Over the last three years, the Houston Texans have had not one, not two, but THREE different head coaches. And you know what? They’re heading into a fourth consecutive season, looking for their fourth different head coach. So I don’t need to tell you that any fixing I’m about to propose when it comes to the Houston Texans for 2023 begins right at the top.
A new head coach is supposed to change the culture and attitude of a team. They’re supposed to give them hope, purpose, and direction. The Texans have requested interviews with candidates across the league and have already conducted a few interviews. This will likely be GM Nick Caserio’s last hurrah at finding a head coach. So, instead of trying to just compile more picks and clear cap space for the next GM, he needs to nail this hire. And before I fix the offense, I will ensure I have the right head coach in place.
Fixing the Houston Texans in 2023
Hire DeMeco Ryans as Head Coach
Arguably the hottest head coaching candidate this cycle, Ryans is everything this young Texans team needs to lead them out of the basement of the AFC South. He would be one of the youngest head coaches in the league, as he’ll be 39 in July. That would make him more relatable to a young, up-and-coming roster. His fire, passion, and willingness to coach are all traits one should want in a head coach.
As the defensive coordinator in San Francisco, the 49ers’ defense ranked 1st in Total Defense and Scoring Defense and 2nd in Rush Defense in 2022. That’s a year after finishing 3rd in Total Defense, tied for 9th in Scoring Defense, and tied for 7th in Rush Defense in 2021. Ryans took a big leap as a play caller in 2022, and the results showed.
Aside from being qualified, Ryans is a massive PR win for the Texans franchise. The team drafted Ryans in 2006, won the Defensive Player of the Year, was a 2nd team All-Pro and went to two Pro Bowls during his six years with the team. And if you need any more reason to convince yourself that Ryans is the right guy for the job, add this piece from The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak to your reading list and thank me later.
My Personal History with DeMeco Ryans
As someone who pays more attention to offense than defense, I don’t have many favorite players on that side of the ball. But I remember watching Ryans at Alabama, and he was an absolute stud. The energy he played with and the cerebral approach he took to the game were magnetic. I couldn’t help but love everything about Ryans’ game.
After Ryans was drafted, I used to log in on Madden, and after selecting my Eagles to start a franchise, the first move I made was swinging a trade to get Ryans on the Eagles. (Imagine my excitement when Ryans would eventually play for my favorite team from 2012 to 2015.) I wanted one of my favorite players on my favorite team. He led me to plenty of Madden championships.
So if Ryans is good enough to lead my Madden franchises to championships as a player, he’s good enough to lead the worst team in the league out of the doldrums of the AFC.
Choosing the Right Offensive Coordinator
I don’t know if you know this, but the Texans’ offense was #notgood in 2022. They ranked 25th in Passing Offense, 31st in Rushing Offense, 31st in Total Offense, and tied for 30th in Scoring Offense. Promoting Pep Hamilton from QB coach to Offensive Coordinator/Play Caller did not go as Lovie Smith planned. With the firing of Lovie Smith, we can all but rule out Hamilton not returning to the team.
Every head coach typically finds a coordinator they’ve worked with at previous stops that runs an offense they’re familiar with. Given Ryans’ history as both a player and coach, the two systems he’s spent the most time in are that of Gary Kubiak and Kyle Shanahan. And wouldn’t you know it, they both derive from each other, with Shanahan having to spend time working under Kubiak in Houston when Kubiak was the Texans HC from 2006 to 2013.
A couple of coaches that immediately come to mind that have both experience in this style of system and have experience calling plays: Gary’s son, Klint Kubiak, who is the former OC of the Minnesota Vikings, and Mike Lafleur, the former Jets OC who worked on Shanahan’s staff with Ryans in San Francisco. And while both are more than capable of doing the job, there’s one name that not many people consider as an option to join Ryans as an OC.
Hire Anthony Lynn
The idea behind hiring Lynn as an OC doesn’t instill much confidence in fantasy stardom but hear me out.
We’ll start with the obvious link: Lynn spent 2022 as the 49ers’ RB coach…with DeMeco Ryans! Lynn has a long history as an RB coach, with stops in Jacksonville, Dallas, Cleveland, New York (Jets), and Buffalo. He also called plays as an OC in Buffalo before getting the opportunity to be the head coach with the Chargers. There, the dynamic duo of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler gave us plenty of fantasy points.
