On Monday, I gave scouting reports for the eight teams I expect to finish near the bottom of the league in 2017. As we keep The Ringer’s preseason power rankings rolling, I broke down the eights teams that I think should finish just outside of the playoff picture. Most of these teams boast stellar groups on one side of the ball—and wholly uninteresting units on the other.
As a reminder, this week I’ll be ranking all 32 teams before the season. My typical biases for great offensive line play and against awful quarterbacks will almost certainly shine through, but this is my best effort at trying to sort out how hopeful each franchise should be heading into the year. And don’t miss the third and fourth installments in this ranking series.
24. Los Angeles Rams
2016 record: 4-12
2016 Football Outsiders DVOA finish: 32nd on offense; 15th on defense
Best-case scenario: Jared Goff’s rookie season was a nightmare. After shelling out years’ worth of draft capital to trade up and take Goff with last year’s no. 1 pick, the Rams plopped their prized quarterback prospect into the worst situation imaginable. Playing behind a porous offensive line with limited weapons in a poorly designed offense, Goff was about as bad as any NFL starting quarterback can be. His 5.31 yards per attempt was the eighth lowest average for a rookie QB with at least seven starts since the merger and the worst mark since Jimmy Clausen’s rookie campaign in 2010.
Building a positive outlook for the 2017 Rams starts with putting Goff on the right track. And the 22-year-old looks much more comfortable in new head coach Sean McVay’s offense than he did in Jeff Fisher’s system a year ago. It will be an uphill battle for McVay to purge Goff of the bad habits that his disastrous rookie season wrought, but the first-year head coach proved in Washington that he’s adept at constructing an offense that makes life easy on a quarterback. If McVay’s tutelage—and improved pass protection bolstered by left tackle Andrew Whitworth—can help Goff turn things around, this season will go down as a victory.
Goff, recently acquired receiver Sammy Watkins, and the rest of the offense will garner most of the attention in Los Angeles, but the unit that should keep the Rams relevant is the defense, now orchestrated by coordinator Wade Phillips. This group finished 15th in defensive DVOA a season ago, but that’s not indicative of its talent. L.A.’s defensive potential hinges largely on the presence of Aaron Donald, who still has yet to report to the team as he seeks a new contract. With Donald and defensive end Robert Quinn in the fold, the pieces are there for Phillips to put together a top-five defense that could keep the Rams in every game they play.
Worst-case scenario: There may not be a team in the NFL with a wider range of possible outcomes than the Rams. The rosy scenario above could get L.A. above .500 and in contention for a playoff spot, but the dour view of its season is pretty damn bleak. McVay and a scheme change are just what Goff needs after his gruesome debut, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll suddenly transform into a useful quarterback. Even with Whitworth on board, the offensive line is a massive question mark, and there’s a chance two years in a miserable setting have broken running back Todd Gurley.
Phillips would be the coordinator I’d choose if I were building a team from scratch, yet concerns remain about his personnel in Los Angeles. If Donald sticks by his guns and decides to sit out games, his absence would exacerbate the Rams’ lack of proven talent at outside cornerback, where it’s the franchise-tagged Trumaine Johnson and not much else. For the Rams to be relevant, their defense needs to be among the best in the league. If it falls short of that, expect a long year in Los Angeles.
Stat of note: 7.9. According to Football Outsiders Almanac 2017, that’s the average number of spots in DVOA that a defense has improved in its first season with Phillips as the coordinator.
Breakout player: Wide receiver Cooper Kupp. The Rams’ depth chart at wide receiver is crowded after the team signed Robert Woods and traded for Watkins, but it already seems like Kupp is the guy who Goff will look to in a pinch. The third-round pick out of Eastern Washington is a polished route runner who should eat in this offense if given the opportunity.
23. Miami Dolphins
2016 record: 10-6
2016 DVOA finish: 14th on offense; 19th on defense
Best-case scenario: Coming into this fall, the Dolphins offense seemed like it’d rank among the most exciting units in the NFL. The trio of DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, and Kenny Stills stacks up to any receiving corps in football, and there was plenty to get excited about with a group featuring Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, Jay Ajayi at running back, and head coach Adam Gase calling the shots.
