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A Brief Look at the History of First Round Picks for the Houston Texans

The good, the bad...and yes, some ugly.

2022 NFL Draft - Rounds 2-3 Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

While the draft is all about the future, it can be instructive and amusing to look back upon the relatively short history of the Houston Texans to see how previous draft picks have done. For the Texans, in the 2023 first round, at least as of this writing, they hold the #2 and the #12 positions in the NFL draft. How have the Texans done historically at those picks?

#2 Pick: There isn’t much absolute certainty in this world. However, this author can make an iron-clad, more-certain-than-the-speed-of-light-guarantee that the #2 pick for the Texans in 2023 will be the greatest #2 pick in franchise history to date. It will also be the ONLY #2 pick in franchise history to date. This doesn’t preclude the fact that the team could trade out of that pick. Anything can happen with this pick. “Conventional” wisdom suggests that Houston will look for a QB at this pick, perhaps the runner up in the Bryce Young/CJ Stroud contest. Then again, there is a body reporting bubbling up that Houston may not go QB at #2. A defensive force like Will Anderson Jr. might find himself filling out voter registration forms with a Houston-based address. Stay tuned.

#12 Pick: Here, Houston does have some history here. While they’ve never come into draft night with the #12 pick, the 2017 Texans made a head-turning move up the draft, going from the #25 spot to snag the #12 pick from Cleveland. With that pick, Houston selected QB Deshaun Watson, fresh off leading Clemson to its first National Championship in 25 years. For a team that seemingly only lacked a QB to be a true championship contender, the move met with near-universal acclaim. Even a rookie-year injury didn’t derail the optimism surrounding Watson, whose six-game stretch as the starting QB demonstrated an offensive game that few in Houston had ever seen. From 2017-2020, Watson did little to diminish that optimism that the trade Houston made to get him was worth the price. Yet, Watson’s time in Houston did not exactly end in glory. On-field struggles followed by even worse off-field actions ended Watson’s time, and Houston shipped him out to Cleveland of all places. As part of the deal, Cleveland gifted Houston another #12 pick in the draft. Will this #12 turn out with a better long-term story for the Texans?

NFL: APR 27 2017 NFL Draft
Who would have guessed that this move would age so poorly?
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Barring any other draft-day moves, that is what Houston is looking at coming into the first night of the three-day NFL draft extravaganza. As for Houston’s first round history:

  • The team did not make a first round pick in 2018 (#4 pick went to Cleveland as part of the 2017 Draft Day trade), 2020 (#26 pick went to Miami then Green Bay as part of the 2019 Laremy Tunsil trade), 2021 (#3 pick went to Miami then San Francisco as part of the 2019 Laremy Tunsil trade).
Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts
Quite a lot of Texans draft history wrapped up in this one player. Was it worth it?
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images
  • In the team’s now 21 years of drafting, it has held the top pick three times (the most of any pick in team history): (2002: QB David Carr; 2006: DE Mario Williams; 2014: DE Jadeveon Clowney)
  • There is quite the tie for second-most held first draft pick position (two times)
  • #3: (2003: WR Andre Johnson; 2022: CB Derek Stingley, Jr)
  • #10: (2004: CB Dunta Robinson; 2007: DL Amobi Okoye)
  • #15: (2009: LB Brian Cushing; 2022: OG Kenyon Green)
  • #16: (2005: DL Travis Johnson; 2015: CB Kevin Johnson)
  • #26: (2008: OT Duane Brown; 2012: DE/LB Whitney Mercilus)
  • #27: (2004: DE/LB Jason Babin; 2013: WR DeAndre Hopkins)

Some notes about these picks:

