Every-Thing Sports

Jermaine Every: 5 players who will be keys to the Texans' success in 2018

Kevin Johnson will need to play better. Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

I know what you’re thinking. “Jermaine, isn’t it a bit early to look at what five Texan players could be key to the team’s success this season?” To you I would reply: It’s NEVER too early to look into ANYTHING regarding football! Football has long been a year round sport. From the time the Super Bowl champ is crowned, most teams it begins as soon as their regular season is over, teams begin strategizing on what they can do to improve their chances at winning the next season.

This offseason saw some changes at the helm of the franchise. Former (?) general manager Rick Smith took an indefinite leave of absence to care for his wife as she battles breast cancer. The team brought in Brian Gaine to run things and gave him a five-year contract. His contract also matches the extension given to head coach Bill O’Brien (O’Brien got a four-year extension since he he had a year left on his original five-year deal). This essentially joined them at the hip.

The duo got to work remaking and remodeling the roster through a myriad of minor moves. They didn’t make a huge splash in free agency, even though they had the cap space, and were prohibited from doing so in the draft thanks to being without a first or second round pick. What they did manage to do was to make wise free agency acquisitions and smart mid to late-round draft picks. It’s not easy working without your top two draft picks, but those moves were made to create the cap space they have, and to draft Deshaun Watson, the team’s first true franchise quarterback.

Sure, it’s easy to name Watson, Jadeveon Clowney, JJ Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, and Whitney Mercilus or Lamar Miller as the top five Texans as keys to success next season. But that’s not what I’m about. If you know me and have followed my work, I’m not the type to follow the herd. Without further ado, here’s my list (in no particular order):

Kevin Johnson, CB

With Kareem Jackson moving to safety, Johnson will be relied upon just as much, if not more so, than he has before. Sure the team signed Aaron Colvin to provide depth at the position, but Johnson needs to prove he’s worth the first round pick and fifth year option the team picked up.

D’Onta Foreman, RB

Foreman showed some flashes of talent as a rookie. On the very run he tore his Achilles, he flashed his speed and power that made him a third round pick. He was considered the future at running back by many until his injury. If Foreman can come back mid to late season and show any amount of potential, he could help carry the load so Miller won’t be as burdened.

Julie’n Davenport, OT

At 6’7 and 318 pounds, Davenport is a physically imposing guy. However, coming in to play left tackle from Bucknell in his second year, he’s going to be relied upon in a starting role protecting Watson’s blindside. Tough task for a second year guy charged with protecting the franchise QB.

Justin Reid, S

Reid isn’t listed as a starter on the Texans’ depth chart, but he’s as important as anybody to their success. Jackson being moved to safety isn’t a permanent fix. Mathieu may leave after this year for greener pastures. Reid was widely considered a first round talent they got at the top of the third round. That alone places him as a potential building block considering his potential.

Zach Cunningham, LB

I don’t care if Benardrick McKinney got a contract extension this offseason. Cunningham is the future. His sideline-to-sideline speed and coverage ability is what teams are looking for nowadays. McKinney isn’t the cover linebacker Cunningham is. When teams go three and four wide and the Texans play nickel or dime packages, Cunningham should be the linebacker on the field.

It’s way too early to consider this as a definitive list of five surefire guys to be key contributors to Texans’ success this season. But I’d be willing to bet that some of these guys are going to play a major key in the team’s success this season. Give me praise or kill me later, but I’m standing by this way too early look.

 

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TOP LANDING SPOTS FOR 3 TEXANS

3 players the Texans must trade before the deadline

Trading Mercilus would be a big win from a cap perspective. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Strapped for cash and no picks within the first two rounds of the upcoming draft, the Houston Texans should consider having a fire sales ahead of the NFL trade deadline. With the team going nowhere and the uncertainty of the future, J.J. Watt has dominated the rumor mill with the Texans doing the unthinkable of departing from their franchise star.

But despite sitting at 1-6 on the season, the idea of trading Watt has become less probable following Aaron Wilson's appearance on Locked On Texans. During the interview, Wilson — Texans beat reporter for the Houston Chronicle — said it would be hard for ownership to sell the idea of moving on from Watt seven months after the untimely departure of DeAndre Hopkins.

