The Houston Texans aren’t very young across the board, as they have an average age of 26.22 years old and rank 20th in youngest NFL teams, but there are a lot of younger players in the starting roles for this team. Many have already made their mark on the Texans’ 2013 season, but whether they’ve helped or harmed the team is what we’ll discuss here.
First, let’s set a standard of what a “young” player is in the NFL. For the sake of this post, I’m going to say any player that isn’t older than 26 and has less than three years of playing time qualifies. So for instance, Brian Cushing qualifies with age (26), but not with playing time (five years). Whitney Mercilus (23, two years) does qualify. But he’s not who I want to talk about first.
DeAndre Hopkins was taken by the Texans with the 27th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He’s only 21 and has just two games of NFL experience. However, in those two games, he’s put up pretty ridiculous numbers. He has 12 receptions for 183 yards and one touchdown. He’s averaging 15.3 yards per catch, and 11 of his 12 catches have resulted in first downs.
Hopkins has definitely impacted the Texans in a good way, and has a chance to be even more impactful if Andre Johnson has to miss any significant time. Head coach Gary Kubiak, along with the entire coaching staff, have been really impressed by Hopkins, and they’re blown away by the potential for him to be even better.
“The most encouraging thing is you watch the film and, God, there is so much room for improvement,” Kubiak said Monday at Reliant Stadium. “For us as coaches and for him as a player, we’ve got to hang onto the good things he’s doing and we’ve got to fix the mistakes and some of the things he’s struggling with offensively. But I think those things will come, and confidence can only help them come even faster.”
Another impact youngster for the Texans is J.J. Watt. It’s hard to remember after the season he had in 2012, but Watt is just now entering his third year in the league and is only 24. Last season, Watt had 81 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 23 stuffs, four forced fumbles and 16 pass deflections.
Watt already has eight tackles, two sacks, two stuffs and three pass deflections in 2013. Right now he’s on pace to have 64 tackles, 16 sacks, 16 stuffs and 24 pass deflections, which is a little bit less than last year, but still extremely valuable for the Texans. Just ask Baltimore Ravens head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“Oh, gosh, yeah. You really can’t believe it until you see it,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we really had a great understanding of it last year until we experienced it; what a force he is.”
Other Texans youngsters that have made a positive impact for the team include D.J. Swearinger (seven tackles), Shiloh Keo (seven tackles, one pass deflection), Keshawn Martin (eight kickoff returns, 220 yards), Mercilus (eight tackles, one sack) and Brooks Reed (four tackles, one stuff).
But what about Texans that have hurt the team with their inexperience? So far, the only youngster that hasn’t contributed much, although Houston did win the first game of the season against the San Diego Chargers thanks to his foot, is Randy Bullock. He has missed four of his five attempted field goals, including all three attempts against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.
Kubiak is a little disappointed in Bullock’s start, as he was drafted in the fifth round in the 2012 draft (the highest a kicker was drafted that season). Even so, he’s still supporting Bullock 100 percent.
“We’ve got confidence in Randy,” Kubiak said. “We’ll see if we can get him a little bit closer. But we expect him to step up and be strong here and work through this and do a good job for us.”
Kubiak, Texans owner Bob McNair and punter Shane Lechler have all reached out to Bullock, and know that this is more of a mental issue than anything else. The entire team has been impressed by his work ethic and his accuracy and power in practice.
“You watch your locker room as a coach and I know our guys respect Randy,” Kubiak said. “He’s a worker. He’s not some guy who comes in here and kicks his few balls and calls it a day. He works really hard at what he does and he’s young. We’re going young with him and we’re going to stand behind him.”
Cooper Welch is a Houston Texans writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @cooperwelch1991, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also listen to his Locker Room podcast on iTunes.