Houston Texans' Most Underrated and Overrated Offseason Additions
They can sink the season for a player or team if those expectations aren't met or have the opposite effect if the predicted level of play is surpassed. Expectations are often unfair or unrealistic, but their impact is real.
For a good example, you need look no further than the 2013 Houston Texans. Coming off a 12-4 season, many fans and media members expected the Texans to make a deep run in the playoffs. Anyone taking a look deeper than the surface could see the cracks in their roster that could tear the team apart, but even those who expected a drop-off were surprised by their 2-14 record.
That surprise and shock got people fired. Of course a record of 2-14 is an awful mark in any situation, but I don't think the Jacksonville Jaguars would have fired Gus Bradley after his first year if they had finished with the same record as the Texans.
Why? It's simple: The expectations were different. Failing to meet them in such an epic fashion will get you fired every time like it did for Gary Kubiak.
The opposite is also true, as we saw with Charlie Weis in 2005 with Notre Dame when he turned exceeding expectations into a lifetime contract, a stadium named in his honor and a statue wheeled around behind him by an assistant (I may have exaggerated those perks, but his contract extension was crazy).
Meeting or coming up short of expectations can lead to being labeled either as overrated or underrated. Of the numerous offseason additions for the Texans, I will attempt to explain why I think each is either overrated or underrated.
If I label a player as overrated, it doesn't necessarily mean I think he's a bad player, just that he either won't live up to expectations or that his role won't be as big on this team as initially believed.
Overrated: Ryan Fitzpatrick
No one realistically believes that Ryan Fitzpatrick is capable of coming in and solving the Texans' problem at quarterback. Some do, however, believe that he's capable of playing at a higher level than Matt Schaub—especially compared to what the longtime Texans player did last season.
Of course when people state that Fitzpatrick will outplay Schaub, they're referring to the killer turnovers that crippled the Texans last season.
To quote Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend."
Don't take this as a defense of Matt Schaub—I wanted him out the door just as badly as everyone else—but I think we bought fool's gold if we've convinced ourselves that Fitzpatrick is the answer when it comes to the problem of too many turnovers from the quarterback.
The worst single-season interception total of Matt Schaub's career is 15. That came during the 2009 season, when he also led the league in passing yards, attempts and completions (he threw the ball a ton). Despite playing in 13 fewer games over his career, Fitzpatrick has had three seasons with 15 or more interceptions to Schaub's one.
Fitzpatrick's worst two-year interception total is 39, which he racked up over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The worst two-year interception total of Schaub's career so far is 27.
Going a little further, in seasons when either quarterback started at least eight games, Matt Schaub's interception percentage is just 2.6 compared to 3.4 for Fitzpatrick. Regardless if you think that difference is huge or no big deal, every stat indicates that Schaub has been the more efficient and the less turnover-prone quarterback over their careers.
New head coach Bill O'Brien likes Fitzpatrick and chose him to be his starter in part because he likes his intelligence at the position and values his experience, something he has nearly tenfold over the other Texans' quarterbacks combined.
From ESPN.com, Coach O'Brien confirmed what he saw in Fitzpatrick.
We really liked his intelligence. We liked the fact that he had played a bunch of football. We liked that he played football in a similar system relative to Chan Gailey's system in Buffalo. We liked the fact that he was a guy who we thought would be a good system fit, meaning he was an intelligent guy, a good leader, a guy who was an accurate passer. We felt like what was best for the Houston Texans was to find a good fit at quarterback for our system.
However, being a quarterback guru is different from being a miracle-worker. Can he get the best Fitzpatrick has to offer out of him? Maybe, but what will he do different than what the other dozen head coaches, coordinators and quarterback coaches have tried?
Fitzpatrick will turn 32 during the season which is on the wrong side of 30 for a football player. I hope he suddenly turns over a new leaf during this late part of his career, but I'm skeptical.
My gut feeling is that if you're expecting a much-improved level of play out of Fitzpatrick compared to Schaub, you'll be left feeling greatly disappointed.
Underrated: Alfred Blue
Not much is expected from the typical sixth-round pick. The same will be true for new Texans running back Alfred Blue in the eyes of many despite coming from a college powerhouse like LSU.
