Jayson Braddock

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Why Vegas Is Wrong about the Texans

In recent weeks we’ve heard a lot about Bill O’Brien’s impressive record of 30-1 when his Texans team have a lead at the half. Taking this stat only on the surface, I was blown away. Maybe Bill O’Brien’s conservative way of winning by as close as humanly possible wasn’t a flaw after all.

Why Vegas Doesn’t Trust the Texans

Vegas, known for their use of analytics, has been well aware of this stat, I’m sure. They make their business knowing every variable in each game. So when I looked recently at the general consensus of Vegas rankings, I was surprised by the lack of respect given to the Texans.

They knew about 30-1, right? They knew that Lamar Miller is second in the AFC in rushing yards this season? They were the first team ever to start 0-3 and then go on to win nine straight! Why isn’t Vegas higher on the Texans’ Super Bowl odds?

Eye-popping stats come out from time to time, and they are impressive enough to sway our opinion. Vegas and the gambling insiders that research all data for each NFL line, had been tracking this stat since it was 1-0. We hear it and take it at face value and run with a new narrative.

The reason Vegas hasn’t overreacted to the 30-1 record and the nine-game winning streak that came to an end this past weekend is because they know all the other numbers. The simple numbers like: If he has 30 wins and only one loss when leading at halftime, then what is his record in all other games? The answer to that is….10 wins and 36 losses. Now that’s eye-popping. That’s not the only stat that concerns Vegas with the Texans.

The first stat that I look at to evaluate teams around playoff time is each team’s record against opponents with a winning record. I do the same thing at the end of the season to gauge what a team was. Unlike its counterparts in the MLB and NBA, there aren’t 162 or even 82 regular season games. There are only 16 games each season, and they usually come around once a week. This makes the NFL the most reactionary sport of all of the major three; it takes an entire week for new storylines or players to change the going narrative.

Over the last few years I’ve earned a reputation of being hard on Bill O’Brien. I believe this to be unfair, as I give credit where it’s due but also hold him accountable for poor decisions. I also base a lot of my opinions on O’Brien around the simple criteria that I mentioned previously. How are his teams against winning teams? Does he just beat up on a poor division?

Here’s some concerning records for Bill O’Brien as the Head Coach of the Houston Texans (current thru NFL week 14 - 2018):

Vegas Texans table 1.png

At first glance, it looks as if a Bill O’Brien’s team has finally turned the corner with a winning record vs teams that are above .500. But when you look deeper you’ll see that with three weeks to go in the season, that three of those four wins are against 7-6 teams (Colts / Titans / Dolphins). The Texans signature win this season is against an 8-5 Cowboys team that they caught at the right time. Dallas started this season 3-5 before winning their last five games in a row.

There’s nothing for Vegas to latch on to with this Texans team. The only good team that Houston has played all season was the Patriots in week one. They aren’t tested enough for Vegas. They look at the Texans nine-straight wins against mediocre competition and fail to see an elite team. What’s the impressive win:

Texans’ Nine Wins

  1. By 3 in Indy thanks to the Frank Reich call going sour
  2. By 3 vs the Amari Cooper-less Cowboys
  3. By 7 at home over the Bills thanks to Nathan Peterman
  4. By 13 in Jacksonville. Enough said
  5. By 19 in win over the Osweiler-led Dolphins
  6. By 2 in the Mile High City vs Keenum & Co.
  7. By 2 in D.C. over Alex Smith & Colt McCoy
  8. By 17 on MNF after the passing of Bob McNair
  9. By 16 over the Browns with Baker cooking up 3 INTs

The Texans play Saturday against the (4-9) Jets and their rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. That game is followed over the next couple of weeks by a trip to Philly to take on the (6-7) Eagles and then a home game against the (4-9) Jaguars.

Darnold, Foles, Kessler…

What Vegas Is Missing

I could see the gamblers being leery of the Texans’ potential. But Vegas has a blind spot. Most of the time we look at recent history and trends to predict outcomes. There’s an uncontrollable variable that I believe Vegas, gamblers, the national media and most of us are overlooking.

The Deshaun Watson Factor

Full disclosure: I grew up in Florence, South Carolina and have been a lifelong Clemson fan. I watched Deshaun Watson coming out of Georgia and studied every snap of Deshaun Watson’s college and pro career.

I’ll be 40 years old on Christmas day. I was three years old on January 1st, 1982, the day the Clemson Tigers won their first ever national title in college football. I lived through Terry Allen, Rod Gardner, The Fridge, Levon Kirkland, Woody Dantzler, the Bamberg Bookends and a whole lot of “Clemsoning.” I didn’t get to partake in the joy of that first national title, and honestly, after all of the heartbreak, I never thought I would see one in my lifetime.

