- Tania Ganguli, ESPN Staff Writer
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But the Texans never intended to go into the 2015 season with the status quo at that position. Heading into the draft, receiver was the position the Texans most needed to, and most realistically could, upgrade.
“Now we get to go out on the field, especially with the two rookies this weekend and any college free agent that we add, and go out there and see how they run around on the grass," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "We anticipate after our studies that we're going to obviously see a lot of good things in different ways from [Jaelen] Strong and [Keith] Mumphery and we’re excited about it.
"... It’s still a work in progress, but we feel good at this stage about where that position is at."
Since Johnson's departure, the Texans' group of receivers has changed dramatically. They'll likely keep five on the 53-man roster when all is said and done, and they will have some decisions to make. That group currently includes 11 players: DeAndre Hopkins, Jaelen Strong, Cecil Shorts III, Nate Washington, Keith Mumphery, Keshawn Martin, Damaris Johnson, Alan Bonner, EZ Nwachukwu, Jace Davis and Travis Labhart.
Here are five things to know about the Texans' revamped receiving corps.
About the only sure thing here is that Hopkins is their top guy. Hopkins notched his first 1,000-yard season in 2014, his second year in the NFL. "Obviously, DeAndre Hopkins we think is one of the best in the league," O'Brien said. "I’ve said that time and time again." Hopkins caught 76 of 126 targets last season for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns. He was a favorite target on deep balls and made against the Giants what would have been a contender for the best catch of the NFL season ... had it counted.
For the Texans, cutting ties with Johnson was contingent on upgrading the position in the draft. The draft always figured significantly into their plans and they waited until just about the last minute to act on it. They traded up from the 82nd pick to the 70th and took Strong, who was thought by many as being a potential first-round pick. Our Todd McShay had him ranked as the 30th best player. The Texans also had interest in Tyler Lockett, a receiver and talented returner out of Kansas State who went to the Seahawks with the 69th pick. O'Brien said on Sports Radio 610 that Strong will only learn to play outside at the beginning.
DeVier Posey was part of the trade that helped the Texans jump up to take Strong. Texans general manager Rick Smith said they told Posey before the draft they'd find a good home for him to have a fresh start. Posey was inactive for all but one game last season. "He’ll get a good, fresh start there in New York and we just, as a coaching staff, we just want to tell him that we appreciate all his efforts here with us in our first year here on the job," O'Brien said.
They added Shorts in free agency, whom they expect to be able to play both inside and outside. In Shorts' career with the Jacksonville Jaguars he ran 205 slot routes with 37 targets and 17 catches. That accounts for slightly more than 10 percent of his total targets. Damaris Johnson took most of the Texans' slot responsibilities and punt return responsibilities last season, and the Texans re-signed him to a one-year deal.
You can never know this for sure, especially so early in the offseason, but this could mark the end for Martin's tenure with the Texans. Martin was a fourth-round draft pick in 2012 and hung on last season because of his ability to play inside and outside and also return.