The Texans are entering a multi-year rebuild, but for the first time in a long time, they have a ton of draft capital this year to replenish a roster that severely lacks talent. The trade of Deshaun Watson was a long time coming, and it will allow Houston to reset their franchise and make up for some of the poor decision-making that defined Bill O’Brien’s time with the team.
Texans fans should be very excited about the team’s long-term direction now that they have real draft capital to work with, and it starts in a very deep class this year. In this article, I’ll look at general manager Nick Caserio’s draft history, the Texans’ most significant team needs, and the top targets the team should be considering.
Nick Caserio Draft History
This is technically Nick Caserio’s second draft with the Texans. Still, it feels like his first as Houston didn’t make its first selection until the 67th overall pick in Round 3 last year due to shortsighted trades made by the previous regime. He has much more capital to work with this year, including two first-round picks.
Despite the lack of resources last year, Caserio found several impact players, including quarterback Davis Mills, wide receiver Nico Collins, defensive tackle Roy Lopez, and tight end Brevin Jordan. In particular, Mills looked like a steal in the third-round down the stretch last season and is projected as the starting quarterback this year.
Nick Caserio’s Patriots Draft Lessons
It’s encouraging for Texans fans that Caserio comes from a franchise that understands value at a high level as he’s worked with a mastermind roster builder in Bill Belichick. We can expect Caserio to prioritize a best-player-available strategy over any specific team need.
One strategy that could follow Caserio from the Patriots to the Texans could be the “restrictive draft board” – the Patriots would select 30-45 “realistic draft options” from a pool of around 2,000 potential draft prospects and would only choose from those players. That strategy often resulted in some selections that were deemed as serious reaches and frequent trades.
Caserio and Belichick would always covet cognitive intelligence as they would put prospects through intensive psychological tests. It’s difficult to know where prospects check out from a mental standpoint, but we know that will be important to how the Texans draft. The Patriots would also often draft for fit and role on the team rather than pure talent, leading to significant reaches in the draft.
The Patriots also don’t prioritize athleticism to the same extent as other teams by any stretch. During the 2021 offseason, Caserio said the 40-yard dash “might be the least important number, specific to certain positions.” His draft classes have an average Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 6.93, which is well below the league average of 7.5.
Nick Caserio on intangibles he wants references leadership skills, understanding of players’ personality, character, ability to adapt quickly and absorb new information, how they interact with different staff members
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 21, 2022
Athleticism a Bigger Prioirity with the Texans?
To be fair to Caserio, his one draft with the Texans had an average RAS of 7.26, which is slightly higher than the Patriots’ average of 6.9. Nico Collins had an elite RAS of 9.57, and Garrett Wallow checked in at 8.12. Roy Lopez had a RAS of 7.49, which is about average.
Caserio may have evolved his draft strategy since leaving the Patriots, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. However, it will be interesting to see if Caserio prioritizes athleticism in this year’s draft class or emphasizes mental acuity, as is the “Patriot Way.”
Texans Biggest Needs
Each team is listed on PFF’s Mock Draft Simulator with a handful of priority needs for the upcoming draft. Next to the Texans, you can find the word “everything.” While that’s primarily meant to be funny, it’s also reflective that this roster is heinously devoid of talent. Outside of quarterback (for the time being), there aren’t any positions that I would say the Texans shouldn’t target in the draft this year.
Laremy Tunsil returns at left tackle, but right tackle is still a serious need, as is the entirety of the offensive line. Even after the team extended Brandin Cooks and drafted Nico Collins last year, a wide receiver could still be a need. Running back is not a high-value position, but the Texans had one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL last year and should look to add to their backfield.
On defense, it’s hard to say the team has any positions that are set in stone. Jonathan Greenard, the 2020 third-round pick, had an excellent sophomore season, but a pass-rusher opposite him is a significant need. The interior of the defensive line is barren, as is the linebacker corps. Cornerback is a considerable need, as is safety after Justin Reid left in free agency.
Houston Texans Top NFL Draft Targets at #3
OT Evan Neal, Alabama: Evan Neal should be the Texans’ pick at #3. The team could be choosing between Neal and Ikem Ekwonu at that spot with the Jaguars and Lions likely to choose edge defenders, and I see Neal as the better prospect overall. Neal is a much more refined pass-blocker, and he also has experience playing right tackle, which is where the Texans would likely start him.