That was a lifetime ago, though. All of that was during the B.D. era (Before Deshaun). When Deshaun Watson enters a program, school, team, etc., he elevates the entire organization. He’s a unicorn. I’ve never seen anything like him. I’ve studied college prospects for over a decade and have never seen any quarterback develop as quick, week-over-week, as I did with Watson during his short-lived rookie season. Deshaun Watson is the offense, he is the offensive line, he’s the engine. He always has been.

Although I studied all of young Watson, I still believed there to be rhetorical excess in the words spoken by his former college coach, Dabo Swinney. Swinney said passing on Watson in the NFL Draft would be like passing on Michael Jordan. Maybe we can meet in the middle, Dabo, and call him Kobe? Watson went 12th overall and Kobe Bryant went 13th overall in their respective drafts. At least the Browns didn’t take Vlade Divac in the trade.

I’ve falsely labeled a lot of information surrounding Watson as rhetoric during his entry process to the NFL. It was at his introductory press conference with the Houston Texans that I asked him about a report that I once read. I believed it to be hyperbole. As the story went, when Deshaun Watson tore his anterior cruciate ligament at Clemson, he returned to play on it against the Tigers’ rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks.

When posed with the question, Watson flashed his million-dollar smile and added to the story. He said he promised his coach at Clemson when he signed there that he would beat South Carolina each year he was there. Watson on the torn ACL went 14-19 (74%) for 269 yards 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and he also chipped in five rushes for 13 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns. Oh, and Deshaun Watson never lost to the Gamecocks during his entire Clemson career.

Deshaun Watson’s career vs the South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0)

2014: 14-19 (74%) 269 passing yards 2 TDs 0 INTs - 5 rushes 13 yards 2 TDs
2015: 20-27 (74%) 279 passing yards 1 TD 0 INTs - 21 rushes 114 yards 3 TDs
2016: 27-33 (82%) 347 passing yards 6 TDs 1 INT - 5 rushes 19 yards 0 TDs

Most men aren’t built to perform their best against the toughest of conditions. But Deshaun Watson isn’t most men, proven by what he did in back-to-back title games against Alabama.

Watson in Title Games vs Alabama

January 2016
30-47 (64%) for 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
20 rushes for 73 yards, 0 TDs
Alabama 45 - Clemson 40

January 2017
36-56 (64%) for 420 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
21 rushes for 43 yards, 1 TD
Clemson 35 - Alabama 31

Watson has won everywhere he’s gone. He brought a state championship to his high school. He brought a title back to Clemson.

Before the season began, I made a prediction that I had never made before. I said the Texans would win the Super Bowl this season (full disclosure: picked them to beat the Giants).

Bill O’Brien puts limitations on his quarterbacks. The conservative plan works to get you to 9-7 and maybe even victory over Connor Cook in the playoffs. But O’Brien’s philosophy doesn’t correlate to big games. Watson’s DNA will take over. He has shown repeatedly throughout his collegiate and professional career that he’s a chameleon. He can change who he is as a quarterback from game-to-game.

The Deshaun Watson that is restricted by Bill O’Brien is the regular-season Deshaun Watson. What Vegas and gamblers need to quickly realize is that Watson will change his stripes in the playoffs. He will take his team on his back. The Texans also have key vocal defenders that can take over and play up to big moments. JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus all have had big moments in the Texans playoffs. If the trio of pass rushers all get hot, then Houston will have an unstoppable formula.

The AFC is filled with parity. People are still scared of the Patriots because of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Chiefs always fold. Philip Rivers is a great story, but he’s always the bridesmaid. Big Ben will self-destruct the Steelers and then mumble all offseason about possibly retiring.

The biggest myth in the NFL is the talk of the proverbial window being open. The window is only open now! That’s always the case in the NFL. Injuries happen, free agency, etc. If you have a franchise quarterback, quality defense, top rushing attack and an elite receiver, then your window is open.

I don’t like any of the teams I mentioned to beat the Texans led by Deshaun Watson in an elimination game. Watson is already leading one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL. He’s also passed for 375 or more yards in three consecutive games. He’s done all of this with the worst combination of bookend tackles in the NFL.

More Weapons

Vegas, fans and the media have seen the best that the rest of the AFC has to offer. We’ve only seen Deshaun Watson and the Texans offense with the governor off a few times this season. True, Will Fuller is no longer active this season and the surge in passing numbers came with him on the field. I still personally believe the Texans have a multitude of attacks with their current blend of rookies and veteran weapons. The Texans have wrinkles that they are purposely not showing.

The Texans running game this season has been successful even without second year running back D’Onta Foreman. Foreman is coming back from an Achilles injury and we can only speculate on when he’ll see his first action. I mention Foreman because we all just watched Damien Williams, Justin Jackson, Darrel Williams and Detrez Newsome run through, over and into defenders on Thursday Night Football. These four guys aren’t hidden gems that coincidentally looked faster, more powerful and more explosive than more highly-touted defenders. They are guys that haven’t taken a beating all season, going against guys with 500+ snaps on their body. Fresh legs are king this time of year.

