Even though we are still months away from the 2018 NFL season, many are still predicting the Texans will have a bounce back year, make it into the playoffs, and become a Super Bowl contender after an abysmal 4-12 finish last year. A major reason for the offseason hype is that superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy and ready to lead a Texans offense full of dangerous players like DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, etc. But another reason that the Texans are receiving so much praise is because of their defense. With players like J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus returning, coupled with the signings of Tyrann Mathieu and Aaron Colvin, things are looking up the defensive unit. Because of this, we at FPC Texans have projected which players will be starting for the Texans defense in 2018.

14. Defensive End: J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt helped off the field by Texans trainers after suffering a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg in Week 5 last season against the Kansas City Chiefs (Getty).

After suffering yet another season-ending injury, this time after getting a tibial plateau fracture against the Kansas City Chiefs, J.J. Watt is ready to once again lead the Texans defense. Despite his extensive injury history, Watt is still one of the best defensive players in all of football and hopes to prove that once gain. There will never be a threat to his spot in the starting lineup for as long as he’s on the team, and that isn’t stopping now.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2011 22 HOU DE 99 16 16 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 2 2 0 5.5 48 8 10
2012*+ 23 HOU DE 99 16 16 0 0 0 0 16 4 0 2 7 0 20.5 69 12 19
2013*+ 24 HOU DE 99 16 16 0 0 0 0 7 4 0 2 0 0 10.5 65 15 16
2014*+ 25 HOU DE 99 16 16 1 80 1 80 10 4 0 5 59 1 20.5 59 19 1 22
2015*+ 26 HOU DE 99 16 16 0 0 0 0 8 3 0 1 0 0 17.5 57 19 21
2016 27 HOU de 99 3 3 0 0 1 0 0 1.5 1 7 2
2017 28 HOU de 99 5 5 0 0 0 0 2 11 4 2
Career 88 88 1 80 1 80 47 15 0 13 68 1 76.0 310 84 1 92

13. Defensive End: Joel Heath

Joel Heath (93) seen stripping the football from Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle).

Joel Heath is one of the worst players on the Texans defense, but is still better than his competition. Starting in nine games last season, Heath was only able to amass one sack and 17 tackles. This led him to receiving a 44.6 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 116th among defensive lineman. This abysmal season has led to players like Brandon Dunn, Christian Covington, Angelo Blackson, Carlos Watkins, and more all getting an opportunity to start opposite of J.J. Watt. But for now, Heath is still ahead of the pack and controls his own destiny. If he can step up his game and give the type of production he showed off late in 2016, then he will become the starter.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2016 23 HOU de 93 12 6 2.0 5 3 3
2017 24 HOU DE 93 13 9 1.0 17 7 4
Career 25 15 3.0 22 10 7

12. Defensive Tackle: D.J. Reader

D.J. Reader (98), was once called out by fellow Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt after Watt had found out he doesn’t believe in dinosaurs (Tim Warner/Getty Images).

An underappreciated player on the Texans defense, the 6’3″, 335 pound Reader has been a very stable force for the Texans defense. Drafted in the fifth round out of Clemson, Reader became an immediate producer for the Texans, starting seven games his rookie season and 14 his second. In this sophomore year, Reader was able to amass one sack and 23 tackles. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, his 2017 performance led to him receiving an 84.2 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 22nd among interior defensive lineman. Reader’s productive 2017 should lead to him being the starting defensive tackle for the Texans next season.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2016 22 HOU de/nt 98 16 7 0 0 0 0 1 1.0 7 15 4
2017 23 HOU DE/nt 98 14 14 1.0 23 24 6
Career 30 21 0 0 0 0 1 2.0 30 39 10

11. Outside Linebacker: Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney was selected first overall by the Houston Texans in the 2014 NFL Draft out of the University of South Carolina (defendernetwork.com).

After being drafted first overall, Jadeveon Clowney suffered multiple season-ending injuries in 2014 and 2015. And after missing two more games in 2016, many Texans fans were asking if Clowney would ever be able to play a full season? That question was answered last season, where Clowney not only played all 16 games, but also garnered 9.5 sacks, 41 tackles, two force fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. This led to him being ranked the 13th best edge rusher in football, with an 88.3 grade on Pro Football Focus. Every Texans fan knew that Clowney was a generational talent, now they know he can bring those talents to the field and stay healthy. There is zero threat to Clowney’s starting role.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2014 21 HOU lb 90 4 2 5 2 1
2015 22 HOU LB 90 13 9 0 0 0 0 6 4.5 27 13 5
2016* 23 HOU DE/lb 90 14 14 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 6.0 40 12 13
2017* 24 HOU de/k/LB/mlb 90 16 16 0 0 0 0 2 2 0 3 71 1 9.5 41 18 10
Career 47 41 0 0 0 0 10 3 0 3 71 1 20.0 113 45 29

10. Strongside Linebacker: Whitney Mercilus

Whitney Mercilus was drafted 26th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft out of Illinois after posting an astounding 4.68 40 yard dash and 27 rep bench press at the Combine (Associated Press).

