Jan 15, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson (80) is defended by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Laradarius Webb (21) in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at M

Franchise Development 13 of 32: The Houston Texans

With the collapse of the Indianapolis Colts last season, the Houston Texans finally were able to win their first division title in franchise history in 2011 despite injuries to some key players and lost their best defender, Mario Williams, via free agency. With that in mind, here’s their 2012 draft:

1 26 Whitney MercilusLB Illinois
3 68 DeVier Posey WR Ohio State
3 76 Brandon Brooks G Miami (Ohio)
4 99 Ben Jones C Georgia
4 121 Keshawn Martin WR Michigan State
4 126 Jared Crick DE Nebraska
5 161 Randy Bullock K Texas A&M
6 195 Nick Mondek T Purdue

A glance at their top pick makes one realize the loss of Super Mario wasn’t “lost” on the organization. Whitney Mercilus was a bit of a one-year wonder at Illinois, but he did have a monster final college season, leading the NCAA in sacks. The Texans hope he can translate that and do so quickly as a rookie and earn the nickname “Ming.”

WR DeVier Posey is the latest attempt to put an outside threat opposite All-Pro WR Andre Johnson. Posey has good size, speed, soft hands and strength to play the outside.

The ensuing 2 picks show that they want to improve their interior offensive line for Arian Foster in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme.

WR Keshawn Martin from Michigan State is a smaller guy that should find a home in the slot and is an accomplished punt returner that could steal Jacoby Jones’ job there and DE Jared Crick is a strong run defender that lacks great pass-rush skills but will get a few sacks due to his relentless, high-motor style.

It looks like their draft could produce up to five immediate starters or sub-package/rotational players that should see the field quite a bit. For a playoff team, that’s huge.

The one issue they cannot solve is QB Matt Schaub’s durability issues. The Texans had to go 3 deep at the QB spot last season and didn’t have Schaub for the stretch run or the playoffs. While the backups played well, including rookie T.J. Yates, they can’t fully replace Schaub. This offense has several bona fide stars with WR Andre Johnson and RB Arian Foster so they are capable of making a lot of noise. So far in mini-camp, they’ve been bitten by the injury bug much like last season so we’ll have to wait and see how everyone is when September rolls around.

Defensively, the Texans dominated in 2011 under first-year DC and former Cowboys HC Wade Phillips. The scary part is that they’re also a young defense with their oldest projected starter being Pro-Bowl defensive end Antonio Smith at age 31.

They have a number of star players on the defensive side as well, even after losing Super Mario to free agency and the Buffalo Bills. Brian Cushing played well moving to ILB from OLB last season when they switched to the 3-4 from the 4-3. Rookie J.J. Watt could easily have been DROY and should dominate in his second season. Another 2011 rookie, Brooks Reed, had a few sacks as he helped fill in for Mario Williams, who was lost to IR after week 5 last year. Connor Barwin was moved to OLB and played well also.

The added LB Bradie James through free agency to add into the mix. Their other notable signing was RB Justin Forsett from the Seahawks as a third-string RB behind Foster and Ben Tate and should see action on special teams.

The secondary appears to be in good shape as well with Danieal Manning at safety and Pro-Bowl cornerback Jonathan Joseph returning. Glover Quin played well moving to strong safety so Phillips had to be pleased with the way his squad gelled with so many players at new positions.

The only issue I can see the Texans possibly struggling with is cohesion in the passing game. With Schaub being injury-prone and Andre Johnson showing a recent propensity to nagging injuries, those two rookie WRs need to come in and start producing very quickly. TE Owen Daniels is a solid player but unspectacular when compared to the recent trend of players like Vernon Davis, Rob Gronkowski, or Jermaine Gresham. The Texans didn’t attempt to upgrade there through the draft nor free agency.

Considering their vault to the top of the division and Indy’s fall along with their roster changes and factoring in injuries last year, I’d say the Houston Texans took…

…one step forward. They made the playoffs with a rookie QB at the helm for a couple of games and that means the rest of the team is very solid. They lost a big free agent, Super Mario, but replaced him with as good a rookie as they could in Whitney Mercilus. While I don’t expect a rookie to come right in and fill those shoes, the rest of the team should be able to pick up the slack there. They also made a serious attempt to get Andre Johnson some help on the outside. If Schaub can stay healthy, this team is a Super Bowl contender and matches up with the Patriots particularly well should they find themselves in the AFC Championship Game in January, 2014.

Next up, the Indianapolis Colts.

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Tags: Andre Johnson Arian Foster Ben Tate Bradie James Brian Cushing Connor Barwin Danieal Manning Gary Kubiak Houston Texans J.J. Watt Jonathan Joseph Mario Williams Matt Schaub Owen Daniels T.J. Yates Wade Phillips

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