As the dust settles on the ’22 draft, the Texans are still in the early stages of their reclamation back towards pro-football relevancy. Nick Caserio inherited a threadbare talent-base, but after two drafts, two head-coaching appointments, a quarterback trade and countless free agent signings. Are they on the right track?
What Are Realistic Expectations For The ’22 Season?
Any NFL squad aiming to fill a number of roster-needs via the draft inevitably leads to a specific outcome for that immediate season. Despite another array of over-familiar & some lesser known free-agent signings, the team will be reliant on this ’22 class of rookies, if improvements are to be sought.
It can’t be ignored that post the draft & free agency, an unmistakeable hole exists at pass-rusher. Even if the Texans had drafted a future hall-of-fame candidate at third overall, that still may have left the most vital part of any defence lacking the required talent. Lovie may resort to un-characteristically blitzing to alleviate the lack of edge talent. But whatever their plans are at Edge and at number of other roster spots, it cannot be doubted that Derek Stingley Jr., Kenyon Green & Jalen Pitre won’t have many hiding places. They’ll all be asked to grow up fast this season.
Any rookie emergence this year should be taken as a bonus. Growing pains similar to what Kareem Jackson felt in year-one or the limited but positive contributions made by rookie DeAndre Hopkins, should both provide guides of reasonable, year-one expectations. Undoubtedly, watching the development of John Metchie in the slot or Teagan Q. at the Y-TE, are perhaps more important than wins during the ’22 season. Quite how many of these steps are taken in laying claims for future years, will determine their route back to relevancy.
Caserio has now cast his first net towards his chosen sections of the collegiate talent pool. Whether he’s found any keepers, is a two year maturation process requiring time and patience, in a ruthlessly competitive environment.
Year 2 Development?
It’s a well trodden theory, that appropriately assessing young players begins in year two and the 2021 class should be under a greater degree of scrutiny than any of the Texans newest rookie additions. As all rookies take varying amounts of time to acclimate, the required leap across a holistic set of expectations is seismic.
There may be some more surprises akin to Roy Lopez’s contribution last year. There will also be some inconclusive reports, similar to Nico Collins, who missed time with injury. But the Texans are also depending on their ’21 class to delver this year. If both Brevin Jordan and Nico Collins can provide 35-50 catches each & become reliable parts of the offence, in the same way Lopez can constantly wrestle double teams, such iterative improvements across the squad will culminate in a greater degree of competitiveness.
Of course, there will be no greater focus than that placed on Davis Mills. His trajectory of improvement has the ability to be franchise altering. Though the general expectations of Mills, seem to be out-of-kilter with his limited tape thus far. It’s natural for a fanbase, who’ve been to the football equivalent of hell & back, to romanticise Mills’ limited displays to date. But forecasting the former Stanford Cardinal to become a franchise-leading player, considering he’s yet to be productive over 4-consecutive quarters, consistently beat man-coverage or assume full control of a game, is unfair on Mills but also unsteady in its foundations.
Late season highs can often be fools gold but undoubtedly those flashes need to become consistent execution over a full slate of games, for an appropriate sample size to be meaningfully evaluated.
An overlooked factor is the change in offensive scheme with Pep Hamilton assuming the role of coordinator. The offence isn’t quite starting over but the installation of new plays, gaining comfortability with players, isn’t a straight-forward, nor a quick process. Particularly when the Texans talent levels won’t be a fair match for a multitude of their opponents this year, far less 4 games against the AFC West. The unknown or the hope for new, can often bring around illogical conclusions and the “Mills Project” appears no different. But regardless of the outcome, it’s the biggest story line & inflection point for the Texans in 2022.
Are The Team Now On A More Certain Path?
The life cycle of every NFL team is 3-4 years by definition of the rookie wage-scale but where Houston is sitting on that curve, is a relative unknown. The 2024 cap number has Brandin Cooks as the solitary player of any dollars to note. The lack of true foundational pieces can’t be ignored. They will need to be found & then certified across the ’22 & ’23 seasons. The Texans games over that period, will pose the question to every player in the building: Are they good enough to play a role on a winning football team? It will pose an uncomfortable outlook for most a but it’s the reality of the Texans for at least another year or so.
Further considering, the expectation is that their primary means of talent acquisition will continue via the draft. As draft hit-rates tend to circle around 50% mark, so the roster churn will highly likely continue for a number of years yet. Stability of their 53-man roster, even in NFL-terms seems distant, until the talent levels can be stabilised across the depth chart.
Of course, what players, at which position emerge, will greatly determine the speed of this team re-building process. If Mills beats the odd’s and leads this team for the years to come, then it’s instantly kicked into overdrive. Or if the Texans are drafting a replacement in the 2023 draft, progress will have stalled but finding the right one, is by far the most important step for every team.
The league is separated by the ‘have’s’ & ‘have not’s’. So for it all to truly mean something again, the Texans must find a franchise passer. But at the very least, if/when they do find the next QB, whoever that might be, they appear to be on far more stable footing than they were when they lost the faith of their previous one.
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