Composite image by Jack Brame.
Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will be the butt of jokes until proven wrong. Walking away without a first-round pick in a trade sending All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was something of an enigma. However, in a way, perhaps Houston could come out the other side looking stronger.
With the 40th pick in place, O'Brien traded away their original 57th selection to the Los Angeles Rams for speedster Brandin Cooks. Add in the redefined Randall Cobb in the slot, perhaps their production gives Deshaun Watson more than just a single go-to weapon. However, in any high-risk scenario, best hope the cards fall your way.
Receptions yards and stud pass-catchers don't go hand in hand. Take a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys — both of whom featured a top 10 receiver and both missed the postseason. Still, having a player who can change the game with a rising pocket passer should fare well.
"Since we [traded] and got him, we definitely kind of built that chemistry," Watson said. "We've been talking ever since. Working out with him has been good. He's just a great person. His family is awesome, amazing. A guy that you just want to be around. He's seen so much football, been around so many people."
Cooks must break free as the team's new top target. Hopkins had been the definition of consistency at NRG Drive, finishing the last three seasons with a minimum of 96 catches for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns.
Cooks, who will turn 27 this September, has been in the front line for concussion protocol, suffering a minimum of five in his six-year stint. Despite the concerns surrounding CTE and the impact of hits, the former Rams speedster has "zero" concerns about his history with the injury.
"For me, I'm not worried at all," Cooks said on Thursday. "If there is any hesitation or worry, I wouldn't be here right now. But at the end of the day, things happen in this game that you wish don't happen. But when you start to learn through this process, you really start to get an understanding on what this is. There's so much out there that people just don't understand that goes into it. I'm comfortable and I feel great and I look forward to continuing to just do what I have to do and go out there and give it my all."
When healthy, Cooks' 4.33 speed allows him to win in man coverage from a vertical standpoint. Starting his career with the New Orleans Saints, the former Oregon State product is one of four players to finish with four 1,000-yard seasons before their age-26 season.
Cooks' production diminished last season with 42 catches for 583 yards and two touchdowns. Should he find a natural balance between a constant casualty and supreme superstar, the Texans should remain confident in the passing game.
Outside of Cooks, Cobb could continue his comeback tour throughout the Lone Star State. The former Packer signed a cheap deal with the Dallas Cowboys last offseason and shined as the No.3 option, finishing with 55 catches for 828 yards and three touchdowns.
Cobb signed a three-year, $27 million deal this season with the Texans. Houston's inability to find a reliable slot option has been well identified via free agency and the draft. In 2018, DeAndre Carter and former fourth-rounder Keke Coutee combined for 33 catches, 416 yards and zero scores.
Houston is hoping for a full season with Will Fuller as their new top target. Since entering the league in 2016, the former first-rounder has yet to play more than 14 games and has yet to surpass 50 catches on the year. Flashing the potential of a sound vertical threat, Fuller's health could decide if he's viewed as a long-term option entering a contract year.
"He showed up and he's in great shape," O'Brien told reporters on July 31. "He looks good. He's been working out and working hard. He's excited about the season and he's excited about our offense. We're excited about having him for 16 games."
Health will be the main concern for the Texans' passing attack. Should three of the four top options remain on the field, they should combine to replace Hopkins' overall value. However, concussion concerns and lower-body injuries will always be on the minds of the Bulls on Parade faithful.
Houston won't know if trading away a top-five target could look like a win until their season opener on Sept.10. Perhaps Rhode Island rookie Isaiah Coulter could shock the world and become the next big-time target.
Should concussion concerns and lower body injuries minimally factor into the Texans' season, this could be Watson's top unit since entering the league in 2017. If not, there are more questions than answers as the two-time Pro Bowler gears up for contract negotiations.
"We're working hard," O'Brien said on Watson's potential extension. "We feel so strongly about him in this offense, in this organization. We want him here for a long time. We'd love to have Deshaun here."
Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.
Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.
“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”
Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”
L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.
Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.
Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.
“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”
Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.
Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.
The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.
Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.
“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”
Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.
Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.
Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.
Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.
Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.