The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: AFC South – Houston Texans


Houston Texans

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

Setting aside the fact that he’s a highly paid NFL star, you have to feel for Brandin Cooks a bit. A few months ago, the oft-traded veteran staked his future to Houston, declaring that he would not accept another trade after bouncing around the league since he was drafted by the Saints in 2014.

Things have not gone well for Houston since that statement. Their search for a new GM and head coach was a relatively embarrassing spectacle from the outside, and then Deshaun Watson, who was demanding a trade, saw his story take a decidedly downward turn that’s well beyond my area of knowledge. At this point, it does not appear Watson will play in the NFL this season, though many said the same of wide receiver Tyreek Hill a few years ago, and he did not miss a game.

Regardless of who lines up at quarterback, this is the worst roster in the NFL by a significant margin. The defense has two good players in inside linebacker Zach Cunningham and safety Justin Reid, which likely means that this will be the worst unit in the league. Defensive coordinator Lovie Smith was an outstanding head coach during his tenure with the Chicago Bears, but his comments regarding his Illinois team’s struggles to play defense out of their sub-packages, and the suggestion that the system would be more successful at the NFL level due to the ability to play more base, did not inspire confidence that he’s adjusted his philosophy to the modern NFL. Those comments don’t really mean anything in the end, but hopefully, Smith is singing a different tune within the building.

Why new GM Nick Caserio elected to acquire edge Shaq Lawson rather than draft capital when he traded inside linebacker Benadrick McKinney to the Miami Dolphins is also beyond me. Lawson has been effective as a complementary piece when he is surrounded by good players in the front, but he’ll now be the best player on a bad unit, assuming edge Whitney Mercilus, who was a very good player earlier in his career, continues to underwhelm. With so few picks, it seems it would have made more sense to acquire a few more chances to hit on a mid-round pick who would provide surplus value over the next four years, rather than a veteran who may struggle to play up to his cap number with little help around him.

On offense, they have left tackle Laremy Tunsil and the aforementioned Cooks. Tunsil did a tremendous favor to all the offensive linemen in the league in his contract negotiations, as Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari and San Francisco’s Trent Williams have since signed deals that topped Tunsil’s deal despite the fact that neither had the immense amount of leverage Tunsil had after the trade haul the Texans gave up to acquire him. It’s an important reminder of how once a contract mark is set, it’s set, regardless of the circumstances that led to the original deal.

That said, it’s unlikely either of these talented pairs has a particularly memorable season. Watson’s brilliance allowed the offense to keep putting up points last year, but the current options of Tyrod Taylor, Jeff Driskel, and rookie Davis Mills are unlikely to be capable of getting much production with this unit. Caserio cut center Nick Martin, who was arguably the unit’s second-best player behind Tunsil, and the top candidate he acquired to replace him is Justin Britt, who struggled with ineffective play and injuries at the end of his time in Seattle. The Texans did acquire tackle Marcus Cannon from the Patriots, which will presumably mean that former first-round pick Tytus Howard kicks in to guard, but Cannon is long in the tooth and sat out last season as a COVID opt-out. Left guard Max Scharping, a former second-round pick, may get a fresh start under the new regime after losing his job last season, but he hasn’t done much to suggest he’ll ever be more than an adequate player.

The skill players are likely to struggle along with the rest of the offense. Running backs David Johnson and Mark Ingram have their best days behind them, and while Phillip Lindsay has the juice to break off explosive runs, he’s struggled with keeping the offense on track on a down-to-down basis and is best suited as a complementary piece. They’ve also added former Patriot Rex Burkhead to the mix, so they’ve got plenty of competition for touches at the least. Receiver Keke Coutee got fresh life after former head coach Bill O’Brien was fired last season, and will look to build some value as he enters the final year of his rookie deal, and former Packers standout Randall Cobb will collect another year of pay at the surprisingly high rate O’Brien signed him at last offseason, but outside of Cooks, the receiver group lacks difference makers.

On the bright side, the Texans are a solid candidate to pick in the top 5 next season, and as they haven’t traded away that pick, they might be in a position to take a quarterback to lead this franchise in the Caserio-David Culley era, assuming the Watson saga doesn’t take an unexpected turn.

QB Passing Projections

Tyrod Taylor2217318.7531.90.66.393397.419.4715.93

QB Rushing Projections

Tyrod Taylor221798.35.22513.33.319.720.915.93

Skill Projections, Rushing

David JohnsonRB7717168.84.75801.84.833.830.19.30
Phillip LindsayRB12617180.84.73854.35.636.235.67.01
Mark Ingram IIRB2491732.14.12132.
Rex BurkheadRB2641720.13.8276.

Skill Projections, Receiving

Brandin CooksWR741755.067.213.43902.
David JohnsonRB771761.726.28.67227.
Keke CouteeWR1551763.647.49.06429.43.314.017.05.09
Jordan AkinsTE1691765.545.39.60434.71.613.08.04.44
Randall CobbWR1761761.335.811.34406.22.311.012.04.26
Chris ConleyWR1781753.037.311.24419.11.913.29.94.24
Mark Ingram IIRB2491774.012.26.4578.
Rex BurkheadRB2641770.016.68.05134.
Nico CollinsWR2651753.019.311.23216.
Ryan IzzoTE3031763.211.413.03148.
Website | + posts

Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.