Who Are the Best Players in Houston Texans History?
Who Are the Greatest Texans Players of All Time?
It took nearly a decade to get there, but since the Texans first made it to the postseason, it’s been hard to keep them out. The Texans have been to the postseason six times within their first 18 years. That ties them with the Jaguars for the most playoff appearances within that timeframe for expansion teams that joined the NFL after 1976. To accomplish those numbers, the Texans have employed a lot of star power.
The best players in franchise history have been spread across the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, which has kept the team balanced. Only twice have the offense and defense both finished inside the top 10 in NFL scoring and points allowed. The defense has finished in the top 10 in scoring five times since 2011, while the offense has finished within the top half of the league in scoring five times over the same time period.
Selection Criteria for This List
This list of the 10 greatest Texans players of all time is based on the following criteria:
- Legacy Honors (Ring of Honor, retired number, etc.)
- Single-Season Honors (MVP, All-Pro, Pro Bowl, league leader, etc.)
- On-Field Success (winning percentage, winning seasons, playoff appearances, etc.)
- Longevity (years with the Texans, percentage of career with the Texans, etc.)
Only games played with the Texans are factored into this list, so while Hall of Famer Ed Reed is a prime candidate for a list about the Ravens, his seven games with the Texans won't make the cut here. You'll also find a handful of honorable mentions and a list of every major award winner in franchise history.
10. Brian Cushing
- Seasons With Texans: 2009–17
- Position: Linebacker
- Playoff Appearances: 2011, 2015–16
- All-Pro: 2011
- Pro Bowl: 2009
- Awards: NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2009)
Brian Cushing made an immediate impact as a rookie, and he remained a productive player for the Texans' defense for most of the next eight seasons. Cushing is the all-time franchise leader in tackles (664) and led the team in tackles each time he surpassed 100 in a season.
A pair of suspensions for banned substances and two seasons that saw him land on the injured reserve list tarnished his legacy, but he’s still remembered as one of the top defenders in team history. During his time in Houston, he recorded 42 tackles for loss, including 13.5 sacks, and intercepted eight passes. He also had 40 tackles in five playoff games.
Cushing was electrifying as a rookie, setting what would end up as career highs in tackles (133), tackles for loss (12), sacks (4.0) and interceptions (4). He was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year in a landslide vote, but after his first suspension, the Associated Press panel recast its ballots. Cushing still ended up the victor, but in a much tighter race. He was solid for the next two seasons—only missing four games for his suspension—but he then lost most of the 2012 and ‘13 seasons to injury, and only played one full season the rest of his career.
Cushing tied the franchise record with 17 tackles in a 2014 game against the Giants, and he’s one of two Texans to ever force a pair of fumbles in a game more than once.
9. Chris Myers
- Seasons With Texans: 2008–14
- Position: Center
- Playoff Appearances: 2011–12
- Pro Bowl: 2011–12
Before Chris Myers was traded to the Texans in 2008, they had just one player who had rushed for 800 yards in a season. Once Myers started anchoring the offensive line, those numbers spiked, with a Houston running back dashing for at least 1,000 yards in five of his seven seasons. By 2011, the Texans ranked second in the NFL with 2,448 rushing yards (153 yards per game); Myers helped lead running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate—who combined for 2,166 of those yards.
As one of the key contributors to the first playoff appearance in team history in 2011, Myers was rewarded with a contract extension following the season. He was released in March 2015 after starting all 112 of his games with the Texans. At the time, he held the longest streak among current players, with 153 straight games on the offensive line and 128 consecutive starts at center. He retired prior to the 2015 season.
8. Johnathan Joseph
- Seasons With Texans: 2011–present
- Position: Cornerback
- Playoff Appearances: 2011–12, 2015–16, 2018–19
- All-Pro: 2011
- Pro Bowl: 2011–12
As a first-round draft pick, expectations for Johnathan Joseph were high. He took the first five seasons of his career to establish himself as a premier cornerback for the Bengals, and before the 2011 season, he signed a five-year, $48.75 million contract to come to the Texans. That was the beginning of a nine-year stint in Houston that would result in six playoff appearances—including wins over the Bengals in 2011 and ‘12. Joseph played in nearly every game during that time, never missing more than three games in a season, and intercepted at least one pass in all but one season.
