Today's absurd prediction:
The Texans' leading rusher this year will be Wali Lundy.
He's currently behind a couple of has-beens on the depth chart. Ahman Green showed signs of resurgence last year by posting a 1,000 yard season on 4.0 yards per carry, but all that did was help his trade value for the Packers. He hasn't played a full season since 2003, when he rushed for 1,883 yards and 15 TDs. He's a shell of that man now. As for Ron Dayne, I'm shocked every time I see a list of past Heisman winners - it's like I expect him to be taken off the list someday. Lundy looked good in the preseason last year, did all right in limited time during the regular season, and with a little work could emerge as the #1 guy by the end of the season. It's a long shot, but we're having fun here.
Here's the breakdown for the Houston Texans:
Coaching Changes: B+
Richard Smith remains for a second year as defensive coordinator alongside sophomore head coach Gary Kubiak. The only change to the main staff is a small one: Mike Sherman was the "Assistant head coach/offense" and is now "Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator," taking over the OC duties from Troy Calhoun. The way this team has been built is interesting. The coaching is stacked on offense, with Kubiak being a former OC, and Sherman having a ton of NFL experience, and the young star players are stacked on defense, with recent first-rounders Dunta Robinson, Mario Williams, and Amobi Okoye along with 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year DeMeco Ryans. It's a strategy that makes some sense, but it'll be interesting to see how it works.
They nabbed my favorite player in the draft when they got Okoye at #10. Everything about him is impressive; his size, his brains, his integrity, his personal history, and most of all, his potential for a long and successful career, seeing as how the guy is 19 years old. For those of you who don't know, he entered college at 16 and graduated in three years with a psychology major. There will be a movie made about Okoye someday, mark my words. They got a good small-school talent in 3rd-round WR Jacoby Jones. He'll take some developing, but he's reputed to be a quick learner, and he should be starting alongside Andre Johnson by 2009. There's not much else to be impressed with either way, and they didn't have a 2nd-rounder, which is why this isn't an A.
Player Movement: B
They admitted defeat regarding David Carr, and became the team to finally pry Matt Schaub away from the Falcons. And just in time too. They wouldn't be interested in trading him today, and the Texans would have to look to a Daunte Culpepper or Joey Harrington. While the QB change is obviously the major move, the Texans were actually quite busy this offseason. The other "big" move was getting Ahman Green from Green Bay, and you've already seen how I think that will pan out. Domanick Williams, formerly Davis, has been cut. They lost last year's #2 WR, Eric Moulds, to division rival Tennessee, and for a while only had rookie Jones and free agent pickups Bethel Johnson and Andre Davis to replace him. But they just recently signed Keenan McCardell. But he's old and on his way out, you say? What do you think Moulds is, Dakota Fanning? McCardell should cover Moulds' 557 yards and 1 TD just fine. Johnson can focus on returning kicks now, and Davis can work on returning to the form that made him look promising in his first two years with Cleveland. CB Antwaan Peek went to Cleveland and will be replaced with Jamar Fletcher, who may be a slight upgrade. They finally did something to improve the offensive line by bringing in Jordan Black, formerly of the formidable Chiefs' line that Kubiak played against twice a year in Denver. Shawn Barber and Jeff Zgonina are the big names on defense, and they should provide some excellent veteran leadership for the youngsters in the front seven. Zgonina could play five downs a game and still be a valuable acquisition for his 14 years of experience alone.
They draw Miami and Cleveland, thanks to the NFL's striving for parity, and also get to play Oakland and Atlanta as part of their NFC South and AFC West division matchups. It'll be fun to see what Schaub does against his old team - that's in week 4, so keep an eye out for it. They don't have any Monday night games, and only one Thursday, so rest shouldn't be a big deal. The worst of the traveling is consecutive road games in California, at San Diego then Oakland. The schedule doesn't get bad until the end, with Denver on short rest (the Thursday game), at Indianapolis, and a season closer against Jacksonville, who may be fighting for a playoff spot.
The Matt Schaub experiment is the most important element of the season: how he pans out is the difference between a top 5 draft pick and playoff contention. Another thing to keep in mind is Gary Kubiak. I like him as a coach, and he now has a year behind him. You know Denver's history of great RBs? That behind the line in Denver even I could run for 1,000 yards? Except that streak was broken last year - the year Kubiak was no longer coordinating the offense. He never seems to get credit for the success of that offensive line, and maybe he should. He can prove it by actually developing a line that can stop the pass rush and create some running lanes here in Houston. Which brings me back to Lundy - why couldn't Kubiak make an Olandis Gary out of him?
The Record: 6-10
I honestly think Houston has a chance to be the AFC's dark horse this year. But it's a hard conference to break into, and this team is young. Depending on how the tiebreakers fall, though, they may technically not be the worst in the division for once - if things go as predicted they'll be tied with the Titans. So now I have to predict the tiebreaker. 1st tiebreaker: head-to-head - split. 2nd tiebreaker: division record - both 2-4. 3rd tiebreaker: conference record - well, Houston's was better last year, so I'll give it to them. There it is: Houston will earn 3rd place in the AFC South. Start hate-mailing me now, Tennessee fans.