The Houston Texans are undergoing a multi-year, multi-draft rebuilding process, but they have the opportunity to overhaul their defense in one swing. This is possibly the deepest defensive draft in NFL history, as many players who would have typically entered the draft last year stayed in college due to the NCAA’s COVID policy. The first three rounds offer immediate impact players on the defensive side of the ball.
The Texans are looking to reform their identify with a new coach and emerging general manager, They need to get past many of the recent tribulations they’ve endured. Addressing the defense immediately in the second year post-Bill O’Brien and first under Lovie Smith would help redefine this team. Here’s what I’d do:
Round 1, Pick 3: Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE - Oregon
A former consensus top-three pick, Thibodeaux is an elite prospect at defensive end. But that’s truly what he is; a prospect. He flashes All-Pro skills, but similar to Jadeveon Clowney, he has the tendency to disappear from games. The Texans need to hit on their first pick. Thibodeaux would certainly provide years of strong defensive end play, but he may not be worth the third overall pick. If he does reach his potential, skipping out on him would be part of the Thibodeaux documentary in 15 years. Even so, the Texans should feel comfortable and excited about their new pass rushing prodigy. Take him at No. 3 if he’s available.
Round 1, Pick 13: Devin Lloyd, LB - Utah
Lloyd was the first player’s film for this draft that I watched, and since then I have been eyeing him. It’s quite a thing to see him hunt down a running back and pursue players on the field. A new-age linebacker, Lloyd can play both the pass and run better than any other player in the draft. Though the PAC-12 doesn’t offer the same competition as the SEC and Lloyd did not have the best end to his season, he’s a top talent at his position and would be an excellent compliment to Christian Kirksey.
Round 2, Pick 37: Kaiir Elam, CB - Florida
Speaking of the SEC, Kaiir Elam was a premier cornerback for the first portion of the 2021 season. He dropped off, along with the entire Florida Gators team, but still imposes his 6’1” frame upon all types of receivers. He’s leaving college early as he projects to be a late first/early second round pick. He would immediately project to be a starting corner on the Texans, though he would need several years to work out the inconsistencies in his game.
Round 3, Pick 68: Bryan Cook, S - Cincinnati
The Texans go back-to-back secondary picks here. In an effort to replace Justin Reid, the Texans snag Bryan Cook with their first pick in the third round. The Cincinnati safety played with first round talent Sauce Gardner in the Bearcats’ secondary, but don’t dismiss Cook’s own prowess. Cook was the tone-setter on the defense and has a highlight reel of devastating hits. He is a better strong safety than free safety and matches up well against tight ends. Cook grades out as a rapid contributor in a rotation on defense and would be an asset on special teams to begin his NFL career.
Round 3, Pick 80: Perrion Winfrey, DL - Oklahoma
With their last pick on Day Two, the Texans select Perrion Winfrey to shore up the defensive trenches. Interestingly enough, CBS Sports’ NFL comparison for Winfrey is none other than Ross Blacklock. However, Winfrey is less of a one-gap stuffer and more of a read-and-react bulldozer. Both Blacklock and Winfrey have a tendency to put their head down when in contact, but Winfrey is a much more polished pass rusher and is better beating the man in front of him to make big plays. Winfrey has a mean streak and is devastating in the run game. He’d quickly rotate with Roy Lopez and Blacklock in the center of Houston’s defense.
Here’s what the depth chart would look like after this all-defense draft:
DE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Jordan Jenkins
DT: Mailek Collins, Perrion Winfrey
DT: Roy Lopez, Ross Blacklock
DE: Jonathan Greenard, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
LB: Devin Lloyd, Kevin Pierre-Lewis
LB: Christian Kirksey, Neville Hewitt
LB: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Garret Wallow
CB: Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kaiir Elam
CB: Desmond King III, Tremon Smith
S: Bryan Cook, Jonathan Owens
S: Eric Murray, Terrance Brooks
If you are terrified of the prospect of Houston going defense only, with six more picks in the next four rounds, they could take their chances on plenty of lower ceiling draft choices who can still contribute. There are plenty of talented skill players in the later rounds, and interior offensive linemen can still be found via free agency.
This influx of defensive talent would be difficult to ignore in the AFC South. New secondary players and pass rushers would help combat the new faces and powerful runners leading teams in our division. Defenses can take several years to turn around and one glaring hole can tank the entire system, so drafting a quintet of defensive starlets would allow the rookies to learn the system together and develop as a cohesive unit across all levels of the defense.