BEST OF THE BEST

Ranking the 10 most important Texans for the 2020 season

Justin Reid and J.J. Watt
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

For the Houston Texans to contend in the AFC, they'll need many players to step up. Gone are the likes of DeAndre Hopkins and Johnathan Joseph, enter a new era down at NRG Stadium.

With the AFC wide open behind Baltimore and Kansas City, anyone could be a dark horse to represent the conference down in Tampa Bay come February. Houston's offensive line has been patched — as has their receiving corps.

Although the defense struggled in 2019, perhaps a change under new coordinator Anthony Weaver could make the old pieces sparkle. For Houston to look like legitimate Lombardi contenders, these 10 Texans will need to step up.


10. CB Gareon Conley

The Texans used their third-round pick from the Jadeveon Clowney trade to bring in the former Raider. For the first time in his career, Conley looked content in coverage for the Steel Blue, tallying 27 tackles and 11 pass deflections.

Houston declined Conley's fifth-year option, but a continued growth on the outside could lead to a handsome payday following the 2020 campaign. The 28th ranked passing defense needs a long-term option to replace Joseph, so here's hoping a valued mid-round pick pans out for the secondary's future.

9. RB David Johnson

The only way O'Brien looks like a genius for trading Hopkins is if Johnson rebounds. Not only did Houston trade away for an undervalued position, but a player with limited production. Since signing his $39 million extension in 2018, Johnson has only managed to rush for 1,285 yards and nine touchdowns.

In a more run-heavy offense, perhaps Johnson can see his production increase. Overall, without a definite change of pace runner to go along with Duke Johnson, Houston's offense could be a colossal blunder.

8. WR Randall Cobb

After a rebound year in Dallas, Cobb signed a three-year, $27 million deal with the other team in the Lone Star State. As the No.3 option with the Cowboys, the soon-to-be 30-year-old impressed, averaging 15.1 yards per catch and three touchdowns.

Likely the focal slot option, Cobb should bring a balanced role in the short to intermediate part of the field. This should also provide stability in the production that was left behind by Hopkins.

7. OT Tytus Howard

What looked like a flawed pick turned out promising. Howard excelled at right tackle for eight games before a knee injury sidelined him for the year. Showing strength against the pass rush, the voters dubbed him worthy of being on the All-Rookie team in 2019.

Howard will need to improve in run blocking, but Houston might finally have their bookends to build around Deshaun Watson. Here's hoping another season continues to prove in favor of the FCS star's progression.

6. S Justin Reid

Reid has emerged as one of the top Texans defenders entering his third season. Last year in playing both roles, the former Stanford star recorded 78 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. With Houston needing a leader in the secondary, this could be a season for Reid to step up.

The Texans signed Eric Murray to replace Tashaun Gipson. Reid's tackling style, along with overall coverage skills, could pair well with the versatile Murray. If he takes the next step, Houston's horrendous secondary could become one of their stronger assets for the future.

5. OT Laremy Tunsil

The splash trade made before the season, Tunsil developed into a standout tackle on the blind side with Houston. Grading out as one of the top pass protectors in the league, the franchise gave him a three-year, $66 million extension to become the highest-paid tackle.

Tunsil will now have to live up to that contract by eliminating the penalties. The 26-year-old led the NFL with 20 last season (3 were declined), and despite his talent, that's a huge blunder for a premier player. For Tunsil to be worth the deal, he'll have to become far more well-rounded in all aspects.

4. DE J.J. Watt

Until he calls it, Watt is going to be a factor in the Texans' success. Last season could be the start of the end of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year's Hall of Fame career. Watt missed eight games in 2019 due to a torn pectoral muscle, leading to his third injured season in four years.

Watt returned to MVP form in 2018 with 16 sacks off the edge. Meeting in the middle of the past two seasons should allow him to remain relevant as a focal point of Weaver's scheme.

3. WR Brandin Cooks

O'Brien could have added a wide receiver with the 57th pick last April. Instead, he traded for a speedy, yet potentially problematic Cooks as Houston's new top target. When healthy, the former Rams star can be a prime target and a 1,000-yard receiver.

