Houston Texans: Safety remains biggest defensive question mark
By Jair Lopez
The Houston Texans remain in a strange spot regarding their depth chart at safety heading into the 2020 NFL season.
The Houston Texans have an almost entirely new group of safeties heading into this season with Justin Reid and A.J. Moore, the only returning safeties from last season after the Texans released Tashaun Gipson. There were rumblings that Houston could part ways with Gipson, and it turned to be the case after he was waived a few days since the conclusion of the 2020 NFL draft.
Gipson’s future in Houston was on thin ice after the Texans added Eric Murray, Jaylen Watkins, and Michael Thomas in free agency. Putting some context into Gipson’s situation, it was a possibility he could be gone since Brian Gaine was the NFL executive responsible for bringing him to the Texans. As it always is with a regime change, the general manager will want to bring in the players they believe fits their football philosophies.
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The issue with Gipson’s departure moving forward are the unknown variables regarding the safety group. Reid is the only safety returning to this roster that has made a net-positive impact on an NFL defense. He is entering his third season, having a different starting teammate after playing with Tyrann Mathieu in his rookie season and Tashaun Gipson in his second year.
Besides the glaring lack of continuity at the safety position, the players brought in this offseason have made it in the league by carving out roles on special teams, not contributing significant snaps on defense.
Murray was paid rather well to come in to play significant snaps, and he has a clear pathway to starting after Gipson’s departure. Murray dealt with injuries last season and only started in four of the nine games he was active with the Browns. He allowed 13 completions on 20 targets for 76 receiving yards, 43 yards after the catch, and an 81 passing rating when thrown in his direction.
Murray remains an unknown player despite being in the NFL for four seasons. He has been mainly reserve since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs and has only started in 15 games in the last four seasons. Murray began his career as a cornerback before transitioning to safety. It’ll be interesting to see how the tandem of Reid and Murray works.
Looking at the current depth chart, there aren’t a lot of proven options behind Murray if he struggles in his first year in Houston. The Texans also need to account for potential injuries that could occur throughout the season. Houston has been fortunate up to this point that Reid has been able to stay on the field despite dealing with several painful injuries early throughout his career.
Anthony Weaver appeared content with the group of safeties in the meeting he had with the Houston media after his promotion as the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.
"“We’re extremely excited about Eric Murray and Michael Thomas. They’re both proven veterans, phenomenal human beings that know how to play the game and how to win, but we have Justin Reid. I think Justin Reid is a heck of a football player, and now that he’s going into year three, it was amazing to see some of the things that he did last year particularly when he was nursing really two shoulder injuries the entire year. So, when he comes back this year, and he’s healthy, 100 percent healthy, I could see him taking a huge jump as well.”"
Although Weaver spoke highly of the Houston Texans safety group heading into next season, adding another player to reinforce the group before the start of the season would make a lot of sense.
Watkins played in thirty-one percent of the snaps on Los Angeles Chargers’ defense and special teams last season. He started in three of the 14 games he was active with the Chargers. Watkins allowed 24 completion on 29 targets for 104 receiving yards, 131 yards after the catch, one touchdown, and 118.1 passer rating when thrown in his direction.
Meanwhile, Michael Thomas started in only two of the 16 games with the New York Giants last season. He allowed 20 completions on 27 targets, two touchdowns, 145 receiving yards, 63 yards after the catch, and a120.6 passer rating when targeted.
Outside of their projected starters, Houston has Shalom Luani, Jonathan Owens, Moore, Thomas, and Watkins. There are still ways to go before the start of the regular season, so the outlook of this position could change; However, Houston doesn’t have a lot outside of their starters.