The Houston Texans' rookie class has gotten off to a solid start. Though early, there are clear positives coming from a 2016 draft class heading to the midpoint of the preseason and it appears the entire draft class will make the 53-man roster when the preseason breaks.
Here is a quick Texans rookie pulse on the draft class.
The early returns on Will Fuller V have been solid and the good certainly outweighs the bad so far for the teams’ 1st round selection. He will have to continue to get stronger against defensive backs and in stalk blocking defensive backs. Fuller has found out early that there is a toughness on the field that he is going to have to achieve so he does not get pushed around. Right now, his speed at getting vertical is enough to open up plenty of other routes (stops, hitches, outs) built off that physical trait. He will continue to evolve in the offense but he has shown in the preseason, much like he did in practice, that he can contribute from day one. Set to be a primary wide receiver in the Texans offense, Fuller has kept up with the NFL pace well.
It has been a rocky road for the 2nd round pick; his training camp has been marred with injuries. Nick Martin missed the first preseason game with a back injury that kept him out for over a week and then, on his second day back in joint practices against the Saints, Martin sustained a high ankle sprain in group run drills. To make matters worse, Martin is now waiting for more information on his status moving forward, as doctors try to determine whether surgery is required for his ankle issue. That word has come down and he will miss the entire 2016 season after undergoing ankle surgery. He was slated to be the starter week one but all of that takes a back seat to his long term health.
The concern with Braxton Miller was how he was going to transition to the NFL after only one season playing wide receiver at Ohio State. It was clear when he arrived during rookie mini-camp and OTAs that Miller was being slowed by the playbook, causing him to think way too much on the field. That thinking caused him to play slow and he not look comfortable with what he was being asked. One thing Miller did show was how gifted he was in one-on-one pass situations during drills with the quarterbacks. No one could stay with him in coverage. When training camp arrived, he started understanding his role and the light bulb flipped on. Miller has become a terror to cover in the middle of the field. He has taken over the starting slot wide receiver position and the arrow is pointing up to see plenty of Miller during the regular season. He will have to continue to work on his hands, especially with how he turns his hands when the ball is in flight his direction.
The Texans wanted to improve their special teams unit and it started with Tyler Ervin, who was an accomplished returner at San Jose State. Ervin was drafted to be the main punt and kicker returner for the Texans, with some running back work sprinkled in during the season. Ervin has had a slow start to his return career during the preseason but some of that can be attributed to his trying to run the scheme set forth by Larry Izzo. The lack of consistent blocking and some of his own awareness issues, Ervin has been slow to get started this preseason. He has been adequate running the football but the team is more focused on getting Lamar Miller, Kenny Hilliard, and Alfred Blue looks during the preseason in the run game. Patience will be needed with Ervin as he gets the feel for special teams on the NFL level.
There is value late in the draft and the Texans more than likely found a worthy prize in nose tackle, D.J. Reader. Reader is far more advanced than most expected, especially with his technique in the run game using his hands. His play is most vital in the base defense because he is stout against the run which showed it against the Saints. He might be able to give some small snaps in nickel and dime but he gets a little worn out due to the conditioning needed at this level. Bill O’Brien has been upfront about Reader, staying on his conditioning levels for the season. In terms of value, Reader is currently the best value of the draft class based where they were drafted.
It is easy to see the potential with the hard-hitting safety in K.J. Dillon, especially when the pads went on. Overshadowed by 1st round pick of the Oakland Raiders, Karl Joseph, how West Virginia asked the two safeties to play in their defense is carrying over at the NFL level. Dillon has some solid coverage skills and has been close to picking off passes in the preseason games off of deflections. His best trait is what he does in the run game playing with a reckless abandon, attacking players with the football. He will need to pack on some muscle heading into next year, but he looks primed to help out on special teams this season.
The Houston Texans continue putting their scouting department to work, finding potential hidden contributors for their roster or practice squad. These personnel have brought in many undrafted free agents going into 2016 and may have finally found a key potential piece of the offense for the future, utilizing a little luck that fell their way.
A look at the rookie free agents' pulse.
It was clear when rookie mini-camp arrived that Stephen Anderson was going to have a shot to make this team. A converted wide receiver from Cal, Anderson was not the prototypical tight end that most NFL teams want but, if a team landed him, there had to be a clear picture on what he was able to do for an offense. The Texans figured out quickly that he is a true pass catching threat as a tight end, lining up against smaller safeties and slower linebackers. Anderson is going to have to prove he can give something in the blocking portion of the game but his consistent work with Brock Osweiler and early appearances in the preseason have demonstrated that he can run clean routes and catch the football with finesse.
The Texans brought in Ka'imi Fairbairn to compete with Nick Novak for the kicking position and it was a pretty even race throughout OTAs and mini-camp. Then, when training camp kicked off, it was a neck and neck race, with Fairbairn showing some solid kicking, especially from distance. He showed he can make kicks from 50+ with some consistency, especially against his competition Novak. Now, through three weeks of camp, Faibairn has lost his way some, missing relative chip shots from 40 yards or closer which became a big concern. Then, the injury bug hit him with a quad issue that held him out of the preseason game against the Saints. It has been a rough week for the rookie kicker and, with the clock ticking, inconsistency and a nagging injury are doing him no favors.
The Texans have a strong player in defensive lineman Joel Heath, who holds up well in the run game and has some nice athletic agility. He is very raw as a player and could be viewed as a developmental player heading into next season.
Two outside linebackers, Eric Lee and Brennan Scarlett, have showed some good life off the edge. With the Texans looking to round out their depth chart on the 53-man roster, both of the youngsters have shown something on the field, both in practice and games, that puts them into consideration. Lee has stayed healthy, which gives him the edge over Scarlett who has struggled with nagging injuries all camp.
It will take some more work from Wendall Williams to make the team but his best bet looks to be a return player in a pinch. He has evened out as a wide receiver, which limits him as a position player. His speed is an added plus but it hasn’t translated to the field.
Ufomba Kamalu is a raw player at the defensive end position, but is not as strong at the point of attack like his rookie counterpart, Heath. However, Kamalu has everything coaches likes for a development player.
The supplemental draft entry, Ra'Zahn Howard, has been an interesting player early He most definitely has the strength to play the nose tackle position but leaving Purdue and entering camp late has slowed him. Howard needs to cut some weight to see how effective he really can be at the NFL level. His mentality is perfect for the position but he has a long way to go to make it in this league.
Shakeel Rashad has the speed to play at inside linebacker but his frame is going to need some NFL muscle. His best bet will getting a good off season under his belt.
Offensive tackle Arturo Uzadavinis is an above average run blocker and has shown it consistently; his issues are with pass protection mainly his footwork. He is another who could use a good off season of work.
Time has become limited for wide receivers Quenton Bundrage and Tevin Jones, mainly due to the early success of players ahead of them on the depth chart. Cornerback Duke Thomas is in a similar position being the only rookie on the depth chart. He too will need an off season to see exactly what he can be.
Ryan Langford’s time has been limited also, but he has already beat most by turning a tryout into a rookie contract to get him to camp. He has some good coverage skills for an inside linebacker.
Matt Pierson was a late addition to the offensive line and has worked primarily at left tackle.