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Fred Faour: Ranking Houston's 5 most likeable superstar athletes

Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt are among Houston's most likeable athletes. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

This is a golden age in Houston sports. The Rockets have more games in a season than ever before. The Astros are about to hoist their first World Series banner. The Texans finally have a franchise quarterback. The city also has a lot of likeable athletes. In John Granato’s piece last week, he mentioned James Harden’s lack of likeability among Houston’s superstars.

It begs the question: Who are the most likeable athletes in Houston? The city is littered with as many superstars as it has ever had, and most are extremely likeable. Using five categories -- play on the field, social media presence/accessibility, commercial presence/marketability, charity/community work, overall national star power. We limited the list to the big three pro sports:

5) Justin Verlander

Sure, he has only been here for a short time, but the Astros don't win the World Series without him, and with a Cy Young and MVP in his back pocket -- as well as his high profile relationship with Kate Upton -- makes him a household name nationwide. The fact that he accepted a trade to Houston in the wake of Harvey only endeared him more to Houston fans. 

4)  Chris Paul

On the court, he has been an amazing addition to the Rockets. Yes, he is a little dirty, but he also has been huge in community work in every city he has been in, his insurance commercials add to his likeability, and if he somehow helps the Rockets win a title...

3) Deshaun Watson

He was already a star after winning a national championship at Clemson, but his small sample size in Houston earned him headlines around the country. Donating a game check to Texans employees after Harvey, his personal story growing up and the fact that he just seems to be an all around good guy. If he can stay healthy in 2018, the sky is the limit.

2) Jose Altuve

MVP. Three time batting champ. World Series champ. The ultimate little guy who made it big. Altuve does not have the social media and commercial presence of the No. 1 guy on this list, and almost all of his is based solely on his play on the field. The fact that he will be here for seven more years and has spent his entire career with the Astros makes fans appreciate him even more. 

1) J.J. Watt

It’s funny; Watt tops this list, but could also make a “least likeable” list as well, because he is so overexposed. But the truth is, beyond the Harvey relief that made him the NFL’s Man of the Year, Watt is one of the most popular athletes to ever play in Houston. On the field, he is a four-time All-Pro and three time defensive player of the year. While injuries have robbed him of most of the last two seasons, even at 80 percent of what he once was he will make an impact. The No. 99 jerseys dominate the city, and Watt is a beast on social media. His “shut you down” fantasy commercials and H.E.B. locally only add to it. There are those who dislike him for all those same reasons, but Watt is a transcendent star.

Honorable mention

Carlos Correa just missed, as his charity work both in Houston and Puerto Rico after the storms really raised his profile. His is a future MVP and will climb this list fast. Dallas Keuchel is well-liked by Astros fans and has a Cy Young. DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney are close as well. 

The good news is there really aren’t enough to make a “least likeable” list. Harden would top it, and maybe Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman could make this list, but even they are just annoying, and it is hard to dislike someone who just delivered a world title. Bregman went after a fan on social media, but he is also young and has a lot to learn. Reddick is unlikeable simply for introducing the Woo. Harden's actions were well documented by Granato. 

In the end, even the unlikeable guys are pretty likeable. It's a golden age talent wise, but also in the quality of people playing the games. Houston fans have a lot to root for going forward.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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