I got my inspiration for this 'Ultimate 11' training camp primer from a classic movie that my kids fell in love with a few weeks back when it was on Showtime.
The Breakfast Club.
No matter what age you are, you've probably seen the John Hughes classic and, as a result, you've heard the iconic Simple Mind anthem "Don't You Forget About Me." So, at each position, here are the guys that won't be forgotten, although it seems as though many people have already, and may continue to, forget.
11. DL Joel Heath - Amongst the excitement of J.J. Watt's return, the draft selection of Carlos Watkins and the late season emergence of D.J. Reader, Heath's return for his second campaign seems to be going under the radar. He gave the Texans quality play throughout the second half of the season, including an impressive two-sack game against Tennessee's "all-star" offensive line in Week 17.
10. WR Jaelen Strong - A Twitter follower sent a tweet to me a few weeks back asking why Jaelen wasn't in the starting lineup. I told him that it was June and the starting lineup was essentially what he came up with on Madden. I can't tell you how many times, on radio or otherwise, we have talked about the expectations for the second year receiving crew, but Strong can be a vital piece in the receiving corps, if he can stay healthy.
9. CB Treston Decoud - Due to the archaic NFL graduation rule, we haven't gotten to see Decoud at all, similar to what happened to Xavier Su'a-Filo in his rookie campaign. Decoud is going to play a role this year, even if we forgot all about him after the draft.
8. OL Greg Mancz - Nearly everyone that tweets me or stops me to talk about the Texans is convinced that Nick Martin will start at center, which leaves last year's starter Mancz seemingly as the odd man out. I don't think he will be, even though I'm not sure completely sure WHERE he impacts this team. But, he WILL.
7. ILB Shakeel Rashad - I've talked about my connection to Shak for a while, but beyond that, he was excellent in the offseason. Can he parlay that into, not only a spot on the team, but quality playing time for this stout defense? He can give this team reps at inside linebacker and be a core four special teamer, at worst.
6. QB DeAndre Hopkins - Quick, name the only quarterback in Texans history with a spotless starting record? I'm not sure that Weeden starts, or even plays, this year, but he's more than adequate insurance if something unforeseen and/or unfortunate happens at this spot.
5. RB Akeem Hunt - The talk this offseason was all about the progress that Tyler Ervin had made, which would seem to make Hunt expendable. But, think about some of the most impactful plays this offense/special teams produced in 2016. Many of those came from Hunt.
4. S K.J. Dillon - The former fifth-round selection loves to hit, loves to play this game and loves to talk. But, when he injured his knee late in the win over the Colts last year, his love was unrequited. He's been chomping at the bit to get back and make an impact, but he had to sit out all of OTAs/minicamp, watching as guys like Kurtis Drummond and Corey Moore strung together strong offseason campaigns.
3. OLB Eric Lee - The former undrafted outside linebacker from USF is rangy and long and physical. At a position where there's not a ton of personnel, Lee may be able to impress with his ability to get to the quarterback to earn a spot on the 2017 53-man roster.
2. TEs Evan Baylis and Zach Conque - The Texans seem set with three versatile and unique tight ends - C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin and Stephen Anderson. The rookies, though, got plenty of reps at all three tight end spots during the offseason and showed plenty of athleticism, hands and toughness. I don't know that either can crack the top three or even make the Texans decide to take four at this spot, but they have skill sets worth watching at the Greenbrier.
1. OT Chris Clark - The veteran had some tough moments in games last year then had moments of brilliance when he shut down Raiders star Khalil Mack (twice). Everyone seems to have eyes for Kendall Lamm and rookie Julien Davenport, but Clark is the only other tackle on this roster (outside of Duane Brown) that has started games in this league. I still think Lamm is the leader in the race for the right tackle spot, but Clark plays a valuable role at this position for a number of different reasons.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 1/14/2019)