So the Texans enter tonight’s draft with the 22nd overall pick and a decided lack of palpable buzz. Perhaps it is because they are picking 22nd, but more likely it’s because the team addressed its two biggest needs in free agency, landing quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller.
The investment in Osweiler means he is the guy, so there is no need to trade up for a quarterback and mortgage two years worth of picks, as the Rams and Eagles did. Whether it works out or not remains to be seen, but the Texans at least have the man who will lead the offense for the next two seasons.
It also means he Texans don’t have to draft specifically for need at 22. They can actually take the best available player.
The narrative locally and nationally seems to be the Texans need a wide receiver, and almost every mock draft has them taking one. Recent reports indicate they are interested in Baylor’s Corey Coleman.
But realistically, receiver is not a pressing need. They already have DeAndre Hopkins and invested a high pick in Jaelen Strong last year. Strong should be ready to step into a unit that also includes versatile veteran Cecil Shorts and another pick from last year, Keith Mumphrey. Yes, they can add depth, but if that group starts the year as a top four, that’s not bad at all. There will be quality options available in later rounds to bolster the depth.
Linebacker has also been mentioned as a potential need, but last year’s draft should also fortify that spot, as Bernardrick McKinney showed great strides late in the season and should be much better in year No. 2.
So what do the Texans really need?
The starting spot opposite J.J. Watt on the defensive line is open. While Jeoffrey Pagan or Christian Covington might be ready to step in, investing a high pick on a potential starter there would not be a bad idea. But it is also not a pressing issue; there should be no drop-off, and in fact likely improvement from the job former starter Jared Crick did last year simply with the players on the roster. An upgrade, however, would make the defense even that much better.
Looking at the rest of the defense, the linebacking corps should be set with McKinney, Brian Cushing, Whitney Mercilus and presumably (and finally) Jadeveon Clowney. Adding depth here would not be a bad idea, but it’s not pressing. John Simon was a serviceable fill in at times last year, and a selection from the 2014 draft, Reshard Cliett, might be ready to contribute after missing his rookie year with an injury.
The secondary seems pretty set as well, with three solid corners in Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson and last year’s top pick, Kevin Johnson. Andre Hal has emerged as a decent safety. The spot next to him is a question mark, but there are options on the roster (Quentin Demps was re-signed and played well most of last season) and not really a safety worth taking at 22. However, if another elite corner drops to this spot, the Texans could nab him as insurance for an aging Joseph or even move Jackson to safety.
On the offensive side of the ball, tight end is a disaster and has to be addressed at some point, but not likely tonight. The biggest concern comes on the offensive line.
While the Texans found serviceable replacements for the departed Brandon Brooks and Ben Jones, this is by far the thinnest unit on the team and one that could use a talent upgrade.
While set at tackle with Duane Brown and Derek Newton (and solid swing tackle Chris Clark), looking ahead to life without Brown down the road might be a good thing, while still helping the team now.
More pressing is the interior of the line. Jeff Allen, signed as a free agent, is a very good player. But Tony Bergstrom is a question mark at center and Xavier Sua-Filo has yet to live up to his status as a second round pick. Jeff Adams played a lot early last year but is coming off an injury. So an upgrade here might be the best move.
There could be some intriguing options to help the interior now and the exterior long term. If either Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker or Michigan State’s Jack Conklin slip, they would be excellent choices. Either could start immediately at right tackle and allow Newton to upgrade the interior. Newton struggled at times playing guard last year, but was often forced in due to injuries. With full time reps, he could thrive. If not, there would be nothing wrong with moving the rookie inside, either. Failing all that, there would be worse picks than Alabama center Ryan Kelly with the pick, either, and slotting him inside right away.
If the top offensive linemen are gone, a potential defensive end like Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler would make a good choice as well to beef up that spot opposite Watt. Any of these selections would likely help the team more than adding a receiver.
Fans like sexy, however, and the sexy move would be to draft a wide receiver, but that’s something that could be addressed later, with a smaller, faster player who can return kicks. Tight end will have to be dealt with, too. But at 22, the Texans should opt for smart over sexy and build the trenches, one way or another. There will be two more days to add depth at the other positions.
If the players mentioned are off the board, it means high quality talent at other positions has slipped, and the Texans will have an opportunity to add strength to positions where they are already strong, such as corner. They could also trade down with a more desperate team. Thanks to their offseason moves, they realistically have every option on the table. And that’s a good thing.
In the end, this draft likely won’t be as important as the free agent signings of last month. If those players pan out, the Texans should be a very good team. If not? Then this class likely won’t matter.
The temptation is there to give your shiny new quarterback a shiny new weapon at receiver. And maybe that winds up being the best move. But keeping him upright is just as critical. It might not be sexy, but adding an offensive lineman would be a good start to the 2016 draft.