HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans might not have much, but they will have to field a roster come September this fall. After a 4-12 season in 2020, it's about progress for the franchise.
It's also about finding the cornerstones of tomorrow. The Texans are under new management and likely will be looking for the next faces to emerge under the rebuilding regime.
Perhaps the best way to weed out the contenders on the club is by forcing Houston to "protect" players. After all, it's what's happening in the NHL this offseason.
The NHL will be adding a new team in the Seattle Kraken for the 2021-22 season. There will be an upcoming expansion draft for the new Kraken franchise, allotting them a chance to pick from players other clubs don't protect.
In the league, teams are allowed to keep to protect up to 11 players (seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender). In NFL terms, it would be five offensive players, five defensive players and one specialists.
If that's the case, who would the Texans protect entering the 2021 season?
QB Deshaun Watson
He's still under contract, right?
Teams need quarterbacks and if officially available, Watson is the hottest QB on the market in league history. After leading the NFL in passing yards and throwing a career-best 33 touchdowns, that's worth multiple first-round picks and several mid selections.
Watson is currently facing 22 civil cases of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. He likely will play again, but the NFL will make an official ruling on his status for the upcoming season. Even if he misses 2021, imagine the production from the 25-year-old over the next decade?
That's worth two or three first-round selections, and Houston would be wise to sell high.
RB Philip Lindsay
This was a tough one between Lindsay and David Johnson. Overall, there's more upside with the 26-year-old at this point in his career than the player who was traded for DeAndre Hopkins.
Lindsay had two 1,000-yard seasons with the Denver Broncos. The only reasons is production diminished was because of injury and the addition of Melvin Gordon. Perhaps in Houston, it's a fresh start to build off his overall success during his time in the Mile High city.
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WR Brandin Cooks
This is pretty self explanatory. Since entering the league, Cooks has five 1000-yard seasons in his seven years out of Oregon State. On top of that, he's worked with four different quarterbacks and has passed the 1K marker with each of them at least once.
Cooks can work with any quarterback and find a way to beat cornerbacks in man or zone coverage. A team needs a No. 1 receiver and he's the guy in Houston.
OT Laremy Tunsil
Another easy one, Tunsil is still a top 10 tackle in the NFL. For the past two years, he's graded out with an 85 or higher in pass protection by Pro Football Focus. He needs to improve in the run game, but he's a top-tier talent that currently is on the first year of his three-year extension.
OL Tytus Howard
Pretty easy choice to go with Howard because of his versatility. The former Alabama State product has been a stable right tackle, allowing five quarterback hits and four sacks since 2019. With the addition of Marcus Cannon, the loser in camp likely fills in at right guard for the year.
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Having that versatility mean something. An offense with a stable line likely can make a deeper run for the playoffs then one with a good quarterback in poor protection. Whether right tackle, right guard, or left side, Howard is a starter and a dang good one.
DL Ross Blacklock
The Texans traded away Hopkins for the No. 40 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With that selection, they took the TCU defensive tackle, who looked out of place in the 3-4 set. Maybe a change to Lovie Smith's 4-3 front will benefit him more?
Because of Hopkins thriving in Arizona, the Texans have to see if Blacklock can transform into a stable defensive tackle. During his time in Fort Worth, he was revered for his pass-rush ability up the middle. In a one-gap system, he can prove to be the guy this fall.
DE Shaq Lawson
Although he's been inconsistent, Lawson has shown more in the past two seasons than Charles Omenihu overall. In two years with the Texans, Omenihu has tallied seven sacks and 21 quarterback hits. Last season in Miami, Lawson has 18 QB hits and four sacks.
The 27-year-old works best in a 4-3 set off the edge. During his last two season in Buffalo, he recorded 30 quarterback hits and 10.5 sacks on his way to free agency. That production will be warranted both against the run and in pass-rush for the new formation.
LB Zach Cunningham
Cunningham signed a four-year extension prior to the 2020 season. He's earned it after two 100-plus tackle campaigns, including last year in which he led the NFL in takedowns with 164.
Teams need a player who can play both the run and make stops in the open field. That's an easy say for Houston when looking overall at the roster.
CB Desmond King
This may be a tad controversial, but based on King's background, he's the best cornerback entering 2021. The former Charger has seen better days, but let's keep in mind that he was an All-Pro in 2018.
King isn't terrible, he just hasn't improved since that stellar year. Still, he's a willing tackler in the slot and is best in zone based coverage when baiting players across the middle. He's an ideal fit for the Texans new scheme.
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S Justin Reid
Reid is entering a contract year, but he's worth an extension in a below average secondary. Overall, he doesn't do everything great, but he does have a balance between playing the run and pass.
In a Tampa 2 defense, the safeties are interchangable, meaning Reid will have to excel in both areas. He does both well and can play both positions, making him valuable to the roster.
KR Andre Roberts
The term said specialist, not punter or kicker. Roberts has been one of the most consistent players in the returning since his time in Buffalo. Last season, he earned All-Pro honors, finishing with 961 kick return yards (2nd) and 286 punt return yards (5th).
Roberts led the NFL averaging 30 yards per kick return. Houston needs that for great field position to begin drives.
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