The fans of Cleveland were a bit peeved when the team moved on from Josh Lenz at the conclusion of training camp. The Texans found Lenz and placed him into the system, getting him enough work on the practice squad to be extended for the upcoming season. Landing a reserve/futures contract, Lenz has the ability to help inside or outside at receiver. He will have to open eyes in a hurry when mini-camps and OTAs arrive to have an opportunity to make an impact.
Jaelen Strong showed what he could do when he was given the chance on the field but the real point of growth was from when Strong arrived to rookie mini-camp. Showing up overweight at 231 lbs., Strong could not finish practices and his weight became a real concern. During the month off prior to to training camp starting, Strong dialed in and reported to camp at 217 lbs. As the regular season progressed, he worked down to 211 lbs. Add in some solid moments when given opportunities on the field, Strong has developed as a professional and raised expectations. Strong always made plays when the ball was in his hands which leaves a good feeling about what he could become with the Texans opposite of DeAndre Hopkins.
If Cecil Shorts III could stay healthy, that would be a solid start. He missed five games due to a dislocated shoulder and soft tissue injuries. Shorts has always dealt with injuries and is yet to play a full season in the NFL due to numerous ailments. In 2015, Shorts’ production saw him lead the team in yards after the catch (223) and he got back in line he was production wise when he was a top target in Jacksonville during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. If the Texans can find a way to get Shorts healthy, that would be a plus because he has shown he can help at the slot wide receiver.
Keith Mumphery was the most used rookie of the group. He played special teams in coverage and the return game, as well as lining up at both inside and outside wide receiver. He is not flashy but there was a big learning curve for Mumphery who was not asked to be a key part of the return game in college. He will be counted upon to make a jump over the off-season to become a bigger part of the offense, and with that comes being more confident when catching the football. The jury is still out on Mumphery but the Texans like the fact he can help in multiple ways.
The offense was run through DeAndre Hopkins and he put on a show no matter who was throwing him the football. He became the first Texans receiver with double digit touchdown receptions in a season. Hopkins ended the year with 111 receptions for 1,521 yards, which ranked him second in the AFC in both categories. Hopkins is emerging as the receiver they envisioned when the team drafted him out of Clemson. His ability to high point footballs and win a majority of one on one situations, along with his eye popping catch radius, make him a special football player. The sky is the limit for Hopkins and it will be tough to bet against him in 2016 regardless of who is playing quarterback.
Production wise, Nate Washington was a solid fit for the scheme the Texans wanted to run. The only real issue was that he could not catch the ball consistently. When the Texans needed a big catch from Washington, he was not able to come through. It was Washington’s lowest average per catch since 2011 and the first time in his career he did not appear in 16 games since 2006. The inconsistent part of Washington’s game is what made it tough at times to watch, but he was a low risk option for 2015.
This group is going to be built around DeAndre Hopkins and, with the youth of Keith Mumphrey and Jaelen Strong, the Texans have three pieces in place. There is reason to think Cecil Shorts III will be back for training camp at least, and Nate Washington was signed to a one-year deal leaving him in limbo. There is little reason to bring back Washington with Strong’s late season’s emergence but the group needs to get faster and more consistent.
The health of the wide receiver group was an issue, especially with Shorts and Washington missing a total of seven games combined, which slowed the growth of the offense. That is where the Texans have to get better and more consistent with health and production on the field.
The future of Shorts should be paid attention to. He can essentially be cut for $2.9 million savings vs. the cap. His future could be in line with what happens on the free agency market.
The Texans can go either direction, free agency or draft, but whatever the options are, expect the player they go with to be able to run and eat up yards when the ball hits his hands. The youth is in place for the position group and there could easily be room for up to two to three new faces when 2016 arrives.