OT Ikem Ekwonu, NC State: While I have Neal ranked over Ekwonu, Ekwonu is the betting favorite to be the #3 selection. John Ellis of Fox Sports Upstate described Ekwonu as “gracefully violent,” and that’s very apt. Ekwonu is a mauler in the run game who may be a more natural fit at offensive guard long term, but his elite athleticism is worth trying out outside at the beginning of his career.
On today’s episode of “Ikem Ekwonu turns human beings into projectiles” pic.twitter.com/faTniMfthB
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) March 31, 2022
EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: Part of me wonders if Caserio and his associates are the anonymous executives criticizing Thibodeaux’s off-field character, but that shouldn’t be a significant impediment to his draft value. Thibodeaux has many elite athletic traits teams look for in edge rushers. If anything, his off-field involvement in financial endeavors should highlight the mental acuity that Caserio covets.
CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU: I believe Derek Stingley Jr. is set to be drafted much more highly than was earlier anticipated, and Peter Schrager noted in his recent mock draft that there’s a lot of noise around the league about the Texans taking a cornerback at #3. In my eyes, Stingley is the much higher-upside prospect, and the growing optimism around his medical status should be enough to vault him back into the top five.
CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati: If the Texans take too much stock into the injuries and inconsistent play that plagued Stingley in his last two collegiate seasons, Caserio may covet Gardner for his overall consistency. He never allowed a touchdown in coverage at Cincinnati and has the leadership traits and work ethic that the Patriots would covet if they were selecting a player in this spot.
• Ikem Ekwonu +250
• Evan Neal +350
• Ahmad Gardner +350
• Gardner 23%
• Kayvon Thibodeaux (+800) 16%
• Neal 8%
• Gardner 27%
• Derek Stingley Jr. (+500) 16%
• Neal 14%
— John Ewing 🦁 (@johnewing) April 21, 2022
Houston Texans Top NFL Draft Targets at #13
S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: There seems to be a growing expectation that Kyle Hamilton could be headed for a significant draft slide due to his underwhelming combine and the lack of positional value. Nick Caserio would not be scared by those factors, and he would be more than willing to take advantage of the draft fall of a high-character leader who can be a high-impact defender in several areas. I have Hamilton as a top-five player in this class.
WR Jameson Williams, Alabama: It’s hard to know what the Texans would covet in a wide receiver, so I’m including all three of the top prospects at the position here. Jameson Williams is rising in media analysis. I won’t be shocked if he’s the first wideout off the board with elite speed, change-of-direction ability, smooth route-running, and natural hands.
WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: Plenty of draft pundits have Garrett Wilson listed as their top wideout, and it’s easy to understand why with his elite YAC ability. Wilson has sneaky physicality and has some wildly impressive contested catch highlights on film. He’s an undersized wide receiver who didn’t quite test as the elite athlete I would have hoped, but his productivity speaks for itself.
WR Drake London, USC: I have Drake London listed as the third-most likely prospect at wide receiver for the Texans as he fills a similar role in the offense to Nico Collins, their third-round pick last year, as a downfield contested-catch receiver. London has the best ball skills in this class, and his smooth route-running and sneaky YAC ability are often underrated. He’s my top wide receiver prospect.
CB Trent McDuffie, Washington: If Nick Caserio is looking for a high-character, intelligent football player, it’s easy to see him falling in love with Trent McDuffie. The Washington cornerback was one of the most-discussed prospects during combine week due to how impressive he was in interviews with media and team executives. He’s a high-IQ player who, while a bit undersized, can make it on the outside with his physicality and athleticism.
DT Jordan Davis, Georgia: In his first draft as a member of the Patriots’ staff, a young Nick Caserio helped the team select Richard Seymour in the first round. Seymour, a Georgia defensive tackle who was an elite athlete, is now a Hall of Famer. Caserio could sell himself on a similar ceiling to Davis, who tested as one of the best athletes at defensive tackle of all time. There may be lingering concerns over conditioning and workload for the Georgia product. Still, his upside as a dominant run-stuffer and elite linear athlete in pass protection may be too good to pass up for the Texans.
At 341 pounds, his 40-yard dash was faster than Patrick Mahomes, Nick Bosa and JJ Watt’s 😳
Georgia’s Jordan Davis is on a mission to prove he is unlike any other player in this year’s draft. pic.twitter.com/WIZNKBstrz