Okay gang, as of this post, the draft is roughly 10 hours away. We’ve seen a lot of mock drafts around the interwebs. We’ve made our own drafts. We’ve made and seen projections of players and had multiple, well thought-out opinions on who gets taken where and why.
But now it’s time to put the rubber to the road.
The Texans have two (2!) picks in the first round on Thursday, and there are so many different directions the team could go in. So that led me to wonder, from our writing staff, who do we think the Texans will take with the third and thirteenth picks (assuming they keep them both) in the draft, and, more importantly, who SHOULD they take with those picks.
This is the question the masthead has grappled with for the last several days.
Here are their answers.
/Law and Order chimes
I’m going to be honest here and say that I am, by no means, a draftnik in any way, shape, or fashion. That said, I’ve always been of the belief that a team is only as good as the players it stacks up on the line of scrimmage. And while we do have Tytus Howard and Laremy Tunsil as our starting tackle duo, who knows how long we’ll keep Tunsil and I worry that Howard’s been shifted around to so many different ill-fitting positions on the line that it might hamper his overall development. So with the third pick, I think they’re going to wind up taking Evan Neal if he’s still available. If Caserio is trying to trim the salary cap numbers, whether it’s for smart football reasons or so Cal McNair can buy more Playstation 5s, then it would not be surprising for Tunsil to wind up as a cap casualty.
That would leave the Texans with Evan Neal as a starting tackle in waiting when either Tunsil or Howard depart.
I would actually be in agreement with the Texans if they took Neal here, actually. He’s got all the measurables, he dominated in college and he’s a (long, deep sigh) culture fit, whatever the hell that is.
As for the 13th pick, that gets a little more dicey. I personally think they should go and get a defensive lineman with this pick, either Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux. Because, again, good teams are built on the line of scrimmage.
Who I think the Texans WILL take, however, is different. I suspect they’ll end up taking someone in the secondary. If I had to bet, I would say probably Derek Stingley, Jr. I don’t think Stingley would be a bad pick here, I just think at 13, and with all the holes the Texans have, they need to get a home run player here and I think there are better players available at other positions than Stingley is at corner.
The idea of having ONE 1st round pick, much less 2, within the top 13 is a very, very alien concept that I am still trying to process. The idea that Houston could actually draft any of those top 50/75 prospects they always talk about is so different from the past few years.
Setting aside the shock of this newness, here is what I see for picks 3 and 13.
Should pick: OL Evan Neal
Alternate considerations: OL Ikem Ekwonu, DL Kayvon Thibodeaux.
Pick I fear the team might go with: QB Malik Willis
Likely pick: Neal
Should pick: OL Charlie Cross,
Alternate considerations: CB Derek Stingley Jr. DL Jordan Davis, trade #13 to obtain more 2022 2nd/3rd round picks
Pick I fear the team might go with: Any QB in the first round.
Likely pick: DL George Karlaftis
For the 3rd pick, I know that there is a lot of hype around S Kyle Hamilton, but I am leery of using that high a 1st round pick on a DB of any sort. I would say Hutchinson at 3, but I see no future in which Hutchinson gets past Detroit at 2, and that is if Jacksonville don’t take him at 1. That being said, I doubt Hamilton is around at 13. I think that 13 would be a great pick to trade for more picks, something Caserio might emulate from his time in New England. Barring the status of Gardner or Hamilton, the Texans come out of the 1st round with reinforcements on the DL and OL.
I have nothing personal against any of the QBs in this draft, but none of them are worthy of a 1st round pick, especially a high one. Now, if Wills or Pickett happen to be around in the 2nd or especially the 3rd, different story. Mills is not looking like the franchise savior, but he is good enough for this season, and this draft is strong in many of the other positions the Texans need.
