We did this column for The Athletic this past year, I’ll write it again this year since we’ve got a bye week to play with.
I’m going to give players grades. The grades are not reflective of how I feel about the player’s long-term future — just how well they’ve played this year. I’ll talk plenty about long-term future of each as well. Now that I’ve written this you will promptly ignore it, but at least I can tap the top of the post like a good bus driver when you do.
Tytus Howard — 1-23, T, Alabama State
Did I write about this pick at the time: I sure did, here you go.
The context of drafting Tytus Howard changed completely when the Texans pulled off the Laremy Tunsil trade. My strong opinion that Howard is not the same sort of pass-protecting prospect that Andre Dillard is influenced a lot of how I felt about the pick at the time, because I didn’t think he could hack NFL left tackle. Now he won’t have to.
Howard’s preseason was … an adventure. The team played him at both left guard and left tackle. I’m not a fan of the decision to try to get a rookie to learn multiple spots in his first season, which is a philosophy that I think the Texans are really on an island with across the NFL. (BOB also stans the island of platooning tackles.) Howard looked downright lost in the Green Bay game at times — his first start.
He got two weeks at left guard before being moved outside, with Seantrel Henderson going to the bench. It’s plain as day that he’s a better athlete than Henderson, but that caused some initial struggles in chemistry.
Howard’s biggest strength to me right now is one-on-one run blocking. He’s got the power and speed, and doesn’t miss too many guys in a phone booth. It gets a little more questionable when he moves up to the second level, where he has missed some guys. But overall I’m on board with the idea that he has improved a little bit each time he played, exempting the two weeks he missed with a sprained MCL.
I don’t think there’s a lot to be worried about just yet as a future right tackle. His hand play could be better, and I could see that costing the Texans in a tight game down the stretch. His second-level blocking could be better. But he definitely has all the tools to stick at the position. He just needs time and experience.
Lonnie Johnson Jr — 2-54, CB, Kentucky
Did I write about the pick at the time? Yes, I did
Johnson’s career arc is a little reversed, though I’m not all that surprised. Johnson got to play a lot of preseason ball against b-teams in vanilla coverages. He played very well given that context.
But I think it’s pretty clear that most NFL cornerbacks are not great in their rookie season, and Johnson, raw out of Kentucky, was never a good bet to break that mold. The Texans, of course, saw fit to bring their rookie cornerback along slowly by immediately releasing their starting nickelback, Aaron Colvin, after Week 1. That forced Johnson into the starting lineup. I think he’s improved a bit in man-coverage since his disastrous first few weeks.
His best snap of the year, like Howard’s, probably came in Kansas City when he had man coverage on the outside, Patrick Mahomes was the opposing quarterback, and he was up to the task against Demarcus Robinson:
He missed the London game with a concussion. Hopefully the bye week clears that up — concussions aren’t all the same.
I don’t think I expected more than this out of Johnson this season, so I’m not all that surprised that it’s been up-and-down. My mental comparison to him as Kareem Jackson at least looks to be a bit off, because he’s not getting torched in the same way, (Kareem struggled with the deep ball, not crossers.) Ultimately I think that’s about what the Texans are looking at here. I don’t think Johnson’s zone play or tackling will enable him to become a star without a lot more improvement than I’ve seen so far, leaving him looking to grow up into the same kind of solid-average corner Jackson is with better deep speed.
Max Scharping, 2-55, T, Northern Illinois
Did I write about this pick at the time?: Yes, I did.
My outside belief was that Scharping was a better tackle prospect than Howard was as far as actual play, and if the tools played, he would be a better pro. I don’t think we’ll ever know how that supposition would have turned out, because I don’t think the Texans will ever put Scharping outside. Scharping’s insertion at guard really helps his athletic tools play up though, so I doubt anyone is all that bothered.
Scharping’s preseason was, like the two guys ahead of him on this list, not exactly an auspicious start:
Scharping has added some real heft to the line since taking over in Week 3, I think Houston’s combo blocking has definitely improved with him at guard. Scharping is a max-effort kind of player who, without necessarily pancaking guys left and right, plays with a good amount of edge.