If Foreman is even 70% of himself when the playoffs start, he’ll be an unstoppable beast for a team that already boasts the number three rushing attack in the NFL.

Foreman was attractive to the Texans because he was a freakish 250-pound running back that could run 4.5 speed. Foreman gets better as games go on, wearing down defenses in the fourth quarter a la Steven Jackson.

Foreman, if ready, can now be a sledgehammer in the fourth quarter with fresh legs against playoff defenses that are already beaten up after a 16-game regular season.

I’d expect Jordan Thomas to become a consistent red zone weapon. His growth with the addition of Foreman for the playoffs, along with Demaryius Thomas, could drastically improve the Texans red zone offense.

Standing By My Prediction

Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel aren’t likely to show all of their cards over the last three weeks against bad teams. Expect to see the Deshaun Watson that plays on torn ACLs, wins championships and walks on water when the games become win or go home.

The Houston Texans will be Super Bowl LIII champs.

Ja-PAY-veon Clowney?

“With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans select: Jadeveon Clowney.”

I was onboard with the uttering of those words. It may have come as a surprise to some, seeing how the months leading up to that selection were marred by rumors. We all remember Peter King’s “F.O.R.S.” (Friends of Rick Smith) statement in which he said that the former Texans General Manager loved Khalil Mack and that Mack would be the selection.

Others turned their attention to a multitude of quarterbacks, whether it was young-gun, local-Texan phenomenon and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, or the new and flashy Carr. After the Texans selected David Carr with their first ever NFL Draft selection in franchise history, they had the opportunity to select his younger brother, Derek. This was never going to happen. The Carr's wanted to take a different path, while the Texans seemed fearful of purchasing another lemon.

The Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewaters and Jimmy Garoppolos of the world received a lot of run as well. The fact of the matter was that Rick Smith knew all along that the pick was going to be Jadeveon Clowney if he didn’t receive a king’s ransom for the number one pick overall. Smith had already put the plan in place at the NFL Draft Combine to try and build as much value in the number one pick, in hopes of landing a “Ricky Williams-type draft day trade package.”

Who could blame Rick Smith and the Texans? I had spent the four previous months enamored with the freak that was Jadeveon Clowney. Being from the Palmetto State myself, I started following Clowney’s high school career early on. He was unlike anything that I had ever seen, truly a freak of nature. His high school film, which has since become legendary, made my heart race and my mind run. Who was this giant playing offense and flying around on defense?! He quickly rose to the #1 high school prospect and signed with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Clowney was a force in college but there were rumors of a questionable motor. We all remember Clowney flying behind the back of Taylor Lewan of Michigan and destroying a poor child by launching airborne like something out of Dragonball Z, planting the kid six feet under with his helmet.

Texans fans and even we in the media got excited about the possibility of Jadeveon Clowney playing with JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. Who could stop this pass rush? I thought at the time that Khalil Mack was great but that Clowney could be the best ever. I shrugged off concerns about maturity and motor. In my mind, the Texans made the right selection.

The NFL Draft will humble everyone. We each study and try to get an understanding of a player’s skill set and how it transitions to the next level. What kind of guy is the young man? Does he love the game of football? Is he a student of the game? Does he want to be great?

These are all questions that you hear thrown around routinely at draft time. Everyone knows these questions but it’s difficult to find the answers. Sometimes a kid turns out to be exactly who you think he can become. Other times, injuries, passion, scheme, coaching, front office, family and/or friends can knock a prospect off the straight and narrow path to greatness.

As much as I loved Clowney coming out and I believed in his potential, I always reassess to see if I missed or hit on a prospect in the hope of continuing to develop as an evaluator. I’ve had to eat crow so often with misses on prospects that I’m thinking of becoming vegan.

The Houston Texans need to reassess who Jadeveon Clowney is now, as his fifth season with the franchise that drafted him winds down. Clowney signed a four-year contract worth $22.2 million when he signed with the Texans in 2014. When the last collective bargaining agreement was put into place, the NFL had fifth-year options added to the contracts of first-round picks—meaning that any player that was drafted in the first round could have a fifth year extended if the team decided to pick up the option.

Since the new CBA was put into play, none of the first three players to go first overall saw their fifth-year option. Each of them received a new contract either before the fourth or fifth year.

2011 - Cam Newton - Extended before 5th year

2012 - Andrew Luck - Extended before 5th year

2013 - Eric Fisher - Extended before 4th year

2014 - Jadeveon Clowney - Playing out 5th year option

Players drafted after Jadeveon Clowney in the first round that have been given lengthy contracts instead of the fifth-year option:

3rd overall - Blake Bortles

5th overall - Khalil Mack

6th overall - Jake Matthews

7th overall - Mike Evans

11th overall - Taylor Lewan

12th overall - Odell Beckham Jr.

