The Houston Texans went from 3-13-1 to 10-7 in the span of one offseason. That kind of instant turnaround is rarely seen in professional sports. It almost never happens for young teams, and the Texans were young.
Houston entered the season with low expectations. Some clever NFL Draft maneuvering left them with the No. 2 and No. 3 overall picks, which turned into Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. To add to the youth parade, 38-year-old DeMeco Ryans was hired as head coach. A rookie coach, two top-3 rookies, and a roster still suffering from the ick of their last-place finish.
What could go wrong?
A lot. But it didn't. The Texans climbed to the top of the AFC South standings and earned a postseason berth. They even won a playoff game at home. Anderson was a driving force behind the team's success, accumulating 45 tackles (10 for a loss), 22 QB hits, and seven sacks in 15 games. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year and his first Pro Bowl nod.
Speaking to FanSided's Patrick Allen and Sterling Holmes for 'Stacking the Box' and 'Arrowhead Addict,' Anderson touched on his early success and what drove the Texans' remarkable bounce-back season.
Anderson joined the show to promote Save the Celery, a Jif initiative.
Will Anderson Jr. credits Texans' win-now mentality for turnaround season
The Texans entered the 2023 campaign with zero expectations. It can be difficult to meaningfully develop talent and establish winning habits when a team isn't supposed to be good. Rather than getting bogged down by their perceived weakness, however, the Texans were determined to change the narrative. According to Anderson, there was no waiting around for success — no kicking the can down the road. This was the time for Houston to assert itself as a contender.
"It's not just me and C.J. ... [The whole team] was hungry. The message all year was, 'it's not a year from now, it's not two years from now.' The time is right now. That's just what we worked to go put on tape. We got everything we need right now."
Consider it on tape. The Texans will enter the 2024 season with a completely different set of expectations — and zero top-10 picks. With Stroud and Anderson, Houston has a foundation upon which to build the next decade of Texans football. This season was a bit too early for Super Bowl talk, but the Texans are on a collision course with the AFC powerhouses. Stroud and Anderson are already on the shortlist of best players at their respective positions.
For Anderson, the challenge of the 2023 season was twofold. The Texans needed to overcome long odds, but he also needed to conquer his own weakness. When asked about the most challenging aspect of transitioning from college to the NFL, Anderson gave a thoughtful — and surprising — answer.
"The free time. No class, no tutoring, no study hall, no nothing... I like being productive. Sometimes I felt like, 'you're not doing nothing today, what are young doing right?'"
We often underrated the difference in circumstances between college and professional athletes. Anderson was used to 10 PM bedtimes, rigorous study schedules, and late-night essays. Now, he can watch film, chill at his house, and sleep early. Not every player can manage their newfound time well. It can lead to boredom, or in the worst cases, off-field distractions. The 22-year-old Anderson is navigating his new life quite effectively, and the Texans are all the better for it.
The key to Houston's success rests on two rookies. That is the unique hook of this storybook season. Anderson and his new teammate C.J. Stroud entered the NFL as back-to-back picks. The rookie QB has won the hearts of America with his impressive on-field stylings and overt humility in post-game interviews. Anderson ensures that Stroud is the same person off the camera, too.
"That's what makes him special. He's the same guy on and off the camera, every day. Walking into the building, same C.J. You're going to get the goofy side of C.J., but you're also going to get the business side of C.J."
Stroud and Anderson engineered a dramatic turn of fourtunes for the Houston organization. While there is still much left to accomplish, it's clear that dynamic duo can take the Texans far. Their rookie season was an introduction. Now, we await the sophomore leap.
Will Anderson Jr. spoke to FanSided on behalf of Jif. Save the Celery - the neglected sidekick to the more than one billion wings that will be consumed this coming Sunday. Will and Jif want consumers to add Jif to their Game Day options and prevent millions of celery stalks from being wasted