This is always a very fluid, somewhat discombobulated time to be a fan of an NFL team. With a slew of drafted rookies, undrafted rookies, practice squad guys and street free agents — not to mention, this season, newly signed veteran free agents — assessing exactly what you have and what your team is going to look like can be very confusing.
(Quick sidebar — I wonder how confusing it is for coaches during rookie minicamp. What's the actual percentage of rookies running around last weekend at the training center, out of a couple of dozen, where Bill O'Brien knows who they are if they pass him in the hallway of the stadium? All the drafted rookies, he knows for sure. A handful of the high-level UDFAs, a couple of practice squad guys, yes...I say he knows 78 percent of them on sight, by name. No way he knows all of them. By the way, 78 percent is pretty good! I've been at SportsRadio 610 for more than two years and the percentage of fellow employees I'd know by name in the hallway is well below 40 percent.)
There's only one way to try to wash away this confused state of self-assessment, and that's by constructing a way-too-early 53 man roster. So, without further ado, let's try to do this.....
THE LOCKS (33) .. * denotes rookie
Nothing is guaranteed in the World of O'Brien, but let's get it started with the guys who are virtual and actual locks to make this team...
QUARTERBACK (2) — Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage
Savage may actually wind up third string, but I feel like he's definitely not getting cut. They've got two years invested in him, and seem to say nice things about him. The most experienced guy in the system ain't going anywhere, bottom line.
RUNNING BACK (3) — Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, * Tyler Ervin
That Alfred Blue is a lock to make the team says more about the state of the running back depth chart than it does about Alfred Blue.
WIDE RECEIVER (4) — DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong, * Will Fuller, * Braxton Miller
If Jaelen Strong has another season like his rookie season, he will most certainly not be a lock this time next season, and in fact might not be on the team anymore. If he doesn't take the team's using two of its first three draft picks on receivers last month as a message, then he's high...wait, I didn't mean that...
TIGHT END (2) — C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin
Again, that these two are locks to make the team says more about how the team has treated this position than anything the players have done to solidify their respective lots as lock-cinch NFL players. I can't recall a position where underperformance has been given a bigger offseason pass than tight end on this team. (Then again, I'm still wondering why in the blue hell Garrett Graham got a three-year deal from this team back in 2014.)
OFFENSIVE LINE (7) — Duane Brown (T), Xavier Su'a-Filo (G), * Nick Martin (C), Jeff Allen (G), Derek Newton (T), Chris Clark (T), Tony Bergstrom (G/C)
Pretty straightforward here — your likely starting five, plus two guys you gave medium free agency money to in Clark and Bergstrom. Easy breezy.
DEFENSIVE LINE (3) — J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, Christian Covington
This position group is scary. A little bit of "good scary," but mostly "bad scary." More on this in a minute...
LINEBACKER (5) — Brian Cushing, Bernardrick McKinney, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, John Simon
Starting four linebackers and they really seem to love John Simon, so I'll toss him in this mix.
CORNERBACK (3) — Kareem Jackson, Jonathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson
About as solid a top three at this position as you'll find in the NFL. Johnson is poised for a breakout season in his second year, assuming he's turned his body into a bit more of an NFL body.
SAFETY (2) — Quintin Demps, Andre Hal
Another frightening position group. For a defense that aspires to be elite, there are some holes underneath the first layer of the depth chart up front and at safety.
SPECIALISTS (2) — Jon Weeks, Shane Lechler
These two can do their jobs until they're 50.
FILLING IT IN..... (20)
34. Brandon Weeden, QB
I think Weeden did some good things last season, and I also think O'Brien's re-signing him says a lot about what he thinks about Weeden's potential to be a capable backup. I just can't pen him in in "lock" ink. But I'd be shocked if the QB depth chart, barring injury, wasn't Osweiler-Weeden-Savage.
35. Jonathan Grimes, RB
36. Jay Prosch, FB
I think the selection of Ervin compromises Akeem Hunt. ’Twas a good run, Akeem. Grimes will reprise his role as the "lunch pail" fourth RB. Prosch keeps a spot insomuch as a) I know the team wants to have a fullback and b) I know nothing about undrafted free agent Soma Vainuku. Prosch is no sacred cow, so if you're handicapping undrafted guys who can make this 53-man, Vainuku has to be top five, right?
37. Cecil Shorts, WR
It's between Shorts and Keith Mumphrey for the fifth WR spot. With a collective experience level of four seasons among the top four guys, my guess will be O'Brien wants a veteran in the mix. (Before we bury Mumphrey, just remember that Keshawn Martin made the 53-man out of camp last season, and then was traded for a middle round draft pick. So you never know.)
38. Jeff Adams, G/T
39. Greg Mancz, G/C
O'Brien loves versatility. Adams was actually a starter before he went down for the season in Week 2. Mancz can play multiple positions. They could use a reinforcement or two here, but if we're quibbling about the eighth and ninth guys, this position group is not in bad shape. Actually, the key will be Nick Martin being as advanced as they seem to be counting on.
40. * D.J. Reader, DT
41. Brandon Dunn, DT
42. Not yet acquired 3-4 DE
Okay, the depth on the defensive line is slightly terrifying. Now, Reader may end up being a find in the fifth round — he's got a massive body and comes from a great program — but he almost HAS to be a find for one to feel good about this position group. Dunn was a street free agent last season, and I just can't put Geoffrey Pagan on this 53-man roster right now. I can't, I won't. So for the first time ever on my 53-man forecasts, I have a spot for a faceless guy who does not exist as a Texan currently. So there.
43. Rashard Cliett, OLB
The coaches were watching Cliett training camp highlights like they were porn during the first episode of Hard Knocks last summer, so I'm assuming the "training camp porn" guy makes the team. (See: Polk, Chris in 2015)
44. Brian Peters, ILB
45. Charles James, CB
Special teams improved (from awful to much less awful) after they signed these two guys off the street in October of last season.
46. A.J. Bouye, CB
This staff seems to really like Bouye, and he's made plays. He's also been burned several times. Fourth cornerback, so whatever.
47. * K.J. Dillon, S
Okay, here's the thing — yes, the Texans (assuming reasonable health for all involved) should have an upper-tier defense this season. And I'm no expert on historical depth charts for upper-tier defenses, but dammit, there sure are a lot of position groups where the next man up is closer to working at Home Depot than being a regular starter in the NFL. Hal and Demps were solid last season, but damn, Demps was unemployed at the beginning of camp last year. And he'll be 31 in June. Antonio Allen, Eddie Pleasant, Lonnie Ballentine, Kurtis Drummond, Corey Moore...it's all undrafted guys, injured guys, old guys. I say all this (and draw a line back to D.J. Reader on the defensive line) to say that you could argue Dillon and Reader are nearly as important as the rookies drafted the first two days. SCARY.
48. Antonio Allen, S
It's him or Eddie Pleasant or Kurtis Drummond. Let's try something new.
49. Lonnie Ballantine, S
A healthy Lonnie Ballentine...take THREE...and ACTION!
50. Ka'imi Fairbairn, K
51. Stephen Anderson, TE
52. Shaklee Rashad, ILB
The three undrafted rookies with the best chance of making this team, in my opinion.
53. David Quessenberry, T/G
This just feels like good karma. I have no idea if Quessenberry is ready to go, or if his weight is back to where it needs to be. But this is my way of hoping that he makes this team.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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