As Jadeveon Clowney proved that he can stay healthy for a full season, Whitney Mercilus proved he couldn’t. After never starting less than eleven games for four straight seasons, Whitney Mercilus tragically suffered a season-ending chest injury Week 5 against the Chiefs, which was also the week where J.J. Watt suffered his season-ending leg injury. Despite this setback, it looks as if Mercilus will be ready for the 2018 and eager to prove he is worth a large money extension. After reaching 38.5 career sacks in just 64 career games, we at FPC Texans believe he is worth this type of extension, and are certain that there is nobody threatening his starting role as strongside linebacker.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2012 22 HOU lb 59 16 4 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 1 0 0 6.0 15 3 3
2013 23 HOU LB 59 16 16 7.0 33 14 7
2014 24 HOU LB 59 15 13 2 0 0 0 0 5.0 31 19 7
2015 25 HOU de/LB 59 16 11 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 2 5 0 12.0 32 18 8
2016 26 HOU LB 59 15 15 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 4 7 0 7.5 36 17 13
2017 27 HOU lb 59 5 5 1 0 0 0 0 1.0 9 1 2
Career 83 64 0 0 0 0 4 7 0 7 12 0 38.5 156 72 40

9. Inside Linebacker: Benardrick McKinney

Benardrick McKinney (55), seen running into 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after he threw a pass, a hit that would lead to McKinney receiving an $18,231 fine (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle).

Fresh off of a  five-year, 50 million dollar extension, Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney is primed to once again be a major contributor to the defense. The reason he got this extension is because he is arguably the most consistent player on the Texans defense. Ever since he got into the league, McKinney has never started less than eleven games and has always played well. Just last season, he garnered three sacks, 33 tackles, and one forced fumble and played all 16 games. This led to him receiving a 79.7 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 24th among linebackers. McKinney is consistent, locked up for a very long time, and will certainly be starting in 2018.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2015 23 HOU LB 55 14 11 1.0 35 23 6
2016 24 HOU LB 55 16 16 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 5.0 79 50 13
2017 25 HOU lb/MLB 55 16 16 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 3.0 62 33 7
Career 46 43 0 0 0 0 3 2 0 0 0 0 9.0 176 106 26

8. Inside Linebacker: Zach Cunningham

D.J.Foster (27) makes a catch in front of Zach Cunningham (41) in a Week 3 matchup against the Patriots (Bob Levey/Getty Images).

Zach Cunningham had a productive rookie season in 2017, starting 13 games and racking up 1.5 sacks, 45 tackles, and one forced fumble. This productive season led to him receiving an 80.6 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranks him 21st among linebackers. Although he did have a good season, it should be noted that his role may not be set in stone as the season rolls along. Other electric players like Dylan Cole and Duke Ejiofor could potentially steal snaps from Cunningham. And if he doesn’t continue to produce, he may even lose his starting job. But for now, it appears as if the second-year linebacker out of Vanderbilt will be playing opposite of Benardrick McKinney at the start of the season.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2017 23 HOU LB/mlb 41 16 13 0 0 0 0 6 1 0 0 0 0 1.5 45 37 5
Career 16 13 0 0 0 0 6 1 0 0 0 0 1.5 45 37 5

7. Strong Safety: Tyrann Mathieu

Tyrann Mathieu was released by the Cardinals after six years with the organization (Getty).

Tyrann Mathieu is one of the best safeties in football and will make an immediate impact to the Houston Texans secondary. Signed to a one-year, seven million dollar deal, Mathieu was a steal and should become one of the best players on the Texans defense. It was a great year to sign Mathieu as well, as he just came off the first full season of his entire six-year career. And during this season, Mathieu was able to rack up one sack, 66 tackles, and two interceptions. This led to him receiving a 77.0 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranks him 61st among all corners: one of the worst grades of his career. This down year is why the Texans were able to sign him for such a cheap amount of money, and it is almost a given that he will bounce back in 2018 and once again become one of the premiere defensive backs in football. Still only 26 years old, expect Mathieu to be the Texans starting strong safety for a very long time.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2013 21 ARI db/FS/s 32 13 11 2 7 0 7 9 1 0 0 0 0 1.0 65 3 4
2014 22 ARI fs/ss 32 13 6 1 9 0 9 4 0 0 1 9 0 37 2 3
2015*+ 23 ARI FS 32 14 14 5 92 1 33 17 1 0 0 0 0 1.0 80 9 10
2016 24 ARI FS 32 10 10 1 9 0 5 4 1 0 0 0 0 1.0 33 2 4
2017 25 ARI FS/ss 32 16 16 2 16 0 15 7 1 0 0 0 0 1.0 66 8 6
Career 66 57 11 133 1 33 41 4 0 1 9 0 4.0 281 24 27

6. Free Safety: Justin Reid

Justin Reid posted a 4.4 40-yard dash, 36.5 inch vertical jump, 128.0 inch broad jump, and 6.65 second three-cone drill at the 2018 NFL Combine (Robin Alam/Icon sportswire via Getty Images).