With an interception against the Buccaneers in 2019, Joseph became the franchise’s all-time career leader, with 17 picks under his belt. He returned four of those interceptions for touchdowns, which is also a team record, including an 82-yard jaunt for a touchdown against the Browns in 2017.
After the 2019 season, Joseph and the Texans mutually parted ways, with the team’s statement praising him as “quite possibly the most celebrated free-agent signing in franchise history.” Throughout 133 games in Houston, Joseph added 482 tackles and three fumble recoveries to his ledger, and he also picked off a pass in two playoff games.
7. Matt Schaub
- Years With the Texans: 2007–13
- Position: Quarterback
- Postseason Appearances: 2012
- Pro Bowl: 2009, '12
- Awards: Pro Bowl Most Valuable Player (2009)
Matt Schaub owns nearly every major passing mark in the Texans’ franchise record book, and was also the quarterback who finally lifted them into postseason contention. Houston gave Schaub his first NFL starting job, and after establishing himself as a star, he helped push the Texans into the playoffs in 2011 (though he was injured and unable to play in the postseason).
His breakout season came in 2009, when he led the league with 4,770 passing yards; it was his first of three seasons with at least 4,000 yards. He passed for 4,370 yards in 2010 and would likely have had a third straight season of 4,000 yards in 2011 had he not been injured. Schaub did, however, throw the three longest touchdown passes in franchise history before his injury in 2011.
After he recovered from his 2011 injury, Schaub helped the Texans to a 12–4 record in 2012 and picked up his first career playoff victory against the Bengals. In a game against the Jaguars earlier that season, Schaub passed for 527 yards, which is tied for the second-most ever in a game in NFL history.
His final year in Houston saw Schaub throw 14 interceptions; as a result, he was benched during the season. He was traded to the Raiders for a sixth-round draft pick prior to the 2014 NFL Draft.
In his Texans career, Schaub completed 1,951 of 3,020 passes for 23,221 yards and 124 touchdowns, which are all franchise records.
6. Mario Williams
- Seasons With Texans: 2006–11
- Position: Defensive End
- Playoff Appearances: 2011
- All-Pro: 2007
- Pro Bowl: 2008–09
Mario Williams was selected as the first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, and by the end of his tenure in Houston, he had rewritten the franchise’s defensive record book. Williams played every game in his first four seasons to become one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL.
As a rookie, Williams posted modest, but respectable, numbers, but he had a breakout season in 2007. He opened that year on a high note in a 20–3 victory over the Chiefs, recording two sacks and recovering a fumble and returning it 38 yards for a touchdown. By season’s end, he had 14 sacks, and in 2008, he added another 12 sacks and forced a career-high four fumbles. His 2008 season also saw a three-sack effort against the Jaguars in the first Monday Night Football game in Texans history. Williams missed the final three games of the 2010 season, then moved to linebacker in 2011. His season was cut short again—this time after just five games—when he tore his pectoral muscle against the Raiders.
He left the Texans after the 2011 season to sign what was then the richest contract ever for a defensive player—a six-year, $100 million deal with the Bills. At the time, Williams was Houston’s record holder for career sacks (53), single-season sacks (14), and single-game sacks (4), as well as career fumbles forced (11). Each record has since been surpassed by J.J. Watt.
5. Duane Brown
- Seasons With Texans: 2008–17
- Position: Left Tackle
- Playoff Appearances: 2011–12, '16
- All-Pro: 2011–12
- Pro Bowl: 2012–14
After being selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Duane Brown took his place as the Texans’ starting left tackle and promptly helped Houston to some of the best offensive seasons in team history. Brown committed just one holding penalty over his first four seasons, and blocked in front of an offense that set new team records for total offensive yards every season from 2008 to '10. He then helped the Texans make their first playoff appearance in 2011; for all of those efforts, Brown was rewarded with a $53.4 million contract extension before the 2012 season.
Brown helped pave the way for three running backs who gained 1,000 yards in a season, including four seasons by Arian Foster and one each for Steve Slaton and Lamar Miller. Quarterback Matt Schaub also had all three of his 4,000-yard passing seasons behind Brown’s blocking.
Toward the end of Brown’s tenure in Houston, however, relations between him and the team began to sour. Brown wanted the Texans to restructure his contract and staged a months-long holdout before the 2017 season, finally reporting to the team for Week 7. He appeared in one game against the Seahawks and was traded to Seattle the next day. Once there, he played well enough the rest of the season to earn a Pro Bowl selection.
