CODY STOOTS: 3 headlines, 2 questions, 1 bet

Return man and returning man stand out for Texans

With Lamar Miller running well, will it impact what happens to D'Onta Foreman? Tim Warner/Getty images

The Texans continue to add to the longest win streak in the NFL and have a chance to be the first AFC team to clinch a playoff spot on Sunday. Here are three headlines, two questions, and one bet about the Texans. 

"I think about today"

Bill O'Brien might be dodging the question and the thoughts about the Texans clinching the AFC South on Sunday, but we don't have to do the same. The Texans need some help to do it Sunday, the Titans would have to fall to the Jaguars on Thursday, but they might have the chance to celebrate at home. 

As with not taking the cheese and drinking the Kool-Aid last week, O'Brien was cautious this week when discussing anything more than the Colts on Sunday. 

"You really have to get some things corrected and you have to quickly turn the page to the next opponent," he said. "That’s the key. Whatever plays that you had yesterday that carry over to what this game might be, you have to learn from that and then you have to really turn your focus to Indianapolis."

The mentality of the Texans has been spot on during the majority of this win streak. Credit the players for believing in O'Brien and the message and credit the message for not changing. Tyrann Mathieu talked about how they looked at themselves after starting with three straight losses. The players deserve the credit and O'Brien will quickly tell you that. He deserves credit too though. The offense has been good enough to great during the stretch and they've handled various elements of adversity well. It's gone from a potential disaster to history-making in short order. 

First interception since return for Hal

Andre Hal hauled in a Baker Mayfield mistake for his first interception since his return to football after beating cancer. He made his season debut against the Jaguars earlier in the season but was sidelined with an injury until after the bye. He is significant depth and experience for a safety unit that already had some serious success under their belts. He also provides experience on special teams as well, O'Brien praised the work he has done on that side of the football. 

Hal wanted to make something very clear: he can get better. He is still working into the form he believes he can play at in 2018. He mentioned he missed training camp so he is still catching up but he wants to continue to make an impact on this team. He is a fantastic story for this season and it is scary to think what the defense could be should he continue to improve. Romeo Crennel has to relish having three safeties he can trust and interchange in Hal, Tyrann Mathieu, and Justin Reid. 

"The ball's been on the ground"

"He’s got to stop doing that because he has been a good addition to our team," O'Brien said about return specialist DeAndre Carter. "He’s given us some good plays in the couple of games that he’s been here."

The fumbles have been the one spot that wasn't bright for Carter in his short time as the Texans return man. He's had a couple of fumbles that luckily ended up back in the hands of the Texans and not in the grasp of opponents but outside of that all positive. He's much more dynamic than Tyler Ervin. He is averaging more yards per punt return and more yards per kick return than Ervin. His longest punt and kick returns of the season are both longer than Ervin's. In three games he has almost matched Ervin's total yardage output for the season. Ervin played in nine games. 

For a team that typically plays close games, Carter will be an important piece. He can't make poor decisions and leave the Texans with a huge field to cover and he can't keep fumbling the ball. What he can do though is provide a new and dangerous element the special teams previously lacked. 

Will Foreman play again this season?

This week the Texans need to decide to put D'Onta Foreman on the active roster or injured reserve. 

"We’re talking about that," said O'Brien. "I don’t know that that decision has been made. In fact, it hasn’t, but it’s definitely in the conversation."

He's been non-committal about Foreman's potential return. Last week the Texans running back said he was just waiting for the word he was ready to go. This is a much longer recovery time than typical for NFL players at the running back position. According to a study, Foreman should've been back roughly 340 days after surgery which has been discussed for almost a month now on SportsMap. That date would have been the Sunday after the Dolphins game. 

He is behind in some capacity, and, it's worth nothing performance after this type of injury was worse than before the injury for running backs. There has to be serious discussion to this being a lost season for him or he would be on the roster already. It wouldn't be shocking to see him hit IR this week. 

Will the Colts offensive line pull a Browns?

The Texans hit Baker Mayfield once. That's it. Now, there was pressure, and Mayfield made some bad plays because of it. The Browns no sacks allowed streak continued though and it is worth noting their streak supplanted the Colts streak. The Colts struggled early to keep Andrew Luck clean but he's been nearly untouched since the Colts got on track. They had a five-game stretch where they allowed zero sacks on their franchise quarterback. 

Sunday though, the Jaguars got to them. The Colts allowed three Jacksonville sacks and have allowed four in two games after the clean streak. The Texans will likely have to bring some heat on Luck. He stood in the pocket and picked them apart earlier this year in Indianapolis and that can't happen again. I would guess there is more than the Browns game as far as results of the pressure but they may not match the Jaguars total. It will be the key matchup of the game Sunday. 

