The best part of rookie classes in the NFL is how they adjust to the pro style of game. Expectations are always high for rookies and this year's Houston Texans draft class was one of the few this past seasons that had solid impact to the season.
We review the rookie class of the Houston Texans and a class as whole who is trending up for the 2016 season.
The Draft Class
Although the talent is clearly there, like many rookies, the middle of the season did not treat Kevin Johnson well as he hit the rookie wall. The Texans did not waste time with Johnson and getting him on the field alongside veterans Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph.
Johnson played both inside and outside cornerback, looking much more comfortable as the boundary cornerback. He showed the toughness that the Texans expect from their defensive players, which was notable given how Johnson was questioned coming out of Wake Forest regarding whether he had the toughness needed for the NFL. He answered that question emphatically.
Johnson’s rookie season showed that he has the promise to be what NFL teams want: an above average cornerback who can compete in a pass happy league.
There were questions on what the Texans were thinking when when they traded up for Benardrick McKinney in the second round. McKinney answered the naysayers when the team inserted him into the starting defense in week three against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With an above average football I.Q. - especially for a rookie - McKinney showed his smarts by understanding how plays developed. McKinney was a one-man wrecking crew defending the screen pass this past season. He worked well next to Brian Cushing and is being groomed to be the next presence on the inside.
He missed games this seasons due to a sprained knee and a concussion, but McKinney was clearly the cream of the crop for the 2015 rookie class. The game was not too much for McKinney in year one and he is a clear starter for the 2016 season.
It was a climb for Jaelen Strong after he was drafted by the Texans out of Arizona State. Coming into camp at 231 lbs., he could not finish in rookie mini-camp or OTAs, and concern started to mount. Prior to the start of training camp, Strong lost weight and got down to 211 lbs. To make the situation even more impressive is the fact Strong worked his weight down to 198 lbs. during the season which helped out his overall play.
It took time for Strong to learn the offensive system and hit the field, but he did not disappoint when he finally saw playing time. When Strong touched the ball, good things happened offensively. He showed that he could make people miss in the open field and was able to showcase his play making abilities as a wide receiver when his name was called.
Strong’s overall progression from when he arrived to the Texans to when the final whistle was blown on the season were indicative of a good start to his career. He answered the call when the coaches asked him to lose weight and became more focused when he came back for camp. He also showed that he can be more than a contributor when given opportunities. Strong needs to build on his late season success for the coming seasons.
After showing up early during the off-season, Keith Mumphery was asked to do the most of the entire rookie class. He played special teams on both the return and coverage games, in addition to his normal duties of wide receiver, where he played both inside and outside positions.
Mumphery was a solid addition to the team. He was not necessarily flashy but he was consistent and did what the staff asked him to do. As a kick returner, Mumphery posted 24.1 yards per return while only five other Texans have averaged over 24 yards per return since 2002 (minimum 10 kickoff returns).
There is some intrigue factor to Mumphrey, but there is clear work for him to do in order to make him a household name as an offensive threat.
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It was disappointing to see Reshard Cliett's season end the way it did with a torn ACL in training camp, but he opened up some eyes early with his speed and athleticism from the inside linebacker position.
Cliett is on the mend after undergoing a surgery to repair an ACL and a shoulder issue. A full recovery is expected and Cliett has already gotten to work on rehabbing to get ready for next season.
There were plenty of expectations for Christian Covington coming into the season although he was not used as much on the field as some had hoped.
Covington had to put weight back on after the NFL combine, where he got down to the 280 lb. mark. When the season got going he had to get back over 300 lbs. to play efficiently in the defense. Covington only had 8 total tackles but four of those went for tackles for loss and he had two sacks on the season. Also he registered four quarterback hits in limited work which is a good ratio for his low snap count.
Covington played primarily in nickel and dime situations to help give a break to Vince Wilfork and Jared Crick. It is a technique situation with Covington but he makes a difference in pass defense for the Texans and he is another piece on the defensive line for the future.
Kenny Hilliard did not make the team when he came out of camp but spent the entire season on the practice squad. With the Texans envisioning Hilliard being a 1st and 2nd down back running downhill, he could not beat out Chris Polk his rookie season.
There will be competition in camp next season and Hilliard will have his work cut out for him to make the roster.
Other Rookies of Note
The Texans watched Akeem Hunt at Purdue and met with him many times during the draft process. After the draft he spent time with the New York Giants and did not make it out of camp before latching on with the Baltimore Ravens. After injuring a hamstring, the Ravens moved on and the Texans found their chance to land the speedy running back when he became available.
It took time for Hunt to get his role expanded in the offense but it was clear how much his speed changed the game when he touched the ball. When the Texans got Hunt to the edges, good things happened and he was able to flip the field in a hurry. He even showed good hands in the passing game, although he struggled some inside the tackles due to his small stature.
Hunt is a change up back and solid addition late in the season for the Texans when they needed offensive help. He will be in camp next season and will have to win a job, but there was enough shown during game days to like what he could offer as a situational back.
Overlooked in the draft and one of the most dynamic safeties to play the college game, Kurtis Drummond was left as a rookie free agent and the Texans pounced to bring him in.
Drummond was signed to the active roster after the Texans placed Arian Foster on the injured reserve and was inserted into the special teams, with his speed changing things for the positive. The Texans even worked him in at safety when they could and he gained some game experience at the position.
Drummond missed a few games after suffering a concussion but his athletic ability is clear and he is an intriguing name for the Texans over the off-season.
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Called up late in the season due to the injury of Charles James, Corey Moore was solely a special teams player. The Texans like what Moore brings in term of athleticism to the team but there is work to do as both a special teams player and defender.
An under the radar rookie, Kendall Lamm ended up appearing 15 games for the Texans at right tackle and tight end. If there was anything to appreciate, it was the fact that Lamm got plenty of experience playing key downs on the field.
That experience will be useful down the road and Lamm became key for the depth of the Texans while receiving on-the-job training. With the time the team invested into Lamm, expectations will rise for the rookie offensive tackle.
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