After last Sunday’s thrilling last second victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Houston Texans have carved their back to a winning record halfway - okay, a little more than halfway through the 2023 NFL season. At this juncture of the season, a glance in the mirror shows Houston a very different reflection than what they would’ve seen in August. An 0-2 start could have taken the wind out of their sails, but thanks to a handful of truly exceptional rookie players, Houston has rebounded and faces the final eight games above .500. Star quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the centerpiece of this class, with fellow top five pick Will Anderson Jr. and leading receiver Tank Dell joining him as a young, extremely talented core of the DeMeco Ryans Texans.
On their own, these three players would make up a draft class for the ages, but there’s more than meets the eye to this 2023 Houston Texans draft class. There’s the aforementioned stars, there’s solid middle-round picks, and even some diamonds in the rough! Let’s take a stroll through all nine 2023 Draft selections the Houston Texans made, with a quick review of their stats and accomplishments, finished off with a grade of their contributions thus far. I will grade them on a letter scale, with this as a guide:
A- to A+: Great to fantastic pick.
B- to B+: Decent to very good pick.
C- to C+: Mediocre to average pick
D- to D+: Poor to below average pick
1. QB C.J. Stroud - Round 1(2)
61.6% Cmp %, 2,626 Yards, 15 TDs, two INTs, 101 RTG, 81.7 PFF
Already challenging for one of the best Houston draft picks of all time, C.J. Stroud has been a home run in every form of the word. He’s quickly proven to potentially be a generational talent, rivaling none other than Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert for the best rookie season of all time. An instant success, the workhorse behind an offense that is bottom-five in rushing yards and top-five in passing yards, an ice-cold killer in the fourth quarter, what more can Stroud do!
The quality of his throws are what gets me every time. He’s not just firing the ball all over the place, he’s moving defenders around with his eyes and throwing deep anticipatory throws with shocking confidence. Every game C.J. Stroud has been a part of, he has at least one throw that will leave you in complete disbelief. He’s a top ten quarterback in practically every statistic, and after that Bengals game, he’s in the MVP conversation. It’s hard to imagine a better start to an NFL career than C.J. Stroud, so I think it’s safe to say this was a good draft pick.
CJ Stroud is so much fun to watch right now.pic.twitter.com/CSLShoWaXd— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) November 12, 2023
2. EDGE Will Anderson Jr. - Round 1(3)
2.0 Sk, 31 Tackles, three TFLs, 11 QB hits, blocked FG, 78.1 PFF
By some miracle, the Houston Texans absolutely nailed the very next draft pick and walked into a generational prospect for the side of the ball opposite to previous selection, C.J. Stroud. Seen as a can’t miss prospect, Will Anderson Jr. was one of the most hyped defenders in the 2023 draft class, his accolades as a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year and two-time Bronko Nagurski Award winner yielding high expectations. Well, it turns out every analyst, scout, and pundit were right: Will Anderson Jr. is very good. It hasn’t shown up in the sack department yet, but Anderson has been wreaking havoc in every game of the season thus far.
In a comparison I’m already regretting, Anderson’s impact paired with misleading stats can be an eerie reminder to Texans fans of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, current Raven and former Texans top overall pick. Regardless, Anderson has quickly shown he has the length, the finesse, and the juice to terrorize the line of scrimmage, justifying the gutsy trade by Texans general manager Nick Caserio to leap up the draft and get him in Houston.
While C.J. Stroud has stolen the spotlight (deservingly so)— Drew (@IndepthTexans) November 8, 2023
Will Anderson Jr. has been dominant and ESPN has him as a top tier EDGE
•Tied for 3rd in pass rush win rate (27%)
•1st in run stop win rate (39%)
Look at how powerful WAJ is pic.twitter.com/mvGpt1zkzN
3. C Juice Scruggs - Round 2(62)
This selection, sandwiched by the highlights of the draft, is currently shrouded in mystery. Juice Scruggs has yet to recover from the hamstring injury he suffered in the preseason finale vs. the New Orleans Saints, making this selection somewhat upgradable as of right now. Although, if we were to grade him on his very limited preseason experience, I’d say Scruggs has already shown enough to be at least an adequate center, with the length and punch to be a real force both in pass-blocking and run-blocking.
