This is no revelation to say that the Texans’ 10 player rookie draft class provided very little to this year’s team. But their contributions were alarmingly low, especially considering the top pick in each round belonged to the Texans. Injuries obviously played a part with two players landing on injured reserve without taking any snaps and a third landing there also after seeing action in parts of just four games.
(1st round) That third player was top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had offseason sports hernia surgery, suffered a concussion during preseason practices with the Denver Broncos and then hurt his knee in the first half of the first game of his NFL career. He tried to play through it that day and then again in three games later in the season, but has now undergone microfracture surgery. His first season is chronicled here.
(2nd round) Xavier Su’a-Filo did not play badly when he was out there, but he just wasn’t out there enough. The simple truth is he didn’t out play Ben Jones. That is not a good thing for the incoming second round pick, because Jones was clearly their weakest lineman. He made one start when Brandon Brooks was sick against Indianapolis in week six, but was used for only a series a two in most of the games that followed. He ha a back injury that kept him inactive for the final three games of the season. Su’a-Filo needs to make a commitment to his conditioning and if he doesn’t enter next season as a starting guard for the Texans, then that would be alarming for a guy the Texans selected 33rd overall and before loads of already productive, talented players at every other position, including quarterback.
(3rd round) No draftee started more games than rookie tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, who that call nine times. However, he rarely saw more snaps than the other prominent tight end. In each game, either second-year tight end Ryan Griffin or fifth year tight end Garrett Graham were utilized more often and far, far more often as a receiving target. he rarely ran routes and was thrown the ball only seven times on the season. He really struggled during the middle portion of the season with his blocking, but played much better over the final few weeks. Again, Fiedorowicz was not a poor player overall, but the Texans made him the 65th overall pick. Suffice to say there were a handful of players drafted behind him that were not only more productive, but have much brighter futures. By the way, that handful would be gathered using the hands of Andre the Giant.
(3rd round) Defensive tackle Louis Nix had a history of knee problems at Notre Dame and that was one reason why he was available with the 83rd overall selection in the third round. He struggled with his conditioning and injuries through the offseason and didn’t play in either of the first two preseason games. Then after playing 11 snaps in the third preseason game and 45 snaps in the fourth preseason game he was on the opening day roster. He was inactive for the first three games and was then placed on injured reserve. It’s unlikely the Texans will cut ties with Nix early in the offseason, but it not out of the question that his spot on the roster for 2015 is safe. Ryan Pickett joined the Texans after Nix went on IR and started every game the rest of the season. He said if he continued playing next season, which would be his 15th NFL season, he would like to be in Houston.
(4th round) The Texans were expected to come out of the draft with a quarterback and they did, but not until six others were already gone. They grabbed Tom Savage with the 135th overall selection. After spending the first 11 games on the inactive list, he took a few snaps in game 12 – all handoffs at the end of a blowout. Then in game 14, he was the backup when Ryan Fitzpatrick broke his leg late in the first half and he entered the game. He looked unprepared and exceptionally nervous. Bill O’Brien constantly said he had a long way to go and he was right. Savage throws a great ball, maybe best on the team, but running this offense and actually commanding this offense is something he simply wasn’t ready to do. After watching his 54 snaps over two plus quarters against Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine him starting games for Houston anytime soon. Houston did less than just about any other team to address their quarterback situation. If that’s their plan this offseason, then you can count on another year of not being a serious contender.
(6th round) Three Texans 2014 draftees played in all 16 games and each was drafted in the sixth round. Defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan started the year slowly after an offseason of recovering from a shoulder injury. Over the last several weeks of the season. He got consistent work along the Texans defensive line over the final several weeks of the season. In the seven games following the bye week, Pagan averaged just over 15 snaps per game. In the nine games prior to the off week, his average snap count per game was just eight plays. He is likely in line to take over for veteran lineman Tim Jamison, who finished the season on injured reserve.
(6th round) By far the most helpful draftee was Alfred Blue. He had a remarkably productive season as the number two running back behind Arian Foster. With Foster missing three entire games and playing hurt in several others, Blue had at lease one carry in every game. He carried the ball 36 times for 156 yards in the Texans win over Cleveland in week 11. Both were the most by any rookie in the NFL this season and the 36 carries set a Texans franchise record. He finished the season with 169 rushes and 15 receptions and did have a fumble. He also blocked a punt in his NFL debut against Washington and returned it for a touchdown. While he may lack the explosiveness to be a top runner in the league, he will have a role on the team next season and likely for years to come.
