The Texans’ wide receiving corps was among the league’s worst last season, finishing 26th in combined receptions, 28th in receiving yards, and 28th in receiving touchdowns. Things aren’t looking any easier as the team’s top receivers from 2022, Brandin Cooks and Chris Moore, will find themselves in different uniforms next season. Still, according to DJ Bien-Aime of ESPN, new head coach DeMeco Ryans appears to be fairly comfortable with how the position is currently lined up.
With veteran leader Cooks just up north in Dallas, Houston will be looking for a former division rival to lead their young group. Playing in another room bereft of star talent last year, Robert Woods looked like a shell of his former self in Nashville. Part of that may have had more to do with the scheme and personnel around him, as he still led the Titans in both receptions and receiving yards, but in 17 games, Woods failed to surpass his total from his final year in Los Angeles, when his season ended after only nine games. Still, Woods is not far removed from some of the best football of his career. Just two years ago, a torn ACL prevented Woods from extending a streak of three consecutive seasons with over 900 receiving yards. From 2018-2020, Woods was dominant with the Rams combining for 3,289 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, even adding 427 yards and four more scores on the ground.
After the experience of Woods, the Texans will rely on the familiarity of third-year wideout Nico Collins. Collins was fourth on the team in receiving last year behind Cooks, Moore, and tight end Jordan Akins despite putting up similar numbers that had him ranked second on the team as a rookie the year prior. The team hopes he can progress past those numbers in Year 3. He doesn’t need to suddenly become a No. 1 receiver with Woods in town, but Houston will want him to surpass his careers-highs last year of 37 receptions, 481 yards, and two touchdowns.
Rounding out the potential starting three is last year’s second-round pick John Metchie III. Metchie is still waiting to make his NFL debut after sitting out his rookie year after being diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. The young receiver is now over a year and a half removed from his last meaningful snap of football and has worked his way back from a torn ACL, leukemia, and now a hamstring strain in order to play in the NFL.
Beyond those three, the team’s depth fades quickly. Former Cowboys receiver Noah Brown joins the group after a breakout year in Dallas. Brown performed as a No. 2 receiver for Dallas last year, gaining career-highs in receptions (43), receiving yards (555), and touchdowns (3), after combining for 39 catches for 425 yards and no touchdowns in the four years prior.
After Brown, the team’s depth is unproven. Amari Rodgers returns after starting one game in six appearances last year. Two rookies join him as depth pieces in the receivers room. Nathaniel Dell was drafted in the third-round out of Houston. Dell was dominant for the Cougars as an undersized wide receiver, catching a combined 199 passes for 2,727 yards and 29 touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons. In the sixth-round, the team added Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson, who delivered strong performances in all three years as a Cyclone before bringing his best football last year.
“I’m not concerned with where we are with our wide receivers,” Ryans claimed. “I like our group. I like where we are. We have a lot of talented guys and have a lot of different qualities.”
He’s certainly not wrong there. Collins provides the team with a big, 6-foot-4 body and strong hands. Brown and Hutchinson also bring the group ideal body-types for a wide receiver. Woods and Metchie both sit around six-foot and bring completely different playing styles to the offense. Finally, Dell and Rodgers bring explosiveness in smaller packages.
Ryans can certainly back up his claim of confidence in covering the gamut of receiver-types, but experience remains a concern. On paper, the Texans’ wide receiving corps is ready to provide rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud with an assortment of weapons. In reality, the team will need young players to step up into big roles quickly in 2023 if they’re going to prove wrong position rankings from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell and Pro Football Focus’s Trevor Sikkema, both of whom have the team’s group ranked last in the league.