I’m still holding out hope that Scruggs could be the missing link to this offensive line, becoming the power-blocker in the middle that Dameon Pierce needs to really get going. But, as of right now, it’s still too early to tell.
this was Juice Scruggs' (#70) last play of the preseason and it was a good one to end on. pic.twitter.com/iWU1gnGmbh— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) August 31, 2023
4. WR Tank Dell - Round 3(69)
34 Rec, 510 Yards, five TDs, 10 Att, 39 Yards, 59.6 Catch %, 76.3 PFF
Now here’s a real steal! C.J. Stroud and Tank Dell’s relationship before the draft led to Houston selecting Dell in the third round of the Draft, and I think it’s already safe to say this was a great decision. Tank Dell has been phenomenal since swapping his Houston Cougar red for Houston Texan blue, his route-running and natural footwork paying immediate dividends for a resurgent Houston passing attack. The connection between him and Stroud was immediately evident to see, Dell’s route running-acumen paired with Stroud’s passing prowess bringing back memories of the Stroud-to-Chris Olave connection at Ohio State.
Of course, Dell’s performance and thus score are boosted by having a fantastic quarterback that’s willing to feed him the ball, but at some point he has receive some credit. Tank Dell is open all the time. With his speed and awareness, he’s practically impossible to cover. Suffice to say, it’s pretty easy to tell why Stroud was so adamant about bringing Tank Dell to Houston.
You don't see good corners give up three touchdowns in coverage in a single game very often, but the Texans got Carlton Davis for three scores on Sunday.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) November 9, 2023
First, the double-move from Tank Dell: pic.twitter.com/3JTjd1lu2f
5. DE Dylan Horton - Round 4(109)
10 Tackles, one TFL, two QB Hits, one FR, 51.2 PFF
Another fan favorite selection, TCU’s Dylan Horton has been a solid, if infrequent contributor to a fierce Houston defensive line. While he flashed some potential in the preseason, Horton has been a rotational piece for most of the regular season. In fact, he’s only been on the field for a collective 42 defensive snaps the last three games. But, he’s still used the sparse field time to his advantage, garnering six tackles, five pressures, and a fumble recovery.
Since Houston’s defensive line is dense with talented players, I don’t think Horton’s lack of playing time is indicative of or poor performance. I think it’s far too early to tell what his potential can be, but his spurts of play on defense leads me to believe he can eventually become a positive contributor.
Rookie edge Dylan Horton in a wide alignment off the left edge. Goes through Brown using speed to power & uses him as a battering ram to heat up & knock down Burrow— Anthony Cover 1 (@Pro__Ant) November 13, 2023
6. LB Henry To’oTo’o - Round 5(167)
53 Tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PDs, 1 FF, 42.1 PFF
Maybe looking for a successor cut from a similar cloth, DeMeco Ryans browsed Alabama’s stock of NFL players in search for a middle linebacker, and came out with Henry To’oTo’o. Not the most physically imposing linebacker of the bunch, To’oTo’o has quickly earned more and more snaps on defense due to injuries and solid coverage skills. He’s a smart, twitchy player that makes up for his size with his instincts, and has already made a few big tackles in his young NFL career. Although, despite a hot start, his performance has declined a bit recently, his size is now becoming a bit more of a problem than it was before (see: TE Cade Otton).
But, it’s far too early to start piling on him. To’oTo’o has shown a nose for the football similar to what he demonstrated in Alabama, which is exactly what DeMeco Ryans wanted. Far better than many other 5th round picks, I can see To’oTo’o becoming a starter for the Houston Texans in the near future, and if not, he can be a great backup.
Henry To’oto’o (39) looking like the 5th round steal we thought he’d be.— Jordan Pun (@Texans_Thoughts) October 1, 2023
Now starting for the #Texans the rook’s PBU today showed his potential in coverage.
Great job diagnosing the motion and playing through George Pickens’ hands. pic.twitter.com/SQQcXQj3Vi
7. C Jarrett Patterson - Round 6(201)
Seven Starts, eight Pressures Allowed, 60.4 PFF
Here’s another diamond in the rough! I don’t think Nick Caserio or DeMeco Ryans selected Notre Dame center Jarrett Patterson with the idea that he would play 464 snaps over the course of the first eight weeks, but here we are! Due to Scott Quessenbery suffering a torn ACL and MCL during training camp and aforementioned second-round pick Juice Scruggs suffering a hamstring injury during the preseason, Jarrett Patterson was quickly thrust into the starting center role mere months after being drafted. You’d think that a rookie sixth-round pick shoved into the starting job would be a disaster, but of course it wasn’t! With a draft class this hot, of course Jarrett Patterson was going to be good, too!
This actually might go down as one of the best late-round selections by the Houston Texans in recent history. As a rookie, Jarrett Patterson started each of the first seven games of the season, immediately became one of Houston’s most important run-blockers, and is sitting at a PFF grade of 60.4, good for 26th in the league. You know, going from rookie 6th-round pick to the 26th best center in all of professional football isn’t exactly common, so even though Patterson hasn’t been a superstar for the Houston Texans, he’s clearly far better than anyone could have expected.