Most casual fans had turned the draft coverage off long before his name was called on Day 3 with the 181st overall pick, but I expect that his play will earn him more coverage and attention.
However, what Blue did with those carries was impressive, with a career average of six yards per carry. Averaging six yards per carry is great in any league or at any level, but averaging that many yards per attempt in the SEC is extraordinary.
There's no shame in not being the primary ball-carrier for a team like LSU, which seems to be a running back factory, but there are legit concerns about whether or not the talent level of Blue that allowed him to average six yards per carry will show up on the NFL field because of his injury history.
It's impossible to answer that question right now without the pads on, but he has impressed many observers, including his coach Bill O'Brien.
He’s doing pretty well. He’s a guy that came in here as a talented young player that has shown us early on — very early now, OK? So we’re not sending him off to the Pro Bowl just yet. But he’s able to learn and he’s got some instincts and he so far he seems like a good team guy. I’ve enjoyed being around him.
Patrick Starr of State of the Texans has also been impressed by what he's seen from Blue.
He runs smooth and for his 6-2 and 223 lbs. frame he catches the ball with no issues. He will get his induction into the NFL when he has to run inside the tackles but he could be a factor in the passing game as a situational piece. Seeing him in mini-camps, he had a steady progression of improving all the way up until the final day of practices. Blue, to us, has everything needed to unseat Andre Brown as the second running back on the depth chart.
Who knows what Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien envisioned for Alfred Blue in year one when they decided to draft him on day three, but I think they got a major contributor and a possible replacement for the soon-to-be-28 Arian Foster.
In Blue, the Texans have a running back with good speed, great vision and better-than-expected hands as a receiver. Those qualities should make him a perfect fit in the new offense under Bill O'Brien.
Considering how often veteran free-agent addition Andre Brown has been injured and the fact that Brown has only had one productive season since being drafted in 2009, I think Blue will not only make the roster this season but be the Texans' second-string back and main backup to Arian Foster.
In my opinion, that's more than enough to classify him as a surprise find and a player who is currently underrated by most.
Overrated: Andre Brown
With Ben Tate departing for Cleveland as a free agent, the Texans brought in another veteran in Andre Brown to take his place as the primary backup for Arian Foster. At least that probably was the plan early on, before another addition to the running back position.
The former New York Giant was a fourth-round pick in 2009, but since that time, he has struggled to stay healthy and get on the field. Out of the 80 games the Giants played over the next five seasons, Brown managed to play in just 22 of them with eight starts. A player can have all the talent in the world, but if he's on the field for roughly 25 percent of the games his team plays, then his talent is meaningless.
My initial hope with the signing of Andre Brown was that he could fill the role that Justin Forsett held during the 2012 season. As the Texans' third running back that season, Forsett averaged nearly six yards a carry and clearly outplayed Ben Tate; over his six-year NFL career, Forsett's average stands at an impressive 4.9 yards per carry.
After receiving only two rushing attempts over his first three seasons—yes, only two—Brown broke out in 2012 with a great average of 5.3 yards per carry over 73 attempts, including his first two career starts. The Giants expanded his role the next season in 2013 with eight starts, but Brown averaged just a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry.
I know Brown was coming from behind last year while recovering from a broken leg suffered during the preseason, but that's more of the same problem; he's constantly dealing with injuries.
Is he Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
Is he the back who looked great over a short span in 2012 or is he the back who sat out the first three years of his career and looked below average during his longest tenure as a starting running back?
The Giants must have thought he was more the latter since they decided to let him walk.
Andre Brown definitely has a role on this team. My question is how big that role will be and if he eventually slips behind the rookie Alfred Blue on the depth chart.
Patrick Starr of State of the Texans talks about the battle between Brown and Blue to be Foster's backup this season.
Brown is a downhill running back that can run inside the tackles or bounce it outside when needed. While Blue is almost a clone of Foster in the sense he can do a little bit of it all and how well he catches the ball as a running back makes him an intriguing option. The learning curve for Blue, as a rookie, should not be over looked and getting him ready for week one to contribute will be a priority for the offensive coaching staff.
While both players have dealt with injuries in the past, I like the potential of Alfred Blue more—not only because he has younger legs, but also because he brings more to the table as a pass-catcher, which Coach O'Brien has talked about being important for this offense.
