I usually like to do these way-too-early types of projections for the Texans, well, WAY too early (hence the creative title of this post!). This year, through a combination of vacation and an intense desire to be more correct than I've been in previous seasons (hint: It's a good thing my compensation isn't tied to accuracy on stuff like this), I waited an extra week. I figured I'd have more data to work with.
So naturally, what happens? Arian Foster, the central nervous system that the Texans offensive organism revolves around, goes down with a season-curtailing groin injury. Now I have no idea if he's even gonna be on the 53-man roster to start the season! What was one roster spot I knew I would get right has now set off a massive ripple effect of question marks. Thanks for nothing, football gods!
So let's take a stab at this, and keep in mind, my goal is to try to get as much of the 53-man roster on opening Sunday (September 13 versus the Chiefs!) correct as possible, so I am walking all the way out onto the plank with some of these.
THE VETERAN LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage
Other than "specialists," the easiest position on the team to forecast which names will be on the roster. Not nearly as easy, however, to slot the three names in order. That will take shape over the next two weeks, tops.
RUNNING BACK (3): Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, Jonathan Grimes
I am operating under the assumption (prediction?) that Foster will begin the season on the injured reserved list, the one where you can say "just kidding" after eight weeks, not the "1-2-3 no givebacks" version of the IR. I hope I'm wrong. So if he does begin the season with that destination, I think it solidifies the spots of the three veteran backs on the team. (If Foster were healthy, I'd have him and Blue as the only locks, for what it's worth.)
WIDE RECEIVER (3): DeAndre Hopkins, Cecil Shorts III, Nate Washington
Again, pretty easy to forecast the locks here. It would appear, thus far, the Texans did some nice value shopping in free agency for wide receivers. We'll see once opposing teams start double-teaming DeAndre Hopkins if we still feel that way.
TIGHT END (2): Garrett Graham, C.J. Fiedorowicz
Graham has looked solid in workouts so far, and Fiedorowicz is probably still full of enough potential (and a 2014 third-round pick as the buy-in for him) that they're willing to withstand his still existent growing pains.
OFFENSIVE LINE (6): Duane Brown, Derek Newton, Ben Jones, Brandon Brooks, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jeff Adams
Tackles are solid, Ben Jones seems to be making the transition back to center smoothly and Brandon Brooks is a future Pro Bowler. Then there's the Su'a-Filo pick from 2014 (33rd overall), which for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is the opportunity cost of drafting something other than alert guard) is veering dangerously toward the (lengthy) list of sketchy draft picks on Rick Smith's watch.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5): Vince Wilfork, J.J. Watt, Jared Crick, Jeoffrey Pagan, Louis Nix III
Nix is another guy whose spot is galvanized more by where he was picked last season than anything noteworthy that he's done on the field (which, if you're counting, makes this the case for pretty much all of the Texans' top four picks last season).
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Jon Simon
Pretty clear-cut, minor gamble on Clowney's return to full health early in the season, as he's still a candidate for the in-season PUP list, which would sideline him for the first six weeks.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (2): Brian Cushing, Mike Mohamed
Tempted to put Akeem Dent on here, too, since he was listed as the starter before beginning training camp on the preseason PUP list. This is a sneaky deep position, at least in terms of names who have played meaningful snaps for this team (Dent, Tuggle, Tarpinian).
CORNERBACK (3): Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, A.J. Bouye
This position is not even "sneaky deep," it's just plain deep, with lots of capable bodies, including first-round draft choice Kevin Johnson, whose name will be listed here in a moment.
SAFETY (3): Rahim Moore, Andre Hal, Stevie Brown
No idea how the rest of this position group shakes out. Hal's development into a solid NFL safety would be pennies from heaven at this point. By the way, prop bet for the upcoming season — who gets more snaps in 2015, the Texans' first five 2014 draft choices (Clowney, Su'a-Filo, Fiedorowicz, Nix, Savage) or their last five (Pagan, Blue, Prosch, Hal, Ballentine)? Scary, I take the latter group, almost without hesitation.
SPECIALISTS (3): Jon Weeks, Randy Bullock, Shane Lechler
Scoop of vanilla, scoop of chocolate, don't waste my time.
THE DRAFTEES (3): CB Kevin Johnson (1st round), ILB Bernardrick McKinney (2nd round), WR Jaelen Strong (3rd round), DE Christian Covington (6th round)
I'd be beyond shocked if any of these guys didn't make the 53-man roster, at this point, barring injury, of course.
Okay, so before we start shopping from the training-camp bubble to fill out the 53-man roster, here's where we are:
OFFENSE (18): 3 QB, 3 RB, 4 WR, 2 TE, 6 OL
DEFENSE (19): 6 DL, 3 OLB, 3 ILB, 4 CB, 3 S
SPECIALISTS (3): 1 K, 1 P, 1 LS
So we need thirteen more players. The store is closed on specialists, quarterbacks, and probably defensive linemen, too. Let's add the easy ones here first:
41. Jay Prosch, FB
He's still very inconsistent, but O'Brien wants a fullback for this offense and right now he's the guy.
42. Alan Bonner, WR
I feel like I'd have a safer bet putting him on injured reserve (where he's spent his first two NFL seasons), but his ability in the return game could be the difference maker, and he's had a good camp so far.
43. Ryan Griffin, TE
I can't make Griffin a lock, given some of his mistakes last season and the performance of some off-the-radar tight ends in camp (McFarland!), but for now, he's the favorite for the third tight end spot.
We need a couple more offensive linemen, so let's go with:
44. Cody White, G/C
45. Aaron Adams, OT
Okay, let's shop on defense for a bit...
46. Jason Ankrah, OLB
Clowney insurance, will have to have someone who's been in the system for a season, which gives Ankrah the edge over undrafted guys like Lynden Trail.
47. Max Bullough, ILB
I like Bullough's chances to make the 53-man roster. Higher upside (highly productive college player) who's been around the system for a year on the practice squad.
48. Akeem Dent, ILB
Assuming he gets healthy and catches up.
49. Darryl Morris, CB
50. Jumal Rolle, CB
The two street free agents from last year, both had their moments. I'll take Rolle over Charles James for the sixth CB spot.
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Okay, filling out the final three spots, I'm taking a couple of special teams stalwarts and an undrafted free agent with upside, so let's go with...
51. Eddie Pleasant, S
52. Jeff Tarpinian, ILB
53. Corey Moore, S
Admittedly, I'm very tempted to put either Kenny Hilliard or "unnamed veteran RB" in one of those final three spots, but for now, this is my 53. That said, this thing could look very different after Saturday's preseason opener against San Francisco.
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.