Pass blocking is a bit rough for Scharping right now, and I think a lot of that has to do with not being used to squaring up targets at the position. Some of his blocks, especially this one in Indianapolis, look a bit out of place:
Again, like with Howard, I see no reason the physical tools can’t make Scharping a good guard. I am not altogether unsure that he can’t play right tackle, though there should be no need for that. So far, the technique needs further refinement. I am optimistic that we can eventually look at Scharping as an upper-tier guard. How far he goes is up to him, but I think he has the raw talent and effort to be very, very good in a few years.
Kahale Warring, 3-86, TE, San Diego State
Did I write about this pick at the time? I did, yes.
Warring has been on PUP or IR for almost the entirety of training camp and the regular season, and there has been zero rush to get him back onto the field with Darren Fells playing well and Jordan Akins capitalizing on his receiving snaps.
The long-term future could be real interesting here. Fells is a fine receiver in his role, but he is not dynamic in the slightest. If Warring who can block like Fells and break tackles like someone else is … well, that potential should at least excite the Texans enough to see where everybody is at next year.
Fells’ future is an interesting one. I think the Texans really like him. At the same time, they would have to admit that between Akins, Warring, and Thomas, they have drafted this position to be cheap and productive, and reeling back Fells might cost a little more after the kind of season he’s had.
I’d just say — I think Warring can still be just about anything, from All-Pro to washout, at this point.
Charles Omenihu, 5-161, DE, Texas
Did I write about this pick at the time? No.
I probably should have written about Omenihu’s college play. Maybe that can be a fun offseason project.
Instead, my first real glimpse of Omenihu was watching him in preseason, where he performed well, but always against B-teams. If you haven’t gleaned this from the Lonnie Johnson part of this post yet: I’m very reluctant to call someone a success because of preseason success unless they’re showing up against the starters. Omenihu showed, just not against the starters.
Omenihu has had a very impactful season to date, though not exactly in a way that I think suggests he’s a star. A building block, yes. He’s been fairly good at executing his run responsibilities, and he’s had two of the biggest strip sacks the team has created all season — one against Jacksonville, and one against Kansas City.
Omenihu has had an interesting season as far as playing time — not active for the first game, and the coaching staff essentially platooned him with Carlos Watkins when both were on the active roster until Week 9. Week 9, of course, is Houston’s first game without J.J. Watt. Omenihu did not become a full-time starter, but did grab the bulk of the snaps that Watt vacated.
Omenihu has played quite well within his role, but to me he’s a better fit as an interior rusher long-term. He’s a tick slow to the edge and I think his hand moves will play better against guards than they will against tackles. Best-case scenario here is you’ve got something in the five-to-seven sack range who mostly does it with smart reads. Worst-case at this point is probably a situational rusher.
Xavier Crawford, 6-195, CB, Central Michigan
Did I write about this pick at the time? No.
Crawford played no preseason snaps until Week 3, made the roster, played three defensive snaps when literally every other cornerback was hurt against Indianapolis, then was released and claimed by the Dolphins on waivers. Nothing I saw of his preseason work really made me think this guy had to stick, and as I did no work on him before training camp, I wasn’t super invested in him. Apparently other teams liked him though, so — you know, I doubt that it’s coming back to haunt the Texans with Conley on the roster but it’d be kind of funny if it did.
Cullen Gillaspia, 7-220, FB/Special Teams, Texas A&M
Did I write about this pick at the time? No.
Let’s be honest, there hasn’t really been much of a reason for Gillapsia to be a fullback. When he has played, well, it hasn’t been great:
Evaluating good special teams play is beyond the scope of what I have time to do while paying bills — gotta make sacrifices somewhere — but I don’t think Gillapsia has been a superstar on them and I think you kind of have to be one if you’re going to contribute this little on offense. Rooting for him to get better looks, maybe get someone on his ass on a goal-line run, but I’m not rioting if he gets cut.
I’m happily writing this article free of charge — this is a labor of love as I am between Texans gigs. 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.