As Patrick Starr pointed out in a previous quote, Blue will have to overcome a learning curve to take the second running back position away from Brown. However, while Brown has been in the league for five seasons, he only has 214 career carries; Arian Foster averaged 319 carries between the 2010 and 2012 seasons.
Brown has the edge in experience, but he's not ahead by a mile. Whenever the learning part of the game catches up with the talent of the rookie Blue, he'll take Brown's spot on the depth chart, in my opinion.
Brown was a nice addition, but he won't have the impact that many expected at the time of his signing.
Underrated: Jay Prosch
It's not Thursday, but fullback Jay Prosch is a throwback.
During an age of football that has either eliminated his position completely or asked fullbacks to be more tweeners who can catch and also play tight end at times, Prosch is the type of fullback your father and grandfather grew up watching.
Prosch is tough, he's physical and he has the right attitude for the position, seemingly enjoying dealing out punishment like a prize fighter.
The former Auburn player was a key piece of the Tigers rushing attack that averaged over 320 yards on the ground per game last season. That performance and the physical makeup of Prosch had scouts like Dane Brugler of CBS Sports—who had him ranked as the top fullback in the draft—drooling over his potential.
Stout frame with broad shoulders and packed muscle build...brute take-on strength and natural power to run over defenders at the POA or steer them in the direction he wants...looks to finish his man, blocking through the echo of the whistle...little hesitation to his game with alert eyes and the awareness to quickly find his target and attack...tough and durable and hates to leave the field...self-starter with a team-first attitude and ideal character on and off the field...strong workout habits and pushes himself in the weight room...coachable with the competitive drive and heart that makes him a leader and favorite in the locker room.
Part of what I cut out for length reasons—which you can read by clicking the link—was Brugler's explanation that Prosch was not only a physical force as a run-blocker, but also had shown skill as a pass protector and receiver, and he has the capability of becoming a stud on special teams.
For an offensive-minded head coach who isn't afraid to think outside the box and be versatile with formations—as it looks like Coach O'Brien is—having a guy like Prosch on the roster is invaluable.
Just looking at his ability as a run-blocker, the Texans haven't had a fullback with his talent on the roster since Vonta Leach left after the 2010 season. Leach—who made his first Pro Bowl team with the Texans—led the way for Arian Foster during his breakout season in 2010. Since Leach left, Foster's yards-per-game average has dropped off each season, and he's never equaled his 2010 numbers for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns or yards per carry.
It will be tough to tell what the full plan is for Prosch until the Texans put on the pads and really start to get after it during training camp and the preseason, but he has Pro Bowl ability as a run-blocker and enough versatility to stay in the game in other situations and still make an impact.
Drafting a fullback is never a sexy pick and often goes unnoticed by most fans and media members, but I wouldn't be shocked if Prosch makes a major impact on this team. What Prosch does might not stand out in a box score, but he makes his team better. I think Prosch will be the Texans' lead blocker and a special teams ace on day one this season.
Overrated: Chris Clemons
When the news first broke that the Texans had signed safety Chris Clemons, I was really excited. With the rumored cut of Danieal Manning, I thought the team had found their replacement quicker than I expected.
So far, it hasn't turned out that way.
Through the offseason practices, it has been another free agent who has stepped into the lead for the starting free safety spot. That person, of course, is Kendrick Lewis. The former Chief played under Romeo Crennel in Kansas City, which obviously gave him a leg up early in the competition since he already knew the defensive system.
Safety Kendrick Lewis arrived to Houston to reunite with Romeo Crennel and he has immediately been a leader for the Texans. No doubt it helps that he knows the defensive system and what Crennel looks for but he is a much more athletic piece for the secondary than expected.
Slowed by a shoulder injury the past few seasons, Lewis’ play dipped after Crennel left the Chiefs. Lewis looks rejuvenated and ready to put his past few seasons behind him and become the secondary leader for the Texans.
Clemons played very well while a member of the Miami Dolphins, which led me to believe that his performance would translate over once he joined the Texans. In Miami, Clemons started 48 games—including all 16 games in each of the last two seasons—but he wasn't much of a playmaker, with only four career interceptions.
The Texans are in desperate need of a playmaker in the secondary after finishing last season ranked dead last in interceptions with seven. Seven! How is that even possible?
