Every NFL team every year has at least one or two breakout players, that make a huge jump in development and provide a much-needed boost. Last year you could point to Gareon Conley on the defensive side of the ball, and Nick Martin on the offensive side of the ball for the Texans. Two players who had a horrible reputation before the 2019 season; but were still young and had reason for promise that would finally be seen. This year the Texans are banking on internal development, and having as many breakout players as possible would obviously be highly welcomed. So in this article I will give you my thoughts on who I believe is most likely to breakout. Enjoy!
Houston Texans Top 3 Breakout Players for 2020
Jacob GOAT Martin
First up is the iconic GOAT himself, Jacob Martin. If you don’t know my love for Martin at this point, I question your loyalty to me and Texans Unfiltered as a whole. If you’re new, and this is the first article of mine you’ve read, I forgive you, but only this one time. Martin is the savior that most Texans fans never even knew we had. Hell, even when we first traded for him, I wasn’t confident he would be the player I know now. But my opinion of him quickly turned once I actually saw him on the football field.
He’s hard to miss, just look for the fastest man on the field. Actually, in that sense, he’s pretty hard to see. He’s a blur on the field, his burst off the snap will have you questioning your eyesight. His speed around the edge will have offensive linemen shaking in their boots. In an interview I had with Jacob, he says himself that he will use a “speed check” to see if the OT in front of him can keep up. If they can’t, he doesn’t even need to bother with throwing a move. Why make it harder than it needs to be?
A perfect example of that can be seen on this sack of Tom Brady, when lined up against RT Marcus Cannon. Martin is shot out of a cannon once the ball is snapped, immediately flustering Cannon. Martin comes from such a wide angle, but still beats Cannon to his landmark, simply dipping his shoulder to decrease the surface area Cannon has to block him, and blowing by him for the quick sack.
But Martin isn’t like most freak athletes who just rely on their insane speed to succeed. He knows exactly how to harness his elite athleticism to enhance his pass rushing moves, making him a terror on the field. He had 3.5 sacks last season, but don’t let his box score numbers make you think less of him. He’s the perfect example of why stats are overrated, but don’t worry because the film don’t lie. And Jacob Martin’s film is beautiful. His go to move is his cross chop, dip and rip, which utterly embarrasses tackles.
Against this poor Broncos RT, Martin shows that athleticism first by being the first man off the ball. He starts his rush outside and chops his inside hand against the RT’s outside hand, which is the “cross chop” part of his move. Next, Martin contorts his body to hide his chest from the tackle, and make himself a tougher target to get hands on. Finally, Martin dips his inside shoulder and rips through with his inside hand, to finish off the tackle. Drew Lock tries to get away but he stands no chance against the Ferrari that is Martin.
I touched on Martin’s low sack totals, but he was stellar at pressuring the QB, an extremely underrated measure. He registered a pressure on 3.6% of his snaps. That number seems small too you say? Well to put it into context, the top pass rushing free agent this year, Yannick Ngakoue, registered a pressure on 3.4% of his snaps. Yes, sample size needs to be considered, Ngakoue did this on hundreds of more snaps than Martin, but you can’t hold that against Martin. He needs to be given the opportunity to succeed, and put up the ridiculous sack totals that everyone values so highly. I truly believe that all he needs is the chance, and he will show off just how talented he is. Last year he played a mere 21% of the snaps, mainly coming in on 3rd down to get after the QB.
But Martin is a complete EDGE defender, he said it himself, he’s always been able to stop the run. But don’t just take my or Jacob’s words for it, let me show you with the film. Against the Patriots he played 52% of the snaps, the most he saw from last season. And who would’ve guessed that he would have his most productive game yet? Oh, that’s right, me. Martin finished with 1.5 sacks and 3 QB hits, still in only 42 total snaps. But we’re here for his run defense after all, and so on this clip you can see him stack a block and shed it to make the tackle. He does great to squeeze down the edge, get low and punch the TE in the chest, extending his arms and stacking the block. He reads where the RB is going and gets off the block to help on the tackle.
