The Houston Texans are coming off another disappointing season, as they were held back by an uninspiring coaching staff, a brutal schedule, porous play at quarterback, and a dreadful defense in 2022.
Relative to the rest of the league, the Texans' defense was much more susceptible to the run than the pass, as they yielded the most rushing yards in the NFL and the 11th-fewest passing yards and tied the New York Jets for the fewest passing TDs allowed. Houston also finished in the middle of the pack in the sack department and tied for seventh in interceptions, with the presence of high-impact rookies Derek Stingley and Jalen Pitre.
Quarterback Davis Mills, former OC Pep Hamilton, and the interior offensive line really held back the offense, which produced the eighth-fewest passing yards and the second-most interceptions in the league. Despite the struggles at guard and center, Houston finished in the middle of the pack in sacks allowed, thanks to the strong pass protection from bookend tackles in Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard.
Rookie fourth-round pick Dameon Pierce was one of the few bright spots on the team, but the Texans still finished next-to-last in the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns due to the porous run-blocking.
But this is a much different team with a vastly different outlook in 2023 under new coach DeMeco Ryans and two of the top three picks from the draft in QB CJ Stroud and DE Will Anderson. But if the Texans are going to compete as a potential sneaky playoff contender, they're going to need to surround CJ Stroud with a better supporting cast.
Fortunately, some of the top remaining NFL free agents could still provide an impact for the Texans.
After breaking down the Texans' game-by-game predictions, let's examine the perfect move the team can make to fill out the Texans' roster before training camp kicks off in a few weeks.
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Perfect move: Texans sign WR DeAndre Hopkins
Despite dealing with a game of musical chairs at quarterback due to injuries and missing six games due to a suspension for PEDs last season, DeAndre Hopkins still hauled in 64 receptions for 717 yards and three touchdowns.
Before being shipped off from Houston to Arizona in a horrific trade by Bill O'Brien three years ago, Hopkins hauled in 632 catches for 8,602 yards and 54 TDs with the Texans and received All-Pro honors three times. There wouldn't be any bad blood between the two sides that would prevent a reunion, as O'Brien and Jack Easterby are long gone, and Hopkins still regularly visits Houston and owns plenty of property in the city.
Despite his age and recent injury history, DeAndre Hopkins would be a tremendous asset and his arrival would put less pressure on the other receivers to deliver for rookie QB CJ Stroud. Nico Collins, Robert Woods, and John Metchie are currently atop the Texans' depth chart at wide receiver.
There's also plenty of hype around third-round rookie Tank Dell, who CJ Stroud actually recruited to stay in Houston. While Dell stands out due to his smooth route running and exceptional vertical quickness and body control, he's not expected to open the season with a high-volume role, unless there's an injury to a starter.
One of the leading contenders for the Offensive Rookie of the Year, CJ Stroud is pro-ready with the desired size, arm strength, pocket movement, and pinpoint ball placement to be a true franchise quarterback.
Stroud has a real shot to deliver on some of the Texans’ intriguing season specials, even without bringing in a proven playmaker like Hopkins. But the return of D-Hop could be massive for Stroud, as he looks to get his career started on the right foot and faces some tough defenses at the start of the season.
Hopkins has only met with the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans so far since he was released from the Arizona Cardinals, but Houston can jump in the Hopkins sweepstakes at any moment.
With a projected $16.9 million in cap space among their top 51 players (per Spotrac), the Texans can afford to make the big splash and sign DeAndre Hopkins to take their offense to new heights.
Could the Texans target anyone else?
It's worth noting that there were other NFL free agents under consideration here for the defense.
But none of the top remaining NFL free agent linebackers—Anthony Barr, Jaylon Smith, Rashaan Evans, or Kwon Alexander—represent an upgrade on free agent addition Denzel Perryman.
The run-and-hit linebacker (via click2houston.com) is a major upgrade on run-away-from-contact linebacker Christian Kirksey.
Free agent addition Cory Littleton and fifth-round rookie Henry To'oTo'o also provide added depth and competition behind Perryman and second-year linebacker Christian Harris.
Jadeveon Clowney, a former No. 1 overall pick of the Texans back in 2014, is another legitimate possibility. Plagued by injuries and an inconsistent motor as a pass rusher, Clowney didn't exactly live up to the hype in Houston, but he was named to three consecutive Pro Bowls before being shipped off to Seattle in a trade in 2019.
Clowney's unlikely to command the multi-year contract he's been seeking on the open market for the last few years, in part because there's some legitimacy to the narrative that he's an injury-prone player that takes plays off and can become a distraction if he doesn't feel like he's getting enough credit or enough favorable matchups.
His eyebrow-raising comments towards the end of last season led to him being a healthy scratch in Week 18 and might've led to a smaller pool of interested teams this offseason.
The Texans also have a much-improved defensive line, led by rookie Will Anderson, last year's Texans sack leader Jerry Hughes, and Maliek Collins and free agent addition Sheldon Rankins manning the middle. Jonathan Greenard, Kurt Hinish, Hassan Ridgeway, Jacob Martin, and fourth-round rookie Dylan Horton also provide viable depth.