13th overall - Aaron Donald

16th overall - Zack Martin

20th overall - Brandin Cooks

(Sammy Watkins signed in free agency and did not have his fifth-year option picked up)

Some fans have been puzzled by Clowney not receiving the extension. I for one am grateful to see the Texans possibly correcting an issue that has plagued them throughout their existence. The Texans have loved to extend “injury-prone” players or have refused to move them when they could see the decline coming. The NFL is just like the stock market in some ways. Or, for the lesser dignified like myself, it’s like the old Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler”....sing with me now: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

The Texans have chosen to “hold ‘em” in the past, or even worse, go all-in despite seeing the decline. Matt Schaub, Brian Cushing, etc., etc., etc.

The dilemma for the Texans to pay Jadeveon Clowney or not has multiple layers. It’s not as simple as “he’s trash, don’t pay him” or “he’s a freak, you have to pay him.” He’s a unique individual, personally and professionally. There’s a case to be made that Clowney can flourish in the NFL as a pass rusher, but after five years in Houston, I don’t believe it’s with the Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel regime.

Over the last year I’ve expressed my views on why I would not sign Clowney long-term in Houston and how they can stretch this out to their benefit, but first the Texans need to figure out if he’s more valuable to them on the team or as an asset to acquire other talent and/or draft picks.

Clowney is a big kid. His bubbly personality is contagious. He’s easygoing and seems to just wants to have fun and be relaxed. Bill O’Brien is more of the hush-hush type, preferring not to let anything out as it could benefit the enemy. Even today, I saw a comment from the Texans’ press release in which Clowney made a carefree response to a reporter’s question asking for the keys to defending a mobile quarterback:

Clowney said: “Everybody rush to the level of the quarterback and try to press the pocket. No fly-bys, no opening up of lanes up the middle. Just try to push the pocket and not run him out and make him throw from the well. That’s what we’re going to try to do this week.”

Again, nothing unusual, we’ve heard it all before; but this is the type of minor comment that O’Brien has come down on Clowney for in the past. You get the feeling that anytime someone walks into O’Brien’s office and starts a sentence with “Jadeveon” or “Clowney,” sitcom music starts, and OB asks, “What did he do now?”

The Texans were so worried about the maturity and development of Clowney that they cut ties with DJ Swearinger. Yes, I realize Swearinger could never cover outside the box, but they invested a second-round pick in him and he plays his role well. Swearinger is also among the top five in active consecutive starts and games played for safeties in the NFL.

It was the comments and the off-field bumps and bruises that got Swearinger escorted out. Remember Swearinger’s pit bull biting Clowney’s arm and breaking the skin a few years back? Remember Swearinger talking about the crappy turf at NRG, and that being the reason Clowney got injured, early in his career with the Texans?

They removed Swearinger, and another former Gamecock, Johnathan Joseph, became the new big brother, guidance counselor if you will, for young JD. Joseph is great for Clowney, but no one can pull out Clowney’s greatness except Clowney, and I’m afraid he doesn’t want it. It was a similar question that was asked of Mario Williams after his rookie contract expired and he signed for a huge payday in Buffalo.

Jadeveon Clowney has still yet to receive a double-digit sack season, and he’s in year five. At first the issue was that JJ Watt was healthy but Clowney wasn’t. Then Clowney was healthy and Watt wasn’t. But what’s the excuse for this season? Watt is back to getting double-teamed, and Clowney still only has seven sacks on the season with three games to go.

Even Mario Williams had 14-sack and 12-sack seasons in Houston before his 6-year rookie deal ran out. Mario suffered health issues at the end of his run in Houston, and the Texans were wise enough to not pony up the major money needed to keep him in town.

In year five of the Clowney experiment, does he look like a $20 million pass rusher? Does he play to Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald’s level? The answer is a simple no.

The Houston Texans have had the number one overall pick three times in franchise history. In each of those drafts (2002 - 2006 - 2014) there was a choice between the freakish pass rusher from the Carolina college or another talent. With their three number one overall picks, the Texans passed on the wrong Carolina kid and selected two guys that didn’t have the elite motor.

2002:

#1 Overall - David Carr (Houston Texans)

Passed on Julius Peppers out of North Carolina (4th on all-time sack list - 158.5 career sacks)

2006:

#1 Overall - Mario Williams (Houston Texans) -- From North Carolina State

2014:

#1 Overall - Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans) -- From South Carolina

Who is Clowney as a defender for the Texans?

