The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 25
Where: White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
1. Who is the Week 1 starting QB?
It seems so far away, yet just one year ago, Houston gave Brock Osweiler a four-year, $72 million contract. The 6-foot-7 quarterback – with his cannon for an arm – was supposed to be the franchise. Fast-forward one disastrous season under center and the highly inept Osweiler is a Cleveland Brown (Houston had to pay Cleveland to take him). To be sure, the Texans – who beat the short-handed Raiders in the playoffs before falling to the Patriots – still have plenty of quarterback concerns. Rookie first-round draft choice Deshaun Watson is clearly the future, but is he the present? Watson has all of the tools and is well regarded for his work ethic and mental approach, but don’t forget that he tossed 17 interceptions at Clemson last season on a measly 7.9-yards per passing attempt.
2. Is J.J. Watt Back To Being J.J. Watt?
Perhaps the most dominant defensive player of the past five years, the 28-year-old Watt played just three games in 2016-17 before being placed on injured reserve after he aggravated a back injury. Remember too, three-time defensive player of the year Watt had not missed a single game during his first five seasons as a pro. What really separates him is his ability to affect the game on all three downs. His relentless effort and production also makes Jadeveon Clowney (six sacks) that much more effective. After the Texans – who still allowed the fewest yards in the NFL last season without Watt – finished plus-five in turnovers two seasons ago, they were minus-seven last year. Watt must be on the field for this to improve, and he must be fully healthy as well. With Marcus Mariota and Andrew Luck both primed for huge years, the Texans need their superstar coming off the edge.
3. Who is the Robin to DeAndre Hopkins’ Batman?
Hopkins is a sensational wide receiver whose production suffered greatly with Osweiler’s struggles. Just two years ago, he amassed 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns while earning second-team All-Pro honors. Last year however, D-Hop totaled 954 yards and 78 receptions (down from 111). It’s actually a testament to him that he still managed to put up those numbers. Whether head coach Bill O’Brien gives the starting nod to Watson or Tom Savage remains to be seen, but we can safely assume Hopkins will regain his rhythm. He’s that good. The real question is who becomes his No. 2: Is it second-year man Will Fuller, who flashed as a rookie? Or, is it the uber-talented Braxton Miller, whom the team also drafted in 2016? Both are extremely talented. Fuller is a true deep ball threat while Miller is extremely shifty and dynamic, capable of turning a meager gain into a home run. Regardless of who it is, Hopkins will need a consistent receiver lining up opposite or in the slot. He has shown he can mask a bad quarterback, but he needs help to realize his immense potential.
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