Every year a new crop of rookies come to the Houston Texans and they are signed with a clear picture on what they can do for the team. Each player can either build depth on the 53-man roster, take a spot on the practice squad, or has a chance to be signed to another team’s roster.
The Texans have had a strong past with rookie free agents making the 53-man roster, Eddie Pleasant, A.J. Bouye, Max Bullough, Kendall Lamm, Jonathan Grimes, Carlos Thompson, Kurtis Drummond, and Corey Moore were all rookie free agents who appeared last season for the Texans.
New season and new faces, we give you some early names to pay attention to heading to training camp.
Free Agent Rookies To Watch
Ka'imi Fairbairn, Kicker, UCLA
The Lou Groza award winner in 2015, Fairbairn left UCLA as a solid weapon, scoring 100+ points in four consecutive seasons. With a gifted leg, Fairbairn is considered a dual threat in field goals and kickoffs. He forced 72.6% of touchbacks in 164 kickoffs from 2014-2015 and was 20 of 24 on field goal attempts in 2015.
Fairbairn showed during rookie mini-camp that he has the leg to put his name into the discussion to take over the kicking duties. Dropping field goals from 50 to 55 yards out, Fairbairn is going to have to outshine Nick Novak to prove he is the guy. It is going to start with consistency, but Fairbairn has the skill set to get a fair look.
Shakeel Rashad, ILB, North Carolina
After starting his career with North Carolina as a bandit, the staff there had him playing at the wrong weight, which stunted his growth as a player. When Gene Chizik arrived to UNC to be the defensive coordinator, he moved Rashad to the inside linebacker role and he took off as a player.
Gifted with athleticism, Rashad is still learning the position, but he is a plus when he is matched up against running backs and tight ends. He is going to show he can play physically when the pads are strapped on, but, with an emphasis on special teams, Rashad’s overall speed and athleticism could put him into the discussion for a spot on the inside linebacker depth chart.
Ufomba Kamalu, DL, Miami
Voted Miami’s Defensive MVP over the likes of Artie Burns (1st round selection) and Deon Bush (4th round selection), Kamalu shifted between defensive tackle and end before settling into the 3-4 end spot his senior season. Still a raw player, Kamalu showed he has the intangibles to make plays with strength and hustle.
With the Texans looking for depth at the defensive end spot, Kamalu has plenty to learn but fits the mold on the type of player for which the defense is looking. It will be about being fundamentally sound for Kamalu and, with some learning still to do with the game of football, habits may be easier to teach.
Joel Heath, DL, Michigan State
Not getting much time with Michigan State as an edge player, Heath packed on 30 lbs., moved to the inside, and became an instant starter. Starting two seasons for the Spartans, Heath became a dependable cog on the interior of the defense.
Heath will have to win the spot and show he can learn the end position in a hurry. That goes to stopping the run first for the Texans and, if he can do that at a high level, he has a chance. Size alone will not get it done but, like Kamalu, Heath fits the bill on the body type the Texans want see for the position.
Soma Vainuku, FB, USC
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There is something to be said for players who impress every time they hit the field and Vainuku did the dirty work for USC. A fullback by trade, he handled some running plays and excelled in special teams, as well. Blocking three punts and racking up 20 special teams tackles, Vainuku’s versatility is exactly what the Texans wanted.
Coming into mini-camp, Vainuku showed he has good hands for a fullback and he has a chance to dethrone Jay Prosch for the fullback position. The Texans are focused on getting better at special teams and every spot on the bottom of the roster appears to be up for grabs. Vainuku is going to have to show he can be a top notch fullback to make the team.
Eric Lee, OLB, USF
A defensive end at USF, his strength and athleticism led to him being named All-Conference. Able to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up, Lee was relentless for the Bulls' defense.
Lee will be pushing to making his transition to outside linebacker and he showed some violent hands in pass rush drills with Mike Vrabel. He is an imposing presence and has an NFL-type frame, so he can contribute on special teams if needed. Lee has a chance to push for the fourth outside linebacker spot.
Stephen Anderson, TE, Cal
Part of a potent offense at Cal, Anderson was a middle-of-the-field threat who put together solid seasons as a pass catching threat at tight end. The majority of his playing time came during his final two seasons at Cal, with 2014 being his best season.
Anderson put on a show at mini-camp and showed that none of the rookies at the camp could stop him in coverage. With above average hands, Anderson made though catches look easy and broke out some one-handed receptions in the process. The road is there for Anderson to take over the third tight end spot, but the Texans are going to have to accept that he could be a below average blocker. Anderson could most definitely help in the passing game if he can make the 53-man roster but everything is in front of the young tight end to take control of his own destiny.
Other Rookie Free Agents Heading to OTAs
- Duke Thomas, CB, Texas
- Richard Mullaney, WR, Alabama
- Cleveland Wallace, CB, San Jose State
- Richard Leonard, CB, Florida International
- Brennan Scarlett, OLB, Stanford
- Arturo Uzadavinis, OT, Tulane
- Wendall Williams, WR, Cumberlands
- Tevin Jones, WR, Memphis
- Ryan Langford, ILB, New Mexico