DeAndre Hopkins might be the most important Texan not named Watson. Tim Warner/Getty Images
Obviously, Deshaun Watson is the most important player on this team. There won't be any debate. They're sunk without him. So these Texans players find themselves as the most important Texans players after QB1:
1) DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins is the most important Texans player behind Deshaun Watson. His 94 receptions, 1,370 yards, and 10 touchdowns is the Hopkins average if you take out the year he couldn't get on the same page with Brock Osweiler. He is QB-proof, again except for Brock, having had success with every quarterback he has ever played with. He was amazing with Watson last year and should be even better this year. He could put up numbers as impressive or more than last year's figures. The offense is built around Watson but the passing attack is built around Hopkins. The defense though will need their own Mr. Consistent...
2) Jadeveon Clowney
Clowney finds himself constantly one step away from a game-breaking play. Those other times he is terrorizing the rushing attacks of other teams. The pass rushing is almost to an elite level for him. The new deal lingers and if for some reason the money isn't on the table making it hurt at the next negotiation will be Clowney's goal. If the new deal is in place then a happy Clowney loves football and is ready to dominate.
3) Whitney Mercilus
Him being this high on this list might surprise some but it shouldn't. Two seasons ago in J.J. Watt's absence, the defense found themselves as one of the best in football and Mercilus was one of the main reasons. With 2018 being the next to last year on his contract think of this upcoming season as a contract year for Mercilus. His current deal has been a steal for the Texans. A huge year could see Mercilus head to the negotiating table with a chance to make sure he finishes his career well paid and as a member of the Texans.
4) Will Fuller
Fuller has to have a full and competitive season for the Texans to be one of the best teams in the AFC. He was fantastic in his limited work with Watson totaling all seven of his touchdowns and 125 more yards working with Watson than after the quarterback's season ended. He is there to create a matchup problem for defenses and take some pressure off Hopkins but he will need to evolve. Fuller can't be a one trick pony and will need to be a complete wideout to help the Texans establish their offense.
5) Aaron Colvin
Colvin and his role with the team will help determine how the secondary is going to approach most opponents. He has been one of the best slot corners in the game but he wasn't brought over to be just a slot corner for the Texans. Colvin will need to be a consistent playmaker, on and off the box score, to make sure the Texans can stymie opposing offense for just that one extra moment to allow a hopefully healthy pass rush to earn sacks and disrupt pass catchers. He's easily the most talented cornerback on the roster.
6) Tyrann Mathieu
The Honey Badger has played safety the most of all the safeties on the Texans. Let that sink in. Now realize as far as starting safety experience he will outrank the next few names combined. Kareem Jackson is now at safety as is Treston Decoud. Corey Moore was demoted last season after the New England game. Justin Reid is a rookie. The constant comments that Mathieu would focus heavily on safety now make more sense. Mathieu will have to be an immediate impact player for Romeo Crennel's defense.
7) Lamar Miller
The No. 1 RB had no 100-yard rushing games last season. He also checked in with a career-low 3.7 yards per attempt. The offensive line was not effective last year so that has to contribute to it but Miller is also quickly approaching the time in his career when most running backs break or lose a step. The heaviest workload of his career what his first with Houston and last year wasn't good. Foreman is injured and the rest of the running backs are unremarkable. It is on Miller's shoulders to get this rushing attack going.
8) Ryan Griffin
He is really important and don't you dare laugh at this. The Texans face a premier corner in six of their first nine games. Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Janoris Jenkins, Tre'davious White, and the Jaguars duo all show up in the first two months of the season. With those guys slowing down DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller the focus of the other secondary members the Texans will have to make sure Griffin gets going. He has played five seasons and the next three guys on the depth chart combine for two, with Stepehen Anderson having those two and the two rookies Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas behind him. If Griffin isn't good it will be hard for Watson to get going early in the season.
9) J.J. Watt
Watt is of course very important. If he is good, the Texans should dominate people on defense. If he isn't good then the looming cloud of a forgotten Watt will be there all season. Watt and his teammates will answer questions of why the old Watt isn't on the field. Also, there isn't a lot of good depth behind him. He needs to be good, take up some of the important snaps on defense, and not be the Watt of old but be a good player.
10) Benardrick McKinney
He played better in 2016 than he did last season but he still earned a huger contract this offseason. He can't be just good enough for the Texans anymore. Yes, Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole compose a decent amount of talent behind him, but McKinney has the significant experience. He is reliable but the Texans didn't pay for their middle linebacker to be reliable. If McKinney isn't better than 2017 the Texans and the fans watching him might be thinking buyer's remorse.
11) Julién Davenport
He makes the list because he is the only member of this turned over offensive line without some significant experience. There isn't a backup plan for left tackle. The Texans have focused on him and with or without earning it he takes over at left tackle for better or worse. The leash won't be short either. The positive for him is no elite pass rushers show up early on the schedule. He has six weeks to get comfortable before the Jaguars terrifying defense shows up.
So there you have it. The most important Texans after Deshaun Watson. Watson's injury would be devastating and sink the team but the Texans don't have the talent to afford one of these key players to miss significant time.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.