Unfortunately, however, Jarrett Patterson’s rookie season has come to an abrupt end after suffering a broken ankle at the end of the Week 8 matchup vs. the Carolina Panthers. An awful way to end the season of one of the more promising young players on the offensive line, but hopefully a full year of recovery and preparation for 2024 will make Patterson even more impressive.
#Texans OC Bobby Slowik explains how hard it is for rookie centers mainly because of protection responsibilities and who to ID in the run game.— DJ Bien-Aime (@Djbienaime) October 26, 2023
He has high praise for C Jarrett Patterson here.
If you a football nerd here’s some informational stuff. pic.twitter.com/pQekncCYjz
8. WR Xavier Hutchinson - Round 6(205)
One Rec, nine Yards, four Att, 44 Yards, 33.3% Catch %, 49.5 PFF
Xavier Hutchinson is still the wildcard of this draft. Besides a pittance of successful jet sweeps run by Hutchinson, his hands haven’t touched the ball much at all. Just a year after tallying 107 catches and 1,171 yards - both top ten in FBS - he’s become more akin to a Sasquatch sighting. Granted, few sixth-round wide receivers leap to starting-caliber in the span of just one season, so his infrequent contributions should be taken with a grain of salt.
Although, in a previous article ranking the top five offensive players in the preseason for the Texans, I mentioned Hutchinson’s impressive PFF grade, second only to BYU’s Puka Nacua in college football. A few months later and practically everyone in the country knows about Puka Nacua, but his collegiate rival is still largely behind the curtains. Maybe the competition is just too fierce in the Texans’ receiving room for Hutchinson to make a dent in the pecking order, but I sure would like to see one of Iowa State’s best receivers get some more chances in the NFL. I can’t give him a bad grade since he’s been good when he has the ball and isn’t completely to blame for the lack of touches, but I can’t give him a great grade since he’s a draft pick that has only amounted to 53 total yards thus far in the season. So, right down the middle it is!
Texans rookie Xavier Hutchinson with two big first downs on one drive.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) August 28, 2023
The sixth-round pick out of Iowa State first settles in the hole in zone coverage and then he makes a great adjustment on his second one. pic.twitter.com/7hF6VyOAur
9. S Brandon Hill - Round 7(248)
Here’s the only player drafted by the Houston Texans that has yet to play a regular season snap. It’s too bad, as well, as I had high hopes for him as a second-team All-ACC player in 2021, being a major player in Pitt’s ascent to the conference championship that year. He’s very fast and hits hard, making him an ideal heir to starting safety Jimmie Ward - that is, if he develops into a starter. Not seeing the field yet, even on special teams, isn’t the greatest sign, but he remains in the building as part of the practice squad.
If he can get back his peak 2021 tackling and coverage ability, he’s got a real chance to become a contributor on a future Texans roster. But, for now, his grade is incomplete.
Texans get some safety depth in Brandon Hill. Dude is explosive as heck (4.43 40) with impressive change of direction. Throws his body around as a run defender. Felt like he always made big plays: pic.twitter.com/JKKRq2ywvR— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) April 29, 2023
And that’s the end of the 2023 Houston Texans draft class! There were also nine undrafted free agents the Texans signed after the conclusion of the NFL Draft: OT Dylan Deatherage, G/OT Tyler Beach, OT Kilian Zierer, WR Jared Wayne, WR Jesse Matthews, RB Xazavian Valladay, DE Ali Gaye, S Darius Joyner, and P Joe Doyle. I would have liked to write a blurb for at least a couple of these players, but since none have played in the regular season for the Texans yet, my furiously fast typing fingers are fastened behind my back.
But, regardless of the lack of undrafted rookies, this draft class has to go down as one of the best in Houston Texans history. There are those that will always be fond of the 2017 and 2014 draft classes because of the star power, as well as the 2011 draft because of J.J. Watt. The 2006 draft class, which DeMeco Ryans was a part of, may take the cake, but I’d argue that the 2023 class is already rivaling that one for the title of best Texans draft of all time. I mean, a franchise quarterback, a franchise edge rusher, and a franchise receiver all in the first four picks? It’s hard for any team to beat that, but throw in a starting linebacker and a starting center from the sixth round, and now you’re talking about something special. If all of these aforementioned players at least maintain their quality of play for a few more years, I don’t think it will even be a conversation on what class deserves to be called The Best Ever. Nick Caserio, take a bow!
What do you think, though? I’m obviously a bit more enamored by C.J. Stroud and Tank Dell’s explosive starts to the season, but there’s plenty more to this draft than just them. Who’s your favorite player from the draft, who’s been the biggest surprise, and, most importantly, do you agree with my grades wholeheartedly? All these questions wait to be answered in the comments below.