4. Arian Foster
- Seasons With Texans: 2009–15
- Position: Running Back
- Playoff Appearances: 2011–12
- All-Pro: 2010–11
- Pro Bowl: 2010–12, '14
At the peak of his career and when he was healthy, Arian Foster was one of the best running backs in the NFL. While he was at it, he also set every major rushing record in Texans history. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.
Foster did not make the roster out of training camp as a rookie, but he was promoted for the final six games of the 2009 season. After an injury to starter Steve Slaton, Foster took on an expanded role, but he wasn’t guaranteed the starting job the following season. That changed once rookie Ben Tate was injured in training camp; Foster stepped up and rushed for an NFL-leading 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns—marks that still stand as single-season franchise records.
That sparked a run of three straight seasons with over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns, making Foster the only running back in team history to score at least 10 rushing touchdowns in a season more than once. He was on pace for another 1,000-yard campaign in 2013, but his season was derailed by back surgery after eight games. Foster returned to form following the operation, gaining 1,246 yards in 2014 to become the first Houston running back to finish four seasons with more than 1,000 yards.
In 2015, he missed the first three games of the season, and then suffered a torn ACL a month later to end his year. After spending seven seasons with the Texans, the team made the tough decision to release him before the 2016 season.
Foster set team records in career attempts (1,454), yards (6,472) and touchdowns (54). He was also a strong performer in the playoffs, as he posted the top four single-game postseason marks in franchise history for total offensive yards.
3. DeAndre Hopkins
- Seasons With Texans: 2013–19
- Position: Wide Receiver
- Playoff Appearances: 2015–16, 2018–19
- All-Pro: 2015, 2017–19
- Pro Bowl: 2015, 2017–19
DeAndre Hopkins could be counted on for two things throughout his Texans career—being on the field and gaining a lot of yards. In his seven seasons with Houston, Hopkins missed just two games and gained at least 800 yards every season. That included five seasons with at least 1,000 yards and three seasons with more than 10 touchdowns.
As a dynamic receiver, Hopkins finished among the top five in the NFL in receiving yardage in three seasons (2015, ‘17 and ‘18), and he also caught at least 100 passes three times. When fellow receiver Andre Johnson departed for the Colts in 2015, Hopkins became the No. 1 option for Houston in 2015, and his 11 touchdowns that year broke the single-season team record.
All told, Hopkins holds the top three single-season marks in franchise history and is the only Texans player ever to score a touchdown in five straight games, which he did in both 2017 and ‘18.
In 2019, Hopkins became the third-fastest receiver in NFL history to reach 8,000 yards, which was quite an accomplishment for a player who didn’t have a consistent quarterback at the start of his career. Despite his status as one of the NFL’s top players, Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals as part of a March 2020 blockbuster deal that saw the Texans receive running back David Johnson and draft picks.
Hopkins ranks second in franchise history in receptions (632), yards (8,602) and receiving touchdowns (54), but he is the top receiver in Texans playoff history with 37 catches for 446 yards.
2. J.J. Watt
- Seasons With Texans: 2011–Present
- Position: Defensive End
- Playoff Appearances: 2011–12, 2015, 2018–19
- All-Pro: 2012–15, '18
- Pro Bowl: 2012–15, '18
- Awards: NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2012, '14, '15), Bert Bell Award (2014), Walter Payton Man of the Year (2017)
- Legacy Honors: NFL 2010s All-Decade Team
J.J. Watt exemplifies nearly everything a team could want in a superstar player. Not only was he one of the NFL’s top defensive players during the 2010s, but he has also played a significant humanitarian role throughout the country. That combination has led him to become a favorite among Texans fans, even as he has struggled to stay on the field in recent seasons.
After starting every game as a rookie in 2011, Watt made a name for himself with an interception return for a touchdown in the first round of that year’s postseason and 2.5 sacks in the next round. He was then named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in three of the next four seasons, while racking up 69 sacks in that period; these sack numbers on their own were good enough to give Watt a new franchise record. That stretch of dominance was halted, however, when Watt suffered season-ending injuries in 2016 and ‘17.
