The loss of Clowney is huge from an on-field perspective, as it wipes out a potent run-stuffer and athletic playmaker opposite J.J. Watt. Before the trade, however, there were questions about whether the back end had enough depth to compete with high-flying offenses. Those questions still remain.
Roby faced Thomas once before while in Denver when the receiver was in his first year. During that tilt, Thomas had his worst game as a rookie, catching four passes for 40 yards and losing two fumbles.
"I'm looking forward to the second time," Roby said Thursday of facing Thomas again, via the team's official website. "What do I see in him? He's a big target, great hands, great size, has a great relationship with [quarterback] Drew (Brees) and he's very successful."
Odds are Thomas won't have the same struggles he did last time Roby saw him on the field. Not only does the Texans CB no longer have Aqib Talib and Chris Harris to help him out this time -- Roby did have two passes defended and a forced fumble in that first game versus Thomas -- the Saints WR has developed into one of the premier receivers in the NFL.
Thomas caught 85 percent of his targets last season, the highest catch rate (minimum 75 targets) in a season by a WR since the NFL started tracking targets in 1992. That ridiculous catch-rate allowed Thomas to lead the NFL with 125 receptions last year despite ranking outside the top 10 in targets.
The 26-year-old has also gotten off to some hot starts in his three-year pro career, earning 27 career receptions in Week 1s (second-most in NFL since 2016 -- only Antonio Brown (28) has more in that span).
"He's a great player," O'Brien said of Thomas earlier this week. "He's got good size, good speed, very, very good route runner. He's got great chemistry with the quarterback -- on the same page. The ball is in the air many times before he comes out of his break. He understands coverage, he understands leverage, he's got excellent hands, he's got it all. He's a great player and it's going to be a big challenge for us."