I bet Andrew Luck lost comeback player of the year to J.J. Watt on Sunday. Both are coming off a lost season due to injury and both are back to their former glory. Luck is slinging the rock with the best of them and Watt is keeping pace in the pass rush race. Luck just put up a donut though. Quarterbacks have an inherent advantage in most awards so a big fat zero in the middle of Luck's resume should tip the scales to Watt.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

A curious thing might be happening with the Texans. This year's third round pick, Kahale Warring, has barely played in camp due to injuries and is in danger of being stashed on IR for the season. One of last year's third round picks, Martinas Rankin, may be in danger of not making the roster. The 2017 third rounder D'Onta Foreman was cut earlier in camp. While historically the Texans have been terrible picking in the third round, just taking a look at the Bill O'Brien years makes for some surprising results.

Keep in mind that these numbers are very fluid. Everyone has different criteria for what makes a hit or a miss. But let's dive in and see how the Texans have done.

By the numbers

First, let's take a look at the historical success rate by position of third round picks in the NFL. "Success rate" means the player became a functional NFL starter, which you would expect from most players selected in the third round.

The numbers:

3rd Round - OL (40%) TE (39%) LB (34%) DL (27%) WR (25%) DB (24%) QB (17%) RB (16%)

(Source: Arrowheadsports.com)

Now the Texans

Bill O'Brien has been around since the 2014 draft, so that is where we will focus. Let's look at the third round picks:

2014: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Louis Nix DT. Nix was a complete bust; C.J. developed into a decent tight end before concussions prematurely ended his career. Still, you could reluctantly call him a hit. Nix is a clear miss.

2015: Jalen Strong, WR. Complete miss.

2016: Braxton Miller, WR. He at least saw some action on the field before being cut but another big miss.

2017: D'Onta Foreman, RB. Cut in camp this year, so another complete whiff.

2018: Justin Reid, S, Martinas Rankin, OL, Jordan Akins, TE.

Reid has all the ear markings of a perennial Pro Bowler. Akins has emerged as a decent threat in a crowded tight end room. Rankin, as mentioned earlier, might not make the team. So two hits and for now Rankin is a miss. We won't look at 2019 yet, but the Warring pick - questionable at the time - could easily be another clunker, but we may not know until next year. What happens to those two over the next few years will help add clarity to these numbers.

Is it as bad as it looks?

So overall, with nine third-round picks in the O'Brien era, the Texans have three hits, five misses (if you count Rankin) and an incomplete.

The positives? They are batting 1.000 on tight ends (pending Warring) and safety. They are zero percent on OL, RB and WR.

The overall hit rate is .375. In a given year, NFL starters from the second and third round combined make up roughly 30 percent of the league. Even if you count Fiedorowicz as a bust, they are still at almost 29 percent out of the third round, which would be above the league average, according to a Forbes study from the 2014 season. While that number varies year to year, it is likely no more than a few percentage points. So about average.

Throw in the second round picks, where Bernardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Nick Martin have all become starters with one glaring bust - Xavier Sua'Filo - and they are hitting at 75 percent in the second round, 66 percent overall in rounds 2-3. Now you could argue Martin is not a good player, but he has been a starter pretty much since Day 1. Even taking him out, that is still 55 percent. Again, the bust is glaring in Sua'Filo, which makes it look a lot worse.

The good news

The narrative is the Texans tend to nail their first round picks. According to the Riot Report, first rounders only hit at a 53 percent rate for a player to become a consistent starter over five years.

Again, looking at the O'Brien era only, the top picks have been Jadeveon Clowney, Will Fuller, Kevin Johnson, Deshaun Watson and Titus Howard. Eliminating Howard since it is too early, Clowney and Watson are clear hits; Fuller is a good player who can never stay healthy. If he does, he could be a key contributor but that remains to be seen. Still, he is an NFL starter so give him a hit, even if it is incomplete. Johnson was a disaster and is gone. If you give them Fuller, that is still 75 percent, well above the league average. If you don't count Fuller, they are right at the league average, slightly below. Again, all of this is specific to the O'Brien era.

What does it all mean?

The third round misses have been high profile, colossal mistakes, which makes it look worse. Foreman was supposed to develop into a home run threat on offense. Miller was a high profile project. The team traded up to get Strong. Nix never made it to the field. But overall, the results are about on par with the rest of the league, even above average. Those were not the results I expected when I started this article. But there is also no way to quantify players who hung around and contributed but were never really "hits" or "misses." The Texans misses were clear, as they are no longer on the roster.

Which brings us to Duke Johnson

While many have been critical of the Texans for giving up a third to get Duke Johnson, it makes a lot of sense. You are getting a proven NFL player with starting capabilities for a pick that hits less than 30 percent of the time. While building through the draft is important, it also goes to show that most teams and fans greatly overvalue draft picks. And most picks are like buying new cars - the value goes down as soon as you get them off the lot. Johnson should provide a much surer thing than a third-rounder.

The bottom line

As with most things, when it comes to drafting, the Texans are about average. The third round busts look bad relative to expectations, but overall the number of hits is about where the league is. They probably aren't as good in the first round as the perception. Obviously good teams do better than than average, bad ones do much worse, but as with most things, the Texans aren't bad at drafting high-round picks.

They are just mediocre, a staple of the organization since its inception.

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