Based on Aidan Hutchinson being gone (hopefully Jacksonville and Detroit do what they do best - draft the wrong guy - and Hutch is still there at #3, but seems highly unlikely) then I’d say they should take Sauce Gardner. Adding assets to the offensive line, particularly at tackle, when they already have Tunsil and Howard doesn’t make much sense. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Kyle Hamilton have some question marks that make them a bit of a gamble. #3 might be a bit high for Sauce based on some folks’ opinions, but in the end if Houston can get a shutdown corner who starts for the team for years and makes it to multiple pro bowls, as Sauce should, then no one will care if they drafted him 3rd or 33rd.
What I expect them to do: draft Evan Neal or Iken Ekwonu. Clearly they have no clue how to build a quality offensive line, so throwing more assets at the wall hoping one sticks seems like a very Texans thing to do. And Wildcard: it wouldn’t surprise me if Jack Easterby convinces Nick Caserio to draft Malik Willis here (or 13th if he’s still on the board then), which I fully expect the team to spin like a top to make it look like Easterby had nothing to do with it...
The 13th pick will hopefully get traded for a later teens or 20s pick and another 2nd rounder. This draft is deep with defenders and giving up the 13th slot to get two potential starters makes all the sense in the world.
What do I expect them to do? Trade the 13th spot for the linebacker equivalent of David Johnson, then trade that guy for not being a culture fit sometime between the end of the draft and week one for a 4th or 5th rounder in 2024... A lot of people are waving the “Nick Caserio draft genius” flag, but part of who he’s shown to be so far is also the “Nick Caserio got pants’d in 2021 trades” reality. Shaq Lawson will hang from Caserio’s neck like an albatross until he shows he can pull off savvy trades. Giving him the keys to a treasure trove of draft assets to wheel and deal based on his Texans trading track record calls for a case of Pepto Bismol...
When the Draft rolls around every year, my family and I do a competition where we predict the first round in full. You get 1 point if you predict a player to the right team (regardless of position) and 1 point if you pick a player to go in the right draft slot (regardless of team). In 10 years of playing the “Draft Game,” I think the top score anyone has achieved has been 8-9 points, tops. This year, I’d be happy with 3-4 points - that’s how hard this draft is to predict. There aren’t even any “Andrew Luck to the Colts” type picks. To predict what the Texans get at 3 and 13 seems like a long shot, but I have some gut feelings.
At #3, I feel like the Texans will go with Ikem Ekwonu. Ekwonu has such upside, has all the measurables, and is a monster in the run game (which the Texans HAVE to improve this offseason). I’d love the Ekwonu pick, even if he starts at guard his first year. If they don’t go with Ekwonu, I could see them going Sauce Gardner, Kayvon Thibodeaux, or Hutch/Walker if they fall. What I absolutely don’t want is a pick spent on QB.
At 13, it’s a crapshoot. My prediction is that the Texans go with a BPA pick of either: Derek Stingley Jr., Kyle Hamilton, or Jermaine Johnson. The only way any of those picks come to beis if a QB or two go in the top-12 picks. I’d be really happy with any of those, but Jermaine Johnson is my favorite of that bunch. Like Seth Payne, I can’t stand the idea of drafting Trevor Penning at 13. No thanks.
I think two things are important to look at. First, most of the decisions this offseason have gone Lovie Smith’s way. He was able to build his staff the way he wanted. Whether he is moving forward as a traditional head coach with traditional autonomy remains to be seen, but I see the draft going his way as well. That means I think defense wins out in the first round. Should that happen? Oh heck, how should I know? This is a bad football team and they are a bad football team on both sides of the ball. If you load up on one side then at least that side will be average or better (given you hit on your picks). So, then becomes the question of what picks would have the most impact on the success of the defense.
This is where I get to the second important thing. If we look at Lovie’s track record, he clearly favors defensive linemen early in the draft. Looking at his defense it makes sense. He wants a strong four man rush so he doesn’t have to blitz too often. It allows him to play zone on the back end which means he can get by with lesser corners and fungible linebackers. Funny, that’s exactly what this roster has. I keep seeing Sauce Gardner mocked to the Texans but I don’t see them going that direction. I have no doubt he is the best all-around corner in the draft, but putting a great corner in this defense is like putting a Bose stereo in a 1974 Chevy Chevelle. Yeah, you’ll have great tunes, but wouldn’t that money be better spent fixing up the car or actually getting a newer one?
