Mathieu is a true catalyst, and this secondary should be good enough, if the Texans get the pass rush that we think they will.
SPECIALISTS (2): Jon Weeks, Ka'imi Fairbairn
WOW, no Lechler! I'll get to that at the bottom of this post.
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (19): 3 QB, 2 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 7 OL
DEFENSE (18): 3 DL, 4 OLB, 4 ILB, 4 CB, 3 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 LS, 1 K
So let's start filling out the rest of the roster. Here we go...
40. Troymaine Pope, RB
He's faded a little bit since his breakout against the Chiefs in the first preseason game, but he offers more as a third down back than Tyler Ervin.
41. Sammie Coates, WR
42. Braxton Miller, WR
Yes, I have six wide receivers making the team. I just don't think they are giving up on Braxton Miller yet. For what it's worth, I have a club sandwich at an upscale eatery riding on this prediction in a bet with my friend and SportsRadio 610 colleague Landry Locker, so my money is where my mouth is.
43. Chad Slade, T/G
44. David Quessenberry, G
Versatility with Slade, wishful thinking with Quessenberry. There's a good chance that there's an offensive lineman on someone else's roster than winds up a Texan.
45. Carlos Watkins, DT
46. Joel Heath, DE
47. Brandon Dunn, DT
If roster cutdown were the NCAA basketball tournament, Angelo Blackson would be the team Dick Vitale is crying and wailing about getting a "raw deal" on selection night.
48. Josh Keyes, ILB/ST
New to the 53-man roster, he's looked decent at linebacker, and is another guy who can play special teams.
49. Dee Virgin, CB/ST
50. Kurtis Drummond, S/ST
I think Virgin is just a placeholder before they sign a veteran cornerback to back up Colvin, Johnson, and Joseph.
So here are the numbers now:
OFFENSE (24): 3 QB, 3 RB, 6 WR, 3 TE, 9 OL
DEFENSE (24): 6 DL, 4 OLB, 5 ILB, 5 CB, 4 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 K, 1 LS
Let's pick three players to round this bad boy out:
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51. Jay Prosch, FB
I'd rather keep a guy like Blackson, who looks like he can play, as opposed to a fullback in an offense where Deshaun Watson is in shotgun a majority fo the time. The team will say "But Prosch helps on special teams!" Someone please show me the video of the key plays Prosch has been making on special teams all these years. I feel like the Texans use "He plays special teams" the same way guys use "She's got a great personality" when describing a woman to their friends.
52. Treston Decoud, S
One more body in the secondary, Decoud can play corner and safety. (Oh, also, I think HE PLAYS SPECIAL TEAMS!)
53. Trevor Daniel, P
Here we go — when Bill O'Brien said there was definitely a compettion at punter early in training camp, we all kind of laughed. Then, Daniel started booming punts and showing all the tools of a guy who could be the Texans' punter for the next ten years. Shane Lechler is going to be a Hall of Famer, and the Texans love him. Hell, O'Brien made him a captain last season (and maybe other seasons, too, I only noticed last season because Breno Giacomini and Brian Cushing were also captains, and...wow, wait, maybe it's not good to be a captain. Ok, continue...). So anyway, the Texans can't use Lechler's pedigree as a talking point in this evaluation. It's about who is best now, with a nod toward the future. It's a tough cut, but I'm going to guess Brian Gaine, Bill O'Brien, and special teams coach Brad Seely won't be afraid to make it.
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.