  • 2004 and 2022 were the other times that Houston possessed multiple 1st round picks. 2004 was heavy on defense with CB Robinson and DE/LB Babin. Robinson set the rookie franchise record for INTs (6), but never really evolved into one of the elite CB in the league. He left the team after the 2009 season in an acrimonious divorce . Babin did have some quality years, but not in Houston, as the Texans traded him to Seattle in 2007. Babin’s time in Philadelphia (2010-2011) would be his best, netting two Pro Bowls and a Second Team All-Pro. The jury is still out for the 2022 class, as Stingley battled injuries and Green struggled with inconsistent guard play before both ended the year on IR.
  • For the three #1 draft picks, the overall level of success is subject to debate. Carr is discussed later on in the article. Williams had his moments in Houston, but arguably had his greatest success (First Team All-Pro 2014) in Buffalo. Clowney also showed flashes of overall #1 talent, culminating with an All-Pro selection in 2017. However, he has seen his career morph into the life of a useful, but not spectacular, free agent, moving from team to team since he was traded to Seattle in 2019.
While they had their moments, none ever became the franchise cornerstone a #1 pick usually signifies
  • If the team ever gets the #16 pick in the draft, just figure on the squad picking a defender with the last name of Johnson. Also don’t expect much, as that pick appears cursed. Travis Johnson couldn’t overcome his various injuries while on the roster and Kevin Johnson was the rare Rick Smith first round bust. In fact, Houston might just want to trade that pick if it comes up in the deck again.
#16...bad in Blackjack...worse for the Texans
  • On the other hand, #26 is a good number for Houston, as Brown and Mercilus both lived up to their first round billings. Despite how his time in Houston ended, Brown still holds the mantle for best lineman in Houston to date. Houston had many offensive issues in the 9+ plus season Brown was on the roster, but LT, when he held that spot, was not one of them. Mercilus went from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB and became a potent pass rush partner with JJ Watt at his peak, setting the franchise record for playoff sacks (6.5). While the back-half of Mercilus’ time in Houston did not match the first part, his time ranks more positive than negative.
#26...not a bad roulette option...a good number for Houston to be sure.

The Rest of the Team’s First Round Picks:

#11: DL JJ Watt (2011)

#20: CB Kareem Jackson (2010)

#21: WR Will Fuller (2016)

#23: OT Tytus Howard (2019)

For this group, generally more positives than negatives. When healthy and not suspended for banned substances, Will Fuller proved a strong WR, but he is out of the league now. Howard anchors the RT position for the team, hopefully not to be forced to play guard again. Kareem Jackson spent eight seasons in Houston, primarily at corner before an eventual move to safety before leaving for Denver as a free agent. He played safety for the Broncos for four seasons, and while unsigned, is a possibility to return to Denver. As for the #11 pick in 2011, we segue into the next section...

Best First Round Pick for Houston:

  • That which you name as the best 1st round draft pick equates to the greatest player in team history (so far). Either you go with the third pick in the 2003 draft, WR Andre Johnson or the #11 pick in the 2011 draft, DL JJ Watt. Both did their part for the team and the city. Watt played on more playoff teams than Johnson and garnered more individual accolades, but Andre Johnson often played on teams where he was the only player of significance the opposition had to worry about. Neither would end up with so much as a conference championship appearance. Johnson has been a Hall of Fame finalist for two straight seasons, but it is also likely that Watt might beat his one-time teammate into the Hall when eligible in 2028 (of course, the NFL could do the right thing and get Johnson into the Hall of Fame before then, but that’s just me…).
It is shocking that this program has not exploded as nothing can truly contain this combined level of awesome...

Worst First Round Pick for Houston:

  • Unfortunately, there are way too many contenders for this title in the short history of the franchise. Carr did not elevate the franchise, and the franchise did not help him to do so. Watson could have been the greatest, but if a fan wanted to rate him the worst, it would be hard to argue. Okoye was the ultimate project, being so young, but he never fulfilled the promise. Perhaps it is a coin-flip between the Johnsons at the cursed #16 slot. No wrong answer here, aside from the fact that each player was the wrong first round pick for Houston.

Thus, we wait anxiously for April 27th. Will Houston be able to look back on the 2023 draft with pride, or cringe at what the team wrought? If you have thoughts, let them be heard below.