During the calendar year of 2016, Watt underwent three surgeries, including two for his back, and in 2017, he needed surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture. Those ailments limited him to just eight games over those two seasons, but he put his time off the field to good use. Through an online platform he initially hoped would raise $200,000, Watt organized a campaign that raised more than $40 million for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
He was fully recovered for the 2018 season, and returned to form with 16 sacks and an NFL-leading seven forced fumbles. He joined Hall of Famer Reggie White as the only defenders in history to record at least 15 sacks in four seasons (White had five such seasons in his career). Watt was unable to tie White’s mark in 2019, as a torn pectoral muscle ended his regular season after eight weeks.
Thus far through nine seasons, Watt has 96 career sacks—which is 43 more than second-place Mario Williams on Houston’s all-time leaderboard. With four more sacks, he would become the 35th player in NFL history to record 100 in his career, though sacks only became an official statistic in 1982. Watt also owns the top four single-season sack totals for the Texans, hitting a career-high of 20.5 in both 2012 and ‘14. By doing so, he became the only NFL player to ever record at least 20 sacks in a season twice. He holds additional team records with 23 forced fumbles and 15 fumble recoveries during his career.
1. Andre Johnson
- Seasons With Texans: 2003–14
- Position: Wide Receiver
- Playoff Appearances: 2011–12
- All-Pro: 2006, 2008–09, '12
- Pro Bowl: 2004, '06, 2008–10, 2012–13
- Legacy Honors: Texans Ring of Honor
Andre Johnson was the first major superstar to wear a Texans uniform, and after a brilliant 12-year stretch, he became the first person inducted into the franchise’s Ring of Honor.
Johnson was the first player in team history to receive multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections, and he was one of the most productive receivers of his era, finishing seven seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. He holds the majority of Houston’s major receiving records, and entering the 2020 season, Johnson ranks 11th in NFL history for career receptions and receiving yardage. His first year of Hall of Fame eligibility is 2022.
Johnson’s career began as the No. 3 pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, and he was a big contributor right away with a still-standing team rookie record of 976 receiving yards. He posted his first 1,000-yard season in 2004 and had another in ‘06, but injuries in ‘05 and ‘07 prevented him from stringing together multiple big seasons.
That changed in 2008 and ‘09, as Johnson was targeted 171 times both seasons on his way to leading the league in receiving yardage (1,575 yards in ‘08 and 1,569 yards in ‘09). He followed those seasons up with another 1,216 yards in 2010 before missing two stretches of the 2011 season to injury. Johnson returned to peak form in 2012, gaining a team-record 1,598 yards on 112 receptions—including a single-game high of 273 against the Jaguars. He then added 1,407 more yards in 2013 and 936 in ‘14 to close out his Texans career.
In 2010, he signed an extension with the Texans to become the highest-paid receiver in the NFL, and the team hoped the deal would leave him a Texan for life. After the 2014 season, however, Johnson was informed his offensive role would be reduced, and after the Texans failed to secure a trade, he was released. He played single seasons with the Colts and Titans before signing a one-day contract to retire as a Texan in 2017.
Altogether, he gained 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns on 1,012 receptions for the Texans—which are all franchise records.
With so many standout players in the short history of the Texans, there were numerous players on the cusp of being included among the top 10. Listed below are several players who have left an indelible mark on team history, but didn't quite make the cut.
Whitney Mercilus (2012–Present)
Whitney Mercilus has not been recognized with as many accolades as some of his defensive teammates, but he’s been a steady linebacker for the Texans since the beginning of his career.
Mercilus was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and except for when a torn pectoral muscle ended his 2017 season, Mercilus has missed just two games in his career. Mercilus has 13 forced fumbles, which puts him in second place for the franchise record. With 50 sacks, he ranks third on Houston's career leaderboard, but he only needs four more sacks to move into second place.
The Texans rewarded his efforts with a 4-year, $54 million contract extension at the end of the 2019 season.
DeMeco Ryans (2006–11)
As a rookie, DeMeco Ryans wasted no time in proving he belonged among the NFL’s top defenders. Ryans won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors after leading the league with a team-record 126 solo tackles. Ryans didn’t miss a game during his first four seasons. He made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and ‘09 and was named a second-team All-Pro in ‘07.
The tenacious linebacker suffered a torn Achilles tendon in 2010, and after another full season in 2011, he was traded to Eagles. With the Texans, Ryans had 636 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 86 games. His 479 solo tackles are a franchise record.
