NFL DRAFT NEEDS: AFC SOUTH Colts | Jaguars | Titans OVERVIEW
The Texans are on the cusp on being a playoff team after finishing with a 9-7 record in 2009, the best mark in franchise history. The team features a potent offense that will run plays called by new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Led by quarterback Matt Schuab and all-world receiver Andre Johnson, the Texans boasted the league's best statistical passing attack last season. Still, head coach Gary Kubiak wants to get more balance after producing the third-worst rushing offense in the league. The focus this offseason will be improving the running game and continuing to strengthen a defense in order to compete in a division with Peyton Manning.
Houston was quiet in free agency and opted to retain some of their own players rather than spend big money. The one free agent they acquired was kicker Neil Rackers, so there is much work to be done in the draft. They will have eight selections come draft time, holding all their original selections as well as the Chargers' sixth-round choice. The Texans currently hold picks 20, 51, 81, 118, 150, 187, 197 and 227.
After a breakout rookie season, Steve Slaton had a dreadful sophomore slump. He gained just 437 yards with three touchdowns and averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Slaton struggled to hold on to the ball, as he fumbled seven times and lost five of them. Ryan Moats had one outstanding game, but ultimately averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Rookie Arian Foster finished the season very strong, gaining 216 yards while averaging over 5.5 yards per carry and scoring three times over the final two contests. He will likely see his playing time increase next season. The Texans still want a big-time back that can protect the football and may look for one in the middle portions of the draft.
Shifting to defense, Houston's top draft priority will be finding a shutdown cornerback to replace Dunta Robinson. Robinson finally left in free agency and signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons that made him the second-highest paid cornerback in the league behind only Nnamdi Asomugha of Oakland. Houston's passing defense already ranked in the middle of the pack at 18 and the team will have to find an immediate impact player at corner if they expect to compete with Manning and the Colts. In all likelihood, they will address the position with the 20th overall pick. The Texans have been tight-lipped about which prospects the team has hosted on visits, but they could be targeting Kyle Wilson of Boise State in the first round.
Concerns also remain at safety. Bernard Pollard was outstanding playing the strong spot and re-signed in the offseason, but the free position is another story. Eugene Wilson suffered knee and foot injuries and was shut down for the season in week 11. Dominique Barber and John Busing attempted to fill the void left by Wilson, but neither was good. Barber remains on the roster, but Busing was a restricted free agent and wasn't retained. The Texans should look to grab a free safety with range at some point in the draft.
Along the defensive front, Houston's spent good money and draft picks trying to improve their defensive tackle play, but they still need help. Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody played well and were a big reason the unit ranked in the top-10 against the run. However, there is little depth behind them and neither provides much pressure. The Texans could use a penetrating defensive tackle that can be disruptive and get into the backfield. The only depth to Okoye and Cody is DelJuan Robinson and Frank Okam.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Dunta Robinson (wasn't re-signed), WR Kevin Walter (re-signed for five-years at $21M), RB Chris Brown (wasn't re-signed), DT Jeff Zgonina (wasn't re-signed), G Chester Pitts (was wasn't re-signed), S Brian Russell (wasn't re-signed), QB Rex Grossman (was wasn't re-signed), S Nick Ferguson (wasn't re-signed), LS Bryan Pittman (wasn't re-signed), LB Chaun Thompson (wasn't re-signed), LB Khary Campbell (wasn't re-signed), G Tutan Reyes (wasn't re-signed), T Ephraim Salaam (wasn't re-signed), P Matt Turk (re-signed for one-year at $2M)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB DeMeco Ryans (received first- and third-round tender at $3.168M, re-signed for six-years at $48M), TE Owen Daniels (received first- and third-round tender at $3.168M), S Bernard Pollard (received first-round tender at $2.521M and signed), T Rashad Butler (received original-round tender at $1.176M and signed), RB Ryan Moats (received original-round tender at $1.226M and signed), C Chris White (received right of first refusal tender at $1.226M and signed), DE Tim Bulman (received original-round tender at $1.101M and signed), S John Busing (wasn't tendered)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: DT DelJuan Robinson (tendered at $470,000 and signed)
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: WR Kevin Walter, LB DeMeco Ryans, P Matt Turk, S Bernard Pollard, T Rashad Butler, RB Ryan Moats, C Chris White, DE Tim Bulman, DT DelJuan Robinson
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: K Neil Rackers (signed for two-years at $4.1M)
PLAYERS LOST: CB Dunta Robinson (signed with Atlanta), RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, QB Rex Grossman (signed with Washington), S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LC Chaun Thompson, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, S John Busing, LB Toddrick Verdell
CORNERBACK -- The Texans must find a shutdown cornerback to replace Dunta Robinson. Quarterbacks are putting up bigger numbers than ever, and the division features one of the best in Peyton Manning. Houston was so-so against the pass last season, so finding a player to fill the void left by Robinson is a major priority.
FREE SAFETY -- Injuries forced the team to start three different players at the position. Eugene Wilson is solid, but he's been injury prone and went down in week 11 with knee and foot problems. Dominique Barber and John Busing filled in, but neither was effective and Busing wasn't retained in the offseason. Houston needs to find a safety with range at some point in the draft.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE -- Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody were solid against the run but neither is able to generate much pressure. The Texans need to find add a disruptive defensive tackle to the rotation that can get penetration and pressure the quarterback.
RUNNING BACK -- Steve Slaton was a major disappointment in 2009 and Ryan Moats had his fair share of struggles as well. Arian Foster ended the season strong and should get more carries in 2010. Houston would still like to add a dynamic runner to the mix that can secure the football.