Houston Texans
J.J. Watt returns to an already stacked Houston Texans’ defensive unit (Jim Brown/USA TODAY Sports)

After a disappointing ending to their 2016 campaign, the Houston Texans look to once again reign the AFC South. Taking the division will be a much more daunting task in 2018 as nearly every team in the division got better through the draft and free agency.

Arguably the most important changes for the Houston Texans are not players; they are coaches.

With Romeo Crennel being promoted to assistant head coach, Mike Vrabel was promoted to defensive coordinator. The addition of Wes Welker as offensive/special teams assistant also catches your eye. Even the average football fan understands the promotions of Crennel and Vrabel. But do they understand the hiring of Welker?

Key 2017 Losses:

A.J. Bouye (CB) – Jacksonville Jaguars
Quintin Demps (SS) – Chicago Bears
John Simon (LB) – Indianapolis Colts

All three players saw significant playing time and were important cogs in the NFL’s top defensive unit a season ago. There is no question that these departures will have an impact on this fearsome defense.

Key 2017 Additions:

Deshaun Watson (QB) – 2017 NFL Draft (Clemson)
Zach Cunningham (LB) – 2017 NFL Draft (Vanderbilt)
D’Onta Foreman (RB) – 2017 NFL Draft (Texas)
Carlos Watkins (DT) – 2017 NFL Draft (Clemson)

Here’s what you should keep up with during the Texans training camp.

3 Position Battles to Watch

1. Quarterback

It is interesting to note that all four of these players were added through the draft and have a chance to start from the get-go. Although Bill O’Brien’s word has been consistent in favor of Tom Savage, Watson will challenge Savage throughout training camp. This will be one of the most intriguing position battles throughout training camp. Do not be surprised to see #4 leading the Texans in week one against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2. Inside Linebacker

Another interesting position battle is between Zach Cunningham, Brian Cushing (LILB), and Benardrick McKinney (RILB). I anticipate Zach Cunningham contributing on special teams and third downs early on. He has superior athleticism and brings lengthy range to the middle linebacker position; something the Texans have lacked in past years. If he can continue to build his upper body strength, look for him to play more consistently at the LILB position.

3. Nose Tackle

Unless you follow the Houston Texans religiously, you probably have never heard of nose tackle D.J. Reader. Last season, he was drafted in the fifth round out of Clemson. The Texans decided to double dip this season by drafting another Clemson nose tackle in Carlos Watkins. This is another position battle to pay attention to. Although the Texans are likely to substitute different base packages, which Clemson Tiger will anchor the middle of the best defense in the NFL?

Additionally, a top five defensive player in J.J. Watt returns healthy and ready to torment opposing offenses. This alone is enough to excite the Texans’ fan base.

Ready To Break Out: D’Onta Foreman

This was one of my favorite picks in the entire draft. Foreman brings a physical running style that will complement Lamar Miller well. It was reported a week or so ago that Foreman was arrested in Austin, Texas. If he learns from this mistake, he has a chance to make a difference on this Texans team. Although the Texans have a middle of the pack offensive line, Foreman showed in college the ability to break tackles and make defenders whiff.

Fantasy Sleeper: Will Fuller V

Will Fuller V is a serviceable complimentary receiver to DeAndre Hopkins. Because I think Deshaun Watson wins the starting quarterback job, Fuller V will receive his fair share of targets.  Fuller V will be a functioning flex among deep fantasy leagues.

Rookie To Watch: Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson landed in the best position among the top three quarterbacks selected. A solidified defensive unit that wins football games despite a bottom tier offense, a huge question mark at the quarterback position, and explosive weapons around him; how can you argue with that?

Unfortunately for the Texans, every other AFC South roster improved. And while they did improve in some positions, they still have a question mark at the most important one quarterback. Pending some major changes, I see the Texans finishing third in the AFC South division behind the Titans and Colts.

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