Clemons doesn't appear to be that guy, but he isn't a bad cover safety. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription not required), of the nearly 4,000 passing yards the Dolphins allowed in 2012, only 465 of those yards were directly tied to poor play from the safeties.
The former Dolphin also played well in the box during his time with Miami, improving his tackling efficiency from a rank of 56th in 2010 all the way up to sixth in 2012, according to the same article from Pro Football Focus.
The Texans will play in nickel or sub packages around 70 percent of the time, according to Bill O'Brien, so Clemons will still have a chance to get on the field even if he doesn't win the starting spot at free safety.
The problem for Clemons will be that what he does well—play as a box safety—is also what second-year player D.J. Swearinger does well. Swearinger, who by all accounts has played well during offseason practices, is the younger player with more upside and will likely get more reps.
Unless he shows an undiscovered skill of covering receivers in the slot, Clemons' role for now is unclear and maybe even has diminished from my early expectations.
Underrated: Mike Thomas
In the 2010 season with Jacksonville that I mentioned earlier, Thomas led the Jaguars in both receptions and receiving yards. Since posting 66 receptions for 820 yards that year, Thomas has a total of just 62 receptions for 523 yards over the following three seasons.
After traveling through the desert during 2013 and missing the season, Thomas signed with the Texans as a free agent in December—before the Texans had even hired Bill O'Brien. There are low expectations, then there are even lower expectations for players signed on a reserve/future contract like Mike Thomas.
Teams obviously don't sign a guy who was a free agent for the entire season with the expectation of him becoming a starting player.
Coach O'Brien appeared to share those low expectations early on before the team got on the field when he said before the draft that the team didn't have any good options at slot receiver.
From State of the Texans, once the team did get on the field, O'Brien quickly changed his mind on the position and the veteran Mike Thomas.
I did say that and now being out here for a few days, including our coaching sessions, there are a few guys, including Mike, that have the skill set to play in the slot and to play outside. That’s why these camps are good.
If Mike Thomas does win the job of being the Texans' slot receiver, it's a role that others have excelled in under Coach O'Brien. Thomas is well aware of the success of others like Wes Welker in this offense as the slot receiver according to CSN Houston.
You have guys … you know, Wes Welker was obviously a big part of that and (Danny) Amendola (who played his first season in New England last year) and some of the other guys. They use pretty much anybody they can find in New England to get the job done. So I definitely have had that thought and have looked at it and imagined.
Under Bill O'Brien in 2011, Wes Welker put up totals of 122 receptions for 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns; Thomas won't come close to those numbers. However, as the Texans' likely fourth-option—Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Garrett Graham will receive more targets—I don't see any reason why he couldn't equal the numbers posted by the Patriots' fourth-option in 2011 under O'Brien.
Deion Branch finished the 2011 season with 51 catches for 702 yards; I would take those numbers right now for Thomas if given the option.
Keshawn Martin—the Texans' primary slot receiver over the last two seasons—has only racked up a total of 32 receptions for 338 yards over his first two years in the NFL and at this point has to be considered a disappointment. Thomas did better than that two-year total in just one season in 2011, which was a down year for the former Jaguar.
The previous regime under former coach Gary Kubiak treated the slot receiver position as just another receiver with whomever happened to be the third receiver on the depth chart manning the position. According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com, Bill O'Brien views the position differently and will treat the slot receiver as its own position with a unique and special skill set requirement.
It is a totally different position. On the inside I would say it is very important to be quicker than fast sometimes. Obviously a very smart and instinctive player because it moves a lot faster on the inside with different bracket coverages, one-on-one coverages and different leverages that they see, things that they see at the snap of the ball that maybe they didn’t see when they broke the huddle.
In my opinion, those attributes listed by Coach O'Brien all describe Mike Thomas more than the other receivers in the competition like Keshawn Martin, Alan Bonner and DeVier Posey. Bonner fits the skill set well but has no NFL experience and will likely start the season as a reserve if he makes the roster.
The signing of Mike Thomas most likely went largely unnoticed by Texans fans because it came at the end of the most miserable season in team history and Thomas didn't even make a roster for the 2013 season.
By now, you should be well aware of where Thomas stands with the current Texans roster. At the end of the season, Texans fans will call his signing a huge steal.