HomeSportsHow the Texans can make quick ascension under new coach DeMeco Ryans

How the Texans can make quick ascension under new coach DeMeco Ryans

For the past three years, the Houston Texans have been one of the NFL‘s worst teams. Their 11 wins since the start of the 2020 season is the fewest in the league. 

Under new coach DeMeco Ryans, though, brighter days appear ahead — as long as the team takes advantage of its resources. The Texans have 12 selections in the upcoming draft, including two of the top 12 picks, and more than $37.6 million in salary cap space, fifth-most in the league, according to Over The Cap. With the right moves, Houston can be a drastically improved team in 2023. 

So what would that look like? What moves would it take this offseason to take the Texans from a bad team to an AFC South contender in 2023? 

Here are six things Houston must do: 

Draft a franchise QB

By saying “we have to add more” at quarterback in his introductory press conference, Ryans stated the obvious without divulging Houston’s plans at the position. But taking a signal-caller with its No. 2 overall pick, the player it hopes can become a franchise quarterback, appears to be inevitable. After a promising rookie season in 2021, Davis Mills proved he wasn’t the long-term answer with his struggles in Year 2. 

The Texans need a quarterback who can keep them competitive in the AFC South for the foreseeable future. Alabama‘s Bryce Young and Ohio State‘s C.J. Stroud are the signal-callers at the top of the draft board who make the most sense. If the Texans think one of them could be their cornerstone guy, they should even think about trading up.

Mills, still on his rookie deal, figures to be the backup. Signing a bridge quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo shouldn’t be completely ruled out, as that would give the rookie QB time to grow into a starter. 

Add talent on defensive front

Run defense was the Texans’ most glaring weakness in 2022. They allowed 170.2 rushing yards per game, the NFL’s worst mark since the 2008 Detroit Lions. They lacked physicality in the trenches defensively, something Ryans — a former Pro-Bowl middle linebacker — must fix. 

A potential game plan? Draft a premier defensive tackle with the No. 12 pick (acquired from the Browns in the Deshaun Watson trade last spring) and use the later rounds of the draft and free agency to fortify the defensive front. 

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins and linebacker Christian Harris are good young pieces already on the roster, but the Texans need more talent — a legitimate starter to pair with Collins on the interior defensive line, and youth on the edge and at inside linebacker. Houston’s sack leader last season was 34-year-old defensive end Jerry Hughes, and its top tackling linebacker was 30-year-old Christian Kirksey

Revamp interior offensive line 

The Texans have a star running back to build around in Dameon Pierce, but they need the offensive line to create more rushing lanes for him. 

Last season, Houston ranked near the bottom of the league in several run-blocking metrics: 30th in adjusted line yards (quantifies OL responsibility on running back carries), 30th in second-level yards (yards earned by RB between five-to-10 yards past the line of scrimmage, divided by carries) and 26th in stuffed rate (percentage of runs the RB is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage), according to Football Outsiders. The Texans also ranked 16th in power success, which tracks the percentage of runs on third-and-2 and fourth-and-2 or shorter that result in a first down or touchdown. 

Houston should find a new starting center in the draft or free agency — Scott Quessenberry, who started 16 games at the spot last season, will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason — and look to make an improvement at right guard. The Texans could save more than $4.2 million against the 2023 salary cap by cutting 32-year-old A.J. Cann

Last year’s first-round pick, right guard Kenyon Green, is expected to make strides in Year 2 as well. 

Acquire at least two starting-caliber WRs, a pass-catching TE

The Texans didn’t have a 700-yard pass-catcher in 2022. Brandin Cooks‘ future in Houston remains unclear, as he told reporters after the season that he doesn’t want to be a part of a rebuild. Nico Collins missed seven games last season due to injury. Houston’s receiver room is in flux, all the more concerning with the likelihood it drafts its potential quarterback of the future. 

If the Texans use their two first-round picks to address the quarterback need and defense, wide receiver or tight end should be their priority in the second round. It makes sense to bring in a rookie pass-catcher with whom the QB can grow and build rapport. 

They’ll also need reinforcements in free agency. The Super Bowl-champion Chiefs were able to absorb the loss of All-Pro Tyreek Hill in the wide receiver room by adding JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling in free agency without breaking the bank, drafting Skyy Moore in the second round and trading for Kadarius Toney by the October deadline. The Texans aren’t looking to replace a game-changing receiver, of course, but they could take a similar approach in building their pass-catching core around a rookie quarterback. 

A wild card for Houston: 2022 second-round pick John Metchie, who didn’t play as a rookie after being diagnosed with leukemia. But general manager Nick Caserio said last month that the former Alabama star has made great progress in his recovery and has a chance to be ready by the start of the offseason program. 

Find a No. 2 running back 

Pierce had 939 rushing yards in 13 games as a rookie last season. Behind him, the Texans didn’t have a running back who reached 125 rushing yards for the year (Dare Ogunbowale was second on the team with 123 rushing yards). Houston’s running backs averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, second-worst in the league, per Football Outsiders. 

In his introductory presser, Ryans said he wants a run-first offense (and a balanced one). So the Texans need more depth at running back. They should pursue a No. 2 option who complements Pierce’s physical, bruising style — a speedster who can catch passes out of the backfield. 

Tulane‘s Tyjae Spears, one of the biggest standouts at the Senior Bowl, could be an option for Houston in the middle or late rounds of the draft. He was a very productive rusher in college — 213 carries for 1,528 yards and 19 touchdowns last season — and he flashed good hands and route-running skills in Mobile. He had 20 receptions for 252 yards and two touchdowns at Tulane in 2022.

 A name to watch in free agency is 31-year-old Jerick McKinnon, who played with Kansas City the past two seasons. In 2022, he had 803 yards from scrimmage, including 512 receiving yards and 291 rushing yards. 

Extend left tackle Laremy Tunsil 

Tunsil is under contract for next season — the last year of a three-year deal he signed in April 2020 — but an extension would significantly lower his cap hit, giving the Texans even more financial flexibility to improve the team. Tunsil’s scheduled cap hit for 2023 is $35.2 million, seventh-highest in the league and by far the highest among NFL offensive linemen, according to SpoTrac.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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