There is a reason why Justin Reid was the Texans’ first selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. After posting 94 tackles and five interceptions his junior year at Stanford, Reid decided to enter the draft. Considered a first round talent, Reid was still able to fall into the hands of Texans general manager Brian Gaine, who immediately pulled the trigger and selected him with the 68th overall pick. After being the biggest steal of the 2018 NFL Draft, Reid looks to provide a return on investment, but will have to do so with some competition. Ten-year veteran Kareem Jackson has recently been moved to safety full-time, and so will now be competing with Reid for the starting free safety job. Although Jackson will always be directly in the rearview mirror, Reid’s talent should win out in the end up and land him a starting role.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Tackles Def Int Fumbles
Year School Conf Class Pos G Solo Ast Tot Loss Sk Int Yds Avg TD PD FR Yds TD FF
*2015 Stanford Pac-12 FR S 9 14 7 21 0.0 0.0 1 1 1.0 0 1 0 0
*2016 Stanford Pac-12 SO S 13 36 19 55 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 7 0 0
*2017 Stanford Pac-12 JR S 14 54 40 94 6.5 1.0 5 1 0.2 0 6 1 0
Career Stanford 104 66 170 10.5 1.0 6 2 0.3 0 14 1 0

5. Cornerback: Aaron Colvin

Colvin (22) celebrating after a big play against the Los Angeles Chargers (Stephen B. Morris/Getty Images).

After four seasons as a backup for the Jaguars, Aaron Colvin decided to move on and signed a four-year, 34 million dollar contract with the Texans. Now that he’s in Houston, Colvin looks to become the leading corner for a unit that was one of the worst in football last season. Although he was a backup behind superstars A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey most of last season, Colvin was so efficient that he still received an 80.0 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranked him 47th among all cornerbacks. Now that he is not behind two of the best defenders in football, Colvin can finally start and fulfill his potential. There is nobody threatening his starting job.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2014 23 JAX db 22 6 1 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 41 1 23 4 1
2015 24 JAX cb/RCB 22 16 15 0 0 0 0 7 1 0 0 0 0 4.0 60 13 5
2016 25 JAX cb/lb/lcb/t 22 10 4 1.0 18 4 2
2017 26 JAX cb 22 16 5 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 1 0 0 37 7 2
Career 48 25 0 0 0 0 14 1 0 2 41 1 5.0 138 28 10

4. Cornerback: Johnathan Joseph

Joseph (24) getting into an altercation with Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) during a Week 17 showdown between the division rivals (Brett Commer/Houston Chronicle).

The ageless wonder. Entering his 13th season in the pros, Johnathan Joseph still finds ways to contribute to the Texans defense. Just last year, at age 33, he was able to play all 16 games, garner 37 tackles, and catch two interceptions. This led to him getting a 75.7 grade on Pro Football Focus, which ranked 65th among corners. Although he isn’t as great as he used to be when he was younger, Joseph is still a productive corner and will have no trouble taking the starting job over the likes of Johnson Bademosi or Kevin Johnson.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Sacks & Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Tkl Ast Sfty AV
2006 22 CIN LCB 22 16 9 0 0 0 0 20 1 0 2 7 0 45 12 4
2007 23 CIN lcb/RCB 22 15 14 4 76 1 42 15 49 13 5
2008 24 CIN lcb 22 8 7 1 22 0 22 13 1 0 1 65 1 31 11 4
2009 25 CIN LCB 22 16 16 6 92 1 32 20 58 11 8
2010 26 CIN LCB 22 12 12 3 38 1 21 8 37 5 5
2011* 27 HOU RCB 24 15 15 4 40 0 29 18 1 0 0 0 0 40 4 13
2012* 28 HOU RCB 24 14 14 2 88 1 52 11 52 5 10
2013 29 HOU RCB 24 15 15 3 64 0 32 16 44 3 6
2014 30 HOU RCB 24 16 16 2 85 1 60 11 2 0 2 73 0 70 5 7
2015 31 HOU RCB 24 16 16 1 2 0 2 22 1 0 1 0 0 48 10 7
2016 32 HOU LCB 24 13 11 0 0 0 0 9 1 0 0 0 0 38 7 4
2017 33 HOU LCB 24 16 16 2 85 1 82 9 37 10 6
Career 172 161 28 592 6 82 172 7 0 6 145 1 549 96 79
7 yrs HOU 105 103 14 364 3 82 96 5 0 3 73 0 329 44 53
5 yrs CIN 67 58 14 228 3 42 76 2 0 3 72 1 220 52 26

 

 

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