I see them going Travon Walker at number three and then Jordan Davis at number 13. Is this what should happen? I don’t have a crystal ball. I couldn’t tell you whether Walker will be better than Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux. Anyone that says they know is lying to you. I couldn’t tell you whether Davis would be the maximum value at number 13. Maybe your offense is better with a wide receiver there. Maybe you can find a tackle that you can then move to guard. That’s the fun part of the draft process. You can imagine any position group getting better. I like this combination because it theoretically improves your pass rush while also collapsing the inside and helping with the run defense. Even if Davis is no better than D.J. Reader and Walker is no better than Jadeveon Clowney you still have seriously upgraded your defensive line with borderline pro bowl starters that can be there for maybe a decade. That could make Jonathan Greenard play like a pro bowl player and allows you to rotate in Maliek Collins and Roy Lopez in a nasty three tackle rotation. If Ross Blacklock actually shows up so much the better.
I see these picks as being a part of a pair. As much as I want the Texans to load up on one side of the ball, preferably defense, I doubt they’ll do so. Then again, I truly hope they trade back with one of the picks, preferably the 3rd overall.
At three, they should take Evan Neal. The floor is soooooo high on this kid it’s ridiculous. He’s a day-one plug and play guy who will be a star on this team and in the league for years. He has pad level issues, but we’ll work on that.
At thirteen, they should take Jordan Davis. The hulking defensive lineman will be a standout on this defense and help add depth and run support immediately. Since we have Ross Blacklock and Roy Lopez, he’ll be able to rotate in and not have to play all three downs, something he didn’t have to do at Georgia and was a knock against him in the draft process.
Here’s what they WILL DO:
At three, they will take Travon Walker. The guy may be the favorite to be the first or second pick, but if he is there I doubt they’ll pass on him. The athlete is too good and has too much upside for the Texans to not make a move. It’s a positional need and won’t be pick that receives a ton of backlash.
At thirteen, unless Kyle Hamilton is there, they will take Trent McDuffie. Yes, this is a reach, but there’s too much postulation and communication about the Texans lack of talent on the backend. This would entail Sauce Gardner, Derek Stingley, and Hamilton all being off the board, which is plausible. I can also see George Karlaftis going here, but that’s less likely based on the past week’s rumors.
If only we could have had these picks for last years top-15! Still with that being said I have roughly 15 first round grades on players this year so at least we are positioned well. For 3rd overall I’ve seen this go in a number of different directions which is a mental note I’ll take in when digesting future Nick “draft leaks”. Still from my understanding the Derek Stingley noise at 3 has been going on for about 2 weeks so that’s my logical guess. As for 13 given all of the top 10 uncertainties combined with trade down rumors and it wasn’t until a few days ago that I truly solidified on Garrett Wilson more than likely being the guy. He’s not my cup of tea but his acceleration is legit and when he’s not getting man handled by bigger DB’s he is one of the best separators in the class.
Now if you’re asking little old Matt who I would take with these picks I’d be torn between all of the shiny objects in this draft (Thibs/Stingley/Hamilton/Davis/Hill) and building this team up for a QB of the future regardless of whose name is on the jersey. Ideally when teams have 2 first round picks it adds a bit of leeway to be responsible with one of your selections while taking a high upside gamble on the second. So in my eyes I would draft Evan Neal (I just don’t see Icky as a OT) to take over Tunsils job after he is traded because if CJ Stroud or whoever catches Houston’s eye next draft then finding a future OT might be difficult if resources are tied up in a potential QB move up. Then at 13 ideally I’d like to move down and use those assets as ammunition for trader Nick to target his guys on day 2⁄3 just like last year. But if I am stuck at 13 and Evan Neal is already looking up rentals in Houston then I’d have to lean George Karlaftis who is personally my number 2 DE in the draft. This is very much a meat and potatoes year for the draft and building the trenches can allow us to take more exciting players down the road in future drafts.