This is fundamentally sound run defense that, along with some other great reps he’s had throughout the season, should put to bed the narrative that he can’t defend the run. That should no longer be an excuse as to why he’s not on the field more. The tough concept that the Houston Texans coaching staff needs to understand is that Martin is a better pass rusher than other starting OLB Whitney Mercilus. He’s got more juice, he’s got just as good technique and he deserves more snaps.
Now, he will likely never start over Merc because of the trusted vet that he is, but grading their pure play on the field, I know exactly who I would chose if I wanted the most impactful and consistent player. Martin deserves more snaps, end of story, I won’t continue to drone on about him because if you continue to read my work, you will see me praise him time and time again. Also, I’ve already written 1,000+ words on him, when I would always struggle to write a 1,000-word essay back in high school. Why couldn’t “Who is the greatest football player of all time?” ever been a research question. Would’ve aced that damn paper, smh.
Let’s switch over to the offensive side of the ball, where I honestly had more troubles picking who would break out. Kenny Stills if he actually gets the chance to be WR1 (which is unfortunately unlikely). Duke Johnson if HE actually gets the chance to be RB1 (why has that never happened over his career). But the one guy I kept coming back to is someone who is already #1 at his position. Max Scharping taking over the previously incumbent LG position was a breath of fresh air for Texans fans everywhere (and I’m sure Deshaun Watson). Gone are the days of Xavier Su’a Filo or Senio Kelemete sh*tting the bed. Scharping is the LG of the future and man, is that future bright. I’ll admit, I was not happy at all when we drafted him.
There were other interior offensive lineman, and better players overall, that I sorely wanted instead. I through a temper tantrum during that entire draft weekend, and I’m not proud of it. But instead of being stubborn and never acknowledging where I’m wrong, I will admit to my mis-judgement of him. I didn’t like him at tackle, where he played at NIU, I thought his feet weren’t quick enough and his arms weren’t long enough. I also didn’t like that he played, well at NIU. Which meant that the level of competition he faced, would be nothing like the NFL. I thought he was a developmental guy, who would take years to improve and then eventually be no better than XSF. Boy was I wrong.
After tinkering with he and Tytus’ position along the OL, we finally decided to stick him at LG and let him get comfortable. At LG Max could play to his advantages; pure brutish and ability to make second level blocks. He was a bulldozer in the run game, showing off great chemistry with Laremy Tunsil and even Nick Martin on double teams. The ability to block LBs was something we’ve sorely lacked for years, and certainly helped rejuvenate Carlos Hyde’s career. Look at this great double team he worked with Tunsil, where he (#74) helps push the DE out of the way, then climbs to the second level to occupy the LB. As Hyde makes his way to the left, he’s greeted with a clean alleyway to the 3rd level, thanks to Scharping’s talents.
His strength and ability to anchor against bull rushes was also a promising sight to see. Against the Chargers look at how he absorbs the blow from the DT so easily. He does great to pick up his right foot, giving himself a platform to walk back on and give up ground slowly. He shows off perfect hand placement, right into the chest of the DT, to be as powerful as possible. He plays with low leverage and stands up the attempted bull rush, giving Watson a clean pocket, from his side at least.
I also love his ability to make reach blocks, a necessary task for zone blocking. In a zone scheme you want to move horizontally, and so offensive linemen often have to cross the face of the DT in front of them, to gain proper leverage on the block. Against the Chiefs, Scharping is tasked with reach blocking the 1 technique DT. He must cover a lot of ground quickly, or else this entire play will fail. He takes a massive horizontal step with his left foot, to cover so much ground and make the reach happen. Compare his first two steps to Tunsil’s, which are solid, but not nearly as far as Scharping’s. Then compare his first two steps to Fulton’s, who barely covers any ground horizontally and the DT (#91) wins inside as a result.
Scharping already blew all expectations out of the water. I’m not sure of anyone who publicly said he would be a great pick. The young man improved a ton from his NIU days, and that work ethic, being able to start so early in his career, shows me all I need to see. Well, his 2019 tape too, obviously that helped, but you get my point. Scharping has the raw natural ability to be great, and there’s only up from here.
