From the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis

Texans combine storylines

Brian Gaine and his staff have work to do at the combine. Houstontexans.com

SportsMap is live at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. Here's a look at the stories swirling around the Texans at the combine.

Is blocking help on the way?

The Texans offensive line had disappointed for a couple of seasons now and this class is loaded with linemen set to go in the top three rounds. ESPN 97.5 and SportsMap's own Lance Zierlein has five tackles rated as immediate starters.

A personal favorite of mine is Washington State's Andre Dillard who has held down the left side of Mike Leach's impressive Washington State offense.



Offensive linemen went fast and furious last year with six going in the first round. With offense being the trend in today's NFL protecting quarterbacks will be of high importance. This will push linemen up in the draft.

Who can cover?

The Texans also have quite the conundrum at cornerback as well. Johnathan Joseph is set to be back as is Aaron Colvin coming off a season where injury led to a disappointment. Kevin Johnson's future is up in the air. Kayvon Webster played very little due to injury. Johnson Bademosi is primarily a special teams player. Jermaine Kelly Jr. hasn't played a snap in the NFL after being on injured reserve all last year. Shareece Wright didn't play well enough to be back. Kareem Jackson, who was better at safety than corner, is a free agent.

With all those player's situations the Texans have need for some young and talented help at corner. If there isn't an offensive tackle the team is in love with in the first round cornerback could be the move. Certainly it will be on the table with the two selections in the second round.

Michigan State's Justin Layne is a former wide receiver turned cornerback for the Spartans. His interception numbers aren't great but he had some of the best pass deflection numbers in the nation last year.

The Clowney conundrum

Both Texans head coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Brian Gaine will speak this week and it will be a massive upset if they aren't asked about Clowney. They've had a couple months to start thinking about, and maybe even start negotiating, Jadeveon Clowney's next contract with the team.

On SportsMap: Texans can't desire Bell, spurn Clowney

Depth on defense

While the Texans focus on big holes on the offensive line and the issues at cornerback they also have to find some depth players. Gaine did an excellent job at this last year finding Justin Reid, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas who ended up playing significant snaps for the team. Peter Kalambayi contributed late in the season. Duke Ejiofor and Keke Coutee helped when they weren't hurt.

If Tyrann Mathieu or Kareem Jackson move on from the Texans the safety spot will need some young bodies. The team could use another pass rusher be it from the edge or up the middle on the defensive line. Combine interviews will be important for the Texans as they try to prepare for the free-for-all that is the undrafted free agent market.

Skill positions in play

The Texans have plenty of investment throughout the skill positions on offense, but can you ever have too much? There is a need for another running back to go along with Lamar Miller, who is in the last year of his contract, and D'Onta Foreman. As for wide receiver, someone to push Vyncint Smith on the outside wouldn't be the worst idea but perhaps that is better suited for a free agent.

Tight end isn't out of the equation either. The right draft pick could set the team up at the position for at least the next three seasons.

Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger is a favorite of mine but he might go a little high for the Texans to invest another mid-round pick in the tight end position.

My favorite running back prospect is Devin Singletary.


NFL Storylines

Kyler Murray can dominate the combine this combine if he measures out well on height, weight, and hand size. How he interviews and if he runs will be huge stories around the league. If he decided to skip interviews he would be one of the most polarizing prospects ever.

Remember Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown?

He had one of the worst combines ever for a top prospect. He fell like a rock in the draft going three picks after Martinas Rankin to the Ravens. He started at right tackle for Baltimore from week seven forward. He ended up with a better Pro Football Focus rating than every Texans offensive lineman.

The combine workouts aren't everything, but they're something. A bad combine performance shouldn't eliminate a prospect from a team's board but it should add extra attention if the team might think he is ultimately worth it.

Ed Oliver's big week is about to start. For Oliver, everything about this week matters. It will be the difference in millions of dollars. I could see him going as high as three to the Jets and as low as the 20's. Oliver going high is one of the coolest potential stories in the draft. He could have gone to a number of different schools but he chose Houston in his own backyard and was every bit the dominant force he was expected to be. He is a freak athlete and should test off the charts in almost every drill. Expect Ed Oliver to be one of the "wow" workouts this week.

This is a monster year for defensive linemen. Ohio State's Nick Bosa and Alabama's Quinnen Williams are the top two names with Kentucky's Josh Allen and Clemson's Christian Wilkins right behind them. If teams covet other positions there could be plenty of movement in the top ten.

The start of trade discussions begins in earnest this week. With so many decision-makers in close proximity the talks around players like Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown will start to heat up. It isn't just the huge names that start making moves though. There are plenty of mid-tier players to be discussed as well. We have seen the trade market be red hot in recent years in the NFL. There is no reason to think it will stop.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Tucker looks like the real deal. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Kyle Tucker finally had his breakout season in 2020. The 23-year-old flashed potential to be a legitimate five-tool threat. He slashed .268/.325/.512, swiped eight bags, and played above average defense. Is Tucker's performance sustainable? Not only that, but is there room for growth?

Hard Hit % - 44.5%

Barrel % - 9.1%

K % - 20.2%

BB % - 7.9%
Chase % - 26.2%

The first thing to realize with Kyle Tucker is the small sample size at the MLB level. Despite appearing in three separate seasons, he's played in a total of 108 games, which is obviously quite a bit shy of even one full season. He also has an extremely unique swing that you wouldn't teach to anybody, but it "works" for him. This makes him a tough hitter to judge, as it's uncomfortable judging mechanics that work for him, and it's uncomfortable judging numbers that haven't had time to develop trends.

Hard Hit, Barrel, and Chase numbers are unavailable for the minors, but walk and strikeouts percentages are. This creates the ability to at least look at one trend.

Tucker broke onto the scene in 2018 with a monstrous season for AAA Fresno, the Astros affiliate at the time. In 2018, Tucker slashed .332/.400/.590 with 24 homers and 20 steals. He had an 18.1% K% and a 10.3% BB% that season. In 2019, Tucker struck out a little bit more (21.6%) but also walked a little bit more (11.2%). Tucker's 20.2% K% in 2020 is more in line with his minor league K%, indicating he's adjusted to major league pitching.

Tucker essentially put the pieces of contact ability and quality of contact from his previous MLB stints together in 2020. In 2018, Tucker didn't strike out very much (18.1% K%), but his 3.9% Barrel % didn't strike fear in any opponent.

In 2019, Tucker had a 12.8% Barrel %, and his 92 MPH average exit velocity is the best of his three seasons in MLB, but he struck out 27.8% of the time and walked just 5.6% of the time.

In 2020, there's a marriage between the two. His K% and BB% aren't as good as his 2018 marks, but they're better than his 2019 marks. His exit velocity and Barrel % aren't as good as his 2019 marks, but they're better than his 2018 marks. Tucker became a hitter that was able to do more damage without sacrificing consistency.

Tucker had a xBA of .267, which is right in line with his .268 average. His .459 xSLG lags behind his .512 actual SLG, but it isn't a catastrophic drop. The version of Tucker Astros fans saw is essentially who he is, but how does he improve?

What really unlocked Tucker in 2020 was a change in his setup.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here he is on August 2nd against the Angels. As you can see, he's standing pretty straight up, and he has a "neutral" stance. Following the game on Aug. 2, Tucker was batting .200/.250/.300 with no homers.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Here's Tucker on August 6th, just a few days later. He's started to close off his stance just a bit, but he's still pretty neutral, and he has a little more forward body lean with his torso. Following the game on Aug. 6, he was batting .214/.267/.357 with a homer.

Image via: GraysonSkweres/Twitter/Screenshot

Now, here's Tucker on August 10th. His stance is considerably closed off, and he's maintaining the forward body lean he adopted on August 6th. Following the game on Aug. 10, Tucker was batting .190/.230/.328. It would be the last time any of those numbers would be that low the rest of the year. He maintained that stance for the rest of the season, and he finished the month of August hitting .272/.333/.588.

The swing change allowed him to be a factor on the outside pitch. Tucker would pull off on his front side, which made it tough for him to keep balls fair on the pull side. He'd often yank inside fastballs into the stands down the right field line. It also made him uncompetitive on outside strikes, as he'd either swing-and-miss, or roll them over into the shift.

After he made the change, Tucker started steering inside pitches fair, and he was able to do something with pitches on the outer third.

The next step is finding a way to continue to diversify his batted ball profile. Tucker's pull percentage in 2020 was 47%. That's a higher pull % than guys like Kyle Schwarber and Matt Olson. It was only 1% lower than Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo.

The one dimensional batted ball profile allows teams to shift Tucker aggressively. Teams shifted Tucker in 74% of his at-bats. His wOBA against the shift is .304. In AB's where teams didn't shift him, Tucker had a .455 wOBA. The shift hurts Tucker more than most as well, because he hits the ball on the ground 39% of the time. Gallo and Olson hit it on the ground 32% and 35% of the time respectively.

Lastly, Tucker's performance on breaking balls leaves a lot to be desired. He crushes fastballs, as he batted .303 with a .574 SLG against fastballs in 2020, with a .292 xBA and .528 xSLG. His .208 AVG and .396 SLG against breaking balls aren't very good, and his .209 xBA and .340 xSLG don't tell a prettier story. His 32% whiff % against breaking balls is nearly double his whiff % on fastballs.

If Tucker can learn to be more competitive against breaking balls and learn to use the whole field, then he'll be a really scary hitter. If he doesn't, teams will be able to gameplan for him, and he'll see streaky production similar to other one dimensional hitters like Matt Carpenter and the aforementioned Gallo and Olson.

While the bat may be streaky, Tucker brings it with the glove and on the bases. He had 5 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) in the outfield in 2020, a 0.6 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), and he was plus-4 in Outs Above Average. His well above average speed and instincts give him the ability to be a rangy outfielder and dangerous baserunner.

Tucker had a breakout season in 2020, but there's still changes left to be made if he wants to be a breakout star and not a one hit wonder.

This is part four of an offseason series covering the 2020 Houston Astros. Be sure to check out parts 1-3 on SportsMap.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome