What’d I Miss?: Where do things stand with the Houston Texans as camp starts?

There’s no shame in ducking out on this offseason, theoretical reader. I, too, have found it hard to concentrate on football during this shared collective experience we Americans have had foisted on us. But I will catch you up as best as I can:

So, the Texans are playing?

As of now, there are no plans to change anything about the regular season. The Texans are set to open up against the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead on September 10th. This gives them an opportunity to avenge one of the biggest depantsings in the history of Houston sports.

There will not be a preseason at all, the NFL has cancelled that. The Texans appear to have predicted that result and didn’t bring in much in the way of UDFAs this year. This mitigates the chance that someone could come out of nowhere and steal a roster spot. Instead, the spotlight will be on the in-house scrimmages. August 14th is the day Bill O’Brien said would be the first day of full pads. The rookies and any kind of off-the-roster surge are going to have to make their names from padded practices and scrimmages. O’Brien has emphasized time and time again that this will be a “tough year” for rookies. I am not expecting a lot of playing time out of anyone besides Ross Blacklock and Jon Greenard. I believe we will have to deal with only very limited training camp reports from media as far as who wins any kind of spot on the roster.

How are the Texans dealing with COVID-19?

Bill O’Brien noted on Saturday that three days of in-house testing came back with 100% negatives. Families of players may take advantage of the testing as well. This, of course, guarantees nothing because COVID-19 circumstances can change on a daily basis. But the Texans have generally been ahead of the curve on the situation and were looking for new cleanliness protocols early and often. O’Brien’s money media quote was that players could eat off the floors, buried in the middle of a deeper admission that it’s all up to the players:

The Saints are doing a mini-bubble. I think that might be the best way for NFL teams to approach this without a fullscale bubble approach by the NFL as a whole. Without a bubble, any kind of rogue actor in contact with a Texans player offsite — or any teammate who decides to not be a team player — can spark a breakout. Given how poor public testing is and how Texas’ control decisions are decimating it, any person a player interacts with off-site could have it. There’s a chance that anyone from the UberEats driver to the person who checks you out at the grocery store has COVID-19. But, for now, there’s no sign the Texans will do this. The health of the Texans rests on a cluster of people making 100% perfect decisions for the next five months. Also, on every team they play doing the same.

What are the big Actual Football stories so far?

Deshaun Watson’s upcoming extension continues to draw a lot of press. The fact that Patrick Mahomes got a big enough contract to become a part-owner of the Royals threw more pressure on it. There continues to be no real story here. The Texans are in no danger of losing Watson and Watson continues to say all the right things about re-upping in Houston. Bill O’Brien noted in his presser that they’re not going to talk about contracts in the media. Deshaun Watson said that he loved “the organization, the McNair family, the coaching staff, the coaches, the players, the city, the fanbase.”

There remains not a lot of juice to this story. The only big thing that has changed is the NFL’s salary cap will take a hit next year if the teams lose a lot of revenue. Even then, management can trim several players from Houston’s salary cap easily next season should Watson agree to an extension. But, franchise quarterbacks are kind of a big deal. Watson’s contract will continue to be a debate point regardless until the day his signature is on it. In the mean time, every other team and fanbase prays for dysfunction and the chance to land a franchise quarterback.

Gareon Conley and Dylan Cole were both placed on the PUP list. Conley is coming off ankle surgery, while Cole is recovering from a torn ACL. It would not be surprising if Cole were not ready for Week 1. Conley, who had his fifth-year option declined before the season, has every incentive to be ready when the season starts.

What did I miss after the DeAndre Hopkins trade and the immediate fallout?

The Texans traded for Brandin Cooks to fill the void at wideout. They drafted Ross Blacklock, a TCU defensive lineman, with their second-round pick. They drafted Jon Greenard, an edge player from Florida, with their third-round pick. I have detailed writeups of all three of these below:


The shorter version: I don’t like the Cooks trade because of his concussion problems. I suspect the extra speed won’t make as much difference as some would have you believe. Both Blacklock and Greenard are fine value picks at positions of need. They were available later in the draft because they are somewhat athletically limited. They are going to need to be special football players as far as raw skill goes to be stars.

I’ve heard a lot that players are opting out. Have any Texans opted out?

One: Eddie Vanderdoes, who was active for three games last year as the Texans dealt with injury problems to their defensive line. Vanderdoes was dealing with “pre-existing conditions” per O’Brien. There’s still time for Texans players to opt out, though the deadline date appears to be mostly conjecture right now. As I’m editing this on Tuesday morning, the deadline appears to be hitting on Thursday.

Most of the players that have opted out — both in MLB and NFL — are players who have already made their first big contract. They are players weighing their health against a small relative amount of money. And because players like Watson and J.J. Watt have already held press conferences, it would be surprising if any stars walked away. I could see (speculating, no inside information) players such as Kenny Stills or Darren Fells opting out on account of heavy depth charts and the fact that they’ve already got some financial security. Another scenario is that the rules seem likely to incentivize players with large guarantees in their contracts this season to opt out.

It’s hard to tell who is “ahead” of the COVID-19 game. Many players, coaches, and executives have admitted that this season is going to be as dependent on health as any we’ve ever seen. But, for now, the Texans appear to have the right of it.

Okay, (tugs collar), but they’re not going to kneel when they play, right?

Well, reader, here’s what O’Brien said recently, and I’d emphasize the part where he says they haven’t decided yet:

O’Brien has said before that he will kneel if the players decide to kneel. I think some players will be pushing to kneel. Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas have knelt before.

The Texans have generally been very social justice-forward of late. They’ve been running conversations about race with black Houstonians and former players such as Sylvester Turner and Travis Johnson on their website. I must admit I have not watched them yet as book deadline and vacation ruined me, so I can’t tell you much about the actual content. What I can recommend is Thomas’ Football Morning In America column where he substituted for Peter King. Coming out of that was this quote that is pretty much square-on:

But I don’t think any player will really believe the sentiments of the NFL if Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job in the league this season.

When I initially spoke with Peter King about writing this column, he wanted to know if I might propose a creative solution to make that job happen for Kap. I said no. The NFL created this problem. The NFL has to solve it. It’s not my job to do that. If the league really feels like it’s going to back the players when it comes to ending racism, Colin should have a job. That’s the only way that the Black community and the players are going to truly believe the NFL is serious about what they say. Otherwise, people will always reference what you did to your own. You have to look in the mirror and clean your own house first.

The NFL, of course, is likely going to have to deal with legal problems if they sign Kaepernick now. Obvious collusion it took to not sign him is obvious. (The waivers involved appeared to be the big reason why his NFL workout did not come to pass.) Coming up on four years since his last NFL throw, Kaepernick continues to be one of the most influential players in the NFL. He was the start of the conversation, and any attempt to have the conversation without acknowledging that is going to be phony.

If the Texans did not kneel for the anthem at some point this season it would surprise me. If that makes you squeamish, I’d urge listening more to what they are protesting about rather than letting the concept of the spectacle guide your response.

Will the Texans overcome the Hopkins trade in a way that makes them materially better than they were in 2019?

I doubt it. But this is already a short season and is now going shoehorned with an extra case of COVID-19 randomness. I will concede that 2020 has the potential to defy normal expectations.

Football Outsiders Almanac 2020, available here, has a mean projection of 7.5 wins for the Texans, a number that gives them about a 37% shot at the playoffs. FO is higher on the Colts than consensus, giving them a 58.3% chance of making the playoffs. The Titans and Texans are part of a large pool of teams vying for the final two of three (yes, three) wild card playoff spots. Those teams include Buffalo, the Chargers, the Browns, and the Jets. I expect that Jets optimism will have some wind out of the sails with C.J. Mosely opting out of the season.

The most likely scenario in a normal season would be that the Texans would take a small consolidation step backwards. They’d remain AFC South and playoff contenders without being a good team. I will focus our remaining non-news blog posts in the preseason on reasons to both believe and disbelieve some of the underlying reasons there: Anthony Weaver’s scheme changes, offensive playcalling improvement without Bill O’Brien, the offensive line and a potential step forward, and a few others. The overlying caveat in all this is that if the Texans stay healthy it may not matter. Draw a schedule that has three backup COVID quarterbacks and three secondary rooms decimated by coronavirus, and it doesn’t matter. Any team with a big boost like that is going to make the playoffs.

Will the NFL make it through the season unscathed as things are currently constructed?

Again, I doubt it. Baseball has already had two major flare-ups and that’s a sport where, for the most part, nobody makes real contact. I can’t pretend that I know exactly where COVID will take us because nobody should be certain. One thing we’ve learned throughout all this is that in a crisis you are only as strong as your leadership. Roger Goodell has not proven himself to be a clear step above Rob Manfred in the planning space over his tenure.

My belief is that if the NFL presses on with the season, you can expect to see many cancelled games as well as plenty of players with the virus. I know that there are a lot of people out there who take pessimism on this personally, as if we are passing a moral judgment on everyone. There are plenty of smart, capable people who are responsible in the NFL. I would even say that the Texans are an organization that seems so focused on chasing those mental traits that they’ll fare better than most. But viruses exploit the weakest links and basest desires, and NFL players are not perfect angels even in the best of times. As long as the plan relies on the weakest links acting benevolently, the NFL will have issues with spread.


I’m writing this article free of charge — this website is ad-free and non-intrusive. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

In COVID-19’s America, Football Still Isn’t Getting Any Easier

The cancellation of two preseason games last week was the first time the NFL truly bled. Staked out with a prime position for waiting out the coronavirus, the NFL plan has largely been one of attrition: we can lose the OTAs, the mini-camps — all the things that used to be mandatory but really aren’t — because in September, America will be better.

The NFL has, thus far, managed to avoid the PR wars that have enveloped MLB and NBA on this issue. Roger Goodell said some good things. The Washington football team may finally change its name. These are real steps and I do not mean to act as if they are token responses, but they are also steps of bargaining, because they mostly don’t impact football’s bottom line. Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned because once a team does so it would be admitting culpability for what the league has done to him since 2017. No regular season games have been lost. The NFL can continue to say and change words, which are cheap, instead of take actions, which are not.

With the NFLPA requesting a full four-game cancellation of the preseason, and later this week, laying waste to the NFL’s plan to put money in escrow, we have our first volleys of what is going to be two months of frantic re-writing of policies and institutions to try to deal with the fact that there’s no way to play an honest football season in an unhandled pandemic. It will probably get uglier, because this is attacking pocketbooks. The NFL’s best backup plan is one that they have always held: a shorter season than most American sports means that they can push their start date back later than most leagues. But, unless someone is actually working on handling the pandemic, that doesn’t actually matter. Our political leadership has abandoned the portions of the populace that it doesn’t care about.

This is the paragraph where I say some unflattering things about the current direction of political leadership in our country, so if you are a Shades Avatar, know that I don’t expect any of this to change your mind. Our president’s view of the conronvirus is now literally “we need to live with it.” You see, other countries around the world were mostly able to get their head around the virus. Even places like Italy, which needed governing figures to threaten to kick your ass if you left the house. Some of these countries like, say, Germany, Korea, and Japan, are playing professional sports again — mostly to empty stadiums, but still. Playing sports in a pandemic involves a certain base level of virus control that our government doesn’t much seem interested in. The Trump presidency has reached the stage of the grift where it is threatening to kill your grandfather if you don’t send more money.

Where this clashes with football is that, in a rhetorical world where the virus was controlled by competent governance, we would have an easy path to the season. Instead, we have a crime scene, and there’s not enough room for two sets of chalk outlines.


You likely have heard from someone that COVID-19 doesn’t kill people, especially young people. (I also don’t believe I will change your mind on this if you believe this and are reading this piece only for rage fuel. That is between you and your healthcare plan.) That’s not 100% true, though there is less overall risk for younger (and presumably healthier) people.

The fact of the matter is that many crises of health aren’t very effective in a traditional media sense because newsrooms view them as too gory or graphic to show the real effects of, which is largely keeping people from seeing the truth. It did not take very long to see George Floyd die. It did not take very long to see many, many videos of police brutality at protests. (And they sure did disappear quickly once cops realized how bad it made them look, didn’t it?) We are a society that is video-driven now, because we have learned that words aren’t always to be trusted by the institutions that have abused that. That clashes with what COVID-19 is about because entubing someone and watching it isn’t emotionally threatening. 10 years ago, I watched my mom lie entubed in a coma and I felt nothing — there was nothing disturbing about that part of her stroke. The videos that would be disturbing emotionally to watch are turned away from the same way, say, Alex Smith’s knee injury was. (And shamed once shared in the same way.)

Catching COVID is dangerous to someone’s long-term health. It is a respiratory illness that can keep you from breathing the same way ever again. Initial COVID flash point Rudy Gobert still can’t smell. It could potentially end an athlete’s career. It could potentially take an athlete’s life. Not to be the bearer of grim news, but even at the lower mortality odds for young people, probability would give us a fairly decent chance of one of these restarting sports killing someone who tries to play in America right now. The odds would go up even higher if you included their families, the coaches, the on-field staff, and so on. And if you factor in things like “mistakes from incompetent administrators who think they understand COVID but were only put in their positions because they knew how to make money” — i.e. Major League Baseball’s unconscionable handling of tests so far — the odds aren’t even being made in a perfect world to begin with.

We have to acknowledge that the culture of individuality that American society has settled on over the past 30 years makes it almost impossible that any kind of bubble will be properly adhered to. Do I trust many players with personal responsibility? Absolutely. Do I trust 53, or 75 players to make that choice correctly every day for a month? Hell no! Someone is going to crave barbecue, or go meet a friend that hasn’t been cleared, or go gamble somewhere, and all of the sudden the entire team is exposed to the risks. That’s the whole reasoning that social distancing has been a big part of the game plan for fighting this thing from the beginning. It is incredibly unlikely that gathering football teams together with how entrenched the virus is now is going to be clean and mistake-free.


So if you are wondering why I haven’t been pounding out Texans content here lately, it has been a mix of two things:

One is that I finished all my Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 content as if the season was going to happen normally. That was a huge undertaking. If you want to get a sense for how deep the research goes for some of this, the first draft of the Top 25 Prospects article by itself was 6900 words, and the information-gathering and writing of the piece took probably 70 hours over five days.

Two is that the entire time I was writing all this stuff, I was struck by how little any of it could matter. There is normally a lot of uncertainty about a football season: Is Baker Mayfield going to blend well with this new offense or not? Does it matter that he has new tackles? Are the new tackles actually going to handle islands one-on-one? And so on. In this case, the virus exponentially disrupts everything. Who knows what the schedule will be? Who knows who will be healthy when teams play? Writing about football uncertainty is usually about pointing at the knowns, and the virus is turning it into a scenario where the knowns can turn on a dime. I could write a big piece about how Deshaun Watson played in 2017 and why I like that offense, but who knows what games Watson will play in? Even asymptomatic players will be kept off the field if they test positive.

Obviously I can’t stop writing about it either way because I need to make my table scraps. But this all feels so, so pointless to me right now. To root for people to put themselves in harm’s way for entertainment has always been something inherent to deal with while watching football. To do so for a season that will likely be riddled with randomness and missed games if not outright interrupted by team-wide outbreaks feels like an obligation not to the game, but to the money that runs it.

And all you need to do to see that is to look at what is happening to the lower levels of the game. The Ivy League postponed their season on Wednesday. Minor league baseball was entirely cancelled this year. My kickball league did not run this summer. The risk is not worth the health consequences unless we put people in a position where they can make a lot of money, which is why a large majority of the players opting out of major league baseball have already signed their big contracts. No incentive.

This is going to be a mess. And the longer the government does nothing about it, the longer it will last.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Public words from the Texans mark a stark contrast from the Bob McNair era

During an offseason in which his leadership (fairly) came under criticism regarding the DeAndre Hopkins trade, Bill O’Brien managed to make some amends last Wednesday by coming out with one of the best statements amongst NFL personnel regarding the George Floyd protests which have enveloped daily life. I won’t even clip the thing, I would urge you to watch the entire thing:

This is a period in which white people are meant to do a lot of listening, and a lot of soul-searching. Our role in this protest is to find our inner Pee Wee Reese: Accept that systemic racism exists, listen to our black brothers and sisters on how that came to be, and take drastic action to change course. Becoming an ally is something that you can do on your own and in your own way.

For some of you, that will be telling a friend that they have crossed the line. For some of you, that will be protesting. For some of you, that will be donating to protest causes. And, for some of you, that will be using your platform for good. If you are totally at a loss for something to do, let me recommend Corinne Shutack’s 75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice, most of which can be done without leaving your house.

Bill O’Brien used his platform for good, and that is worthy of praise. In fact, as much as I am against the Anthony Weaver hire as a pure football move, I think it is wonderful that O’Brien has shown that he will take actions to promote a black coach into a position of power. That’s something that is shockingly rare these days both in the professional ranks and the college ranks:

I think to fully talk about how heartening this is, we need to also reckon with the past that the Texans have left behind. Owner Bob McNair notably clashed with his black players multiple times, notably including giving a weird rant to players after Barack Obama was elected president. And, of course, the “can’t have the inmates running the prison,” comment that led DeAndre Hopkins to walk out of practice. For more on the undertones of this segment of Texans history, I fully recommend listening to Arian Foster’s podcast with Duane Brown. That goes over a lot of what happened with Brown’s holdout, the 2017 kneeling protests, and the player perspective on McNair’s actions, which he never really apologized for.

The Texans watched Deshaun Watson get hurt when they were 3-4. Tom Savage and T.J. Yates started games for them instead of Colin Kaepernick, and the Texans scored more than 16 points in a game one more time over the course of the entire season. One which ultimately led to McNair giving a deposition to Kaepernick’s legal team. Of course, money is political speech as well, and McNair was one of many NFL owners to give to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign that was so, so, obviously racist. People twisted every which way but to see it the way it was, but you don’t run on building a wall without pandering to xenophobia and bigotry.

Also, though this obviously won’t be corroborated on record in any real way because both sides have what they want now, we just dealt with the baby momma comments on Hopkins less than three months ago. I don’t know how much we are supposed to factor that in to how we feel about today, but I think it’s important to bring them up.

This is a team that has a less-than-stellar record of being on the right side of history with regards to racism. I think what happened this week was a large step towards erasing that. I think it’s important that Cal McNair spoke about it even if I didn’t find what he had to say particularly interesting or noteworthy. I think it says a lot about where we are in history today, and how big the moment is, that things have changed so much from 2017.

The actions are the hard part

It is very easy to say that you are willing to listen. The willingness to change, though, is something that is going to become a lot harder. Because when you listen to black Americans, they aren’t always going to tell you things you want to hear.

Ultimately, as Michael Thomas said in his video conference presser (full video here), this is a story about injustice. The reason politicians are so interested in ending these protests by any means necessary is because they work. Breonna Taylor’s case has been reopened since the protests started. George Floyd’s killer was charged, and the three cops who watched were charged as well, because of the pressure and emphasis that this has brought.

What we have learned from weeks of protests is that the cops are willing to beat people with impunity, even when the whole world is watching, because nobody will hold them accountable. There are Twitter threads of hundreds of examples of cops beating up peaceful protesters.

Stuff like this has been happening since black people were brought to America. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert scholar on the subject of racism — I was one of three white people in a college African-American history course, and also I was This Week years old when I learned about the Tulsa Race Riots — but thanks to camera phones we can no longer deny what is happening in front of our eyes. We can no longer what-about our way out of racism. It is on display every night in America if you want to look for it.

Justice has been running into a problem for essentially my entire lifetime: There’s not a lot of money in it. Major corporations — including the NFL — have so much power that they can field entire armies of talking points to sway people from the truth. It was and has been how the NFL has operated on Kaepernick’s blackballing, and it will likely continue to be an issue no matter how much money gets set aside for funds.

So to the people who are new to the cause, looking for a way to help, I would say that the No. 1 thing you have to come at this with is the idea that listening isn’t going to give you answers you want to hear. You’re going to hear talk about defunding the police, and that’s going to immediately give you a lot of pause because of how you were brought up and what they are supposed to mean to you. The tape doesn’t lie. You’re going to hear about reparations and that’s going to tingle your fairness sensors even though Native American and Japanese-American people were given some equity for what happened to them. On an NFL level, the commissioner’s office is going to have to reckon with what happened to Kaepernick and his closest friends, as well as how they got there. Racial sensitivity training for cops isn’t going to cut it, an NFL team signing Kaepernick isn’t going to make up for how he was blackballed all on its own.

Your job as an ally? Listen anyway. Read what drives this desire for justice. Ask good faith questions about the steps that are necessary, and support reforms. It may very well be the point that this transcends political party, and that protests may need to continue for a long time for people in charge to get the message.

That the conversation has been normalized instead of shut down immediately is a good start.


John Reid profiles as a solid slot cornerback

There’s nothing that has been more appealing to Bill O’Brien the general manager than the idea that he knows better. He tends to hyperfocus on people he already knows, and in that vein you see the motivations behind selecting John Reid, who O’Brien recruited at Penn State:

Reid signed with Penn State as the 173rd-ranked player on ESPN’s 300 prospect list in 2015. He had offers from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Michigan State, among others.

“We’re real excited about some of the guys who redshirted, and then we’ve got guys coming in who we feel really good about. Corner Garrett Taylor is a big, strong physical guy, didn’t play this year with a knee injury but was a highly recruited guy. You’ve got John Reid out of a great program, St. Joe’s Prep in Philadelphia, a very mature, disciplined, driven guy. He’s already asking for the playbook.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin, 2015: https://www.espn.com/blog/ncfrecruiting/on-the-trail/insider/post/_/id/66155/recruiting-qa-penn-states-james-franklin

The biggest knock on him is something that will only become a bigger deal as he moves to the NFL: His size. At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds coming out of high school, Reid was dinged for run support and strength. His body is essentially unchanged after five years at Penn State, and he has below-average length.

To be good enough to overcome that body to be labeled a top 300 prospect comes with a lot of pros, as you’d expect: Reid’s speed, recovery ability, and foot quickness were all praised by the recruiting scouts.

Reid had a knee injury end his 2017 season before it started, and he was redshirted.

Athletic Ability

Reid tested out fairly well at the NFL Combine. The 40-yard-dash time is a bit of a tweener time, but sub-4.5 is generally considered a separation point between NFL speed and not on the outside, and Reid narrowly hit it.

The rest of Reid’s athletic profile is very good — he was the sixth-rated cornerback in the class by SPARQ score, which is an overall assessment of an athlete’s athleticism. So, unlike Houston’s top two picks, Reid is not a pure production in college bet. He has above-average NFL athleticism to bring to the table.

Statistical Profile

Obviously one big bugaboo about this is that we don’t have the actual snap counts, but Reid played in at least 10 games in every season at Penn State. He started two games as a freshman, then 14 as a sophomore. He piled up 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, seven picks, and 26 passes defensed over his college career.

In Reid’s junior season at Penn State, the Nittany Lions finished with the 11th-ranked defensive S&P+ per Bill Connelly’s college numbers. It was by far the bright spot of a team that struggled to create passing offense. Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders ran for over 2200 yards between them, but McSorley completed just 53% of his passes.

Reid was second on the Nittany Lions in both interceptions and PBUs in 2018, behind (Detroit) Lions 2019 fifth-rounder Amani Oruwariye. Penn State played mostly to limit the deep pass, holding opponents to the fifth-lowest passing explosiveness and the second-lowest passing explosiveness on passing downs. Only 4.3% of opposing passes against the Nittany Lions in 2018 went for more than 20 yards.

In 2019, the Nittany Lions were a more balanced team, losing two games to top-15 opponents by a combined 15 points. Reid tied for the team lead in PBUs and interceptions with Tariq Castro-Fields. The pass defense as a whole regressed a little bit from 2018, allowing 5.9% of passes to go for 20 or more yards and watching their marginal efficiency numbers decline to top-50 rather than top-10. It should be noted that Reid said that the team as a whole moved to more Cover-3 in 2019:

If you believe in the PFF ratings, Reid was better in 2018 than he was in 2019. Their draft guide also noted that Reid “has given up nearly 12 yards per target, a 114.2 passer rating, and six touchdowns on 44 total targets” that were 10 yards or more down the field.

It’s also worth pointing out that Reid was a punt returner in parts of his early college career and could be in line to do some of that in 2020. Penn State had receiver K.J. Hamler, a second-round Broncos pick, handling most of those for Reid’s later years.

My interpretation of what John Reid put on tape: I can absolutely understand why they want to limit him to slot cornerback

Asked about his role in this defense, Bill O’Brien immediately turned to special teams and star. (Star being common terminology for slot cornerback.)

I watched about five games of Reid’s work. I was quite impressed by his coverage ability and it did immediately stand out to me how much work he did in zone in the games in 2019. Obviously, the first thing any Texans cornerback is made to look at is his ability to play zone and drive on something, and that popped out on Reid’s interception against Buffalo:

In watching the two games that Penn State lost this year, I thought Reid handled himself pretty well. One touchdown Minnesota scored on them came on a rotation that looked like it initially started as Reid’s man, but it was such a blown coverage/miscommunication that I wasn’t sure who to fault there. He’d played really well for most of the Ohio State game, including this breakup on seventh-rounder K.J. Hill:

But then he was the main coverage man on this back-breaking touchdown that took it back to a two-score game. Looked like he peeked in at Justin Fields at just the wrong moment, quickly realized his mistake. Reid even almost recovered to the spot and contested the ball, but it was a heart-breaker:

Other than that, in the games I watched, I didn’t see a lot of the big plays Reid allowed that PFF was talking up. Obviously, it’s a five-game sample size, not the whole thing. Take it with a grain of salt. But I thought he played deep balls fairly well.

Reid’s interception in zone coverage against Iowa in 2018 was the second time this offseason I’ve seen a Texans FA target read a play well enough to come off his man and attack the ball:

One sneaky aspect of Reid’s play that surprised me was how good he was as a blitzer. His disguise was very good, and I’ve seen this sort of thing in multiple games out of the slot:

I do think Lance Zierlein’s description of Reid as someone who doesn’t “feature the physical profile of a capable run-support defender” rang true to me. I saw Reid play solid support run defense as far as being gap-sound, but you don’t see a lot of clean hits on his run tackles and some of them wound up with him falling backwards or otherwise giving up extra yardage. Penn State would often hide him far off to the side of the defense when they left him on the field on run downs, and sometimes he would not appear on the field at all in easy run situations. (Obviously we don’t question Penn State coaches, I don’t know if the games I watched involved Reid nursing an injury or something.)

Where does Reid fit on this team if he doesn’t develop at all?

He’s a slot cornerback/dime defender in the middle of the field, with plus-underneath coverage ability. I do think he could be exploited by pure speed over the top and I do think he could get posted up by bigger tight ends if he doesn’t develop further. There’s a certain level of NFL power and speed that, with respect to how Reid played in college, we’re just not going to know how well he adapts to it until we see it.

My major addition to this is that I think we will know within the first 5 or 10 days of camp, whenever they have it, if Reid is going to stick or not. I think he’s the kind of player who makes an impact right away if he makes one at all. When a player is lacking physical tools — I think those are the kinds of players who, when they don’t have it, that comes out in practice and is kind of hard to ignore.

Is it the pick I would have made?

Honestly, I loved the Reid pick because I like his football character a lot. I like guys who don’t dumb it down. In his first interview with reporters from Houston he told us exactly what he was thinking about specific coverages, players he wanted to emulate, and how much of a film junkie he was. I have a soft spot for players like that. Combine that with athleticism and I think he has a chance to be a good slot cornerback.

Given how crowded the cornerback position was, I could be convinced that it wasn’t the best pure opportunity-cost pick the Texans could have made. I would have preferred a running back be added in this draft at some point and this pick could have been aimed at an Eno Benjamin or Quintez Ceephus was a better use of attacking a need.

But I’ve got no real issues with the Reid pick. He’s as excited as I was over anyone in this draft class. It’s a fourth-round pick, so obviously, you have to temper expectations a bit. But what I watched of him, his athletic profile, and his statistics all give me a lot of hope that he can become a productive NFL starter.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Jonathan Greenard’s all-around game will make him a steady NFL EDGE

With their lone remaining third-round pick after the Duke Johnson/Jadeveon Clowney/Compensation Pick/Gareon Conley calculus unfolded, the Texans found themselves selecting a likely long-term Whitney Mercilus replacement in Florida EDGE Jonathan Greenard.

Greenard was a three-star prospect out of Hiram, Georgia. He came out at 220 pounds, and ESPN Insider’s recruiting report on him mentioned that he “must add bulk to his long frame.” His first step and arm under moves were complimented, but ESPN’s anonymous scout noted that he must add other pass rush moves. Greenard had offers from five schools, but only two that weren’t in the second-tier of NCAA football: Louisville and Kentucky. Greenard was actually set to go with the Wildcats, but a delay in their acceptance of the commitment instead took him to Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Greenard would wind up transferring with him to Florida to play out his college career.

Greenard redshirted his first year, playing a bit role as a freshman before picking up 7.0 sacks as a sophomore for Louisville. He was injured against Alabama in the 2018 opener, a game that the Cardinals lost by 37 points en route to Bobby Petrino’s 2-10 firing. Greenard dislocated his wrist and tore several ligaments in it, describing his comeback with the Gators as having to “face [his] fears” to the AP.

Athletic Ability

This graph doesn’t really do a great job of explaining the entirety of Greenard’s status as an EDGE, but it’s better than comparing him to all defensive lineman as it does as a default. Compare Greenard to Mercilus and I think you see a very similar skillset minus the 40-yard dash:

That speed is a pretty big deal and part of the reason why, athletically speaking, Greenard wasn’t in the top tier of this draft. Greenard had an explosion index of negative-0.8 per Football Outsiders’ SackSEER modeling, putting him solidly in the bottom tier. SPARQ score has him in the 20th percentile of all NFL players as far as workout performances go.

So, again, as with the Blacklock pick, this is a bet on performance and skills over tools. Because the wrist injury is so prominently factored in scouting reports, I think there may also be a small chance the pick winds up working out better than expected because of putting that in the rearview mirror by another year.

Statistical Profile

Greenard finished his last two full seasons with 7.0 and 10.0 sacks respectively, and also produced plenty of tackles for loss. 2017’s Louisville defense was actually pretty weak as a group, mostly on an efficiency standpoint. They allowed a 45.7% success rate per Bill Connelly’s college stats, which was 106th in the nation. They had Lamar Jackson, though, so life was still a lot of fun. Greenard led the team in sacks and tackles for loss (15.5). The only other player on this defense you might have heard of is Jaire Alexander, who was a first-round Packers pick at cornerback. Greenard appears to have made his own highlight tape of his sophomore year.

Florida, on the other hand, finished with a top-10 SP+ defense in 2019, and they did so by limiting big plays on passing downs and finishing with a top-10 sack rate in the country. Eight different Gators had at least three sacks, but Greenard led the way with 9.5 (per Connelly) and 15.5 tackles for loss to go with 18.5 run stuffs. DB CJ Henderson was a first-round pick for the Gators in the 2020 draft.

Greenard finished his career as the best pass rusher on the team in each of his last two seasons, including one with a top-10 defense. He was regarded as a good run defender in each season and scored highly per Pro Football Focus’ grading system as well. On a pure production level, Greenard is probably the best pick the Texans made in the draft. But he was available in the third round because of that wrist injury and substandard athletic scores.

My interpretation of what Greenard put on tape: I’m surprised he wound up with as many sacks as he did

Expectations from the staff are important, and after defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver talked last week, we finally got some:

So essentially, Greenard wasn’t drafted only as a pass rusher, but for his all-around skill set on the EDGE. I think in the prism of those expectations, the pick makes more sense than as a pure pass rush pick.

Greenard is an extremely fun pass rusher to watch because he is cerebral. A lot of his pass-rush wins in the games where I watched him play were setting opponents up based on how he had been played on earlier snaps.

So I guess it should probably come as no surprise to you that, in doing an interview with Jordan Pun of Texans Unfiltered, he came off as very football savvy:

“It’s definitely like you say. I go into the snap, obviously knowing its about your opponent. If I see a guy who his kick step is slower, I’m gonna try and get off the ball use my slap, dip, rip and if he gives me an overset, I know I’m going inside. But if he continues to give me what I want, I’m going to stay with my move. I don’t want to switch and even if he’s giving me that slow kick step, I don’t want to, say I’m gonna use side sizzors, or try and beat him around the edge. I’m gonna stay with my decision and use my slap, dip, rip throughout that whole time, until he gives me something different. Now, if he gives me his chest, then of course, I’ll turn it into a bull rush. But it’s just a lot of things, of course I definitely go into it with a plan, but outside of that I just react and once that time comes and if he gives me something that I don’t want.

I think Greenard’s intelligence is the main influencer of his play. In the seven games I watched he was willing to make a lot of educated guesses about how snaps would unfold based on positioning. He would, as an edge contain player, win a lot of these gambles and that contributed to him being an incredible run defender.

I would go as far as to say that I think his play against the run is going to be his meal-ticket to getting on the field early. Watching Greenard pass rush is awkward. His spin move is slow enough that you’re surprised when it works. He gets good initial burst off the line and does a good job of reading the snap count, but I think too often on his pass-rush reps he doesn’t have much of a second gear or ability to redirect. He left a surprising amount of hurries or pressures without a sack, and I’m not even talking about just the plays around the edge where he gets redirected rather than bending:

This is, again, pretty much exactly what the workout numbers would tell you. Smart player to get to the numbers he got, but not exactly a burner. I think he’s going to need to improve his adjustments coming at a quarterback clean, though. Don’t get juked by Jake Fromm! Speaking of…

Another common criticism among scouts that I read was that he just didn’t perform well against top competition. I made it a point to seek out the Georgia tape because Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson were both first-round picks, and … yeah, I think that criticism is pretty spot-on. Fromm had all day in the pocket in that game, and the Bulldogs barely rushed for any real yardage. You could say that, in a close game, the inability to get to the quarterback was Florida’s undoing:

Greenard offers enough to satisfy Anthony Weaver’s desire for multiplicity, but don’t mistake him for some kind of genius coverage linebacker. He’s not going to move off-ball without issues or anything like that. He mainly played flat coverage, and he showed some aptitude for it but was not much of an underneath route-reader. He was better at reading the quarterback’s eyes, though there were a few plays where he glanced back at the route combo and knew he could take some extra depth.

Where does Greenard fit on to this team if he doesn’t develop more?

I think he’s got a real shot to unseat Brennan Scarlett outside on run downs early in his career. I would have said he had a real shot to win the role in camp, but I think at this point the rookies are behind the curve enough that it would be difficult for him to do that.

As a pass-rusher, I think his best trait for growth is his play with his hands. The wrist injury did seem to sap him of some power on some of his rushes, and, again, another year of that in the rearview may help. I don’t know that I’d ever project him to be a 10-sack-a-year guy. He might wind up there at his peak or something like that, catch the right schedule of tackles that he can okeydoke. But I think he’s probably more of a third-best rusher on a good defense barring big improvement.

Is it the pick I would have made?

You know what? Probably. I might have been tempted by Curtis Weaver of Boise State, but I don’t think he was any less athletically limited than Greenard is and I think Greenard is perhaps the more complete player with a better record of play against SEC competition. Zach Baun of Wisconsin is another guy that had my eye. That’s probably my best answer, but it’s not like pass-rush metrics loved him either.

Once you get past the first 50 picks of the draft, unless someone special falls to you, I think you have to look at things a little safer and ask: Who has the skill set to be on the team in four years? As much of a critic of Texans drafts as I usually am, I think Greenard is a solid answer to that question because of his well-rounded suite of abilities and playing intelligence. Just don’t be surprised if instead of a pass-rush superstar you wind up with a smarter version of Brooks Reed.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Ross Blacklock’s suddenness will be his NFL meal ticket

When the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for the 40th overall pick, the initial thought was that there was a wide receiver they liked. That proved not to be the case, as they traded for Brandin Cooks and spent the pick on TCU’s Ross Blacklock, a wiry, penetrating defensive interior player from the Houston area. Blacklock was the 274th-ranked prospect on ESPN300’s list of high school prospects, and had offers from LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Miami. His listed recruiting weight of 326 pounds belied the player he’d become at TCU as he dropped a lot of weight, and a lot of the high school scouting report on Blacklock rings hollow because it talks about his pass rush as if it is something to be developed rather than a calling card. Blacklock weighed in at merely 290 pounds at the combine.

Athletic Ability

Simply put, where you stand on the pick is likely a reflection of how much emphasis you put on athletic testing. Most of the players with Blacklock’s statistical profile — steady but not spectacular — do not grow into better NFL players without underlying help from unused athleticism. As you can see from the charts and numbers, Blacklock’s testing is pretty unimpressive and casts him as a somewhat limited athlete. The only one of his athletic comps that I’d want to take with a second-round pick is Sharrif Floyd, who did much better at the combine but has a statistical profile that mirrored Blacklock’s.

It should be noted that of his athletic comps, we really didn’t see a lot of upper-level NFL production. Floyd had 9.5 sacks before his knees ended his career. Dominique Easley has 6.5 sacks and hasn’t played since 2018. Da’Ron Payne has seven in two seasons, but is more of a pure nose. I think the player the Texans would like to see Blacklock become is Geno Atkins — Atkins destroyed the combine, though.

Statistical profile

It is worth pointing out that while TCU on the whole had a pretty good defensive performance last year, there were games where they got mauled. One thing that pops out to me — because it popped out to me while watching Blacklock’s games — is that TCU wasn’t a great team against power runs. Their rushing success rate against power per Bill Connelly’s college stats was 72.4%, 68th in the country. Gary Patterson’s defense in 2019 played the front very well and dared you to beat them deep — opponents often did that, as TCU’s explosiveness allowed was one of the worst in the NCAA. TCU’s offense did not help matters either, as freshman Max Duggan started most of the year and completed just 53.4% of his passes — this despite having a first-round receiver in Jalen Reagor who wound up catching just 48.9% of his passes. That often put the defense into bad starting field position.

Blacklock finished 2019 with just 2.5 sacks, but 8 tackles for loss and 14 run stuffs — both the TFL and run stuff numbers are second-best on the team behind junior linebacker Garret Wallow. Blacklock did not play at all in 2018 after tearing his Achilles. TCU actually had a better defense that year, but they also had L.J. Collier and Ben Banogu, who would both go in the top 50 picks of the NFL Draft. In fact, six of the TCU’s top seven tacklers in 2018 were seniors — only Wallow returned. When Blacklock, Banogu, and Collier were all on the same squad in 2017, Blacklock had 6.5 tackles for loss and 10 run stuffs getting big playing time as a freshman, and TCU finished 11-3 with a top-20 NCAA defense.

To believe in Blacklock’s college production as being above-average or good you have to look at the hurries. Pro Football Focus settled on 48 pass pressures in two years as a starter. It should be noted that nearly every scouting report on Blacklock that I read pointed to TCU’s stunts as a big part of the package that got him to 48 pass pressures. Another important point of context, something that Blacklock brought up during his draft conference, is that Blacklock will get to attack a little more often in Anthony Weaver’s defense because Patterson’s defense often asked linemen to read a lot:

Pair those two things together and you have the true centering of the projection in this pick. Blacklock’s pass rush stats have to be seen through that prism and how the Houston braintrust believes they translate to an NFL defense.

My interpretation of what Blacklock put on tape: He’s a whirling dervish, but he’s also got a few flaws

Blacklock’s college production was mostly a combination of two factors: He has a ridiculous first step, and he’s good at reducing himself to avoid strong contact. This shows up against both the run and the pass. At times he can outright tunnel his way past double teams with the combination of the two things:

He did go for this fairly often when he senses the double coming in the games I watched, and does have some reps where he winds up on the ground because of it. I think he might draw some NFL holding calls on these sorts of gap-shooting plays though, he really is very quick off the ball:

As a run defender, I think he’s very reliant on these two things. He’s good at holding an outside gap, which is something I saw a lot of in the games I watched. He’s also a good hustle defender, who recovers downfield and sniffs out screens fairly well:

But last year he absolutely had some rough reps against power. He stalemates doubles at his best when he can’t split them, and oftentimes winds up giving ground on combo blocks and square-ups. I would be a little concerned about him as a run-down player right away as a 3-4 end. He’s going to deliver some big plays, but he’s also going to give ground when an NFL lineman gets an arm in his chest:

As a pass rusher, I found the criticism that TCU worked with stunts kind of overblown in a specific sense. I didn’t see a whole lot of benefit for him on the stunts in the games that I watched. More often than not, Blacklock was the one throwing a shoulder into somebody to free up a rush lane.

Blacklock’s main pass-rush move is the arm-over, which you see on a lot of his hurries. His lateral agility at the snap is the main impediment he forces on blockers. When Blacklock is on, his blockers look like they’re chasing ghosts for the first 30 frames of a play.

But what bore out in his stats and what I think mostly held up on reviewing the games that I did is that Blacklock isn’t some sort of dominant force against man-to-man blocking. He has a looping quality to some of his penetration that makes it hard for him to convert pressures to sacks. He doesn’t quite have the speed to bend an edge all by himself, and I can count on one hand how many pressures I saw as a result of spins or pure power moves. He wins right now with his first step, hands, lateral agility, and ability to reduce himself.

Did I take note of the fact that Anthony Weaver noted that he wanted some versatility in his players and go find the one snap I saw of Blacklock dropping in coverage? You bet I did:

Where does Blacklock fit on this team if he doesn’t develop more?

I think he and Charles Omenihu are probably best forecast as interior players on passing downs right now. Blacklock’s role sort of depends on what Weaver’s plan with J.J. Watt is — and if Watt’s body can cooperate with that plan — because if Watt is rushing inside on passing downs that changes a lot about how many snaps could be available here.

Blacklock’s anchor needs to improve to hang with NFL run-down players right now in my opinion. I don’t say that as a death sentence — I think a system where he gets to read less is probably going to help a lot. Just noting that I don’t know that he’s a plus-player on run downs right away and there is a small chance he won’t ever be.

I tend to agree with Bill O’Brien that rookies are going to have it rough this year as far as instant development goes. I think the rookies that are going to play well right away already have the traits and skills they need to do that. I would probably ballpark about 400-500 snaps for Blacklock in a 16-game season right now. To put that into context, D.J. Reader led the Texans defensive line with 621 last year.

Is it the pick I would have made?

Probably not. But I am more of a believer in the athletic data and college production, and I think I would have preferred Justin Madubuike or Jordan Elliott to Blacklock on those terms at the same position. If I were looking at a different position on the board at 40, and doing so with the knowledge that I’d be releasing Tashaun Gipson, I probably would have pulled the trigger on Antoine Winfield Jr. personally.

But at the same time, Blacklock is in the league of those other defensive linemen, and I don’t see the pick as a reach. I can see how you could believe he would develop further, and I can see looking at the Torn Achilles as something where he might have been held back a little in 2019. It’s a sensible pick if not the pick I would have made.

If I were to guesstimate Blacklock’s ceiling, I’d probably say he’s a secondary pass-rusher on a good defense, someone who finds 6-8 sacks a season from the inside while not giving much back on the run because of splash plays. I think to get there he’ll need to develop his pass-rush repertoire a little more and get a little more violent with his hands while finding enough anchor to hold up to NFL power.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Our Psychology Today

It is easier than it has ever been in human history to believe whatever you want to believe.

With the rise of social media, anybody can present themselves as an expert. When there are countless numbers of experts and faux-experts, we can always find someone, somewhere, who can agree with any monstrous take we have about anything. Because people are better than ever at self-isolating or creating scenarios to avoid people they don’t care for, there’s even fewer reasons to believe anything besides what we want. When money flows towards presenting one interpretation, that interpretation can gain widespread appeal. Sometimes this is called public relations, sometimes it is called conspiracy theories. In finding takes we agree with, we develop our own little communities. Us against them. The tribe mentality becomes strong. There are very few repercussions to being wrong if you wield power or have privilege.

This matters a lot in many, many areas of life. Politics, gender relations, how much you want to care for the impoverished, etc.

An area where it shouldn’t really matter is sports.


I’m not surprised that titles like this have begun to hit YouTube, because I hear from these fans often. They often wind up calling you “not a real fan,” if you catch them on a bad day, and they’ll ask you to stop talking about their team. Sometimes they’ll dog your mentions for weeks if they think you are being too negative about their team. The way the world works now is that if you have enough time, you can spend all of it yelling at someone online who doesn’t have beliefs that mirror yours.

Part of being a fan is to attach some of your own self-worth to the team, so … I get it. Here’s how one good recent explanation I read said it:

A hardcore Seahawks fan identifies with the “Seahawks” social category and this forms part of his identity. (Yes, his social category is actually “Seahawks fans,” but really hardcore fans often don’t see it this way; they see themselves as part of the teams they root for.)

He applies favorable attributes to the Seahawks in order to enhance his own self-esteem. Because his identification with the Seahawks is a key part of his self-concept, positively evaluating the team allows him to evaluate himself more positively.

If someone says something negative about the Seahawks — true or not — he perceives it as a personal attack and a threat to his own sense of self worth.

In order to preserve his sense of self worth, the fan defends the Seahawks when he believes that others are attacking the team by a) fighting back and/or b) discrediting the attacker. Even if he knows that the other person is right in his criticism of the Seahawks, he’ll defend the team anyway because accepting that the other person is right would require him to accept that the Seahawks aren’t as great as he believes they are (and, consequently, neither is he since the Seahawks are a key part of his identity).

So it is natural for some fans to see Bill O’Brien trades get pissed on — because they’re objectively bad — and jump to the conclusion that their self-worth is being attacked. It’s not rational, but it’s natural. When you combine this with the public relations the Texans do — which, it should be said, I have no issues with. (It is in their best interests!) What happens is you create a group of “true fans” that have accumulated a ton of grievances and slights. It’s the driving force behind this post doing well when I put it up on Twitter:

A certain subgroup of fans likes to believe the Texans are overlooked, ignored, diminished. Especially by a national media that has regarded them as mostly irrelevant. (The national media in this case has never seen the Texans make even a conference title game, but I again want to note that this is not about rationality. These people want recognition in their own lives for something and it bleeds over into how they talk about their team.)


Let me give you some inside baseball here: If Bill O’Brien were actually good at scheming an offense, the Texans would be media darlings.

O’Brien’s rough-around-the-edges schtick is completely in right now. (Stares at White House.) There isn’t a writer alive who wouldn’t want to cover a football team on the rise lead by a general manager/head coach that plays by his own rules and wins. I mean, we could lose the grandma glasses, maybe make him 20% more handsome or so, but otherwise it’s a dream come true. Readers right now gobble up anybody who is perceived to be a self-made genius because it fits into this bootstrap ethos that permeates a lot of our country.

Even right now, despite O’Brien’s failings, he’s compelling subject matter. Sports is an entertainment industry and I would argue that very few people in his sphere have created more entertainment than O’Brien has over the past nine months. How many coaches can you think of who have lead a f-bomb-laden tirade on a fan at a game — it comes out during the playoffs — and it doesn’t even crack the public consciousness of what they’ve done?

That’s the magic of being as unconventional at some aspects of your job as O’Brien is. There’s literally too much to talk about, so some areas of attack simply don’t stick to him because we only have so much we can collectively as a society pin on one person. (Suggestively nods head towards White House again.)

Nobody wants Bill O’Brien to fail. What we want is for the Texans to change. When I say that, what I’m saying is that as an entertainment industry, we want things to change one way or another because stagnant stories don’t sell. The Texans have been this semi-interesting team with All-Pro level talent for years, unable to become a real contender or do much beyond advance beyond the first round of the playoffs when they face a gimme opponent. It’s boring as hell!

One of my biggest gripes with O’Brien is something I brought up when I talked about how he is Shredder: He actually is a pretty damn good play caller when he tries! He is a tease. Between what happened with the offense he created in Watson’s rookie season, the Chiefs games last season, the Falcons game last season, the Titans game in 2018 … the Texans have proven that they can explode on anybody given the right coaching.

That coaching is inconsistent, and that inconsistency keeps the Texans mired in their old cycles, which is why the national media appears almost bored by them. If O’Brien comes out with a brand new bag in 2020, kills it, and the Texans put up a top-five offensive DVOA, media will be lining out the door to shake poms poms for them. People love winners. That’s why the Texans promote the hell out of every division championship as if they were game-changing triumphs instead of beating up on three teams that have mostly been desolate since Peyton Manning retired.

BOB probably won’t improve, because we have six years of evidence that says he’s incapable of recognizing that his way of offense doesn’t work. But if he did, there would be no shortage of praise.


In the sense that we all have agreed as a society to believe in whatever we want to believe, I have selected my audience already. I am here to provide for the people who are interested in rational Texans analysis and thought. I put in my work, do my process, set my expectations, and am happy to talk about being wrong if it comes to that. I don’t brag about hitting my shots, because I think you should act like you’ve been there before. I am happy to talk about wanting the Texans to draft Robert Quinn over J.J. Watt and Cordarrelle Patterson over DeAndre Hopkins. I don’t come at this from a place of ego where I need to be right to sustain something. In fact, the way I write about the Texans most of the time: I don’t actually want to be right. I would be thrilled if proven wrong on many things I write.

Here’s the thing, and I realize I’m appealing to logic instead of emotion so nothing will change: None of this shit matters. In 100 years, when Houston is a lake and every player this team has ever employed through 2020 is in the dirt, none of these takes will matter. Why the national media has slighted the Texans by not talking about them won’t matter, why the national media has slighted the Texans by talking about them not positively enough won’t matter. It’s all entertainment. When I was younger, I actually resisted writing about sports because I didn’t think it would have an impact on the world, just thinking about how irrelevant this all mostly is.

I have self-selected my audience, and if you are not part of it I am okay with that. I’m not going to be Pat. I’m not going to be Aaron (Wilson or Reiss). I’m not going to be Steph Stradley. I’m not going to be John McClain. I respect all those people, and I think it’s cool that fanbases have many different options on how they want to be informed. I’m not going to write about the Texans from a PR-friendly point of view at all times. I’m not going to write about them like they’re the scum of the earth either. I’m going to write about what I want. If you don’t enjoy that ride, nobody has made you get on. We’ll both be happier without you. You need to learn to be okay with that, too.

Listen, you can come at me all you want. I had to bury both my parents before I turned 26. I’ve been freelance in what is essentially a dying profession for nearly six years. I am a diehard New York Mets fan who could barely suck a pacifier when they last won a title. You think your ninth exclamation point or extremely creative variation of telling me to go fuck myself is going to be the breaking point for me? You think nobody has ever tried to make me sound like a fraud before? Go for it, man. You can’t do anything to me the world hasn’t already done.

But given that none of this really matters, if you come at me aggrieved, I am putting you right into the same sort of bin you put me into. I’ve muted funnier people than you.

And we will continue to exist as well as anything can when there is no shared knowledge: we will be two different groups of fans who each think our feelings matter more. A gaping void of wasted emotion.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

How the parable of Frank Bush applies to the 2020 Texans

In 2008, the Texans finished with the 13th-best offense DVOA and the 11th best-pass offense DVOA in the NFL. They reached the heights of 8-8 for the second consecutive season in the third year of the Gary Kubiak era. They did this despite Matt Schaub missing five games and despite the Texans never really filling out the offense with dominant players outside of Andre Johnson and, possibly depending on how you want to remember it, Owen Daniels. It was Duane Brown’s rookie season, and he was a sieve.

But the Texans had the offensive design down to where it didn’t matter all that much. They had a babyface named Kyle Shanahan running the show — you may remember him from such places as Super Bowls — and the Texans would only get better from there on offense. Instead, the problem the Texans had was that Kubiak’s hand-picked defensive coordinator, Richard Smith, was in over his head. The Texans finished 31st in defensive DVOA in 2006, 29th in 2007, and 29th again in 2008. This, despite picking Mario Williams No. 1 overall in 2006 in what was considered a pretty risky move at the time. The 2008 Texans started three high first-round picks on the defensive line: Williams, Amobi Okoye, and Travis Johnson. DeMeco Ryans was already a fixture at middle linebacker, and the team spent to bring in Jacques Reeves in free agency to give former first-rounder Dunta Robinson a running mate outside. The Texans still Texaned it up in some key areas: they refused to sign a good safety and spent the season in the wilderness that was Eugene Wilson, C.C. Brown, and Nick Ferguson. It was also the last starting role for a 3-4 end by the name of Anthony Weaver, who we’ll come back to in a bit.

The star level talent on that defense wasn’t bad between Ryans, Williams, and Robinson. The problem was that two first-rounders were on the verge of busting and the Texans didn’t do a whole lot to fix obvious problem areas. Zac Diles, bless his cost-efficient soul, started for this team for three years.


Once it was obvious Richard Smith had to be fired, Kubiak had a defining decision in his tenure. In fact, for many coaches in other cities with more scrutiny from ownership, it probably would have been a make-or-break decision.

Kubiak decided to tab Frank Bush, his linebackers coach, as the new defensive coordinator. Bush had no experience coordinating a defense on any level. The Texans did not even interview another candidate, and only asked for permission to interview Washington assistant Jerry Gray. (They were denied that permission.) “I just think we’ve got something started here. We don’t want to venture away from our 4-3 scheme and what we’re doing,” Kubiak told reporters.

Bush’s opening press conference was a barn burner. He wasn’t able to pinpoint one thing that the team would do differently outside of saying that they’d be a more attacking, aggressive defense. It was a press conference that spoke more to emotion than some sort of tactical shift. He was a man who sounded like he had the respect of his locker room, but that was about all you could say he had as far as public comments.

Despite that, the Texans rebounded to 20th in defensive DVOA in 2009. They drafted Brian Cushing in the first round, Glover Quin in the fourth round, and signed veteran Cardinals rusher Antonio Smith as a free agent. Bernard Pollard came in as a free agent and provided the team with some extremely rare (for this franchise) good play from a box safety. Cushing had one of the best defensive rookie seasons in recent NFL memory, picking off four balls, picking up four sacks, and getting 133 tackles. The overall talent level rose, they faced the 25th-hardest schedule by a defense in the NFL, and Bush’s offense capitalized (aggressively!) with 27 takeaways, a five takeaway increase from 2008 and more than the Texans had produced in any year of Richard Smith’s tenure.

That offseason, the Texans spent the 20th overall pick on Kareem Jackson after losing Dunta Robinson in free agency. And by that, we mean that he literally put “Pay Me, Rick!” on his shoes in the 2009 opener. The Texans spent three of their first four picks on defense yet again, with Darryl Sharpton and Earl Mitchell joining the fold.

One year after all that promise, the Texans came back in 2010 and forced a league-low 18 turnovers, finishing 31st in defensive DVOA. Frank Bush was let go. He has never coordinated another defense to this day.

The Texans hired known good coordinator Wade Phillips, drafted J.J. Watt in the first round, signed Johnathan Joseph, and immediately had a good defense for the first time in the history of their franchise.


New defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver still has not had a press availability, has not answered any questions at all about how the defense will be, but he is in roughly the same predicament that Bush faced. He was elevated to coordinator despite no coordinator experience, and — I need to emphasize again this is not a slam on the person — I think that should temper expectations about the Texans defense rather than raise them.

You can tie Houston’s defense under Romeo Crennel very neatly to their pass rush:

The hurry rate is mostly meaningless. When they create negative plays, they win. When they don’t, they’re bad.

Unlike Bush’s situation though, Weaver isn’t walking in to a situation with a lot of established star power and tons of help coming. If the Texans got a rookie of the year Cushing kind of performance out of someone new that they brought in, it would be a 99th-percentile outcome for whatever draft pick or free agent did it.

He’s also walking into a situation where the defense isn’t young. If you compare the two situations (no, I’m not posting an entire depth chart, I don’t want to hear whiny Twitter posts about where Jacob Martin or Charles Omenihu is) as far as their starting lineups, these Texans are much older.

The best days for this starting pass rush are behind them. J.J. Watt is an indomitable force and I will never count him out of a 10-sack season, but he hasn’t stayed healthy for three of the last four years. When he’s gone Whitney Mercilus doesn’t pick up sacks. That 2009 Texans team had two starters over 28 years old, of which you can say that only Antonio Smith was actually important. The 2019 Texans have five. And of the young players the Texans have, I would say only Justin Reid and Zach Cunningham (who is 26) have left a meaningful mark in the league to this point. Yes, they’ve got depth, they’ve got some young players that could bust out. But … that is promise, not known production.

(Isn’t it kinda eerie how comfortably Bradley Roby fits that Dunta Robinson role?)


The reason Weaver’s situation reminds me a lot of Bush’s is because both of them were in-house replacements of situations that had sort of fallen apart. I don’t think Weaver has had the same amount of support that Bush has had this offseason — partially because the entire concept of the draft was sent for Laremy Tunsil — but that takes us into the land of expectations.

No matter what Bush did, and no matter what Weaver does in his first season, there is a way to spin it as a win. Obviously if the Texans become a dominant defense, I’ll have looked back on writing this and laugh at myself a lot. But let’s say Weaver gets the Texans to roughly the finish they had in 2009. You know what was said a lot back then? Frank Bush “improved as the season went along.” He was a rookie coordinator just getting his footing for the first time. You can’t let his first season influence you, greatness is coming with a full offseason.

In other words, there were a lot of excuses about why things weren’t better. The expectations were set by the unit being rock bottom, so even a dead cat bounce caused by some good turnover luck and weak opposing quarterbacks could be spun as a positive. If Weaver’s defense is as bad as Romeo’s was last year? Well, it’s clearly a talent issue! You’ve got to let the coach get better talent on the defense so he can run it the way he wants to run it.

This is how the kind of wishful thinking I’m always railing on becomes a crutch for a team. It has been blatantly obvious for years that the Texans haven’t had a true No. 1 corner since Johnathan Joseph lost a step. It has been blatantly obvious for years that J.J. Watt should have been rushing inside more to get Clowney and Mercilus on the outside. It has been obvious for years that Romeo Crennel’s XX-and-long zone looks were getting dunked on. But if you’re in that cocoon, and you know only who you know, and you don’t come up for some fresh air, you’re just going to say “we think we can get this scheme fixed” and stay in that same comfortable rut. Belief is a powerful weapon in football, and it’s often used as a cudgel to stay the same regardless of results.

To reiterate: The only time in franchise history that the Texans ever had a dominant defense was when the head coach was forced to hire a defensive coordinator he wasn’t complete buddypals with. Belief is cheap and easily misplaced. Good results are a lot harder to come by.

I think the Texans need 16 games of Watt and a complete out-of-nowhere jump from someone to be a good defense next year. Either that, or Weaver needs to be a terrific defensive coordinator from the jump. It’s not an easy situation for him to come in with — but the good news is that Bill O’Brien believes in him.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Share this:

Let’s talk about Houston Texans draft grade dissonance

The Texans were largely regarded by local commentators as having had a good draft. They had just five picks, but didn’t really overreach for anybody. Some have criticized the Charlie Heck pick, but their two top picks were legitimate stabs at solving problems in the front seven, John Reid went right around where he was expected to, and Isaiah Coulter is a fifth-round dart.

This largely goes against national sentiment, which is that the Texans had a terrible draft:

So let’s talk about why this is:

Many draft grades incorporate trades, most pundits think the Texans made some terrible trades

When you deal away so many of your picks for trades, you need to win those trades robustly to win a grader’s approval. Most of the Texans trades have been maligned, and there’s more than a little residual grading of the DeAndre Hopkins trade happening here:

Source: ESPN Insider
Source: Touchdown Wire
Source: USA Today

So, that’s strike one. I know, I get it, you’re all sick of talking about the trade. Every time I bring it up indirectly on Twitter it generates hot takes from the strong I Want To Talk To Your Manager vibers out there. But that played a part. The ones who did grade the Texans well did not marry these two things together:

Source: NFL.com
Source: SB Nation

When you forget about the fact that DeAndre Hopkins was traded mostly for Ross Blacklock, it makes the Ross Blacklock pick sound a lot better, doesn’t it? I don’t think that’s a hot take. I also don’t think it’s a hot take to say that I’d rather have a third-round pick in this draft class than I’d rather have Duke Johnson, who is an excellent player that teams just refuse to give a full-time role to. That’s not a shot at Johnson’s talent, it’s a shot at the bottom line. If Johnson had been good enough that the team didn’t feel like David Johnson had to be acquired, it changes a lot about the offseason. Then there’s Brandin Cooks, Gareon Conley, Jadeveon Clowney, and Tunsil, and how those stack up against the value that could have been had in this draft. It’s really not that surprising that draft graders were not big fans, and that the worse the grade was, the more they emphasized those trades.

It can also be said that, for the picks they had, the Texans did fine. Depending on how optimistic you want to be about some of these players, I could even squint and say that they did well for themselves. They didn’t make any new mistakes this weekend. They drafted players who were mostly in the right slots, if not necessarily everyone’s favorite sleepers or whatever. They didn’t have a lot of capital, so they weren’t going to solve everything. But they did fine.

And that is where the majority of the divide in the grades is. Are you grading the weekend, or are you grading the process that created the circumstances of the weekend?

Unaddressed positions and remaining holes

When you have less draft picks and (especially) less high draft picks, you’re very limited on how many holes you can fill. Many graders think that the Texans did not address all of their holes. I want to pick on Mel Kiper’s breakdown on ESPN Insider because I think it is very pertinent:

Source: ESPN Insider

Kiper listed his top hole for the Texans at cornerback. The Texans drafted Reid, who I think is a fair stab at a slot corner, but didn’t get a top-tier outside guy like they could have in the first round.

Now, I believe the Texans actually think they’re pretty set at corner in the short term. They re-signed Bradley Roby. They traded for Conley. They drafted Lonnie Johnson in the second round. All of those guys have the physical traits to play outside. Only Roby has had much success in the NFL, but nobody can tell you that the other two don’t have the attributes they need to be good corners outside. Outside of those two, they have Vernon Hargreaves as depth — another player without much NFL success but with good physical attributes — and they have Phillip Gaines kicking around as well. Keion Crossen is around. Cornell Armstrong is around. And now John Reid is around.

So, is Kiper wrong in his assertion that the Texans have a hole at corner, or are the Texans wrong? That’s an eye of the beholder kind of thing, one that might even come down to how much faith you have in the front office and coaching staff. I personally side with Kiper on this one — I don’t have a lot of faith that the Texans are going to have three good cornerbacks next year. But … I also can’t rule it out. It could happen.

Personally, as someone who has been tasked for some of these Large National Write-Ups, 90% of the people who have gotten upset with me have had it happen over the difference of opinion between the team and outside valuations. Pittsburgh fans trash me for saying that quarterback is a need when they have Ben Roethlisberger — even when I note that it is mostly about having a real backup on hand — because they know that’s not a priority for how the team thinks. That’s fine, I’m not going to begrudge your right to yell at me even if I think it’s a dumb point. It also doesn’t change the fact that their backup quarterbacks were ass last year.

Let’s talk about athleticism

One of the hottest trends in NFL analysis right now is what kind of athlete you are as put together by your measurables. It has a lot of influence on how teams (and computer models) see pass rushers. It has a lot of influence on your perceived upside after late-round picks like Danielle Hunter have popped.

The Texans did not grab many top athletes:

Source: Rotoworld

SPARQ score is a measurable number of Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, and Quickness. The full list of inputs: height, weight, arm length, forty-yard dash, ten-yard split, short shuttle, 3-cone drill, bench press, vertical jump, and broad jump. Rotoworld made SPARQ bend to positions and rated it out of 100. So the Texans drafted exactly one player with an above-average SPARQ score: Reid.

