Competition at QB highlights Texans starting lineup projection

The Houston Texans could have as many as six new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:


Quarterback (Tom Savage): At the end of the Texans’ offseason program, coach Bill O’Brien said the starting quarterback job is Savage's, for now. First-round pick Deshaun Watson will be given every opportunity to compete for the job in training camp and has impressed the Texans coaching staff thus far.

Running back (Lamar Miller): Miller was a critical part of the Texans’ run-first offense last season, his first with the team. Miller accounted for 59 percent of Houston's carries. The addition of fourth-round pick D'Onta Foreman, as well as the returning Alfred Blue, should allow the coaching staff to spell Miller more often this season.

Tight end (C.J. Fiedorowicz): Savage might not rely on the Texans’ tight ends as much as Brock Osweiler did last season, but Fiedorowicz took a big step forward in the passing game in 2016.

Left tackle (Duane Brown): Brown did not show up for the Texans’ offseason workouts, and his absence is thought to be contract-related. It remains to be seen whether he will show up for training camp or hold out, either for a new deal or for his current contract to be guaranteed. Brown is the longest-tenured Texans player and was an anchor for the offensive line in 2016 after he returned from injury.

Left guard (Xavier Su'a-Filo): Su’a-Filo dealt with a finger injury for part of last season but still played in every game and should be the starter in 2017.

Center (Nick Martin): Greg Mancz played very well last season after Martin went on injured reserve with an ankle injury and could see time at other positions, but Martin, a 2016 second-round draft pick, will enter training camp as the starting center. He said his ankle was good to go for offseason work and for training camp.

Right guard (Jeff Allen): Allen started all but two games in 2016, and if he continues to stay healthy, he should start at right guard in 2017, too. Allen admitted during OTAs that he didn’t play as well as he wanted to last season, and said he hs focused on losing on weight since the season ended.

Right tackle (Chris Clark): With Derek Newton out for the 2017 season with the injuries he suffered to both legs midway through last season, Clark, who started at right tackle after Newton's injury, is one of the few options Houston has at the position. Kendall Lamm will also compete for the starting role during training camp.

Tight end (Ryan Griffin): The Texans re-signed the other half of their two-TE tandem in free agency after Griffin had by far his best NFL season, hauling in 50 catches for 442 yards and two touchdowns. Ideally, the Texans will be able to spread the field more and will need to field only one tight end. Fiedorowicz is known as a blocking tight end, while Griffin is the better receiver.

Wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins): Hopkins had a drop in production in 2016, but with Savage or Watson throwing to him this season, he should get back into the statistical neighborhood of his breakout 2015 season.

Wide receiver (Will Fuller): O’Brien said he expects Fuller to take a big step forward in his sophomore season, and that starts with the 2016 first-round pick staying healthy. O’Brien also said he noticed during the spring that Fuller definitely has a better knowledge of the Texans system. The coach is generally impressed with his progress.


Defensive end (J.J. Watt): Having the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year back on the field will no doubt be a huge boost to last season's No. 1 defense, but it remains to be seen if Watt will play at that level after his two back surgeries in 2016.

Nose tackle (D.J. Reader): Reader spent a year learning behind veteran Vince Wilfork, and the fourth-round pick impressed when given a chance as a rookie. He will step into the starting role in 2017.

Defensive end (Jadeveon Clowney): Last season, the Texans had success moving Clowney from his primary spot at outside linebacker to the defensive line, but moving around the line is also one of Watt’s calling cards. With the move -- and without Watt on the field -- Clowney had a career-high six sacks and 52 combined tackles.

Outside linebacker (Whitney Mercilus): While Mercilus typically doesn't draw the attention from fans that Clowney and Watt do, he is a big part of the Texans’ top-ranked defense. He finished with a team-high 7½ sacks in 2016.

Inside linebacker (Brian Cushing): Cushing will continue as one of the souls of the defense at middle linebacker in 2017, but the Texans drafted someone they hope develops into his successor in second-round pick Zach Cunningham.

Inside linebacker (Benardrick McKinney): McKinney had a breakout season playing primarily alongside Cushing, leading the team and finishing 11th in the NFL with 129 tackles. He was the only player in the NFL with at least 100 tackles and five sacks in 2016.

Outside linebacker (Brennan Scarlett): After the departure of John Simon, Scarlett is the front-runner to start at outside linebacker. The Texans did not sign or draft another outside linebacker, but with the addition of Cunningham, Houston might try to get the rookie on the field in different packages if he proves to be ready to see a lot of playing time. For now, though, Scarlett stands to see more time.

Cornerback (Johnathan Joseph): Joseph and Kareem Jackson have been the Texans' starting cornerbacks since 2011, and since then, Houston's opponents have the lowest completion percentage in the NFL. Joseph missed time with a major rib injury last season but was an important member of the group that finished second in the league in pass defense, allowing just 202 passing yards per game.

Cornerback (Kareem Jackson): The Texans play the majority of their base defense with three cornerbacks, so Jackson will start alongside Joseph, but 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson will see a lot of playing time as well. While Johnson will be healthy after missing most of last season with a broken foot, the trio will have to replace the impressive performance of A.J. Bouye in 2016.

Free safety (Andre Hal): The fourth-year player has been consistent in the Texans secondary. He had seven passes defended last season.

Strong safety (Corey Moore): The Texans lost last year's starter at strong safety when Quintin Demps left in free agency, and Moore is the front-runner for the starting job.


Kicker (Nick Novak): Novak finished tied for 12th in the league in field-goal percentage, but his 35 field goals made were second in the NFL. Houston relied heavily on Novak last season as the offense struggled under Osweiler, particularly in the red zone.

Punter (Shane Lechler): Lechler averaged 47.5 yards per punt, good for sixth in the league, and was a priority for O’Brien to bring back during free agency. The 40-year-old will go down as one of the best punters in NFL history whenever he decides to call it quits.

Kick returner (Akeem Hunt): Hunt took over kick-return duties while Tyler Ervin was injured, and he could have the edge to start here this season. Ervin will compete for the job, but he was unreliable in his rookie season, fumbling the ball five times, including twice in the playoffs.

Punt returner (Will Fuller): Fuller is known for his speed and was able to utilize it on punt returns as a rookie in 2016. He had a punt-return touchdown in Week 4.