So with the Texans holding on to their future Hall of Famer, that should not hinder the organization from exploring trade options with the other 52 men on the roster not named Deshaun Watson.

The Texans are in desperate need of a rebuild to repair the destruction caused by former head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien. Houston has several tradeable assets on their roster — some of which a contender may overcompensate for in hopes of obtaining the Vince Lombardi Trophy in February.

To get a jumpstart on what could be a two-year rebuilding project, here are three players the Texans should consider moving ahead of the Nov. 3 trade deadline.

Whitney Mercilus

If the Texans elect not to move on from Watt, the organization should have a 180 approach to Whitney Mercilus. The 30-year-old outside linebacker is scheduled to make a projected $35.5 million over the next three seasons, and his on-field production does not match the big payday coming from the Texans.

Prior to his massive $54 million contract extension awarded last December, Mercilus was on a roll in 2019. He recorded 7.5 sacks — five coming within the first four weeks of the season — to go along with 48 total tackles and four forced fumbles. Seven weeks into the 2020 season, Mercilus is nowhere close to matching his 2019 output with only 3.0 sacks, 14 total tackles and no forced fumbles.

But despite his decline as of late, multiple teams around the league can use Mercilus' services to enhance their pass rush. The Green Bay Packers and the Tennessee Titans are two championship-contending teams who desperately need to upgrade their front seven in their attempt to represent their respective conference in Super Bowl LV. The Packers are dead last in quarterback pressures, and Jadeveon Clowney is far from the disruptive force the Titans expected.

Mercilus' arrival to any of the two teams may not be a bona fide game-changer, but an upgrade nevertheless. Perhaps a change of scenery could be the key to unlocking the Mercilus who logged a career-best 12 sacks in 2015.

The Seahawks could also use the talents of Mercilus to enhance their linebacking corps, but their recent trade to acquire DT Carlos Dunlay could leave Seattle short on their trade offer to Houston.

Best trade partner: Titans

Duke Johnson

The Houston Texans' run game has been nonexistent throughout the season, and it's time for the organization to experiment with a younger prospect — preferably Scottie Phillips — during the second half of the season.

While it would be nice if the Texans could find a trade partner for David Johnson, no team would be willing to take on the near $8 million base salary he is due next season for his lack of production. Which leaves the better half of the Johnson Brothers up for grabs in Duke Johnson.

Duke has experienced a significant decrease in his touches when compared to last season and could be more beneficial to a playoff team seeking help in their backfield.

The Chicago Bears are the one team where Duke's talents could be beneficial and properly utilized. Chicago lost their Pro-Bowl running back Tarik Cohen for the season due to a torn ACL and has since struggled in the run game. David Montgomery has done a moderate job filling in for the injured Cohen, but the second-year halfback has yet to prove himself as an every-down back.

Duke's skill set as a pass-catcher coming out of the backfield is the most suitable attribute he would be able to provide to the Bears. Cohen is one of the most dynamic dual-threat halfbacks, and Duke would be able to give the Bears' offense a sense of normalcy in his absence.

The New England Patriots may explore the market to enhance their backfield. But one can imagine that Bill Belichick is more interested in adding a receiver in an attempt to salvage the remainder of their season.

Best trade partner: Bears

Will Fuller

Next to Watt, Will Fuller has been the second most discussed Texan in the rumor mill. Fuller could survive the trade deadline and become a foundational piece to the Texans' rebuilding project, but Houston may not be willing to tie long-term money into the Notre Dame product given his injury history.

Several teams around the league have their eyes set on a potential deal for Fuller, but none more so the Packers.

Green Bay is seeking a receiver who they can pair alongside Pro-Bowler Davante Adams. A potential deal for Fuller would give the Packers a quality second-tear receiver, while reprising his role as a team's No. 2 option — similar to his early days playing alongside Hopkins.

Fuller would also be a tremendous upgrade to the Patriots. New England does not have any quality receivers on their roster, and their depth has become more vulnerable after the team placed Julian Edelman on IR following knee surgery.

While the Patriots are in dire need to add a receiver, Belichick may hesitate from giving up too many assets — especially draft picks — that could be valuable to their own rebuilding process should the Cam Newton experiment fail. While on pace for a career-year, the Texans should look to cash-in on Fuller while his trade stock is at an all-time high.

Best trade partner: Packers

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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