(6th round) Fullback is clearly the least important position in the NFL. Quick, name the best two fullbacks in the league? Now name two more. Jay Prosch had surgery on his hand during training camp that slowed him down, that clearly affected his ability to block effectively. However, he was used so infrequently overall, his blocking as a healthy player later in the season didn’t stand out either. He played an average of just under 11 snaps per game or roughly 15 percent of the team’s offensive plays. That’s not likely to change in the future either. Only seven teams used their fullback on more than 20 percent of their offensive plays. It’s still debatable that Prosch will prove to be an NFL talent, but it’s also debatable if a fullback is a wise choice in the draft at all in this era in the NFL.
(6th round) Like Blue, cornerback Andre Hal had one game this season that he was leaned on heavily due to injuries. Though in Hal’s case, it was a game he’d like to forget. When the Texans hosted the Eagles, starting cornerback Kareem Jackson hurt his knee on the fourth play of the game. Six plays later, the other starting corner Johnathan Joseph got hurt on a big hit. Neither would return to the game. Andre Hal came in for Jackson and played the remaining 79 snaps. His first play following the Joseph injury had him isolated in coverage deep down the field with Jeremy Maclin. Maclin beat him for a 59-yard touchdown. Just simply ran by him. Later in the first half, Hal allowed his second touchdown reception, this time to fellow Vanderbilt rookie Jordan Matthews, this time in the slot on an 11-yard reception. More than one-third of Hal’s snaps on the season came in this game. When he was drafted, he was right behind A.J. Bouye on the depth chart. The Texans added Darryl Morris and Jumal Rolle after training camp and both spent most of the season firmly ahead of Hal, though Hal does look he may indeed have an NFL future.
(7th round) Safety Lonnie Ballentine was hurt early in training camp and was put on injured reserve before the season even began. He has excellent size for an NFL safety, but needs to put in the work. The Texans will be pushing him hard to make him into a useful player.
Here’s a look at the how much the Texans draft picks were used this season:
After one season this class has to be termed a disappointment. Clowney’s injury situation puts a cloud over all of it for sure since his future is so uncertain, though likely to have a career that comes in well short of draft-day expectations. But the disappointment over not hitting a home run possibly with the top pick is injury-related. That really doesn’t apply to the others. With apologies to Nix, he has to show this coaching staff a lot to earn his way onto the field. While Jerrell Powe is just a guy in the NFL, he, or a player just like him, could prove to be a better option than Nix. If Ryan Pickett returns and the Texans should hope that he does, he remains the starter.
The Texans knew they needed to get better along the offensive line, they drafted Su’a-Filo with the idea that he would be one of the five starters. He took reps all along the line during camp, before clearly being pegged as a guard with this group. He never really challenged for a starting spot. He had 54 snaps in his one start due to injury, that accounted for over a quarter of his plays. For where he was drafted, if he’s not among their top five lineman for another season, that is simply a bad selection, no other way to put it.
While Fiedorowicz, Blue, Pagan and Hal look like keepers, the Texans, like any other team in the salary-capped NFL can’t continue to miss on their early round selections constantly, which they have done repeatedly in the past. Their first round selections have for the most part been solid, if not spectacular. But finding a few truly top players in the second and third rounds is something this team simply has not done.
Not including the 2014 draft, Houston has made 13 selections in the second and third rounds. The list is hard to look at:
D.J. Swearinger (Texans starter)
Brennan Williams (out of NFL)
Sam Montgomery (out of NFL)
Devier Posey (inactive for all but 1 game with Texans)
Brandon Brooks (quality Texans starter)
Brooks Reed (Texans OLB starter)
Brandon Harris (backup Titans CB, played < 10% of their snaps)
Ben Tate (released by 2 teams during 2014 season)
Earl Mitchell (quality Dolphins starter)
Connor Barwin (Pro bowl with Eagles in 2014)
Antoine Caldwell (out of NFL)
Antwaun Molden (out of NFL)
Steve Slaton (out of NFL)
Barwin, by far is the best player in the bunch, reaching the pro bowl for the first time this season. He had one good season in four with Houston, but his final season was a dud, thus was not re-signed, which was the right move in my opinion. While the team has found a handful of starters, they have not found any players, beyond Barwin, that appear as even a possibility to become one of the better players at their positions. Finding nothing but average players in the second and third rounds makes it very tough to consistently field a strong team. Houston has managed to put together three winning seasons in the last four through this period of drafting, which is rather remarkable.
Houston will draft 16th in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft.