A 12-4 record, a second straight AFC South title and another playoff berth left the Houston Texans with very little to improve this offseason other than a poor showing in the playoffs.
Despite the seventh ranked offense and defense in the league, Houston went 2-4 in its final six games, including their AFC Wild Card win over Cincinnati and the 41-28 blowout divisional loss to New England a week later.
Much of the Texans late season struggles can be attributed to injury and a middling No. 16 ranked pass defense, but Houston’s addition of blue-chip college talent could provide immediate help at a cheap price.
Currently $4 million below the 2013 salary cap, Houston recently signed undrafted free agents Travis Howard, a cornerback from Ohio State, and Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood.
Though he remains unsigned, former Heisman finalist Collin Klein reportedly impressed head coach Gary Kubiak at the team’s rookie minicamp last week, according to ESPN.
Standing at 6-foot-1, Howard boasts excellent size at corner, and four of his eight career interceptions with the Buckeyes came in his senior season, showing his ability learn and grow. Howard also had 20 career passes defended and 95 tackles.
Howard will also benefit from the tutelage of newly signed and future Hall of Famer safety Ed Reed, along with secondary leader Johnathan Joseph.
Wood should have no problem meshing with one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, considering how effective he was for the rush-oriented Fighting Irish last season. His overall numbers dipped in his senior season due to a two-game suspension, but Wood is expected to compete for the No. 3 running back spot behind veterans Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Foster was originally sidelined towards the end of the season with an irregular heartbeat, and Wood can provide depth should another odd injury occur.
Wood rushed for nearly 400 yards less in his senior year compared to his junior campaign, but he is a dual threat rusher who can bounce outside and catch passes out of the backfield. He had 52 career receptions for 384 yards in South Bend, and will compete with fellow undrafted rookies Ray Graham, Dennis Johnson, and George Winn.
Klein finds himself in the most difficult dilemma of the three. His unorthodox throwing motion and insistence on playing quarterback, rather than tight end, might limit his chances of making an NFL roster. He nearly led Kansas State to the national title, but tossed six interceptions in his final three games, including three at Baylor in a 52-24 blowout.
That game might have cost him a draft selection, but Klein’s leadership abilities, huge 6-foot-5 frame, and rushing style, have put him in a position to compete with Houston’s four other quarterbacks. Matt Schaub should be the starter again, and T.J. Yates the second-string, but Case Keenum and former Dallas Cowboy Stephen McGee are also fighting to make the roster.