I’ve said over the last few years that Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most dominant run defenders. For this article I took a look at Pro Football Focus to see how they had Clowney graded as a run defender. He ranked 10th overall per their evaluations. What’s more, here’s the company he keeps among the top run defenders are big nose tackles, defensive tackles and traditional 3-4 defensive ends:

  1. Damon “Snacks” Harrison
  2. Akiem Hicks
  3. Aaron Donald
  4. Calais Campbell
  5. Jurrell Casey
  6. Michael Pierce
  7. A’Shawn Robinson
  8. Lawrence Guy
  9. Kenny Clark
  10. Jadeveon Clowney
  11. Stephon Tuitt
  12. Eddie Goldman
  13. Davon Godchaux
  14. Arik Armstead
  15. Mike Pennel

Pro Football Focus goes on to rate Clowney at 69.7 as a pass rusher. For comparison purposes, Dee Ford who made news at his and Clowney’s combine by comparing Clowney to a “blind dog in a meat market,” has the 2nd highest grade as a pass rusher at 91.7, behind only Aaron Donald’s 94.1.

As is the case with Clowney, Dee Ford is playing under his fifth-year option. Both players are attempting to put their best foot forward in a contract year to secure that next major pay day. Here’s how their stats compare this season:

Clowney table 1.png

Clowney’s Career

Jadeveon Clowney surprised a lot of people by coming back from microfracture surgery and having the type of career he has had to this point, while dealing with nagging injuries.

2014 - His rookie season was limited to four games

7 tackles 3 TFLs 0 QB Hits 0 Sacks

2015 - Clowney was able to play in 13 games

40 tackles 8 TFLs 8 QB Hits 4.5 sacks 6 PDs 1 FF

2016 - Clowney played in 14 games that season

52 tackles 16 TFLs 17 QB Hits 6.0 sacks 2 PDs 1 FF

2017 - Clowney played in all 16 games last season

59 tackles 21 TFLs 21 QB Hits 9.5 sacks 2 PDs 2 FFs 2 FRs 1 TD

2018 - Clowney has played in 12 games this season

34 tackles 12 TFLs 15 QB Hits 7.0 sacks 2 FRs 1 TD

How the Texans use Jadeveon Clowney

When Mike Vrabel was the Texans’ linebacker coach, he gave exceptional one-on-one coaching to Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Clowney started to play with leverage and technique and was developing. After 2016, Clowney started regressing as a technical pass rusher and has since reverted back to his flaw of depending on pure athleticism, strength and explosion. Mercilus took Vrabel’s teachings and flourished, until he had the setback with the torn pec last season.

In 2015 and 2016 (Vrabel LB Coach 2014-2016) Whitney Mercilus combined to have 19.5 sacks and 27 TFLs. In his other 5 NFL seasons combined, he only has 22.5 sacks & 27 TFLs.

The Texans now seem to play to Clowney’s athleticism, and don’t look to utilize him as a pure pass rusher, as he’s lacking. The Texans like to move Clowney as a chess piece. He can line up at inside linebacker, bounce around and then shoot the A-Gap against less mobile centers and guards with shorter arms. This causes instant pressure up the gut and everyone clamors, “DID YOU SEE CLOWNEY!” But it’s fluff, and not a sustainable attack.

We often hear analysts compliment the ability to move Clowney, but more recently it has appeared as a strategy to hide Clowney from attacks to his edge. If you go back to the most recent Texans-Titans game, you’ll notice Mike Vrabel attacking Clowney’s side. He does this for the same reason the Texans don’t line Clowney and Watt on the same side often. They play what some NFLers call “hero ball”. As great as JJ Watt is and as dynamic as Jadeveon Clowney is, they both like to attack without regard to the holes they leave behind them. This brings a further issue to light with Clowney, as teams know that he will get out of position and leave a huge void. Even if he gets thru, they realize he’s a poor tackler that will routinely not finish.

Clowney is an exciting, flashy player that will show up weekly on highlights. He’s one of the most talented run defenders, especially for his unique size, weight and flexibility. The problem is, you don’t pay top run defenders $20 million a year in the NFL.

I heard someone say the other day that NFL teams should have had buyers beware with Kirk Cousins because they franchised him, dated him, sweet-talked him, but never put the ring on his finger. Minnesota is finding out now what Washington already knew. Cousins is Matt Schaub. He can put up stats but when the pressure comes and elite teams attack, he’ll fold, every time.

The smart move for the Texans is to try and franchise Clowney out the next two years or franchise him and trade him this offseason. Other NFL teams should learn the lesson from the kissing Cousins in Washington: they’re cute enough to trot around the family for a few years, but they have flaws that prevent you from making the ultimate commitment.

If the Texans went the method of franchising Clowney for two more years, they would then get a freakish pass rusher for the first seven years of his career, either under the rookie pay, fifth-year option or year-to-year franchise freedom. If this is Clowney at his best with the Texans in a contract year with JJ Watt doing JJ Watt things, then what will he be after he gets paid? What will he be after another injury? The ghosts of failed contracts past are crying out to Brian Gaine this Christmas season...ewww, remember Brian Cushing….ewww, remember Matt Schaub. Don’t do it, Brian, scrooge him!

Even if the injuries, lack of production, etc., make you think that Clowney is worth $20 million a year, take a gander at the penalties:

Julie’n Davenport leads the Texans with 14 penalties this year.

