We are now under three weeks until the Houston Texans take the field in New Orleans on Monday, September 9, on Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints. The opportunities for eager football younglings to make the 53-man roster for the regular season are becoming fewer and far between. Two preseason games and a handful of practices, that's about it.
This Friday afternoon, the Texans will head to Arlington for a Saturday night game with the Dallas Cowboys, a game in which we MAY see the Texans' starters for a quarter, two at the most. After that, it's pretty much 50 or so dudes for the next week throwing down, vying for about a dozen open spots on the roster, and ten more on the practice squad.
With that in mind, here is what I think the roster looks like, as of this moment:
THE VETERAN and DRAFT PICK LOCKS
QUARTERBACK (3): Deshaun Watson, A.J. McCarron, Joe Webb
Watson is the franchise, and we assume McCarron's hand will be back to full health by the time the regular season rolls around. Webb was in my special teams cluster of players, but I'm moving him in now as a lock, and for semantics, will slot him as the third string QB, knowing full well he will be running down and tackling people on special teams.
RUNNING BACK (2): Lamar Miller, Duke Johnson
Not much change in the "lock" section at running back, but a lot of intrigue below these to guys on the depth chart, and quite honestly, a lot of intrigue for when Duke Johnson eventually takes the field and fills his role in this offense.
WIDE RECEIVER (4): DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, DeAndre Carter
After being one of the last guys to make the team in the first version of the roster prediction, Carter was added as a lock with his return from injury last week. He looked very good in his first few practices, and then followed that up with three catches for 40 yards on the opening drive of the game against the Lions, a very solid Keke Coutee impersonation. The battle behind these four guys will be one of the best remaining camp battles to watch.
TIGHT END (3): Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Darren Fells
Fells and Akins are super locks, and I think Thomas is going to be on this team, even if he was catching some of O'Brien's "availability heat" earlier in training camp. There's too much to like about his game.
OFFENSIVE LINE (6): Tytus Howard, Zach Fulton, Nick Martin, Max Scharping, Seantrel Henderson, Roderick Johnson
We are adding Roderick Johnson here, and he may be the first offensive lineman in my several year history of predicting Texans 53-man rosters to go from off the team to a "lock" in one week. Johnson started on Saturday in place of oft-injured Matt Kalil (who Bill O'Brien insists is still the starter, when he's healthy, which might be never), and did a hell of a job. Right now, fans and media are overwhelmingly in his corner, as he seems to provide a slightly better chance of Deshaun Watson avoiding a wheelchair by Week 8.
DEFENSIVE LINE (4): J.J. Watt, D.J. Reader, Angelo Blackson, Brandon Dunn
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Brennan Scarlett
INSIDE LINEBACKER (3): Bernardrick McKinney, Zac Cunningham, Dylan Cole
CORNERBACK (4): Aaron Colvin, Johnathan Joseph, Bradley Roby, Lonnie Johnson
SAFETY (3): Justin Reid, Tashaun Gipson, Jahleel Addae
SPECIALISTS (2): Jon Weeks, Ka'imi Fairbairn
Not much drama on the defensive side of the ball, nor with the specialists. I pondered moving Aaron Colvin out of the "lock" category, but I can't see the Texans cutting him and taking a $10 million cap hit, even if he still struggles mightily at times.
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, 2 RB, 4 WR, 3 TE, 6 OL
DEFENSE (17): 4 DL, 3 OLB, 3 ILB, 4 CB, 3 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 LS, 1 K
That's 37 guys. So, let's fill up the rest of the roster....
38. Buddy Howell, RB
Howell had a nice showing on Saturday night against Detroit, with 15 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. It was weird seeing him carry the football, especially as many times as he did, considering the team gave him the ball as many times as they gave it to me during the 2018 season. Yeah, the two rookies (Higdon and Crockett) are making some noises, but Howell's special teams play is too much for O'Brien to pass up.
39. Vyncint Smith, WR
Smith is in a battle right now with a slew of rookies and second year players to protect his roster spot. In the end, his experience and speed win out over Tyron Johnson, Johnnie Dixon, Steven Mitchell, and Jester Weah.
40. Greg Mancz, G/C
41. Matt Kalil, T
42. Julien Davenport, T
43. Senio Kelemete, G
This is one area that has a really good chance of changing after the other 31 teams make their cuts. Right now, I'm fine with Roderick Johnson and Seantrel Henderson at tackle (I can't believe I just wrote that), but there has to be an upgrade over Kalil and Davenport out there. Mancz is banged up, too. Kelemete survives for now, over Martinas Rankin. I have them taking ten offensive linemen into the regular season as a precaution with all of the little nagging injuries.
44. Charles Omenihu, DE
45. Albert Huggins, DE
Two rookies here. Omenihu has shown flashes in camp, and I'll take a flyer on Huggins, with that Clemson pedigree and some signs of a possible NFL future. I'd rather take a chance on some younger guys with upside, given defensive line coach Anthony Weaver's ability to develop young linemen. Joel Heath and Carlos Watkins have kind of run the course.
46. Peter Kalambayi, ILB
47. Xavier Crawford, CB
48. Brien Boddy-Calhoun, S
OFFENSE (24): 3 QB, 3 RB, 5 WR, 3 TE, 10 OL
DEFENSE (22): 6 DL, 3 OLB, 4 ILB, 5 CB, 4 S
SPECIALISTS (2): 1 LS, 1 K
Let's go find our last seven guys.....
49. Trevor Daniel, P
I have him beating out Bryan Anger, still.
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50. A.J. Moore, S/ST
51. Cullen Gillaspia, FB/ST
52. Johnson Bademosi, CB/ST
Three more special teamers.
53. Taiwan Jones, RB/ST
Actually, let's make it four! Jones has been the starting tailback with Miller and Johnson sitting out the preseason games, and I think special teams will get him the nod over the rookie running backs. So in the battle between Howell and Jones, I have them both making it, and the rookie RB's are off to the practice squad, like Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster in 2009.
NOTES ON ROSTER OMISSIONS
Kahale Warring, TE: I think they will stash the rookie on the injured reserve list.
Tyron Johnson, WR: I still think he can snag Vyncint Smith's spot.
Carlos Watkins, DT: Just missed too much time in training camp, the clock's run out.
Martinas Rankin, OL: This will make five straight drafts with a third round pick that gets cut inside two seasons of their rookie deal.
Jerrell Adams, TE: He will play on somebody's team in 2019.
Davin Bellamy, OLB: Really tempted to make him the 53rd man.
Chris Johnson, S: Slowly finding his way into the mix more and more.