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NFL Draft: What If Texans Double Down on O-Line?

Stranger things happen...

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2022 NFL Draft starting tomorrow, rumors are flying around like debris in a tornado of just whom our Houston Texans will take with the #3 and #13 overall picks.

This week, a lot of noise has bubbled up over Houston head coach Lovie Smith’s history of getting defensive playmakers in the draft at his last few stops.

While that may be true, it’s not a lock that this will play forward with general manager Nick Caserio’s draft plans. Ole Nick did take a quarterback, Davis Mills, with his first ever pick as the Houston Texans GM after all.

A lot of mock drafters have Houston taking offensive tackle Evan Neal in the #3 spot. It was mentioned last week the Texans didn’t need another offensive tackle, with Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard, both former first round picks, firmly entrenched on the roster.

ESPN

3. Houston Texans

Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

The Texans might not be sure Davis Mills is their quarterback of the future, but they know they need to protect him to find out. By not trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil this offseason and drafting Neal, Houston will keep 2019 first-round pick Tytus Howard at guard. The Texans’ offensive line struggled last season, allowing 44 sacks with a 40% team pass rush win rate, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. Neal is ESPN’s third-ranked player overall and started at both tackle spots and left guard at Alabama. — Sarah Barshop

But, what if Houston decided to double down and take Neal or the other highly touted offensive lineman, Ikem Ekwonu? Let’s just go with Neal, for the purposes of this exercise. Howard is versatile, as is Ekwonu, but let’s move Howard around, since Texans be Texan’ing already...

The Houston offensive line could look like this:

LT - Laremy Tunsil

LG - Tytus Howard

C - Justin Britt

RG - A.J. Cann/Max Sharping

RT - Evan Neal

Now, clearly the C/RG spot is the leak in the dam, as Britt was hardly good, much less great last year and Cann and Sharping are both backups at best, as well.

With a little wheeling and dealing, the Texans could also draft Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, considered to be the only day one NFL starter caliber center in the draft.

That would leave RG as the only real hole on the line.

We could hope against hope that new offensive line coach George Warhop would grow the players and have them all playing at an elevated level than past performances, but this is the Texans we’re talking about. They haven’t had an o-line coach who improved players in so long the very notion has faded into myth and legend. And, Warhop’s work with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year was, well, less than inspiring...

At his first stop as an NFL offensive line coach, Warhop’s San Francisco 49ers offensive line allowed a league-worst 55 sacks...

In 2020, Warhop’s Jacksonville unit ranked 23rd in the NFL. It “improved” to 24th in 2021... wrong way, George...

With that in mind, they need to land starter quality players and hope the coaching staff and play calling can maintain status quo.

That would put the o-line depth chart at:

LT - Laremy Tunsil

LG - Tytus Howard

C - Tyler Linderbaum

RG - A.J. Cann/Max Sharping

RT - Evan Neal

It’s a proven fact that offensive lines need several games, if not the majority of a season, to fully gel and work as one. So, this unit might not look great kickoff weekend, but by October or November, they could turn into one of the most formidable in the league.

Then, Davis Mills, the most polarizing name in Houston pro ball, will finally have a chance to really thrive. Whomever they bring in at running back (no, Rex Burkhead is not the answer to ‘who will finally replace Arian Foster’, sorry...) will have a moving wall ahead of them to open running lanes, and the Pep Hamilton offense will bring something worth watching to Houston fans every weekend.

Granted, this will also ignore the needs of the defense early in the draft. However, this rookie crop is deep with defensive playmakers and Houston has eight picks in the top 175 as it currently stands. If they spend two of those on o-line and the rest on defense, and even half of those players turn into starters, it will be a banner year at NRG.

Championships are won in the trenches. Offensive lines take time to build and gel. Why not get started now so that the 2023 and 2024 Houston Texans offensive line is once more a point of strength for a team on it’s way to winning the AFC South again and again...