Clowney is second with 10 penalties.

No other Texans player has more than five. In fact, the next six Texans players with the most penalties this year still only equal 23 penalties combined. Clowney and Davenport combine for 24. Davenport is a developmental mid-round draft pick. Clowney is the former #1 pick overall that wants Khalil Mack money. Clowney has four neutral zone infractions, three defensive offsides and encroachment to go with his taunting and defensive offsides this season. It’s probably not a big deal, unless the game comes down to getting a stop and getting the offense the ball back, and Clowney draws a neutral zone infraction...d’oh, too soon?

What Clowney could be

While Jadeveon Clowney doesn’t seem to want to reach his max potential and be one of the greatest ever, his lack of production isn’t all his fault. The Texans have had this 6’5”, 290-pound monster with an unusual blend of explosion, agility and power, and they’ve never played him to his strengths. For five seasons the Texans have tried to make Jadeveon Clowney every different thing under the moon, besides what he was always meant to be.

Does anyone remember Jevon Kearse firing out the wide-nine? There’ve been changes to the wide-nine through the years designed to not leave as much of a void behind the ends and asking your linebackers and safeties to completely fill B and C gaps, leaving them more vulnerable over the top. This is Jadeveon Clowney’s home. This is where Clowney should have been his entire career.

The crazy thing is that the Texans have the perfect personnel to execute to Clowney’s strengths. Some of the weaknesses to the wide-nine are already weaknesses to Clowney’s playside. The Texans do allow Clowney to fire out of the wide-nine occasionally, but Clowney is a 12-15 sacks per year defensive end in the wide-nine if that was his every-down role.

Clowney table 2.png

Zach Cunningham and Tyrann Mathieu fill behind Clowney with Kareem Jackson as a safety valve outside of Clowney.

Dylan Cole and Justin Reid backup Mercilus inside with McKinney filling behind Watt / Reader with overflow to B-Gaps.

Texans are deep on the defensive line with Christian Covington and Angelo Blackson. Carlos Watkins was always a three-year project. Next year is big for him. Joel Heath is quality, deep depth. Brandon Dunn can spell Reader.

If the Texans aren’t going to utilize him to his strengths, why not trade him to a team that sees exactly how to execute with him. They would then also take on all of the health risks, concerns about drive and giving away O’Brien’s trusted secrets to the media.

Ja-TRADE-veon Clowney.

What did the Texans Get in Demaryius Thomas?

On Tuesday, October 30th, hours before the NFL trade deadline was set to expire, the Texans acquired five-time Pro Bowl selection, Demaryius Thomas, from the Denver Broncos. It needs to be said, all of this is pending a physical before it’s official. Assuming Thomas passes the physical, he’ll join the Texans, who, coincidentally are scheduled to travel to Denver to take on Thomas’ former team, err, current team. I have no clue until after the results of the physical.

Does Thomas even fly to Houston for the physical? Seems redundant. What if he fails the physical? Is this the reverse Robert Horry-Matt Bullard trade? Rockets fans will remember when Horry and Bullard were traded for Sean Elliott. Elliott failed the physical, so, Horry and Bullard returned to Houston as the trade was voided. Horry became more aggressive and the rest is history.

Okay, obviously, I got a little sidetracked with nostalgia. Assuming Thomas passes the physical and joins the Texans, the question moves to “How will it work out?” We could turn to Twitter where there is tons of instant reaction from people that quickly Google stats and records, but what if you wanted to dig deeper and ask “What’s the whole story?” I’m not sure if I can get into the entire story, but I’ll look at some areas of concerns and other areas of optimism regarding Thomas the Texan. 

The first question is always: compensation. The Texans will receive Demaryius Thomas and will flip spots in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft with the Denver Broncos, along with sending Denver the Texans’ 2019 fourth round pick. Flipping seventh round picks is a footnote on this deal and is basically the equivalent of the pickle that they include with the packaging of your sandwich order at most delis. The meat of the deal is obviously, the fourth-round selection.

Fourth-round selections are usually viewed as developmental players with backup potential, special teams, and/or potential ability to become a starter. Demaryius Thomas is a needed puzzle piece, an upgrade over the current roster choices, and a no-brainer for a team that is in the thick of the playoff race in the AFC and looks to move into a stranglehold position on the AFC South, with the Broncos, basically, pulling out the white flag and sending Thomas to their opponent for this week.

So, not only do the Texans get an extended break after their Thursday Night win over the Dolphins, they now find an above-average starter who will be an instant weapon for the young quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who gets the most out of every player. That will sound like music to the ears of Demaryius Thomas, who has lived the inverse career of his new teammate, DeAndre Hopkins, to this point.

