Offensive Lineman of the Year
Ben Jones (started 17 games including the post season)
A sprained MCL and not-so-good back did not slow Ben Jones from being the most consistent and top offensive lineman of the Texans group. There were questions surrounding Jones’ move to center after three years of starting a both guard positions but he really did not miss a beat.
Jones was instrumental in helping the team transition through four quarterbacks during the season, helping set up protections for his fellow offensive lineman. Additionally, he took the majority of the snaps and was the only offensive lineman to start all 17 games in the same position.
Jones answered the call in 2015 and he is turning into the top free agent for the team to re-sign.
Best Free Agent Decision
Quintin Demps (61 total tackles, .5 sacks, 1 INT, 8 passes defensed, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble)
Imagine if Quintin Demps was not available during training camp. Where would the Texans safety position have been without him? Demps helped solidify the position and took over as the lead veteran on the back half of the secondary with two younger players next to him in Andre Hal and Eddie Pleasant.
Demps took over the job after he tried out in the middle of training camp and was able to get caught up by week one to start for the defense. He mentioned that he was made for the 3-4 defense and once Romeo Crennel got the defense settled, Demps was a solid and ready player for the unit.
Worst Offensive Free Agent Decision
Brian Hoyer (11 games, 2,606 yards, 60.7% completion, 19 TDs, 7 INTs, 91.4 rating)
The smoke started early in the off-season before Hoyer was even released by the Cleveland Browns and when he was finally released, he was soon on a flight to Houston to reunite with Bill O’Brien. Hoyer was the clear favorite to start the season and he ended up the week one starter after winning the job coming out of camp.
However his first pass of the season was an interception and then his entire season was back and forth due to inconsistent play. It finally took Ryan Mallett getting cut after missing a team flight to Miami for O’Brien to turn over the keys for the season to him.
Hoyer was a quarterback who played it safe and was the ultimate game manager for this offense. His lack of accuracy was his biggest issue and his health ended up further limiting him. Hoyer’s concussions were a concern and clearly affected him in the last two games of the season, when he was feeling pressure that was not there.
The team had little room for error offensively and Hoyer could not overcome shortcomings to carry the team when needed. Hoyer was a bridge to the next phase of the Texans quarterback situation but how he ended the season showed how far off the position is for the team to take the next step.
Worst Defensive Free Agent Decision
Rahim Moore (7 games, 16 total tackles, 1 interception, 2 passes defended)
The speedy, rangy free safety was supposed to be the ball hawk the Texans needed to increase their play in the middle of the field. The move ended up being the biggest dud signing of the off season for the Texans.
Appearing in seven games all year, Moore just wouldn’t do the dirty work necessary to help the defense. The team needed him to play physically and be a force in run fits from the secondary. Moore was important enough for Romeo Crennel to change the entire secondary look to feature Moore as the primary player from the middle of the field. The Texans were in for a rude surprise when he gave none of that on the field. The situation came to a head in the Miami Dolphins game, which was his last game of the season. Moore took terrible angles all game and missed key tackles which led to big touchdowns plays. That proved enough for the Texans to admit their mistake.
Moore took the rest of the season on the bench as a healthy scratch. His future in Houston should be coming to an end in less than a calendar year.
Rookie of the Year
Benardrick McKinney (14 games, 58 total tackles, 1 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits)
The Texans tried to get McKinney to earn his stripes as a rookie but his practice habits and football I.Q. put him on the field and staring next to Brian Cushing. It was clear that McKinney had the “It” factor and he was always around the football. He meshed well next to Cushing and brought a feel for the game which a coach can not teach. McKinney had a knack for stopping opponents' screen game and was a key player in base defense.
A concussion kept him out for two games but McKinney proved to the team that trading up for him in the second round was the right move after his first season in Houston.
Breakout Player of the Year
Andre Hal (16 games, 34 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 4 interceptions and 10 pass deflections)
The cornerback position was crowded and Andre Hal actually started prepping for this season after his rookie season finished. Hal started studying every position in the secondary, including the safety position, for which he started taking reps during the offseason prior to the draft.
Hal was a product of circumstance. The lack of depth at safety allowed Hal to get the reps he needed at the position during mini-camps and OTAs, inserting himself into the discussion during training camp. Hal’s inconsistencies came in the run game which made the Texans uneasy about starting him at the beginning of the season. The failure of Rahim Moore allowed the Texans little choice but to make Hal a starter. It paid off due to Hal putting in the work.
