DeMeco Ryans is at home with the Houston Texans, and now has his first season and most of his first offseason under his belt. How has he done in his first ride on the NFL rollercoaster of trades, waivers, and draft picks? What has he done to improve the NFL’s newest and worst franchise? What steps has he taken in the right direction? What needs did he address?
The problem with this rebuild of the Texans is that the needs that have to be addressed are endless. They only have one player who I would consistently trust on a good team, and that’s Laremy Tunsil. I would feel comfortable calling Tunsil the best left tackle in football (besides maybe Trent Williams), seeing how he played over 1,050 snaps in the season and only allowed a single sack. But outside of Tunsil, there isn’t a single star in that lineup.
The Texans have problems at every position. Their offensive line is poor (opposing pass rush got QB pressure on 22.6% of snaps, 11th worst in the league). Their defensive line can’t get pressure (only got 39 sacks, 20th in the league). They had one good receiver in Brandin Cook, and their quarterback room was headlined by Davis Mills, of all people. Truthfully, the lineup DeMeco Ryans was handed was abysmal. But he’s taken the best steps possible to fill out the more meaningful positions on the football field. We’ll start analyzing Ryans’ offseason with his action on the trade market.
First, Ryans addressed the need for some young talent by acquiring a couple draft picks through trading Brandin Cooks to the Dallas Cowboys. Specifically, the Texans traded Cooks to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2023 fifth round draft pick and a 2024 sixth round pick. Cooks had a Pro Football Focus grade of 72.3 over the course of the season, which is certainly an acceptable, if not excellent, number for a starter who was subjected to such poor quarterback play. Cooks was one of the few bright spots in a very dark lineup, but I think this trade makes sense. Cooks isn’t the youngest or most explosive guy anymore, and this lineup needs a full makeover, so trading one good player for two potentially solid pieces makes sense for this long term rebuild.
Ryans also addressed needs on the offensive line by obtaining star guard Shaq Moore. Ryans traded two picks (unspecified) for the former Buccaneers star. Moore’s stats were stellar last season, playing an incredible 1500 snaps (the most of all guards) and only allowing one sack through it all. Moore will shore up this weak line, especially if he runs some run blocking with Tunsil on the same side. Seeing these two guys moving downfield together will be a pleasure to watch.
That’s the two trades the Texans made. Now, let's examine their actions in free agency. The two major signings the Texans made were the signings of running back Devin Singletary and tight end Dalton Schultz. These two offensive weapons should hopefully add some more consistency to a pretty stagnant attacking group.
Singletary had a PFF grade of 75.9, with 819 rushing yards and an average of 4.6 yards per carry. The current starting Texans running back, Dameon Pierce, averaged 4.3 yards per attempt. These two will make a nice pair in the backfield. Dalton Schultz had a PFF grade of 67.8. Not great, but not awful. He was 7th in the league for tight end receptions, and averaged 10.1 yards per reception, which is pretty respectable. Overall, these two signings will be good workhorse type of guys on offense. They won’t break off explosive plays very often, but they’ll be better able to march down the field than the Texans previously were able to. Running back wasn’t a huge positional need, since Pierce is serviceable, but it makes sense. Taking a tight end was smart, though, and absolutely was a positional need, as their previous TE was Teagan Quitoriano, who had a PFF grade as 49.1 and 113 yards on the season.
Now, for the part you come to see: the draft. The Houston Texans had one of the wildest drafts we’ve seen in a while. Firstly, the Texans addressed their greatest need of all at quarterback by taking Ohio State star CJ Stroud with the 2nd pick of the draft. This was the pick that they needed to make, and they got a true NFL-prepped star in Stroud. He had an incredible season and finished as a 2022 Heisman Trophy finalist. He had 3,688 yards in 2022 and an incredible 4,435 yards in 2021. Physically, he’s 6’3” and 215 lbs, which is more than enough to be a quarterback in the big league. Stroud is the best quarterback in this draft regarding timing, anticipation, and precision, which are the qualities the Texans staff were looking for in their QB. If the scheme he’s in gets a couple of guys open, he will absolutely put the ball on the money. There are a few problems with Stroud, though. First is his allegedly poor score on the S2 cognition test, and the second is the immense drop in talent between his weapons at Ohio State and the terrible weapons he’ll be throwing to for Houston. However, the Texans have faith in him, and I do too. I think this is an excellent pick.
Next, the Texans addressed their front seven by trading up to take edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. with the 3rd pick of the draft. They gave up the 12th pick of the 2023 Draft, the 33rd pick of the 2023 Draft, and a 1st and 3rd in the 2024 Draft. I’ve already written my own scouting report on Anderson Jr. in another article (Bears With The #1 Pick: What Will They Do? for The GOAT), but I’ll recap here. Anderson is a ball knowledge god. He can decipher opponent’s plays pre-snap like no other because his knowledge of opponent playbooks is so incredible. This pre-snap information makes him able to attack the most important points on the field, which is why he was one of the best run defenders in college football this last season. He gets into the backfield and blows things up like nobody else, and the 3rd pick is absolutely worth it for him. However, the Texans gave up a huge package to get this guy. He isn’t a true blue-chip process, without crazy bend or other athletic talents, so trading a first round pick and two early draft picks to get him is a little bit much. I think Anderson will flourish under Ryans’ coaching and will be a great player for years to come, but it’s too much to give up for a player of his caliber.
Their next pick came in round two, which they used on Penn State center Juice Scruggs. The 6’3” 315 lb prospect will do a lot to help reinforce this offensive line even more through his quick feet and firm pass protection. Now, with his young talent and two established stars in Tunsil and Moore, this offensive line looks pretty formidable.
Finally, in round three, the Texans addressed their need at wide receiver by taking Tank Dell, a rather small slot receiver from the University of Houston. This homegrown talent measured in at only 5’8” and 165 lbs at the NFL Combine, and those numbers aren’t the most confidence inducing. However, he ran a blistering 4.49 second 40-yard dash and also has a lot of quick twitchiness that excites the Texans. His top-end speed paired with his quick cuts could make him interesting, but his sides keeps me from going all in on the Tank Dell train. He very well could be a plus starter, but injuries will play a major role in his career.
The rest of the draft was less notable, with another edge rusher being taken in Dylan Horton, a linebacker in Henry To’oTo’o, another center in Jarret Patterson, another receiver in Xavier Hutchinson, and a safety in Brandon Hill. All of these picks are fine backup and special teamers, with a couple of potential starters in To’oTo’o and Horton.
Overall, I would call DeMeco Ryans’ first offseason as head coach in Houston a general success. He addressed the need for a quarterback, took an exciting defensive powerhouse, picked up solid players in free agency, and created one half of a formidable offensive line. There are still glaring needs in this lineup, specifically with the front seven (not including edge rushers, of which they have a few), the receiver core, and the secondary, but a team can only be expected to do so much in one offseason, and with the resources they had at hand, the Texans did a good job in picking up good players in the positions they needed first. They have put some excitement into the long-suffering fans of the team, and have started an upward trajectory that Ryans will continue into the coming years.