Lynn was fired after 2020 but was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions, where he lasted less than a year. (Thankfully, Ben Johnson knew just what to do with Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift.)
We see inexperienced head coaches get hired and flame out quickly because they don’t have — you guessed it — much experience running a team. Conversely, many of the young head coaches that ultimately succeed typically add coaches to their staff with previous head coaching experience. They can lean on that experience as they navigate the tough waters of leading an NFL team.
Say what you want about Lynn as a head coach or offensive coordinator; he had plenty of highs as both. As a former RB, he understands the position. He isn’t afraid to employ a second back in a rotation to keep them fresh and wear down a defense throughout a game and a season. Ryans is a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, and we know how much defensive coordinators love a good ground-and-pound offensive philosophy. With a good young running back already on the roster in Dameon Pierce, Lynn would be in good shape to begin the process of providing us with viable fantasy options in Houston.
The Current Roster
Over the last couple of years, GM Nick Caserio has done his best to strip down the payroll for a roster reset and gain as many draft picks as possible after years of both cap mistakes and ill-advised trades. One trade in particular, the trade to acquire a starting Left Tackle, left them without significant draft capital, and the Texans are only now starting to get out from under it.
But there are some foundational pieces already on this roster, including the LT mentioned above, Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil graded out as a top 4 LT, per PFF, and scored the best pass-blocking grade among all tackles in 2022.
During the 2022 NFL Draft, Caserio added CB Derek Stingley Jr, Safety Jalen Pitre, RB Dameon Pierce, and Guard Kenyon Green as foundational pieces to build around. In addition, role players like WRs Nico Collins & John Metchie III, TE Brevin Jordan, and LB Christian Harris add potential. But there’s no face of the franchise.
WR Brandin Cooks has been a steady source of big plays over his career, but injuries and a dead offense proved he’s not, in fact, QB-proof. As a result, he’s likely to be traded this offseason, picking up where the team left off just before this year’s trade deadline.
The trade of disgruntled QB Deshaun Watson helped replenish some draft capital for a hopefully quick turnaround, but with so few pieces to build around, they have their work cut out for them.
The Salary Cap
Currently, the Texans are sitting with approximately $40 million available for free agency. I don’t expect Caserio to go on a spending spree to rebuild this team. He’s trying to get out of big contracts and into a better financial future. There are a few veterans the team will likely move on from for little savings here and there, but the most significant move Houston will probably make is moving on from Brandin Cooks in a post-June 1st trade. This will likely result in acquiring a draft pick (or picks) for the 2024 draft.
Releasing Cooks gives the team more dead cap than cap savings, so a post-June 1st trade makes the most sense. That would free up over $18 million and leave them with only $8 million in dead cap. (For reference, a post-June 1st release saves them less than $400,000 and leaves them with over $26 million in dead cap, per overthecap.com.)
With a few additional moves, I think it’s fair to say Houston could be sitting north of $60 million by the time the new league year begins. How much of it will they spend in 2023? I don’t think much.
As I mentioned, I don’t believe Caserio will bring in many, if any, big-ticket free agents. Instead, he will likely make a few veteran signings that complement the systems in which the new coaching staff will deploy. And I think those moves will mainly be on the defense to bring in veterans to teach Ryans’ system to the young guys so I won’t go into too much detail here.
Two names I like on the interior line include Solomon Thomas and Hassan Ridgeway. Both have experience with Ryans from their time in San Francisco, and outside of Jerry Hughes, there isn’t much to work with on the defensive line.
At linebacker, I’m keeping an eye on Azeez Al-Shaair. He played for Ryans in SF next to Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. He missed some time this year due to a knee injury but put together a decent season playing weakside LB in Ryans’ defense. Safety Jalen Pitre led the Texans in tackles this year, and if that’s not an indictment on the state of your team’s linebackers, I don’t know what is.
With Caserio wanting to build through the draft with lower-cost options, it’s wise for him to take a more conservative approach during free agency. So, with little movement in the early parts of free agency, we turn our attention to the NFL Draft.
Draft A Quarterback
This is where we get to the heart of fixing the Texans. The Davis Mills experiment was a bust, and it’s clear they need a new QB to lead this team. So do they make a move up to 1.01 and sacrifice picks to ensure they get their guy? I think not, as they still have a team to build around whomever they pick at 1.02. So let’s stay put and take the next best guy.
