With two first round draft picks penciled in as starters, many fans seem to feel their performance with determine how far the Texans go this year. Expecting a #10 pick (Robinson) to start at cornerback, or a first round pick (Babin) to start at linebacker isn't particularly revolutionary. They do need to do their jobs for the Texans to show improvement (with defense it is the weakest link in the chain) but don't forget the sophomores. If they blossom, the Texans will have added a lot of solid, young talent to the teams they fielded in 2003-3.
On offense ...
a) Seth Wand - penciled in as the starter at LT. Comparing him with a player drafted this year, he has a full year of invaluable experience in game preparation. There are a lot of excellent posts talking about his potential to make a big contribution this year;
b) Benny Joppru - Essentially a rookie, second round draft pick after missing all of last year. The Texans hope he develops into a solid, every down TE. The Texans had experience coaching him prior to drafting him (Senior Bowl 2002) and although he will feel like a rookie to us, he will have had an extra year in the system (meetings, etc) than a normal rookie;
c) Tony Hollings - drafted as a late second rounder, it was widely believed he would have to sit out last year. Comparing him with other 'rookies' drafted this year, he also has a full year of experience in the system and going through gameday experience. When a back has only started six games in college, this experience is significant. While it isn't expected that he will have to be the feature back because of Davis, he is well positioned to break out this year;
d) Derick Armstrong - Although not a signifcant contributor last year, the Texan coaching staff has high expectations for Armstrong. "We have high expectations for Derick going into this year based on what we saw from him on the practice field (He routinely makes jaw-dropping catches in practice). He’s very good at catching the ball in a crowd." (Dom Capers)
e) Dave Ragone - Although hopefully Carr will start all the games in 2004, Ragone's two starts in 2003 were invaluable to his development and value to the Texans. As I recall, he didn't get a lot of help (Davis only started 1 of the 2 games, Johnson dropped some catchable balls and only one projected starting lineman for this year, offense or defense, started in one game). He may have more ability than he has shown;
... plus Domanick Davis and Andre Johnson, who although sophomores this year they made significant contributions last year (in fact, Johnson was just a few yards short of them being the first two rookies ever to both have 1,000 yards) so that if they perform well it won't feel like 'new' contributions.
On Defense ...
a) Antwan Peek - While he showed flashes as a pass rusher and special teams player in 2003, he could emerge in 2004. Comparing him with a second or third round draft pick (the kind of rookies that the Titans and Colts are forced to rely on this year), Antwan has a year under his belt in the system and in gameday preparation that could prvoe invaluable.
I think all fans will keep an eye on Davis, Johnson, Robinson and Babin, but if even some of the above players shine, it could really be an exciting year for the Texans.