Look everyone, it’s no secret that the Houston Texans have a lot of room to grow from a roster standpoint. A popular running joke this offseason from multiple publications is to list the team’s draft needs as “EVERYTHING,” and honestly, if you put your ear to the collective cacophony that is the voice of Houston fans, you won’t hear many disagreeing.
Now, there’s an upside to having what writers at the Houston Chronicle last year labeled the “worst Houston Texans team of all-time.” When the team enters into the NFL Draft in less than a month, it can employ a commonly heralded strategy of taking the “best player available” (BPA) instead of drafting for players at certain positions in order to fill specific needs. Trust me, I’m here to tell you: the Texans better darn well draft for BPA this year.
However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and during the Steel Blue Squad’s crusade to regain its former playoff-making glories, the draft is only half of the rebuilding equation—the other half being Free Agency. And in case you haven’t kept up with the 5,439 contracts that Caserio has handed out over the last year and a half, there have been a few changes to the roster.
I’ve done some information consolidation, studied the team’s current roster situation, and even though a surface-level investigation might point to “literally just draft or sign any talented player possible,” there are some position groups that need those talented players more than others. Today, I’m here to give you the three position groups most in need of an overhaul during the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft.
Note: I’m excluding Quarterback from analysis here purposefully. With the departure of Deshaun Watson, the Texans will be re-entering the seemingly unending search for a game-breaking franchise QB yet again. But with the relatively unknown talent in Davis Mills coming off of a solid (even if unremarkable) rookie season, I’m deciding to leave that position group alone.
- Returning Players: Eric Murray, Jonathan Owens, Terrence Brooks, T.J. Green, Grayland Arnold
- Free Agency Additions: M.J. Stewart
- Key Losses: Justin Reid
According to Pro Football Focus, the Texans secondary ranked dead last in the NFL at the end of the 2021 season, and that was with former-Texan Justin Reid on the roster. After losing Reid to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Texans find themselves with a position group led by Eric Murray and four other guys who amounted to only 30% of the defensive snaps the team took last year.
A few weeks back, the Texans added yet another backup safety from the Cleveland Browns in 5th year, former second round pick M.J. Stewart. Stewart played both free safety and strong safety for the Browns behind starters Grant Delpit and John Johnson. He played 29% of Cleveland’s defensive snaps, took the field on 51% of special teams snaps, and particularly excelled in coverage according to PFF (with a 2021 coverage rating of 86). Despite his addition, it’s safe to say Lovie Smith and Caserio will need to replace the 66 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble from Reid.
Potential 2022 NFL Draft Targets I Like (w/projected round): Kyle Hamilton (1), Dax Hill (1/2), Lewis Cine (2), Kerby Joseph (3/4), Nick Cross (4/5)
#2: Edge Rusher:
- Returning Players: Jonathan Greenard, Jordan Jenkins, Derek Rivers, Demone Harris
- Free Agency Additions: Ogbonnia (Ogbo) Okoronkwo
- Key Losses: Jacob Martin, Whitney Mercilus (release mid-season)
Take a look at some of the high-caliber teams in last year’s playoffs: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, the L.A. Rams, the common denominator: great quarterbacks who throw the ball a lot. What stops a great quarterback who throws the ball a lot? Pass rush. Sacks. In 2021, The Texans were the fifth worst team in the league in sacks (32). At the start of the season last year, NFL Spinzone ranked starting pass rush duos, and ranked Houston at 29th with its duo being set as Shaq Lawson and Whitney Mercilus, neither of which remain on the roster (<insert nervous laughter here>). Even with semi-breakout defensive end Jonathan Greenard (8 sacks in 2021), the Texans are in desperate need of multiple players that can pin their ears back and get to the quarterback.
As far as free agency is concerned, Caserio continued his philosophy of “don’t sign big name players yet” with the EDGE group, but did ink fifth year rusher Ogbo Okoronkwo off of the L.A. Rams roster to a 1-year deal. Okoronkwo (out of Alief, TX) played outside linebacker for the Rams (often rushing from a 2-point stance), and was a rotational player. The moral of the story here is: J.J. Watt is gone, and the team has yet to come close to replacing him. The time is now to bring in another monster on the defensive line who can strike fear into the hearts of QBs around the league.
Potential 2022 NFL Draft Targets I Like (w/projected round): Kayvon Thibodeaux (1), Jermaine Johnson (1), Arnold Ebiketie (2), Sam Williams (3/4)
#1: Interior Offensive Line:
- Returning Players: Justin Britt (C), Jimmy Morrissey (C), Max Scharping (G), Justin McCray (C/G)
- Free Agency Additions: Scott Quessenberry (C), A.J. Cann (G)
- Key Losses: None worth noting.
The weakest unit currently on the Houston Texans is the interior offensive line. Last season, the Texans ranked 29th in PFF’s final offensive line rankings, dead last in ESPN’s advanced stat “run block win rate,” and 27th overall in “pass block win rate.” While it’s fair to tie this group’s struggles to overall offensive line discontinuity (Laremy Tunsil’s injury woes, Tytus Howard playing like 30 different positions in his first two years as a Texan, etc.), I think talent is a huge issue in this group. For a team that wants to focus on a power run scheme under Offensive Coordinator Pep Hamilton, it would help to find players who can actually block at both the center and guard positions over the coming rebuild years.
The only real notable addition to the team this offseason has been A.J. Cann (former Jaguars guard). Cann only played in four games last season (MCL tear), and is being teamed up once again under the tutelage of newly appointed OL Coach George Warhop (formerly O-line coach for JAX). Cann has been a quality starter at Jacksonville, but isn’t the run-blocking road grader that changes the identity of an offensive line. To me, this is a position the Texans could invest multiple draft picks in during Draft Weekend at the end of April. The flashbacks to the old days of poor David Carr being turned into human putty snap after snap are just too real. Invest in the O-line, Nick. Please.
Potential 2022 NFL Draft Targets I Like (w/projected round): Ikem Ekwonu (1), Zion Johnson (1), Kenyon Green (1/2), Tyler Smith (2/3), Darian Kinnard (2/3), Jamaree Salyer (3/4), Cole Strange (3/4)
The Texans organization has the highest value of draft capital in recent memory (both in quality and quantity of pick), and has a huge opportunity to continue its rebuild through exciting young college players hungry for NFL action. We won’t be able to fully evaluate the success of Nick Caserio’s selections in 2022 until years down the road, but if the Health Maniac himself can invest in the aforementioned position groups, this year’s score of players could go a long way to change the identity of a struggling franchise.
No pressure, Mr. Casserole.