The scariest iteration of that offense was lost when Tannehill’s ACL injury cost him the 2017 season, but even with Jay Cutler running show, there’s a version of this unit that can still tear defenses apart. Gase helped engineer the best season of Cutler’s career as the Bears offensive coordinator in 2015, and he chose Cutler over backup quarterback Matt Moore after Miami learned about Tannehill’s fate. This team’s ceiling with the Cutler-Gase combination we saw in Chicago is that of a fringe playoff team, especially considering the defense has the talent to be formidable.
Worst-case scenario: Take it from me, a Bears fan who spent eight years rooting for Cutler: It always looks better on paper. The notion that Cutler isn’t a significant downgrade from Tannehill in this offense is laughable. Miami’s potential took a massive hit the moment that Tannehill was lost for the season, and I’d be willing to bet that plenty of Dolphins fans will bang their heads against the wall by year’s end after watching Cutler regularly toss the ball with no regard for where it lands.
Miami’s concerns on offense don’t end with a 34-year-old quarterback who came out of retirement in early August, though. Center Mike Pouncey is healthy now, but it’s been five years since he played 16 games. The interior of the Dolphins’ offensive line that includes converted tackle Jermon Bushrod is already a concern; if Pouncey is forced to miss any time, things would only get worse.
The Dolphins had a middle-of-the-road defense under coordinator (and current Broncos head coach) Vance Joseph last season, and aside from the front four, there’s no reason to assume they should have an above-average group in 2017. Cornerback Byron Maxwell and safety Reshad Jones are nice pieces, but free safety Nate Allen is on his third team in three years for a reason. Miami has some stars up front, but this defense may need time to come into its own under new coordinator Matt Burke.
Stat of note: 31.4 percent. That’s Miami’s pressure rate last season, the fourth-best mark in the league, according to Football Outsiders. The Dolphins’ receiving corps is fun, but a defensive line that includes Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh, William Hayes, and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris is the clear strength of this roster.
Breakout player: Parker. It feels like I’ve been saying this for years, but this seems like the season that the 2015 first-round pick is going to emerge. Injuries and bad habits have hampered him to this point (and he continues to occasionally struggle with the finer points of the position), but he’s way too talented to be a nonfactor as long as he stays healthy.
22. New Orleans Saints
2016 record: 7-9
2016 DVOA finish: 6th on offense; 31st on defense
Best-case scenario: Offenses don’t get more consistent than the Saints in the Sean Payton–Drew Brees era. New Orleans’s worst finish by offensive DVOA since 2010 is 11th, a fact that is absolutely ridiculous. Brees, at 38, has shown no signs of slowing down, and he should once again lead one of the league’s most potent groups—even with wide receiver Brandin Cooks’s offseason trade, fellow wideout Willie Snead’s suspension, and left tackle Terron Armstead’s labrum injury that will sideline him until at least October. By drafting former Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk in the first round of the 2017 draft as an eventual replacement for veteran Zach Strief, the Saints should be able to ease the blow of losing Armstead for a chunk of time. And their collection of pass catchers, that includes Ted Ginn Jr. and ascending star Michael Thomas, should help make the passing game strong from the start.
The New Orleans offense is a known commodity, and that’s why it’s the defense that could turn the Saints into a real problem for NFC opponents. Defensive efficiency tends to have more variance than offensive metrics, which makes this team’s recent run of futility all the more remarkable. New Orleans has finished 31st, 32nd, and 31st in defensive DVOA in the past three seasons, respectively. That shouldn’t be possible. Former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen is heading into his third season as the defensive coordinator, so a change in leadership won’t be what ultimately turns this group around. That will be dependent on the slew of moves that the Saints recently made to add new blood on that side of the ball.
New Orleans used two early 2017 picks to shore up its secondary, drafting Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore in the first round and Utah safety Marcus Williams in the second. The hope in the Crescent City is that those two can boost a defensive backfield that’s been paper-thin in recent years. If that happens, 2016 first-round pick Sheldon Rankins breaks out after being hampered by injuries as a rookie, and the franchise’s flurry of signings at inside linebacker (Craig Robertson, A.J. Klein, and Manti Te’o) plays well, the Saints could finish somewhere around 20th in defensive DVOA. With this offense, that’s enough to be a player in the NFC South.
Worst-case scenario: Even typing what I just did above was difficult. Based on New Orleans’s track record the past few years, there is no reason to believe that it can find and develop talent on defense. To be this bad on that side of the ball for this long borders on impressive. General manager Mickey Loomis has devoted countless resources to turning the tide, but nothing has made a difference. To see the Saints finish in the bottom third of the NFL in defensive efficiency is expected; if they struggle on defense again, a powerful offense won’t be enough to save them.
As long as Brees is healthy, this offense is going to score points, although the cliff is never far away for a quarterback who’s creeping toward 40. The horror-movie scenario for the Saints starts with Brees missing extended time or dramatically falling off in production. But that’s about as bad as it can get. Even with Armstead out, this offense should roll as long as Brees stays true to form. His ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly has long made his interior linemen more important than his blockers on the outside. Center Max Unger should be ready for Week 1 after having surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury this offseason, and free-agent acquisition Larry Warford should give New Orleans another stout presence at guard.
Stat of note: 15.7 percent. That’s how often the Saints offense used a six-lineman formation in 2016, the second-highest mark in the league. Their offense runs through Brees, but with a talented line and a stable of running backs that now includes Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and rookie Alvin Kamara, they should be able to routinely gash opponents on the ground.
Breakout player: Rankins. Rookie seasons are hard enough for players who don’t suffer major injuries, and the 2016 first-rounder had to recover from a broken leg before returning to the lineup for the final nine games of last season. He’s the ideal defensive tackle for the modern game—a twitchy penetrator who can bother quarterbacks no matter how quickly they release the ball. The Saints need him to be a difference-maker in Year 2, and he has the talent to be exactly that.
21. Baltimore Ravens
2016 record: 8-8
2016 DVOA finish: 24th on offense; 6th on defense
Best-case scenario: There’s no reason to believe that Baltimore's defense will be worse than it was a year ago, and that should put it squarely among the best units in football. The Ravens defense was fourth in rushing DVOA in 2016. This group should be miserable for opponents to rush against, even without end and stud run-stopper Timmy Jernigan (who was traded to Philadelphia this offseason). Nose tackle Brandon Williams, the owner of a new five-year, $52.5 million deal that pays him $33.8 million guaranteed, is one of the best run defenders in the league. And the combination of 2016 undrafted standout Michael Pierce and a slew of recent mid-round picks should be able to make up for Jernigan’s absence.
The relative weak point of the Ravens defense last season was its ability to slow teams through the air, and the front office threw plenty of resources at addressing that problem this offseason. The Ravens gave former Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson a four-year, $34 million deal to play alongside Eric Weddle and form what should be one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. Baltimore then used its 2017 first-round pick on Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey before scooping up Houston pass rusher (and ridiculous athlete) Tyus Bowser in the second round. All the pieces are in place for this to be a complete defense with no glaring holes.
Worst-case scenario: It’s important that Baltimore’s defense has a chance to be dominant, because if the Ravens are going to be relevant in 2017, that unit will have to carry them. In theory, Joe Flacco should have more weapons at his disposal than he did last year, as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and pass-catching back Danny Woodhead are now in the fold. But both are better suited for complementary roles than starring ones. The team’s hope is that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman can make the leap in his second full season and give the passing game a dimension it has otherwise lacked. While the 31-year-old Mike Wallace still has some gas left in the tank, the young Perriman has to produce more than the 33 passes he caught last fall for this receiving corps to truly stretch the field.
Even if the receiving options work out as planned, though, the ceiling for this offense remains limited. Flacco is a 6-foot-6 personification of the shrug emoji at quarterback. He also happens to have the highest cap hit in football this year. And for some reason, the Ravens insist on throwing the ball more than just about every other team in the league. Flacco finished second in the NFL in passing attempts (672) last year and lost out to Drew Brees by a single throw. With Baltimore’s defense, it’d make sense for this team to rely on a ground game and limit Flacco’s knack for backbreaking mistakes. Only there isn’t much to be excited about in the backfield, either: Kenneth Dixon is out for the year with a meniscus tear, which means Terrance West should get the majority of the work behind an offensive line that’s replacing three of its starters. The Ravens offense puts a cap on how far they can go, and that’s assuming the defense is just as good as advertised.
Stat of note: 25. That’s the percentage of Baltimore’s passes last season that went to the left side of the field, the lowest mark in the league, per Football Outsiders. No team in football threw to the middle of the field more often than the Ravens, and with Woodhead in the backfield and Maclin in the slot, that trend appears poised to continue.
Breakout player: Pierce. As an out-of-nowhere undrafted free agent, the 6-foot, 240-pound defensive end got 376 snaps as a rotational player last year. Following Jernigan’s trade, though, he should see his role drastically increase. To understand how the Ravens defense is consistently great, look no further than their ability to find hidden gems like Pierce. The pairing of Pierce and Williams in the middle could prove overwhelming.
20. Washington Redskins
2016 record: 8-7-1
2016 DVOA finish: 5th on offense; 25th on defense
Best-case scenario: Washington’s best hope is its offense sustaining the success that it had last season despite all the moving parts. Head coach Jay Gruden will resume play-calling duties with former coordinator Sean McVay now in Los Angeles, and Terrelle Pryor and 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson will step in for departed receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon, who both landed big deals in free agency. Elsewhere, though, the offensive personnel is nearly identical to last year. The line, coached by Bill Callahan, should be among the league’s best. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder is an excellent option in the slot, and with tight end Jordan Reed back after missing time with a toe injury, Kirk Cousins will have his best receiving weapon by the time the season begins.
If Pryor and Doctson can help this team overcome the losses of Jackson and Garcon, Washington should again feature a top-tier offense. Pair that with the franchise’s new blood on defense and you have the ingredients for a significant step forward. Losing nose tackle Phil Taylor to a season-ending quadriceps injury is a blow, especially considering the positive reports on the former first-rounder during training camp. But slotting former Alabama stars Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson into this defense could provide an immediate boost. The front office never could’ve imagined that Allen, one of the best players in college football last year, would have been available with the 17th overall pick. When he was, whoever makes these decisions for the Redskins had to be doing backflips.
Worst-case scenario: There are worse ways to replace two excellent receivers than with Pryor and Doctson. But just because their names will fill Jackson and Garçon’s spots on the depth chart doesn’t mean they’ll have the same level of production. Jackson’s value was most apparent when he hauled in 60-yard touchdown passes, but the hidden benefits he provided to this offense were just as important. His speed forced defenses to tip their coverage early, and his field-stretching ability created an ocean of grass for players like Crowder and Reed to roam. Even if Pryor emerges as a star in his one-year, prove-it deal, this group will almost surely miss the dynamic that Jackson brought to the table.
Cousins has put up big numbers in Washington’s offense in the past two years, but he’s done so in some of the cushiest surroundings a quarterback could imagine. He’s had a varied, talented receiving corps, an excellent offensive line, and top-tier play-calling and design. If any of those factors falls off in 2017, we may see just how fragile the ecosystem of this offense— and Cousins’s ability to thrive in it—actually is. If Washington takes even a small step back on the offensive side of the ball—say, from fifth in DVOA to 12th—that might be enough to knock it from playoff contention, particularly given all of the team’s question marks on defense.
Stat of note: 455. That’s the number of Cousins’s passing yards last season that were “created” by Washington’s receivers, according to Cian Fahey in his Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue. That total was the second highest in the league, behind only Matt Ryan’s 459. The pass catchers in this offense do a lot to boost Cousins’s efficiency; now, he’ll be working with two new options on the outside.
Breakout player: Allen. It almost feels cheap to slot Allen in here, but what the hell. Questions about his arthritic shoulders and disappointing numbers at the combine caused Allen to tumble down the draft board, but anyone who’s ever seen him play knows he’s capable of wrecking a game. The versatile defensive lineman picked up 30.5 tackles for loss, including 22.5 sacks, in his final two years at Alabama. I’d guess his move to the NFL is going to work out just fine.
19. Detroit Lions
2016 record: 9-7
2016 DVOA finish: 15th on offense; 32nd on defense
Best-case scenario: The Lions made Matthew Stafford the highest-paid player in NFL history last month. Even if that’s a product of circumstance more than ability, Detroit’s success hinges on its well-compensated passer. On paper, the Lions offense looks intriguing, especially given some of the moves the team made this offseason. GM Bob Quinn handed $39.5 million combined in guaranteed money to guard T.J. Lang and tackle Ricky Wagner to revamp the right side of the offensive line and breathe life into a stagnant running game. Losing left tackle Taylor Decker to a torn labrum for at least the first half of this fall is a tough break, yet even with Rams castoff Greg Robinson taking Decker’s spot, this group should be better than it was in 2016.
The Lions’ ground game finished 25th in DVOA last year. If they get stronger play up front and a healthy season from running back Ameer Abdullah, they could be dangerous. They boast one of the best receiving corps in the league, and Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, running back Theo Riddick, and emergent rookie Kenny Golladay give Stafford a ton of options with few skill set redundancies. Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter constructed a scheme that maximizes Stafford’s strengths and utilizes the weapons at his disposal. This group could crack the DVOA top 10 if it stays healthy from here on out.
Worst-case scenario: Even if all the offensive pieces fall into place, there isn’t much reason to have faith in a defense that ranked dead last in DVOA in 2016. Pass rusher Ziggy Ansah tallied 14.5 sacks in 2015 but managed just two last year while dealing with a high ankle sprain that torpedoed pretty much his entire campaign. For the Lions defense to pose problems, Ansah needs to return to top form, and he only came off the PUP list on Friday (though putting him on it was thought to be precautionary).
A resurgent season from Ansah and development from Detroit’s existing talent is paramount since the Lions didn’t add much on the defensive side of the ball. Jarrad Davis, a 2017 first-round pick, should slide in as a starter at inside linebacker, and former Raiders first-rounder D.J. Hayden will start at cornerback opposite standout Darius Slay—although I’m not sure that’s a good thing. And beyond second-year defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, who’s a strong candidate to take a leap this fall, there isn’t much cause for optimism with this group. Unless the Lions’ passing game is elite, this team seems likely to have another middling year.
Stat of note: 6.66. According to Football Outsiders, that’s the league-high number of plays that the Lions averaged per drive in 2016. That ability to sustain possessions, fueled by a dink-and-dunk passing approach, is the main reason Detroit was able to overcome a porous defense and limit the amount of points it gave up a season ago.
Breakout player: Robinson. After playing in Alabama’s college system that stresses control more than penetration, Robinson took some time to adjust to a one-gap role in Detroit. By late last year, though, the 317-pound defensive tackle looked like a monster on the interior of the Lions front. With 2016 surprise Kerry Hyder already out with a torn Achilles, there will be a huge onus on Robinson to create pressure up the middle.
18. Cincinnati Bengals
2016 record: 6-9-1
2016 DVOA finish: 11th on offense; 18th on defense
Best-case scenario: Most of the teams in this section of the rankings have the potential to be excellent on one side of the ball but should struggle on the other. Not the Bengals. Cincinnati has talent on both offense and defense; its issue is that the ceiling for neither unit is particularly high.
The strength of this roster should be its collection of pass catchers. A.J. Green remains ridiculous; tight end Tyler Eifert is a red zone nightmare when healthy; and this offense now boasts John Ross, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash in NFL combine history. With Gio Bernard and Joe Mixon in the backfield, Cincinnati should have plenty of talent to bolster quarterback Andy Dalton. The issue will be whether this offensive line can allow those playmakers to flourish. It wasn’t long ago that the Bengals had one of the best lines in the league. Those days are a distant memory. With guard Kevin Zeitler leaving for a record-setting deal in free agency and 35-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth going to the Rams, the two best members of last season’s line are now elsewhere. The Bengals have been planning on this eventuality for years, drafting tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft. If each can take a step forward in 2017, this offense has the skill-position talent to be formidable.
The more inspiring homegrown talent may be on defense. Cincy hammered the edge-rusher spots in this year’s draft, taking Kansas State defensive end and combine star Jordan Willis in the third round before grabbing Auburn standout Carl Lawson in the fourth. If that duo can inject life into the front four—and if cornerback William Jackson III, who missed his entire rookie campaign with a torn pectoral muscle, can make an immediate impact—the Bengals defense could return to form after falling out of the top 11 in DVOA last year for the first time in six seasons.
