Most years, a NFL team’s first draft selection is an agonizing decision.
Go back to the 2014 Draft. After a disastrous 2-14 season, the Houston Texans fan base was divided between picking a quarterback — a position that had long been an Achilles heel for the franchise — or an impressive looking pass rusher to add to the team’s already solid defense with the No. 1 overall selection.
The top-ranked QBs were Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Texas A&M cult hero Johnny Manziel, while the tantalizing edge rushers were South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack.
As we now all know, the Texans ended up making the smart and safe call with the now three-time Pro Bowler Clowney, although they probably would have gone with the 2016 defensive player of the year Mack if they could go back in time and do the Draft all over again.
In 2015 and 2016, the Texans continued to show restraint in drafts that were thin on QB talent, trying, unsuccessfully, to address other positions of need with their first overall picks, drafting oft-injured cornerback Kevin Johnson and oft-injured receiver Will Fuller IV.
Finally, the Texans struck gold on a QB in the talent-rich 2017 draft class, moving up in the first round to pick Clemson’s Deshaun Watson No. 12 overall. Watson has since proven to be a capable, if not potentially dynamic, NFL signal caller, and this year’s NFL Draft mission for the Texans should be crystal clear: get him some protectors.
Surprisingly, given the team’s history of lackluster offensive line play, the Texans have only once ever used their first draft pick on an offensive lineman, taking Virginia tackle Duane Brown (2008, No. 26 overall, first round). He turned out to be a pretty good pro.
With already two major knee injuries in his young career, Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times in the 2018 NFL regular season. While some of that comes from being a stubborn young QB holding onto the ball too long, most of the blame rests with an offensive line group that was one of the NFL’s worst. Regardless, it is simply unacceptable to let someone who is seen as a franchise QB take that much punishment.
And, like they did with Watson, the Texans should strongly push to trade up in the Draft to get one of this year’s top offensive tackle prospects — whether it be Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, Alabama’s Jonah Williams or Washington State’s Andre Dillard. With the No. 23 overall pick in the first round and back-to-back second-round picks (No. 54 and No. 55), the Texans could easily put together a pick-swapping package for a spot higher in the draft order toward the middle or upper-third of the first round.
In this scenario, with their remaining second-round pick, the Texans might as well double down on the offensive line, as there should still be some promising talent available.
After some turnover in secondary personnel and some uncertainty at running back, the Texans could look at adding depth to those positions in the Draft, but can afford to do so in the later rounds.
Putting a high priority on the O-line in this year’s Draft should give fans hope for marked improvement, as, overall, the Texans have been more successful than not when looking back on their 10 previous first draft picks.
Watson, Clowney, safety Justin Reid (2018, No. 68 overall, third round), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (2013, No. 27 overall, first round), linebacker Whitney Mercilus (2012, No. 26 overall, first round); defensive end J.J. Watt (2011, No. 11 overall, first round), defensive back Kareem Jackson (2010, No. 20 overall, first round) and linebacker Brian Cushing (2009, No. 15 overall, first round) all turned into productive players for the Texans, with Watt and Hopkins becoming elite at their respective positions.
Johnson (2015, No. 16 overall, first round), cut from the team last season, is the only completely failed experiment at this point, while Fuller IV (2016, No. 21 overall, first round) is still awaiting a fully healthy season to see how he ultimately stacks up.
With no great debate as to what the team’s greatest need is, all the Texans need to do is keep it simple to have a successful 2019 NFL Draft.