Hal ended up leading the team in interceptions and was second on the team in pass deflections in limited starts (11). His transition is very similar to the one Glover Quin had after his rookie season and his emergence helped solidify a position that had plenty question marks prior to the season.
Disappointment of the Year
Ryan Mallett (6 games, 770 yards, 53.1% completion, 3 TDs, 4 interceptions, 63.6 rating)
Ryan Mallett showed in his first season as a quarterback that he had potential to be the team’s starting quarterback. He had the opportunity to compete for the job during the offseason and was handed the key to the franchise after one week of Brian Hoyer.
What happened after that point was a mess which included three known team infractions, with the final one getting him booted from the team after he missed a flight to Miami. Mallett was even highlighted on HBOs Hard Knocks for oversleeping during a team practice, creating a mess seen by the world.
The Texans took a low risk on Mallett and, for a player who was biding his time, waiting to get an opportunity, he failed to live up to the team’s expectations. Dealing with some issues off the field, Mallett became his own worst enemy and let down a team which gave him a chance to prove he could do it.
Best In-Season Addition
Brian Peters (11 games, 17 special teams tackles)
It was two-fold what Brian Peters did for the Texans when he arrived. He brought a tough attitude to the special teams unit and backed it up by being the top player of the group. Peters helped instantly when he arrived and laid some game-changing hits, most notably in the Cincinnati game coming out of the bye week in the most important game of the regular season.
Peters is under contract for two more years. His impact was clear and he was easily the top in-season addition.
Comeback Player of the Year
Brian Cushing (16 games, 110 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits, 3 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble)
It had been two seasons since there was a healthy Brian Cushing on the field for the Texans and came back this year, playing in 16 games for the first time since 2011 and notching the third 100-plus tackle season of his career.
His success this season was due to him being able to focus his entire off-season on getting ready for a football season and not rehabbing an injury. Back-to-back knee injuries in 2012 and 2013 put his 2014 season into question. In 2014, Cushing looked slow and lacked explosion, putting his 2015 in doubt.
The Texans never wavered and penciled him in as their every down inside linebacker and he answered the call. Cushing was able to stay on the field, providing needed veteran leadership, and his presence helped McKinney grow as a player throughout the season.
Game of the Year
Win vs. Cincinnati 10-6
It was the turning point of the season for the Texans and it came out of the bye week as a must-win. The Texans went into Cincinnati and played in a slugfest game that resulted in a concussed Hoyer, a defense which shut down Andy Dalton and company, and T.J. Yates bringing back memories of 2011 in one throw to DeAndre Hopkins in the only touchdown in the game.
The defense found its identity and iced the game off with a forced fumble on A.J. Green. The win was the highlight of the season for the Texans and helped set the tone on what would lead to an AFC South championship.
DeAndre Hopkins (192 targets, 111 receptions, 1,521 yards, 11 touchdowns)
He was the only real option on the offense who could make a game changing play. When the ball was in his direction, the Texans knew they had a chance for something good and with the offense struggling to run the ball early in the season, Hopkins was the only form of point generation at moments in the year.
Hopkins set a franchise record with 11 receiving touchdowns and was targeted 192 times in the passing game, comprising 36% of the passing targets.
When Hopkins was covered, he made plays. His best performance came when he took over against Darrelle Revis in a key game against the New York Jets. Hopkins did not back down and he recorded 100 yard games with four different quarterbacks.
Hopkins was the offense and without him, the situation would have been even worse.
J.J. Watt (16 games, 76 tackles, led the NFL with 17.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, 50 quarterback hits, 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery)
His play continues to be something to marvel at and if was not for a broken hand with which he played in a cast for three games, Watt could have notched another 20 sack season in all likelihood. Watt still led the NFL in sacks and put his name in the discussion to possibly land what could behis third NFL defensive player of the year award.
Watt showed once again that he can be a game wrecker and the focal points of offenses on gamedays. Watt did not have to do all of the heavy lifting by himself for the first time in his career with the emergence of Whitney Mercilus.
His play is dynamic and the impressive part of Watt’s play is him putting together seasons of consistency. He played the final half of the season with a groin injury which will require surgery to correct.
2015 was another impressive season from the NFL’s best defender.
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