Rookies Stroud, Anderson should make Texans better, but Houston still far from contending


EXPECTATIONS: After three seasons as one of the league’s worst teams, things should start looking up for the Texans this year. But with a young team that’s still rebuilding, don’t expect Houston to be anywhere close to contending yet. They’re led by first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans, a former linebacker for the Texans, who has brought some optimism to the downtrodden franchise. A big reason to believe Houston will be improved this season is the addition of quarterback C.J. Stroud, who was the second overall pick in this year’s draft. He replaced Davis Mills after two ineffective seasons. The Texans also beefed up their defense by trading up to nab Will Anderson Jr., a defensive end from Alabama with the third pick in the draft. Anderson has shined in camp and made a highlight-reel play on a strip-sack in the second preseason game. It’s easy to see why FanDuel has him as the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

NEW FACES: Ryans, Stroud, Anderson, WR Tank Dell, QB Case Keenum, TE Dalton Schultz, CB Shaquill Griffin, OL Shaq Mason, C/G Juice Scruggs, OT Greg Little, OLB Denzel Perryman, FS Jimmie Ward, WR Robert Woods.

KEY LOSSES: WR Brandin Cooks, DL Mario Addison, OL A.J. Cann, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, OL Justin Britt.

STRENGTHS: Secondary. This group is led by cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and safety Jalen Pitre, who should both take a step forward this season after solid rookie years. Stingley, the third pick in the 2022 draft, has some ground to make up after he was limited to nine games in his first season. Pitre, a second-round pick, was one of the few bright spots for Houston last season after leading all rookies with 147 tackles and ranking second with five interceptions. The group should get a boost from veteran strong safety Jimmie Ward, who joined the team after spending nine seasons with the 49ers.

WEAKNESSES: Receiver. While the Texans made a major upgrade at quarterback by drafting Stroud, they didn’t do much to beef up a thin receiver group after trading leading receiver Brandin Cooks to the Cowboys in March. Houston’s top returning receiver is Nico Collins, who had 481 yards receiving last season. They added Robert Woods, who had 527 yards receiving for Tennessee last season and Noah Brown, who had a career-high 555 yards receiving for Dallas in 2022. But neither player has shown to be a true No. 1 receiver in their careers so far. Houston could get a boost from the return of John Metchie and undersized rookie Tank Dell has impressed in the preseason.

CAMP DEVELOPMENT: Metchie returned for the start of training camp after missing his entire rookie season undergoing treatment for leukemia. He’s healthy now and the second-round pick from Alabama has looked good in practice and could give the Texans some depth at receiver.

FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Dameon Pierce. He could have a big season after a strong rookie campaign where he ran for 939 yards and four touchdowns in just 13 games. Pierce showed a knack for breaking tackles to gain extra yards last year and contributed to the passing game where he had 165 yards receiving with a score. He should have more scoring opportunities this season on an upgraded offense led by Stroud.

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 180-1. Over/under wins: 6 1/2.