When it comes to the NFL Draft, instant “hot takes” are the norm. Squads received instant judgment on the prospects drafted, based on the player, team needs, the alignment of the planets…all of those factors. Yet, there is the rule of thumb for most NFL insiders that it takes about three years to figure out if a draft pick will work out for a squad or not.
So, while others are gearing up for the instant grading of 2023, let us turn the clock back to 2020. For the Houston Texans, it was an off-season of a lot of hope and a lot of questions after that soul-crushing playoff loss at Kansas City. The squad at least had its franchise QB (Watson), a franchise-caliber LT (Tunsil) and a dangerous JJ Watt.
Yet, all was not well. Houston entered 2020 without a full-time GM, before outright promoting Bill O’Brien to GM in addition to his HC role. He was helped along by the emerging power that was Jack Easterby. To get Tunsil, the team sacrificed its first round pick for 2020 (and 2021). A number of key players entered free agency, and the team found itself up against the cap.
Another complication for the team was COVID-19. The traditional pre-draft routines got upended, and no one knew what the pre-season/training camp would look like. For a team like Houston, who had to rely on the limited draft capital to fill key positional shortfalls, they needed to hit on instant contributors. Accounting for all the previous trades of picks and some draft night dealings, the team only had five selections.
The Players (Round (Overall Pick)):
2 (40): Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
With the loss of DJ Reader in free agency and JJ Watt on the downslope of his illustrious career, finding a strong DL presence was a must. Thus, the team took Blacklock at #40. Seen as a player that could line up at multiple spots along the defensive front, he offered some degree of flexibility. Blacklock was noted for a quick first step and ability to penetrate the lines, but not the best at taking on multiple blockers in the run game. Still, most viewed Blacklock as a solid starting prospect.
However, Blacklock, in spite of being able to play next to a fully healthy Watt, did not take advantage. He made headlines in his first home game, but only because he was ejected for punching another player. The rookie played in 15 games, starting one, contributing 14 total tackles and a TFL; this happened while playing as part of a defense that devolved into one of the worst in the league. While not officially confirmed, Blacklock was suspected of being one of the players that inspired Watt to call out the team for poor effort and undisciplined play.
After that rookie season, Blacklock had no where to go but up, and he did…sort of. He started two games out of 14 played in 2021, logging his first two sacks as an NFL player along with two TFLs. By the end of the 2021 season, most of the braintrust that drafted him no longer held sway. During the 2022 preseason, Houston traded the second round pick to Minnesota for a seventh rounder. Blacklock’s play did not improve with a change in scenery, remaining a rotational backup, who notched another sack and two more TFLs in limited game action for the Vikings.
3 year grade: F
3 (90): Jonathan Greenard, LB/DE, Florida
Houston looked to add to its defense, which was an Achilles heel for the squad, with the addition of this pass rushing LB. Starting out in Anthony Weaver’s 3-4 defense at outside LB, he got his first game action in Week 4 against the Vikings in 2020. He logged his first sack against New England in Week 11. Greenard finished his rookie year with 19 tackles, two TFLs and a sack. Not great numbers, but given all that transpired in 2020 and that he was a third rounder, not horrible either.
2021 proved far different. While the Texans still finished in the bottom tier of almost all defensive categories, Greenard emerged as the team’s best pass rushing threat. The transition to a 4-3 defense and his move to DE suited Greenard’s game well, leading the team with 8 sacks. This in addition to 33 tackles and two forced fumbles. Unfortunately, injuries derailed any further development in his game in 2022, as he lost nearly two months due to injury. He still managed 1.5 sacks and his first INT/defensive TD in the eight games he played. While he has yet to play a full 16/17 game season, Greenard, health depending, should remain a viable pass rush option for the Matt Burke defense.
3 Year Grade: C+
4 (126) Charlie Heck, OT, North Carolina
There’s the argument that Heck was the best pick in this class. A three-year starter at North Carolina, Heck played both tackle positions, and came to the team projecting to be the swing tackle. Heck’s first significant action came in Week 16 of the 2020 season against Cincinnati, where he took over the starting right tackle spot, as Howard shifted to LT with Tunsil out. Heck played well enough in the run game, as it was one of the few games the Texans managed to rush for over 100 yards. However, Heck surrendered the game-clinching sack/fumble, but as a rookie swing tackle, it wasn’t completely unexpected.
Since that time, Heck received plenty of playing time, mostly at right tackle, giving a solid effort. In 2021, Heck started 13 games at RT while Howard shifted to left tackle with the Tunsil injuries. 2022 saw Heck evolve into the top backup OT. 2023 will likely see Heck continue his role as swing tackle, providing the team OL depth.
3 Year grade: B-
4 (141): John Reid, CB, Penn State
Reid was one of the few Penn State players that former PSU Head Coach Bill O’Brien brought to Houston during his tenure. Reid was noted for his smarts and experience, which figured to be key intangibles for the squad in the midst of a chaotic/uncertain 2020 season. He “won” the title of “Top Training Camp Performer” and given the various weaknesses in the Texans secondary, figured to have a significant role in the team’s defensive rotations. He saw plenty of game time against Kansas City, but his camp performance did not translate in any sort of effective contributions to the Texans’ lower-tier defense.
In 13 games, he finished the season with 13 tackles and one pass defended. Houston traded Reid to Seattle for a seventh round pick during the 2021 pre-season. He played one season for the Seattle Seahawks, mainly living on the practice squad. He was released and bounced between the Atlanta and Tennessee practice squads in 2022 and will start the 2023 NFL year back with the Falcons. For his career, Reid has 30 total tackles and three defended passes. He also started a trend that being a top camp performer for the Texans is a kiss of death (see: Pharaoh Brown 2021).
3 Year Grade: F
5 (171): Isaiah Coulter, WR, Rhode Island
The WR from Rhode Island closed out the draft class for the Houston Texans. The draft pick number was nearly equivalent to Coulter’s weight. Brought in as a WR that could also contribute to special teams, Coulter’s time in Houston never got started. He was on injured reserve twice his rookie season and the team waived him during the 2021 pre-season. He received pay stubs from Chicago in 2021 on the practice squad, playing in two games and being targeted once (no receptions). He spent 2022 on the Buffalo and Arizona practice squads and will start the 2023 NFL year on the Bills’ practice squad. A lot of movement for a player with two games/one target/ and no other stats to his name.
3 Year Grade: F-
2020 was a strange year, and the Texans only had five picks. Yet, Houston somehow manage to have one of the worst overall drafts in team history. The initial grade varied, but a little more positive than negative. Since 2020...Reid and Coulter did not make it to the 2021 season for the struggling Texans. The headliner of the class, Blacklock, faces a very uncertain future in Minnesota, despite being a second round pick on a rookie deal.
And then there were two...Greenard showed the most production/upside, but if the most consistent performer from the 2020 class is a swing tackle who is playing just to expectations, that is quite the indictment of the ineptitude of the BO’B/Easterby personnel regime. All the roster moves between 2019 and the 2020 draft set the team up for failure, and the poor class from 2020 did its part to producing the worst three-year stretch of football (11-38-1) in the Texans’ relatively short history (2020-22). 2019’s class was bad. This one was much, much worse. It might slightly improve if Greenard evolves into a strong pass rusher, but not by much.
Overall Three-Year Grade: F+/D-
One can only hope that the 2023 class will avoid the failures seen with the 2020 class. Then again, it is hard to imagine a class being that poor in quantity and quality again for the Houston Texans. Still, this is one commentator’s opinion. What do you think about the 2020 class? Let the world know in the comments below.