Better, worse or the same? Texans hope roster turnover improves offense

Phillip Lindsay was among the Texans' top offseason additions, and he could wind up leading the backfield committee. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

HOUSTON -- When a new coaching staff and front office are hired, turnover is inevitable. But in his first offseason as general manager for the Houston Texans, Nick Caserio has taken it to another level.

This spring, the Texans signed 28 free agents, which led the NFL, and traded for three players.

Although coach David Culley brought a coaching staff with him, he did retain offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, who called plays for the first time last season. Before quarterback Deshaun Watson asked the Texans to trade him and faced 22 lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior, Watson said he hoped the Texans could keep Kelly.

“Tim [Kelly] has done a tremendous job,” Culley said. “He knows exactly what he wants to get done in this offense. As a collective group, they’ve sat down and Tim’s been great with this about getting the ideas from everybody in that room.”

But will an offense that ranked 13th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA take a step forward this season under Kelly? Given the uncertainty at quarterback, that seems unlikely. Here’s a rundown of each offensive position group and whether they are better, worse or the same now compared to the end of last season:


Additions: Tyrod Taylor (free agent), Davis Mills (third round in the NFL draft), Jeff Driskel (free agent), Ryan Finley (trade)

Losses: A.J. McCarron (Falcons)

Returners: Deshaun Watson

Better, worse or the same? Worse

While Watson is still on the team, it seems unlikely he’ll be lining up under center for the Texans in 2021. Even though it wasn’t reflected in their 4-12 record, Watson’s numbers were the best in his four seasons in the NFL, as he led the league with 4,823 passing yards and set career bests with 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 112.4 passer rating. He has not missed a game since he tore his ACL in his rookie season.

Now, assuming Watson is not an option, Taylor is expected to start Week 1. The question is, how long will he be their starter? Because the Texans drafted Mills with their first pick, it makes sense for him to play at some point, so Caserio can see if he is a viable option to be Houston’s quarterback moving forward or if the team needs to find another starter, likely in next year’s draft.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback, it’s going to be a downgrade from Watson’s 2020 season.

Running back

Additions: Phillip Lindsay (free agent), Mark Ingram II (free agent)

Losses: Duke Johnson (unsigned), FB Cullen Gillaspia (Giants)

Returners: David Johnson, Buddy Howell, Dontrell Hilliard, Scottie Phillips

Better, worse or the same? Better

It would be hard to be worse than the unit that ranked last in rushing DVOA in 2020. The Texans did bring David Johnson back on a lower salary and now have three veterans in the running back room. Lindsay should be the Texans’ starter, although it’s unclear how Kelly will split up touches.

Wide receiver

Additions: Nico Collins (third round in the NFL draft), Chris Conley (free agent), Alex Erickson (free agent), Donte Moncrief (free agent), Chris Moore (free agent), Andre Roberts (free agent), Damon Hazelton (undrafted free agent)

Losses: William Fuller V (Dolphins), Steven Mitchell Jr. (unsigned), Chad Hansen (unsigned), Damion Ratley (Lions)

Returners: Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Isaiah Coulter, Keke Coutee

Better, worse or the same? Worse

The Texans will miss what Fuller did in the first half of the 2020 season, even though they were without him after Week 13 because he was suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Houston will depend on Cooks to play as well as he did last season (81 catches for 1,150 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games) and Collins to make an impact as a rookie.

Caserio certainly added depth to the position, signing five free agents and adding two receivers on draft weekend.

Tight end

Additions: Brevin Jordan (fifth round in the NFL draft), Ryan Izzo (trade), Paul Quessenberry (free agent), Antony Auclair (free agent)

Losses: Darren Fells (Lions)

Returners: Jordan Akins, Kahale Warring, Pharaoh Brown

Better, worse or the same? Better

There wasn’t a ton of change at the position, but Caserio did add depth this offseason. Jordan, who was ESPN’s fifth-ranked tight end but fell to the fifth round, could easily turn into Houston’s best draft pick.

This is a key offseason for Warring, a third-round pick in 2019 who did not play his rookie season or most of last season and now has a lot of competition.

Offensive line

Additions: Justin Britt (free agent), Marcus Cannon (trade), Justin McCray (free agent), Lane Taylor (free agent), Cole Toner (free agent), Jordan Steckler (free agent), Ryan McCollum (undrafted free agent), Carson Green (undrafted free agent)

Losses: Nick Martin (Raiders), Zach Fulton (Giants), Senio Kelemete (unsigned), Brent Qvale (unsigned)

Returners: Laremy Tunsil, Max Scharping, Tytus Howard, Roderick Johnson, Charlie Heck, Hjalte Froholdt, Cohl Cabral

Better, worse or the same? Better

A year after returning all five starters on the offensive line, Houston goes into this season having cut four players who started at least three games in 2020.

One question about the O-line is where Cannon plays after Caserio traded for him in March. The longtime New England Patriots right tackle told reporters in March he doesn’t know what his role will be. The Texans already have Tunsil at left tackle and Howard at right tackle. Cannon could end up being an expensive swing tackle for Houston or Howard could move to guard, a position he has experience playing in the NFL.