Will it be Bryce Young at the 1.02? C.J. Stroud? Will Levis? I don’t know, but it will be one of them. I’ll assume Levis, as his tools are similar to Mills. That seems like that’s the prototype Caserio favors in his choice of QB. (Assuming Young goes at 1.01 via a trade-up by another team.)
Options In The First Round
The Texans also own the 12th pick, having acquired that in the Deshaun Watson trade. They also have 11 total picks in this draft, not including any from a proposed Brandin Cooks trade. Will the Texans trade back to acquire more picks? Everything is on the table. But for the sake of this exercise, I’m going to have them stay put and take the best player available.
Having Ryans as HC, the temptation will be to bring in a difference-maker on defense. As I comb through several mock drafts to get the lay of the land from those that know these incoming draft picks way more than me, I have my eye on three positions — wide receiver, offensive tackle, and linebacker.
I’ll get linebacker out of the way: DeMeco Ryans is a former linebacker. This team needs a captain on defense. And while LBs don’t typically go early in drafts due to importance, I can see a scenario where Ryans lets Caserio know of their importance to him and his scheme. Clemson’s Trenton Simpson could easily be that guy in the middle for Ryan and this Texans defense.
An Offensive Lineman?
I talked previously about how good Laremy Tunsil was for Houston this year. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for current Right Tackle Tytus Howard. A former first-round pick in 2019, Howard felt like a reach at the time of selection, and he’s done little to prove me wrong. With several elite options at Defensive Tackle and EDGE rushers in this draft, it could push the top Offensive Tackles down to 12, allowing Houston to draft a bookend to Tunsil and give their young QB some much-needed protection out of the gate. Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., and Georgia’s Broderick Jones should be in play.
How About A Playmaker?
Considering a WR here is simple: every young QB needs a WR with which to play catch. I like Nico Collins, but he’s more of a quality second option than a future star. John Metchie, while electric in college, missed all of this rookie season after battling Leukemia. And while all signs are pointing up for his eventual return, he’s an unknown at this juncture. And with Cooks on his way out, Houston needs a true number-one option.
People look at this WR class differently, and there isn’t a true WR1 in this class. Some like Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba; others like TCU’s Quentin Johnston; some may even have USC’s Jordan Addison as their top option. The long and short of it is Houston needs to consider one of them here at 12 to pair with their QB of choice.
My pick at 12 is WR over LB and OT, and I’m going with Smith-Njigba. He outproduced future first-rounders Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson in 2021 at OSU, and both WRs topped 1,000 yards in their rookie seasons in 2022. Smith-Njigba can play inside or outside and is a smooth route runner in space and off the line. I think he pairs better with Collins/Metchie than either Johnston or Addison.
The Rest of the Draft
I’ve mentioned the dearth of talent on this roster, so with Houston’s other picks, the best player available needs to be their mantra. With their own pick at the top of the second round and currently two third-round picks, finding a complementary back to Dameon Pierce should be on the list of needs.
Don’t get me wrong; I think Pierce has plenty of talent and the ability to handle a workhorse role. But as I previously mentioned, with Anthony Lynn calling plays, I fully expect a secondary back to come into play, specifically one with high-level receiving skills. Someone that I think will be in play with their second-round pick is Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs. With one of their thirds, I’d consider Sean Tucker out of Syracuse. Both are shifty and capable pass catchers with the ability to handle inside and outside runs. They would be outstanding compliments to Pierce.
This offense may take a year or two to fully blossom, but there will be some things to love with this Anthony Lynn-led offense. Of course, a rookie QB, rookie WR1, and a second-year RB1 are bound to have hiccups. But one thing we can look forward to is past history with Lynn as a play caller and see how he utilized his offensive stars.
Keenan Allen had three straight seasons with over 1,000 yards and a fourth with 100 catches; Mike Williams had a 1,000-yard season and one season with 10 TDs; Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler combined to be one of the most dynamic backfields in all of football, scoring a combined 40 touchdowns from 2018-2019.
That should offer up plenty of hope for the likes of Dameon Pierce and either Jahmyr Gibbs or Sean Tucker at RB, Jaxson Smith-Njigba, John Metchie, and Nico Collins at WR, and for Will Levis at QB, to have, at minimum, a strong finish to 2023 and help you secure those fantasy football championships.
We might not be able to fix every team this offseason, but you can click here to see who else we fixed!