Deshaun Watson (2017–Present)
The plan was for the Texans to ease Deshaun Watson into NFL action, but when starting quarterback Tom Savage struggled in the 2017 season-opener, Watson got to showcase his skills in the first game. Watson became the starter the following week, and it’s been nothing but Pro Bowl efforts and playoff appearances ever since.
Watson’s rookie campaign was cut short by a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but he played in enough games to set a new rookie record for single-season touchdowns (19). When he returned in 2018, he threw for 4,165 yards and 26 touchdowns, and he followed that up with another 3,852 yards and 26 touchdowns in ‘19. Watson made the Pro Bowl each of those seasons, and he has gone 1–2 in the postseason in his career. Going into the 2020 season, Watson has completed 804 of 1,204 passes for 9,716 yards and 71 touchdowns, while tossing just 29 interceptions. He's also scored 14 rushing touchdowns.
Jadeveon Clowney (2014–18)
The Texans made Jadeveon Clowney the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and when he was healthy, he provided the team with a ferocious defender. Clowney lost the majority of his rookie season to a torn meniscus, and also missed a handful of games in 2015. In each of the next three seasons, Clowney made the Pro Bowl, while missing just three games and recording 24.5 sacks.
Prior to the 2019 season, Clowney was traded to the Seahawks. In his five-year tenure in Houston, he had 29 sacks (fourth in team history), as well as four forced fumbles and 205 tackles.
Texans Pro Bowl Players
There have been 24 players to represent the Texans in the Pro Bowl, combining for 52 total appearances. Wide receiver Andre Johnson leads the team with seven selections, and defensive end J.J. Watt has been selected five times.
- 2003: Cornerback Aaron Glenn, defensive end Gary Walker
- 2005: Wide receiver Andre Johnson
- 2006: Wide receiver Jerome Mathis
- 2007: Wide receiver Andre Johnson
- 2008: Linebacker DeMeco Ryans
- 2009: Wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end Mario Williams, tight end Owen Daniels
- 2010: Linebacker Brian Cushing, wide receiver Andre Johnson, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, quarterback Matt Schaub, defensive end Mario Williams
- 2011: Running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson, fullback Vonta Leach, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, center Chris Myers, defensive end Antonio Smith
- 2012: Offensive tackle Duane Brown, tight end Owen Daniels, running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson, cornerback Johnathan Joseph, center Chris Myers, quarterback Matt Schaub, left guard Wade Smith, defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2013: Offensive tackle Duane Brown, wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2014: Running back Arian Foster, defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2015: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, defensive end J.J. Watt, long snapper Jon Weeks
- 2016: Defensive end/linebacker Jadeveon Clowney
- 2017: Defensive end/linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins
- 2018: Defensive end/linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, linebacker Benardrick McKinney, running back Lamar Miller, quarterback Deshaun Watson, defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2019: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, quarterback Deshaun Watson, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil
Texans AP All-Pro Players
The Texans have had at least one player named as an All-Pro by the Associated Press every year since 2007. In total, 14 Houston players have been selected as a first-team or second-team All-Pro.
First-Team All-Pro Selections
Seven Texans have been named first-team All-Pros by the Associated Press, combining for 14 total selections. Defensive end J.J. Watt has the most selections with five, while wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins earned the honor three times.
- 2005: Kick returner Jerome Mathis
- 2008: Wide receiver Andre Johnson
- 2009: Wide receiver Andre Johnson
- 2010: Running back Arian Foster, fullback Vonta Leach
- 2012: Offensive tackle Duane Brown, defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2013: Defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2014: Defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2015: Defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2017: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins
- 2018: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, defensive end J.J. Watt
- 2019: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins
Second-Team All-Pro Selections
There have been 12 Texans selected as second-team All-Pros by the Associated Press, with no player netting more than one selection.
- 2007: Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, defensive end Mario Williams
- 2011: Offensive tackle Duane Brown, linebacker Brian Cushing, running back Arian Foster, cornerback Johnathan Joseph
- 2012: Wide receiver Andre Johnson
- 2015: Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins
- 2016: Defensive end/linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker Whitney Mercilus, linebacker Benardrick McKinney
- 2018: Defensive tackle J.J. Watt