by MIKE MELTSER, SportsRadio 610By Mike Meltser

For reference: Mike Meltser’s January 2015 Texans Roster Holes

In January, I published a post previewing the holes that the Texans brain trust would have to fill on the roster. Four months later, how does that analysis look? How did Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien go about filling those holes? With the moves that were made, how confident are we that the team can improve on a 9-7 season?

QB – Ryan Mallett or Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage

This position is a whole chapter unto itself, and the amount of holes isn’t as relevant as the realization that this team lacks a franchise quarterback. I believe the Texans will re-sign Mallett to a reasonable short term contract. As a fourth-round pick, Savage returns for a second and critical season. My guess is that Bill O’Brien drafts or brings in another QB as the 3rd stringer for 2015

Verdict: the Texans did exactly that with Mallett, and added Brian Hoyer to essentially fill the “Fitzpatrick role” on the roster. I anticipated that the team might draft a developmental quarterback, but they went a little differently. My guess is that O’Brien wasn’t thrilled with the QBs in the draft past Marcus Mariota.

RB – Arian Foster, Alfred Blue

By virtue of his tremendous (when healthy) season, Foster is a lock to return for 2015. He was the second best player on this team. The Texans need Foster to compete, given the current QB situation.

The most interesting question here is how Rick Smith and O’Brien approach the future of this position. There are a lot of talented RBs in the 2015 Draft, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Texans took one in the first 3 rounds.

Conclusion = 1 hole

Verdict: a running back was selected, but Kenny Hilliard went in the 7th round. The Texans also signed veteran Chris Polk, a power back, after he was allowed to leave the Eagles in April. I don’t believe that any of the RBs on the roster are a threat to Arian, but at least Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Hilliard, and Polk will be able to compete among themselves.

WR – DeAndre Hopkins (Andre Johnson)

Now here is a real position of intrigue. Hopkins is the only lock to be on the roster in 2015, given the uncertainty over Andre Johnson’s contract. Andre may or may not be willing to take a pay-cut. 85 receptions, 936 yards, and 3 TDs isn’t cutting it for a cap hit of more than $16M.

My early guess is that a deal is worked out with Andre at a more reasonable rate.

Beyond the top two, this team is in need of a full revamp. O’Brien seems to place a premium on receivers being able to beat man to man coverage, and I don’t know if much of that exists on this roster. The Texans finally have some salary cap space, and I could see the front office signing a proven veteran and/or drafting multiple receivers in April, perhaps early.

Conclusion = 3 holes

I was wrong with my prediction on retaining Andre, but the overall tone of those paragraphs reflect exactly what ensued over the next few months. The team lost Johnson and traded DeVier Posey, while they signed Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington, re-signed Damaris Johnson and drafted Jaelen Strong and Keith Mumphery.

The Texans did overhaul this position, and they did fill the three holes I felt they had in January. Now the question is: will they actually get more production out of the receivers?

TE – CJ Fiedorowicz (Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin)

I don’t know what the plan is here. It’s easy to jettison Graham and Griffin on paper, but that creates two open roster spots. Do you draft another TE? If so, how early? Here is the list of free agent tight ends for 2015. I will be very intrigued to see what happens in this area.

Conclusion = 1 hole (split the difference between Graham and Griffin)

Verdict: Houston opted to stay as-is at tight end, retaining all three of the primary players on the depth chart. Reading between the lines, it seems that O’Brien blames the horrific tight end production more on Fitzpatrick than the TEs themselves.

T – Duane Brown (Derek Newton)

Brown will continue as the franchise LT, but the question is what Smith and O’Brien choose to do on the right side. Newton had a quality season but is now a free agent. Does Houston want to pay market rate for a player that has taken 4 arduous years to develop? Losing Newton creates the kind of hole that you normally fill with a legitimate contract for a free agent, or a relatively early draft pick.

In terms of depth, right now the likes of Will Yeatman, Jeff Adams, and Tyson Clabo are on the roster as the backups.

Conclusion = 1 hole

Verdict: the Texans did indeed pay market rate for Newton, with their mini-splurge on pending free agents right around the opening of the free agency period. For him to fulfill that contract, he has to play at the level he progressed to in 2014.

Clabo was recently released, as Yeatman and Adams are both younger and have far more upside.

C/G – Brandon Brooks, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Ben Jones

Those three players are on rookie contracts, and I could see all three starting in week one. Brooks had another quality season at RG and is one of the building blocks of this team.

Chris Myers did not necessarily play up to his usual standards in 2014, but the bigger issue is his cap number. Myers carries a $6M base salary into 2015, and the team can save that same $6M number by releasing him. Jones has been a mediocre-at-best LG, but he was a 4 year starting center at Georgia. That could be an option.

Conclusion = 1 hole

Verdict: Myers did end up being released, and I think the big gap between his cap number and dead money figure became too enticing for the Texans. I did write that one hole existed, and the team bucked recent trends by not selecting a single offensive lineman in the draft.

With the trade ups for both Benardrick McKinney and Jaelen Strong, the Texans’ draft capital fell to only 7 picks, so some positions had to be sacrificed.

Questions at these spots: Can Su’a-Filo improve and hold down left guard? Can Jones become a solid starting center at the NFL level? Who is going to provide depth at these spots? Cody White is returning from an Achilles tendon injury, and Greg Mancz is considered an intriguing prospect as a UDFA.

Overall thoughts: The most notable change on offense was the decision to release Andre Johnson, the most accomplished player in franchise history. O’Brien is banking on a combination of Shorts, Strong, and the smaller investments in Washington and Mumphery to replace Andre. I understand that overall philosophy, but are the Texans better right now at WR? That remains to be seen.

I would have loved to have added a possible long-term solution at QB this offseason, but Houston was selecting 16th overall in a draft containing only 2 blue chip quarterback prospects, with little depth beyond that. I’m personally not thrilled with the acquisition of Brian Hoyer, because of his lack of upside, but it’s counter-balanced with the very cheap re-signing of Ryan Mallett.

I am more comfortable with Su’a-Filo making a big jump in his 2nd season than most seem to be, and I’m also anxious to see how Jones plays at his natural position. If those two play well, this could be a very good offensive line.


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