While Hopkins played with guys that would be great in the CFL, he didn’t get a franchise quarterback until 2017, and yet, he still produced. The question has been asked, what would Hopkins’ numbers look like if he had a quarterback like Deshaun Watson throughout his career?  Well, look no further than Demaryius Thomas’ early career success. After playing for the best regular season quarterback of all-time, Peyton Manning, Thomas received passes from the scraps of NFL quarterbacks, which rivaled the level of passers that Hopkins saw B.D. (Before Deshaun.) 

In the Case of Keenum (apologies) and Brock Osweiler, they received the same inconsistency and still performed, even if it was not at their peak.

We can delve into the financials of the deal a little later, but with all of the talk of Thomas losing a step and falling off, I was curious as if this was “group think” based on lack of production or factual. To try to form a researched opinion, I have compared the stats that Demaryius Thomas put up within the seasons in which Peyton Manning was the quarterback primarily, as opposed to when he wasn’t. Is the influx in numbers more about the accuracy of the pass, protection, etc.? Or has Demaryius Thomas truly lost a step at age 30?

Demaryius Thomas

2010 -  22 receptions  -  39 targets  -  283 yards  -  12.9 apc  -  2 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow (Rookie year for DT and only played in 10 games)

2011 -  32 receptions  -  70 targets  -  551 yards  -  17.2 apc  -  4 TDs

QBs  -  Kyle Orton / Tim Tebow  (Missed first 5 games of the season)

2012 -  94 receptions  -  141 targets  -  1,434 yards  -  15.3 apc  -  10 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2013 -  92 receptions  -  142 targets  -  1,430 yards  -  15.5 apc  -  14 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2014 -  111 receptions  -  184 targets  -  1,619 yards  -  14.6 apc  -  11 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning

2015 -  105 receptions  -  177 targets  -  1,304 yards  -  12.4 apc  -  6 TDs

QBs  -  Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both split the season almost evenly

2016 -  90 receptions  -  144 targets  -  1,083 yards  -  12.0 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch

2017 -  83 receptions  -  140 targets  -  949 yards  -  11.4 apc  -  5 TDs

QBs  -  Trevor Siemian / Paxton Lynch / Brock Osweiler

2018 -  36 receptions  -  56 targets  -  402 yards  -  11.2 apc  -  3 TDs

QBs  -  Case Keenum (through 8 games)

If we are saying that Thomas lost a step because of the lack of production this season, then we would have to say that he lost that step after 2014. He was 27 years old after that season. Is it perhaps more believable that when Peyton Manning declined during the 2015 season and Brock Osweiler started over half of the games, that the decline may have come from horrific quarterback play? 

After being inactive in a combined 11 games over his first two NFL seasons, Thomas is the NFL active Ironman at the wide receiver position with 115 consecutive games played. The next closest is Golden Tate with 102, who, oddly enough, was also traded on Tuesday. Tate went to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a 2019 third round pick.

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Thomas is also the NFL Ironman at the receiver position for consecutive starts, with 104. He almost doubles the next closest on the list, and almost quadruples the player who is third on the list.  

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DeAndre Hopkins would come in at number two on this list if he hadn’t sat out a meaningless Week 17 game against the Colts at the end of last season. Going into that game, Hopkins had started every game of his career since entering the NFL. He was 79 of 79. He’s currently started 87 of a possible 88 games in his career.

It’s easy to see why Brian Gaine, Bill O’Brien, and the Texans decided to add Demaryius Thomas, opposite Hopkins. In Thomas, the Texans may not have added a replacement that displays Will Fuller’s 4.3 speed, but one strength Thomas has over Fuller is being able to stay on the field, and he does that better than anyone at his position.

After watching a little bit of film on Demaryius Thomas from the 2018 season, I believe that he’ll be able to fill a role similar to what Sammy Watkins provided for Kansas City against the Broncos last week. 

While it’s true that Thomas may not take the top off in the same manner as Fuller, there are several other areas that he can contribute in immediately:

- Versus Off-man, he’ll thrive in hitches and rolling outs.

- He can still kill with a double move to get over the top. (Watch late 2nd quarter vs. Jets where the safety was dead, but gets away with a blatant two-handed hit to the chest of Thomas to slow momentum enough to stop the would-be walk-in touchdown.)

- He can find dead spots in the zone with ease.

- He has good physical separation at the top of the route.

- In all seriousness, he is now one of the Texans’ best blockers. He can inline on down blocks like an extra tight end to assist with the running game, and he can throw off defenses with the personnel grouping.

- Slant and drags: my evaluation on Deshaun Watson coming out of college mentioned that his number one strength when throwing is the quick, accurate slant. The 6’3 - 230 pound Thomas will thrive on this, and drags underneath with physical yards after catch.

- Texans’ red zone struggles will receive a boost with another big target that can make contested catches, despite struggles with drops. He’ll also assist with blocking on quick screens, run routes, and down blocks from the slot.

After the brief film study, digging around on drop of production and thinking through his possible fit with the Texans, I would easily say that this was a no-brainer for the Texans. I would go even further by saying that I would be shocked if he’s not extended with the Texans or at the very least play through the 2019 season with the Texans.

If I were to have one concern with Thomas and his immediate fit, it would be in the area of option routes. We’ve seen numerous star receivers struggle in offenses with option routes. It’s not a major concern for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some miscues between Watson and Thomas early on.

In my opinion, the Texans just moved up to being the second-best team in the AFC, behind Kansas City and ahead of the Chargers and then the Patriots. The Texans killed two birds with one stone in the acquisition of Thomas as they also weakened the Patriots by not allowing them to pick up the much-needed, big-bodied receiver for the aging Brady.

Instead, Houston’s offense will be 3-D (Deshaun, DeAndre, and Demaryius) the rest of this season.

NFL Transaction for October 2, 2018

The NFL releases their official transactions before the end of each league business day. As fans look for a leg up in fantasy leagues, or just to follow their favorite players from the same alma mater, we will provide every transaction, no matter how small.

ATLANTA:

Justin Zimmer – DT – Ferris State - WAIVED

Michael Bennett – DT – Ohio State – SIGNED (active roster)

ARIZONA:

Bernard Reedy – WR – Toledo – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Darian Thompson – DB – Boise State – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Demetrious Cox – DB – Michigan State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Nigel Harris – LB – South Florida – RELEASED (practice squad)

BUFFALO:

Nate Orchard – DE – Utah - WAIVED

Dontae Johnson – DB – NC State – SIGNED (active roster)

CLEVELAND:

Jeremiah McKinnon – DB – Florida International – SIGNED (active roster / from PS)

Terrance Mitchell – DB – Oregon – RESERVE LIST (placed on injured reserve)

DETROIT:

Dee Virgin – DB – West Alabama - WAIVED

DENVER:

Temarrick Hemingway – TE – SC State – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

HOUSTON:

Tyrell Adams – LB – West Georgia – SIGNED (practice squad)

Breon Borders – DB – Duke – RELEASED (practice squad)

INDIANAPOLIS:

Jeremy McNichols – RB – Boise State – WAIVED

Skai Moore – LB – South Carolina – SIGNED (practice squad)

Eric Swoope – TE – MIAMI – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Jonathan Williams– RB – Arkansas – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Kansas City:

Alex Ellis – TE – Tennessee – WAIVED (injured – reverts to IR if unclaimed)

Josh Shaw – DB – Southern Cal – SIGNED (active roster)

LA Chargers:

Jamar McGloster – OT – Syracuse – SIGNED (practice squad)

Steven Richardson – DT – Minnesota – RELEASED (practice squad)

LA Rams:

Sam Ficken – K – Penn State – WAIVED

Carlos Thompson – LB – Ole Miss – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Cairo Santos – K – Tulane – SIGNED (active roster)

Dominique Easley – DL – Florida – RESERVE LIST (placed on injured reserve)

Marcus Martin – DE – Slippery Rock – RELEASED (practice squad)

MIAMI:

Jordan Phillips – DT – Oklahoma – WAIVED

New Orleans Saints:

Brandon Tate – WR - UNC - RELEASED (active roster)

Darius Hillary – DB – Wisconsin – SIGNED (practice squad)

Will Holden – OG – Vanderbilt – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

Tanner McEvoy – WR – Wisconsin – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)

Chris Lammons – DB – South Carolina – SIGNED (practice squad)

JT Barrett – QB – Ohio State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Rick Leonard – OT – Florida State – RELEASED (practice squad)

Arrion Springs – DB – Oregon – RELEASED (practice squad)

Deon Yelder – TE – Western Kentucky – RELEASED (practice squad)

New York Giants:

Thurston Armbrister – LB – Miami – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Kaelin Clay – WR – Utah – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Jylan Ware – OT – Alabama State – SIGNED (practice squad)

Philadelphia:

Bruce Hector – DT – South Florida – WAIVED

Toby Weathersby – OT – LSU – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Kyle Wilson – LB – Arkansas State – SIGNED (practice squad)

Pittsburgh:

Brian Allen – DB – Utah – SIGNED (active roster / from PS)

Nat Berhe – DB – San Diego State – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Herb Waters – DB – Miami – SIGNED (practice squad)

Seattle:

Khalid Hill – RB – Michigan – WAIVED (from injured reserve)

Will Dissly – TE – Washington – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Earl Thomas – DB – Texas – RESERVE LIST (placed on IR)

Tampa Bay:

Rakeem Nunez-Rochez – DT – Southern Mississippi – SIGNED (active roster)

Tennessee:

Chad Hansen – WR – Cal – SIGNED (practice squad - exception)

LaTroy Lewis – LB – Tennessee – SIGNED (practice squad)

Kalif Raymond – WR – Holy Cross – RELEASED (practice squad)

Washington:

Mack Brown – RB – Florida – SIGNED (practice squad – exception)