HOUSTON — For the first time since 2019, the Houston Texans have a first-round pick in the nfl draft. In fact, they have two (No. 3 and No. 13), after trading quarterback deshaun watsona former first-round pick himself, to the Cleveland Browns last month.
General manager Nick Caserio is in the process of rebuilding the roster, and now he has the draft capital to do it. The Texans have 11 picks in this year’s draft, including five in the top 80. A year ago, Caserio took just one player in the first 80 picks.
What could the Texans do with the No. 3 pick next week?
take a tackle
After watching quarterback Davis Mills take hit after hit last season, the Texans know they need to better protect the second-year quarterback if he’s going to have any chance of providing himself to be the franchise’s long-term answer under center.
Houston took the first step by not trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil and converting his base salary to a signing bonus, which effectively ties him to the organization for the remaining two years of his contract. Next, the Texans need to find another tackle to play the opposite side of Tunsil.
If he’s still on the board, offensive tackle Evan Neal (Alabama) would make a lot of sense at No. 3. ESPN analytics predicts there is a 90% chance Neal is still on the board after the first two picks.
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Of course, what the Texans do at tackle will be directly related to how they view lineman Tytus Howard. The Texans have moved the 2019 first-round pick around on the offensive line since he was drafted, with Caserio praising Howard’s versatility.
Last season under coach David Culley and offensive line coach James Campen, Howard started the first 10 games of the season at left guard before moving to left tackle for three games because of injuries on the offensive line. Of the 15 games Howard played in 2021, he started 11 at left guard and four at left tackle.
Last month, Caserio said the team is still working to figure out Howard’s spot for 2022. The Texans have not yet picked up Howard’s fifth-year option. There will be plenty of tackles available at either No. 3 or No. 13, which means there will likely be clarity on his role early on Night 1 of the draft.
If Neal is gone, or Houston goes a different direction at No. 3, Caserio could take offensive tackle charles cross (Mississippi State) at No. 13. ESPN’s Todd McShay said Cross “might be the best pure pass-protector in the entire class.”
In his latest mock draft with Mel Kiper Jr., McShay has the Texans taking Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 3, saying that “Thibodeaux has an incredibly fast first step off the edge.”
There are many positions Houston needs to improve upon defensively, but someone to effectively rush the quarterback might be highest on the priority list. The Texans had just 32 sacks last season, which ranked 28th in the NFL, and clearly didn’t replace former face of the franchise JJ Watt‘s production.
The Texans also have a need in the secondary after safety justin reid left in free agency. Houston could take safety Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame), who McShay has going No. 11 to the Washington Commanders. Hamilton might be Caserio’s pick if he trades down from No. 3.
Take a QB
While everything the Texans have done this offseason — signing wide receiver Brandin Cooks to a contract extension, keeping Tunsil and signing quarterback Kyle Allen as a backup — points to them giving Mills the chance to start in 2022, Caserio hasn’t publicly ruled out drafting a quarterback.
After trading Watson, Caserio said while Mills “certainly earned an opportunity” in Houston, he never wants to eliminate any position or player going into a draft.
Still, it seems unlikely, given the number of holes on the Texans’ roster, that they would take a quarterback who doesn’t project to be an elite franchise signal-caller.
Taking Malik Willis (Liberty), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh) or Matt Corral (Ole Miss) with their first pick would be a shock.
Caserio has hinted several times that he’s open to trading down from No. 3.
Because there is not a strong quarterback class in this year’s draft, there might not be the same appetite for the No. 3 pick as there was a year ago, when the San Francisco 49ers traded up from 12, sending the Miami Dolphins the No. 12 pick in 2021, a first- and third-round pick in 2022 and a first-round pick in 2023 to get Trey Lance.
The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints both have multiple first-round picks and could be in the market to move up. New Orleans is more likely to be interested in trading up for a quarterback it believes could be its long-term answer.