Worst-case scenario: There’s a very real chance that this offensive line is one of the league’s worst in 2017. That’d be problematic for any team, but especially for a group that has Dalton at quarterback. Among 34 qualified passers in 2016, only six had a larger DVOA discrepancy with and without pressure. When Dalton was piloting the most efficient passing offense in football two years ago on his way to becoming an MVP candidate, he did it behind excellent protection. That went out the window last fall, and this season should be no different with two unproven options on the outside and converted tackle Andre Smith at guard.
The floor for the Bengals defense is considerably higher simply by virtue of it having no major flaws. Yet it also seems unlikely to vault into the elite. Any hope for Cincinnati being notably better than it was a year ago lies in this rookie class coming in and contributing from day one.
Stat of note: 96 percent. According to Football Outsiders, that’s the league-leading rate at which Bengals cornerbacks stayed on a particular side of the field last season. The Bengals also rushed four on 79 percent of plays, second highest in the NFL. Cincy values scheme integrity above all else. It’s safe to say that head coach Marvin Lewis isn’t exactly a risk-taker.
Breakout player: Lawson. The 6-foot-2 261-pounder was consistently hampered by injuries at Auburn. He tore his ACL during spring practice in 2014, and was limited by a hip injury for much of the subsequent season. He returned to form in 2016, though, tallying 13.5 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, while staying healthy for the entire fall. He’s making a transition in Cincinnati’s defense from a straight edge rusher to a hybrid role that will include plenty of time at inside linebacker. The early returns suggest that he could be one of the steals of this draft.
17. Houston Texans
2016 record: 9-7
2016 DVOA finish: 30th on offense; 7th on defense
Best-case scenario: The offense can’t be worse, right? Houston’s Brock Osweiler experiment was among the worst calamities in recent NFL history, and somehow the Texans still managed to make the playoffs. That’s because of the defense—a group that in 2017 has a chance to be truly terrifying.
Houston finished seventh in defensive DVOA last season without the best defensive player of his generation. Consider that for a moment. Watching the Texans give the Patriots fits in the divisional round of the playoffs without J.J. Watt has to inspire optimism about what this crew can be this fall. While back issues for a guy pushing 300 pounds are always worrisome, Houston’s front four should be ferocious if Watt can return at anything close to his prior form. The combination of Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus would give the Texans arguably the best front in the game. (I’ll also accept applications from the Seahawks and Eagles.)
Losing cornerback A.J. Bouye in free agency stings, but the Texans have the personnel to overcome it with 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson coming back from injury. If either Tom Savage or rookie Deshaun Watson can give Houston anything resembling competent QB play, there’s no reason that the Texans shouldn’t pose the same type of threat that they did a year ago.
Worst-case scenario: Despite the early reviews that Watson looked game-ready in training camp, it seems as though he has a ways to go before the Texans feel comfortable starting him. Houston was almost impossibly bad on offense last year; it’s possible that the Savage-Watson duo will be only marginally better.
Quarterback consistency isn’t the Texans’ only concern on that side of the ball, either. Right tackle Derek Newton suffered one of the most gruesome injuries imaginable by tearing both patellar tendons on the same play last season. His future is uncertain, and Houston will ride with Kendall Lamm and Breno Giacomini in his stead. There’s a chance that Chris Clark slides into that spot, too, but as of now he’s expected to man the left side while stalwart Duane Brown continues his holdout. The downgrade from Brown to Clark at that position can’t be overstated.
The Texans’ defensive floor will remain high no matter what happens with Watt, but it’s possible that we’ve already seen the best of him, considering his combination of recent ailments. (I don’t believe it, but it’s theoretically in play.) There’s also a chance that Houston will miss Bouye more than the casual fan would think; even with solid replacement options, overcoming the loss of a top-tier corner could cause some hiccups.
Stat of note: 5.7 yards. That’s the average yards per pass that the Texans gave up on play-action throws last season, according to Football Outsiders. That’s an absurdly low number given that play-action is typically one of the most efficient types of plays in football. This defense is pretty damn good.
Breakout player: Nose tackle D.J. Reader. It’s not easy to find a diamond in the rough with this Texans roster. We know most of the relevant pieces. Still, Reader has a chance to make a big-time impact after being picked in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. The Clemson product is the least notable member of the Texans front four, yet he should nonetheless play a key role on one of the league’s premier defenses.