2017 NFL Draft: Ranking the Houston Texans 5 Biggest Needs

NFL free agency can change things, but as it stands now, here are the Houston Texans 5 biggest needs ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft

A second-straight AFC South title belonged to the Houston Texans following their third consecutive nine-win season under head coach Bill O’Brien. Despite that, there was a lot of speculation about O’Brien’s future in Houston this year. The debate started during their playoff run, when rumors were flying that a mutual divorce between he and the franchise wasn’t possible. Part of the issue in those discussions was possible dissention between the head coach and general manager Rick Smith.

Nothing ever came to fruition and the talk, of course, calmed down. Now Smith and O’Brien will move forward, hopefully as a cohesive unit. Their shared goal will be fixing the holes in the Texans roster as the AFC South champs attempt to take the next step.

Despite having three winning years in a row, there Ian a lot of work to do in Houston. The head coach has gotten a lot out of the talent he has on his roster, but for them to be real contenders he needs better players. With a myriad of choices ahead of them in the 2017 NFL Draft here are the top five areas of need for the Houston Texans.

Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Houston Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader (98) during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

5. Nose Tackle

Houston gave up fewer yards than anyone last season, so it may be a litte shocking to see a defensive position as critical to their success as nose tackle pop up. However after he 2016 season it seems likely that veteran Vince Wilfork is not coming back. Instead the big guy looks like he’s heading off into retirement, which opens up a huge hole for the Texans to try and fill.

There is a potential replacement on the roster in 2016 fifth-round pick D.J. Reader out of Clemson. The rookie was a two-sport star for the Tigers as he also spent time as a first basemen for their baseball team. He’s also an incredibly large man at 6-3 and roughly 330 pounds, but he’s still incredibly athletic for someone so big.

In 2016, Reader recorded 22 tackles in a backup role and had a sack as well. This position is a thankless one as many probably never even noticed Reader plugging up running lanes while backing up Wilfork. He has the size, mentality and toughness for the position. What he doesn’t have is a ton of experience. Houston may want to look for some depth here’s and find a player capable of backing up Reader while also potentially challenging for a starting gig as well.

Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing (56) in action against the Oakland Raiders during the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

4. Inside Linebacker

With 2015 second-round pick Benardrick McKinney and veteran Brian Cushing manning the middle of the Texans linebacking corps, it would seem they’re well off there. McKinney was great in his second season racking up 129 tackles and adding five sacks as well. Cushing on the other hand missed three games and had just 65 tackles. The veteran also failed to record the splash plays fans grew accustomed to seeing early in career. Age and injuries are catching up to one of the bigger stars in this young franchise’s history.

Where Houston can really improve in this area is in their sideline-to-sideline speed. Brian Cushing  from 2009 had no problem in this area and could keep up with tight ends and running backs with ease. The 2016 version of Cushing isn’t as quick and struggled in this area. McKinney also isn’t necessarily a beast here either. His strength is in attacking the running game and quarterback. Nothing highlighted the lack of coverage for Houston linebackers like they’re loss to the Oakland Raiders in their Monday Night Football game in Mexico City.

This was a game Houston had a real chance to upset the favored Raiders club, but no matter how hard they fought they kept getting beat out of the backfield. It didn’t matter if it was a running back or fullback, the Texans defense allowed them to sneak out and find an opening time after time.

Finding some youth in this spot could help eliminate such holes. Even if Cushing and McKinney remain the starters and play on early downs, a third down specialist with more speed and better cover skills could be a huge plus for them.

Dec 3, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) runs with the ball during the first quarter of the ACC Championship college football game at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tight End

C.J. Fiedorowicz finally began to show what made him an exciting prospects coming into the NFL out of Iowa in 2014. The third year pro had career highs in receptions (54), yards (559), and touchdowns (4). On top of his receiving contributions, the former Hawkeye was a solid blocker who helped in ways that a stat sheet can’t quantify. So how is it that tight end is still a need? Well that’s because Bill O’Brien is a fan of using a two tight end set rather than employing their fullback. Behind Fiedorowicz last season was Ryan Griffin and undrafted rookie Stephen Anderson.

While they should be satisfied with the progress of Fiedorowicz, there’s nothing wrong with wanting more. Starting quarterback Brock Osweiler likes to utilize the middle of the field in the passing game and drafting another dynamic player at this position could help him become more efficient. It could also lure the safeties in some which could benefit the deep threats like receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller.

If Houston is in the market for an upgrade over Fiedorowicz, then the first round will be their best bet. While Alabama’s O.J. Howard will likely be gone well before Houston picks, a player like David Njoku out of Miami should be there. Should they feel content with just upgrading the second tight end holding off for a guy like Jordan Leggett from Clemson in Round 3 may work.

Sep 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans tackle Derek Newton (72) attempts to block Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (56) during the game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2. Offensive Tackle

This position isn’t vital to the success of any football team. The offensive line as a whole is a group of guys who do the dirty work that allows the playmakers to get paid. For Houston, injuries to their O-line were hugely detrimental in 2016.

Running back Lamar Miller topped 1,000 yards on the season, but he had to scrap and fight for every inch he gained during his first season in Houston and the constant shifting due to players getting hurt played a big role. The worst of all the injuries suffered along the line happened to starting right tackle Derek Newton. He tore the patellar tendon in each of his knees, an injury that has sidelined players for good in the past, according to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, saying:

This injury has prevented NFL players who’ve suffered this injury before, including former Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis and former Cleveland Browns cornerback Gary Baxter, from resuming their careers.” Wilson said via the Houston Chronicle

While Wilson was encouraged by Newton’s progress, it’s really the first bit of news at all since the tackle went down with the injury. Such cloudiness makes his prospects of playing in 2017 feel optimistic at best. That means that there could be a huge hole to fill on the right side.

The Texans had to do a lot of shifting along the line to make things work last year. Dedicating a pick within the first few rounds to a potential bookend would be a wise move on their part. If Newton returns then great, they have some much needed depth. If not, then they at least would have some options.

Jan 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler (17) calls signals at the line during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. The Titans won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

1. Quarterback

They thought they had this one fixed after dishing out $37 million guaranteed in free agency to former Denver Broncos back up Brock Osweiler one year ago. The quarterback went 5-2 as a reserve for Denver in 2015 and did enough to keep his team afloat and in playoff contention during Peyton Manning’s absence due to injury. They would go on to win Super Bowl 50 and, instead of replacing Manning who retired afterwards, Osweiler took the cash in Houston.

Then he became one of the most mocked signings in recent memory. Houston was able to win nine games, but that was in spite of Osweiler, rather than because of him. The supposed savior of the position became a turnover machine rather than an offensive orchestrator and eventually lost his job to former fourth-round pick Tom Savage.

Shortly after taking over, Savage suffered an injury and Osweiler was back in the saddle for the playoffs. He had one good half of football that led to a win over the Oakland Raiders (minus their best player, quarterback Derek Carr). They lost the following game to the eventual Super Bowl winners, the New England Patriots.

Now the Texans head into the offseason knowing that they still don’t have this position fixed. They could wait until the later rounds and hope a project guy like Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly could develop into a starter, or at least give Osweiler the push he needs to improve. Another option could be selecting a player like Pat Mahomes in the first round and paying Osweiler to be a backup until it’s financially feasible to move on.

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