Last year he struggled a bit with quickness, and if an IDL was able to get hands into his chest. In addition, when he entered the league, he still had some “rookie fat” on him, but with a full year and offseason of NFL level strength and conditioning in his belt, I would expect a much more physically optimal Scharping. That, along with the natural progression of a 2nd round rookie, plus his continued chemistry with Laremy Tunsil, will certainly help him have a breakout sophomore campaign. Watch out for Scharping as he’ll soon be regarded as one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL.
This last one was tough, really tough. I had it down to three players, any of whom could’ve taken this spot. I was down to Charles Omenihu, Lonnie Johnson, and of course, Justin Reid. I wound up going Reid because he would be the guy I would put money on to ball out next year. As much as I love the work that Charles and Lonnie are putting in, they are still young guns, without a defined role just yet. It would be great if Charles could start at 3-4 DE, or Lonnie at outside CB, but we just don’t know what will happen at this moment.
What we do know however is that J Reid is the future of the Texans safety position. A 1st round talent, Reid was a bonafide STEAL in the 3rd round of the 2018 draft. He’s the smartest guy on the field at all times, a great communicator and leader, a freak athlete in his own right, and can truly do anything you ask of him. Want him to play single high free safety, Reid can do it. Want him to play down in the box, tackling RBs and covering TEs, Reid can do it. Want him to play nickel and cover the quick slot WRs, Reid can do it. Hell, want him to play special teams and truly make an impact in all three phases of the game, Reid can do it.
He’s a true swiss army knife, and as the NFL has transitioned to a “the more you can do, the better” league, players like Reid become more and more valuable. Versatility is the name of the game, and Reid fits that bill to a tee. He has great range as a single high defender, erasing mistakes of others and taking away the deep ball. My favorite example of that range came in 2018 against the Redsk-Washington Football Team. No, it wasn’t his 101-yard pick six, but it was a different play, where he should’ve had another INT. He starts off on the hashes, backing up and gaining depth as the last line of defense. A WR gets past K-Jax in the slot, but no worry, Reid reacts to it and is bursting that direction, before the ball is even thrown. Not only does he go hashes to the numbers in a blink of an eye, but he goes all the way to the sideline, jumping over the WR, and just barely dropping the INT.
That range is special, his 4.40 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine is no joke. He’s not just a workout warrior, it shows up on the film as well. Just look up his pick six from that game, and you’ll see. But speed isn’t everything, you need to outsmart the players you play against, and Reid has the mental aspect of the game on lock. This is one of my favorite plays of his, as he reads the Titans like a book. Mariota fakes the handoff to Derrick Henry, and most players would respect and fear the ~250 pound RB and sell out to stop him, but J Reid is not most players. He knew before the ball was even snapped, where this run was going. He knew that Mariota was going to pull the ball and try and run it in himself. He darts to the right, to get outside contain and is just a step ahead of the offense. He drives downhill once he’s sure that Mariota isn’t going to throw it at the last second, and brings him down for the TFL. Hell of a play.
Reid’s play from the box was particularly inspiring, and he played a little bit more from that position last season. His INT against Jameis Winston was beautiful, as he dropped into a robber position, read Winston’s eyes perfectly, and picked off a hopeless pass.
Some will say that J Reid had a statistical “down” season for the Texans, and while that may technically be true, it’s a great reason why stats don’t tell the whole story. The film don’t lie, and the film shows he was still a super impactful defender for the Texans. He saved countless touchdowns by being our security blanket. If you thought our pass defense was helpless last year, you won’t want to imagine it without Reid gutting it out through a painful torn labrum. There were times throughout the season that you could see it affected him, but he never complained, never held himself out of a game, and showed true determination to play for his teammates. Heart is an underrated value in a player, and Reid is one player that truly embodies heart. I can’t wait to see how great he’ll play, now that he’s fully healthy. Expect him to make some serious noise NFL wide, and he better start getting some legit consideration for one of the best safeties in the game.