Our 2023 NFL Preview takes us from Lambeau Field to the sweltering heat of Houston, where the Texans find themselves starting over yet again for the third consecutive offseason. However, there is reason to believe that this latest revolution will stick, as the franchise welcomed back (former Pro-Bowl Linebacker) DeMeco Ryans as their fourth Head Coach in as many years. Fresh off a stellar run as the 49ers Defensive Coordinator, Ryans is ready to rebuild his former employers from the ground up, leaning heavily on a youth movement centered around this year’s draft class consisting of C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. How long will it take before these kids start showing real growth? Will they manage to compete in the perennially mediocre AFC South? Let’s stroll through NRG Stadium for a look into all things Texans, shall we?
Back to the Future
If there was one team in the league that needed to nail their latest head coaching hire, it was absolutely the Texans, who were left with serious egg on their face after the past few hirings. When (General Manager) Nick Caserio arrived two years ago, his first order of business was finding a legitimate replacement for (former Head Coach) Bill O’Brien, who was fired just four games into a miserable 2020 campaign. Despite being linked with a number of candidates sharing his New England ties, Caserio curiously settled upon David Culley, a longtime assistant from the Andy Reid coaching tree that wasn’t on any team’s radar during the hiring cycle. Unsurprisingly, this gamble failed spectacularly, as the 67-year-old was fired after a 4-13 finish in which (franchise Quarterback) Deshaun Watson sat out the entirety of the campaign under the cloud of a series of sexual misconduct/assault allegations. Unable to lure any of the major candidates to Southern Texas, Caserio once again settled for an unexpected hire, elevating (Defensive Coordinator) Lovie Smith to the head position, which once again produced disappointing results, this time a 3-13-1 finish. With his job now on the line, the 47-year-old managed to land one of the league’s most coveted candidates, (former 49ers Defensive Coordinator) DeMeco Ryans. Of course, the 38-year-old has a long history with the franchise that drafted him thirty-third overall back in 2006, spending the first six years of his career with them and earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors along with a pair of Pro-Bowl nods to boot. He would join Kyle Shanahan’s coaching staff in San Francisco in 2017, where he would quickly ascend the ranks in becoming Defensive Coordinator in 2021, with his troops ranking number one overall in both points allowed (16.3) and total defense (300.6) last season. In order to bring Ryans (pictured above) back to Houston, Caserio offered a six-year contract, which is longer than most for first-time Head Coaches, in an attempt to assuage any negative opinions after burning through a pair of minority hires in quick succession. Now, it will be up to the former Linebacker to oversee the growth of a widespread youth movement, centered upon the development of the second overall pick in last April’s NFL Draft…
The Consolation Prize
After the Panthers traded up with the intention of selecting a franchise Quarterback, all eyes were on the Texans, who had a number of different pathways at number two. They could have simply stood pat and selected whichever Quarterback that Carolina didn’t, with very little differentiating the top prospects in the eyes of most scouts. However, they could’ve in turn placed the pick up for auction for a QB-needy team and acquired even more draft capital after already receiving a sizeable bounty from Cleveland in exchange for the aforementioned Watson (Three first-rounders). They could have also used the pick themselves to select a premium defender in an attempt to bolster a porous run defense, which would undoubtedly be on the mind of Ryans, a former Linebacker and Defensive Coordinator. Ultimately, Caserio and Ryans did what most pundits expected them to do along, selecting a Quarterback in the form of (Ohio State product) C.J. Stroud. For months, there were rumors that Stroud (pictured above) would be the Panthers’ choice at number one, though at some point their attention turned to Bryce Young, which is just fine for the Texans, who now have on their hands a young passer that many scouts believe is the most pro-ready from a classical point of view. Whereas there were clear concerns over Young’s size and frame, Stroud stands a prototypical 6′-3″ and checks in at 215 pounds, while displaying the requisite arm strength, anticipation, and accuracy to successfully complete throws from the pocket. Simply put, this kid was nothing short of prolific in his two years in Columbus, completing nearly 70.0% of his passes for 8,123 yards and eighty-five touchdowns opposed to just twelve interceptions. Sure, the Buckeyes’ system is VERY friendly for Quarterbacks, but this kid exhibited an ability to make plays off script later in his sophomore campaign, particularly in the College Football Playoff against (eventual National Champion) Georgia, evading the rush and completing passes on the run. Joining Ryans in Houston is (Offensive Coordinator) Bobby Slowik, having worked together in San Francisco as the Niners’ Passing Game Coordinator last season and is expected to implement a scheme that has also proven to be very friendly to the Quarterback. Of course, this team may be built in the likeness of their former employers in the Bay Area, but they will ultimately need the players to make it work. Fortunately for all parties involved, they appear to be well on their way to doing so…
Caserio’s Youth Movement
Over the last two seasons, the Texans have been BAD. Like REALLY @#$%^&* BAD. Indeed, you could make the Machiavellian argument that Caserio opted to go the way he did with Culley and Smith in an attempt to be as bad as possible to build his draft cache as he waited to seal the deal for Watson, netting a larger bounty of picks. In the end, any General Manager would be frothing at the mouth to start over with a war chest of picks, which is where Houston has found themselves, with Caserio hard at work putting them to use. Last offseason, he focused on bolstering the Secondary, selecting (Cornerback) Derek Stingley Jr. third overall and (Safety) Jalen Pitre in the second round, while adding key contributors in other areas, including (Offensive Tackle) Kenyon Green, (Wideout) John Metchie, (Linebacker) Christian Harris, and (Tailback) Dameon Pierce. That last pick would prove to be a diamond in the rough, with the fourth rounder rushing for nearly 1,000 yards in thirteen games. As we covered earlier, Caserio chose the aforementioned Stroud to be the club’s franchise passer at number two overall, though the longtime scout was far from done; channeling his inner Kevin Costner, he would immediately trade back up to number three, selecting (Alabama Edge-Rusher) Will Anderson Jr. Needless to say, this was a shocking turn of events, as the Texans traded back up to select a player that many thought they would have taken with the previous pick, effectively ending up with two of the top-five prospects in the Draft. Anderson (pictured above next to Stroud) should make an immediate impact on the Defense, racking up 34.5 sacks and 58.5 tackles for loss in three seasons in Tuscaloosa, where his versatility in lining up at multiple positions must have Ryans, himself a former graduate of the Crimson Tide, positively giddy at the possibilities in store. It may take a few years to really bear fruit, but if the Texans are a contender let’s say in, 2026, then we’ll likely look back on this particular Draft as the moment where it all started.
Projected Finish: 6-11
After going 11-38-1 over the last three seasons, it is about damn time that the Texans actually got their @#$% together. Caserio looked as if he was simply biding his time with the hires of Culley and Smith in an attempt to land a big fish, and while effectively sacrificing not one, but TWO seasons is a truly ballsy move in today’s NFL, it looks like it has paid off in the form of Ryans, who is nothing short of a home run for this franchise. The former Linebacker has been granted the long-term job security to oversee the growth of a plethora of talented players, and how quickly they hit the ground running will determine just how competitive Houston can be this season. However, we keep hammering home the fact that the AFC is a treacherous landscape, meaning that it could prove to be very difficult to see much improvement this season, particularly in the win column. With that said, the AFC South isn’t arduous by any means, while the schedule as a whole isn’t very taxing, particularly the latter half, creating the potential for this team to double their victories from a year ago which at this stage of their development would represent a welcome positive sign moving forward.