Houston has three seasons under its belt with General Manager Nick Caserio. It’s been a tumultuous but rewarding ride. It feels as though it’s been a millions years but also just finally getting underway.
We’ve learned a lot about Houston’s GM and how he constructs a roster. Caserio’s building blocks are one-year contracts for veterans, aggressive draft day maneuvers, and no room for veterans who don’t want to be here. For the draft specifically, we’ve identified five points of strategy during the Nick Caserio era.
1. Double-up on positions of need
Nick Caserio addresses ‘holes’ on the roster by selecting a top-end talent to start at the position, goes back to the well later in the draft to develop another player alongside the elite prospect. This both resolves an immediate need while building in a backup option in case the first one doesn’t pan out. In some instances, both players hit and the position transforms from a weakness to a strength. Here’s examples from the last two drafts:
2023: DEs: Will Anderson & Dylan Horton, OG/OC: Juice Scruggs and Jarrett Patterson, WRs Tank Dell & Xavier Hutchinson
2022: OL: Kenyon Green & Austin Deculus, DBs Derek Stingley & Jalen Pitre
2. Trade up to select the player he wants
Call it getting antsy, call it not leaving it to chance, but don’t call it passive. If there’s a player on Nick Caserio’s draft board that he wants, he’s going to expend the draft capital to nab him before another team does. What will be exeedingly interesting is how Caserio executes this year without a surplus of draft picks like the last two years.
Caserio has traded up to select the following players:
2023: Will Anderson Jr., Juice Scruggs, Henry To’o To’o, Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson
2022: Christian Harris, John Metchie III, Thomas Booker, Teagan Quitoriano
2021: Nico Collins, Garret Wallow
Do you realize how absurd that is? The entire draft is fluid. This isn’t a trend, it’s a primary draft strategy. It makes you consider that Caserio is likely to move back in the 2024 draft to bulk up on third-fifth round picks to increase their draft liquidity.
3. Even distribution between offensive and defensive players (with a skew to offense)
It’s logical, but not always the approach taken around the league. There’s plenty of opposing NFL teams who utilize an entire draft class to fix one side of the ball. Take a look at the Lions’ 2022 class; it featured six defensive players and just two offensive players. Houston’s last two classes are split as such:
2023: 5 offense, 4 defense
2022: 5 offense, 4 defense
2021: 3 offense, 2 defense
While the offense had more pressing needs over the past two offseason, defense is expected to lead the way this year. The offense returns nine of eleven starters from last year’s team while the defense could lose five to six starters.
4. Prioritize starting potential over special teams players
When it comes to the Day Three picks, Nick Caserio would prefer to roll the dice on a high-ceiling prospect in a position of need than a lower-end positional prospect who can contribute on special teams. Under O’Brien and Brian Gaine, the last few picks were almost exclusively special teams contributors. The list speaks for itself.
2020: John Reid, Isaiah Coulter, Charlie Heck
2019: Xavier Crawford, Cullen Gillaspia
2018: Peter Kalambayi, Jermaine Kelly Jr.
Under Caserio, players such as Xavier Hutchinson, Jarrett Patterson, Teagan Quitoriano, and Roy Lopez have all been Day Three picks with the intention of legitimate roles on offense or defense. He prefers a player who can contribute in the two major phases of football than sparingly play well on special teams. This strategy has built depth and continuity at several of the position groups. Most noticeably linebacker and wide receiver.
5. Preference for Big-Time Schools and Programs
Caserio wants winners; players who are in leading roles in major college football programs. He’s less interested in the D-3 prospect with all the intangibles and recent hype. The priority is on players with multiple years of experience at the highest level in the game.
Here’s the top schools he’s picked from over the years:
Alabama (4), Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, LSU (2), Texas A&M, TCU (2), Stanford (2)
He has only picked one player outside of a Power Five school: Tank Dell from University of Houston.
6. Selecting Team Captains
It’s not good enough to select the best players on the team; Caserio needs leaders in the locker room. Given the feeling of being adrift in Houston over the past couple years, Houston needed to bolster the leadership from the ground up.\
2023: Jarrett Patterson, C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson, Tank Dell, Xavier Hutchinson, Juice Scruggs
2022: Austin Deculus, Thomas Booker
2021: Davis Mills, Garret Wallow
Any other trends you’ve noticed over the years? Leave a comment down below.