Here’s how this looks if we take it into chart form for Jon Greenard:

Source: MockDraftable, comparing against one-gap EDGE rushers

Now, I don’t necessarily think that Greenard is destined to be a bust because he’s not an athletic marvel. But I do think it’s fair to say that if he shows athletic deficiencies on the field, and those same deficiencies are tested, it’s kind of a flag about just how high his upside can be. In this case, something that I’ve read about a lot (Greenard’s inability to bend the edge) gets compared against that 40-yard dash time (4.87) and you can add the two together and deduce that it could be an issue.

I don’t look at Houston’s draft class and see bad selections. I see a lot of players that don’t have much athletic upside. And I think that did get taken out on them a bit in the draft grades as well, regardless of how much I think Greenard can be a good starter that can set the edge outside, or how much I think Blacklock’s slippery nature at the line of scrimmage could make him very effective.


We’re entering a pretty sensitive period for Texans fans. The tribalism that briefly waned as the Hopkins trade shattered everybody has been replaced with the promise of a new season and putting it all behind us. I understand it, even though what it really means is that any critical thought gets pilloried.

But I honestly think that when you understand how the draft grade sausage is produced, I can totally get how the Texans got some very negative grades. I think the type of player they targeted had a role in that. O’Brien said it himself:

He focused his draft on these interviews. He wanted to pick leaders. I don’t believe if you look back on things Bill O’Brien has noted in public interviews of late, you’ll find a ton of stuff about how much raw athleticism matters to him beyond speed for receivers. My read is that he wants to pick guys that beat the odds.

And that’s his right. Just as it is a critic’s right to look at his draft class and wonder if it’s got much upside.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.

Notebook: Day 1 of the draft (for the Texans) was mostly on script

The Texans entered the second day of the draft with two picks, and left with two new front seven players and a gigantic new extension for Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil. I was somewhat struck by how overwhelmingly positive the reaction was to a day that mostly seemed fairly paint-by-numbers and, well, I guess that’s where this fanbase is at.

Just staying put and doing normal football team things is better than what we’ve seen for the last two months. And I’m sure the COVID-19 situation helped want us to steer into the normalcy, so … welcome, Texans, thank you for being a football team that does some logical things.

I haven’t done a ton of pre-tapework for the prospects this year because, if I’m being honest, it’s not very exciting to not have a first-round pick. So I am mostly going to defer to broad descriptions of people I trust to talk about the draft and discuss the alternatives that were there at the time for each pick. I’ll circle around later with more detailed watchings of Ross Blacklock and Jon Greenard, as I have a feeling we won’t have a lot more to talk about after this draft for a long time.

Laremy Tunsil’s contract is enormous — good for Laremy Tunsil, a fait accompli for Houston

Tunsil signed a three-year extension off of the fifth-year option that has the highest average value ($22M per season, besting Lane Johnson’s $18M) and gives Tunsil the highest guaranteed value ($57M) of any offensive lineman in the NFL. It is worth noting that Over The Cap appeared to reduce the guaranteed value to $50 million in their valuation, but either way, Tunsil is essentially the highest-paid lineman in the NFL from 2021-2023, and hits free agency at 29 in 2024.

This was a function of the decision to bring Tunsil over without a contract extension, which Bill O’Brien made a point to defend in his post-draft day presser:

So O’Brien’s point was basically that no matter how it happened Tunsil was going to get paid. Which, yes, he was, but there’s a big distinction in the leverage that he seems to not be fully grasping the nuances of. What he said was in no way an actual statement that the Dolphins said no, and if they did say no, well, if you’re giving up two first-round picks and a second-round pick, you kinda have some leverage to come back at them and say “we’re not doing this without an extension.”

Once that trade was done without an extension, it was so, so obvious that Tunsil would be the highest-paid lineman in the NFL. There was no way that O’Brien could afford to let him walk without becoming a laughingstock.

Ultimately this is small-time negligence as opposed to the real issues with value O’Brien has had in roughly every trade since he became the solo general manager, but I absolutely find it hilarious given how D.J. Reader and, supposedly, DeAndre Hopkins had to be let go over money. One way to find some money? Getting an extension as part of this trade! Just saying! I wrote about Tunsil one year in earlier this week and a Twitter layup line emerged of people who literally never read the piece who decided I think Tunsil sucks, so go ahead and read that if you want to join the line.

Personality and interviews ruled the roost

I’m not saying the Texans made bad picks, because I think there were talent evaluators who had both Blacklock and Greenard rated at or above the spots they were selected, but it became very clear that the meetings the Texans had with both players mattered a lot:

While I don’t presently have audio of this, Jack Easterby did a post-draft sitdown with 610 and echoed the thoughts about Blacklock’s interview:

This is really not a surprise to anyone who has been following the Texans of late. The O’Brien/Easterby duopoly has seemed to only lean further into personal evaluations over personnel evaluations, but I say it now because with the final day of the draft ahead of us, I think it’s important to understand that any kind of late-round guy you’re a fan of has to go through the O’Brien/Easterby personality exam test and pass it. So, while I personally have some guys I’m a fan of for Day 3 that are still out there, I’m not holding out a lot of hope that they’ll become Texans.

BOB got upset on national television

It sure would be nice if Bill “you suck too, motherf*cker” O’Brien could keep the mask on long enough to just present himself as normal on national television in the only sports-related event anyone in America will get for at least four months, but that apparently was too much to ask. Even with only two picks.

The furious he-said, he-said of a failed trade talk engulfed the nation as John McClain reported that they had a deal to trade down with the Lions, and Detroit reporters reported that no, they didn’t:

That seemed to mostly be corroborated by Jack Easterby in the 610 interview when he said that there wasn’t much trade talk:

But don’t worry, O’Brien addressed this with a very convincing story in his presser:

I, too, often storm off loudly after talking to my friends on Zoom while my kid meekly looks on as if he sees me yelling about things all the time.

Does Ross Blacklock offer enough as a pass rusher to be worth a premium pick?

That’s the main question I have about Houston’s first selection. Blacklock missed his 2018 season due to an Achilles tear, but came back and provided three sacks and a bushel of hurries. A lot of those hurries came off twists and stunts, so you can understand why the Texans gravitated towards that as that’s a main emphasis of their pass rush scheme. But Blacklock also showed a ton of agility at the point of attack:

It is nice to have addressed a position that has been mostly J.J. Watt and some other guys for the majority of Watt’s career, and if it does anything to free up Watt to move around, that sounds interesting. My first blush of the highlights is that he’s got the weight to hold up at the point of attack in the NFL game, and the quickness to cause some TFLs and hurries.

Still, we are talking about a guy with 5.5 sacks to his name in college, with guys like A.J. Epenesa and Zack Baun still on the board and potentially more impactful in the passing game, which is the thing I am most concerned about as I don’t believe Whitney Mercilus is an impact EDGE at this point and Watt’s health has not trended in a great direction. The Texans addressed this with their third-round pick, but with less of a sure thing in my opinion. Blacklock’s combine was fairly disappointing as well, as he failed to get above the 40th percentile among defensive linemen on anything but 40-yard dash (4.9) and weight (290 pounds). This is not a freak athlete, merely a stellar one.

The most interesting thing about Blacklock’s interview in my opinion was actually some insight into Anthony Weaver’s scheme:

Gary Patterson is one of the best in the business as far as defense goes in the NCAA, and it is kind of a “from the mouths of babes” thing to me that Blacklock called Houston’s defense easier to play. We haven’t had many peeks in at Anthony Weaver, who I believe has not done a single presser yet since being named defensive coordinator.

Despite my reservations from a grander roster theory standpoint, I’m mostly on board with this pick. The only thing that I would stand on the table about doing differently is a trade down just because this feels like a deep draft and the Texans could use some more capital after the Tunsil trade, but it’s impossible to know what the offers were like from the outside.

Was Jon Greenard a one-year wonder?

Greenard posted 10.0 sacks and 16 tackles for loss at Florida in his final season, impressing at the Senior Bowl. He played very well against the run and there are some good highlights of him showing some impressive in-game intuition:

Greenard was most commonly dinged for a lack of edge bend and for playing worse against better tackles — that’s something I’ll have to look at in a more detailed film piece. Greenard’s explosion index was not high in Football Outsiders’ SackSEER projections, which really weighed down his projection. (Epenesa suffered from the same thing, but had much more production.) I would probably have preferred Boise State’s Curtis Weaver myself at this spot purely on the outside stats and traits, though I am happy that the Texans at least made a real stab at fixing the problem.

As I said when I was talking about the Tytus Howard selection last year, I really have a bias towards prospects who are ballers from Day 1 in college. That’s why I was sort of down on the Howard pick as compared to the other options, and Greenard is a guy who falls into that category as well coming off a lost 2018 season to a wrist injury. He transferred to stick with Florida DC Todd Grantham after starting out at Lousiville. Greenard posted some sacks in 2017, but the wisdom is that he was a much more complete player in 2019.

My belief from the initial research is that I think Greenard has the traits to be a long-time NFL starter, but I would group him more in the secondary rusher tier than as a guy who is going to put up 10 sacks a season.


I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is presented to you ad-free and without any hassle. If you enjoy my work and want to encourage me to produce more, please feel free to leave me a PayPal tip.