Cooks' production diminished last season after suffering his fifth concussion, finishing with 42 catches for 583 yards. As the immediate first choice to replace Hopkins, combining his speed with Watson's arm could lead to multiple highlight moments in a promising offensive year.

2. LB Zach Cunningham

Cunningham flew under the radar in his first two years with Houston. Year 3 was promising as he tallied an AFC-high 142 tackles and 7 tackles for losses. One year after earning his first Pro Bowl nod, Cunningham now could be up for a big payday come 2021.

A hard-hitting defender with excellent speed, Cunningham has the tools to be one of the more well-rounded linebackers in the game. The former second-rounder will need to improve in coverage but could take over as the Texans' leader in the front seven.

1. QB Deshaun Watson

Of course, Watson will need to factor in somewhere, but he alone could carry Houston deep into the season. Taking that next step in Year 3 as the franchise quarterback, Watson finished with 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns on his way to a 10-6 record.

Watson's ability to create big plays and avoid the pocket pressure has kept the Texans on the winning side. It's time to see him be more relaxed and trusting that his supporting cast will help contribute instead of doing too much. Watson has the chance to be an MVP in 2020 and many years to come.

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These uniforms have to go. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Major League Baseball will consider going back to having players wear their team uniforms for the All-Star Game.

Club uniforms were used by the American League from 1933-2019 and by the National League from 1934-2019. When the game resumed in 2021 following the pandemic-related cancellation in 2020, MLB had started a uniform contract with Nike and Fanatics, and All-Stars were outfitted in specially designed league uniforms that drew criticism from traditionalists.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

This year's AL uniforms had a sandy base with red sleeves and lettering and the NL had a navy base with light blue sleeves and lettering.

“I’m aware of the sentiment on this issue,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers' Association of America on Tuesday. "I think where my head is on it, it’s something we’re going to have a conversation about coming out of the All-Star Game. We've got a lot of uniform things going on. And, obviously, the conversations have to involve the players first and foremost but Nike, some of our partners. But I am aware of the sentiment, and I do know why people kind of like that tradition."

MLB and Nike were criticized for club uniforms this year and said in May that 2025 club outfits will have larger lettering on the back of jerseys and individual pant customization. Players complained this year that white pants worn by some teams are see-through enough to show tucked-in jersey tops.

Regional sports networks

Manfred said a national steaming package of local television broadcasts is a future possibility.

“I could see a situation where we grow into a 30-club model. It might start on the digital side, where you have 14 or 15 clubs, and, you start with a digital product there as your first alternative,” he said.

“I was in Sun Valley last week and I did the whole speed-dating thing with everybody who’s ever streamed anything. When you talk to people in the streaming business, they’re not really interested in buying the state of Wisconsin and two counties in Michigan," Manfred added. "They want to be able to stream quite frankly, all over the U.S. and Canada but more broadly internationally. So I think those conversations are a product of owners saying, holy cow, the RSN business is really deteriorating. We know the future’s going to be streaming. What we’re hearing from the streamers is they want a more national product, and we need to be responsive to what people want to buy.”

MLB took over production of Arizona and San Diego local television broadcasts last year following the bankruptcy of Diamond Sports’ Bally networks and said MLB will be available as an option for teams looking for new deals. He said Padres game are approaching 40,000 subscribers, which he called a good figure.

“Having said that, from a revenue perspective it is not generating what the RSNs did," Manfred said. "The RSNs were a great business. Lots of people paid for programing they didn’t necessarily want. And it’s hard to replicate that kind of revenue absent that kind of bundling concept.”

Offense

While offense is near half-century lows, it has picked up from early in the season.

“The decline in offense is something that we’re paying a lot of attention to and we’ll continue to monitor to make a decision as to whether we think we need to do something. You do hear a lot of chatter about the dominance of pitching in the game. That’s absolutely true.”

Birmingham

After the success of the June 20 game between San Francisco and St. Louis at Rickwood Field, Manfred said MLB will return to the ballpark in Birmingham, Alabama, but the “exact form” had not been determined.

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