For the first time in team history, the Texans will have the 23rd pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
In their first 17 drafts, the Texans had three first-round picks lower than 23rd, and all worked out quite well: left tackle Duane Brown (26th) in 2008, outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus (26th) in 2012 and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (27th) in 2013.
Brown anchored the left side of the line for most of his nine seasons with the Texans. Mercilus is entering his eighth season, including his seventh as a starter. Hopkins has become a perennial All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection as perhaps the best receiver in the NFL.The Texans are expected to take an offensive tackle or a cornerback in the first round unless general manager Brian Gaine and coach Bill O’Brien throw a curveball.
Gaine could surprise everyone and select a player at another position. Trading out of the 23rd spot wouldn’t be too surprising.
If Gaine were to trade up, he would most likely target a left tackle. If he traded down for an additional selection or two, he might be more inclined to select a cornerback from a deep class.
Trading down is an option for Gaine, who’s overseeing his second draft as general manager.
“Conservatively speaking, I would always lean toward accumulating more picks,” Gaine said last week at his pre-draft news conference. “More at-bats, more opportunities to take more players.
“(But) every situation’s different. When it comes to supply and demand, there’s certainly a player falling down the draft board, (and) we evaluate every transaction that occurs.
“If that player’s dropping and you had a high grade on him and you trust your process, perhaps that’s worth a conversation if you had to go up and get him.”
Whether the Texans remain 23rd or work a trade depends on who’s available and who’s willing to make a deal. If they stay where they are, league history shows they have a chance to draft a player who’ll make an impact on the franchise, or they could end up with a prospect who never lives up to his first-round status.
Since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, three players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were drafted with the 23rd pick: Oakland punter Ray Guy in 1973, Cleveland tight end Ozzie Newsome in 1978 and New England cornerback Ty Law in 1995.
Gaine and O’Brien would love to draft a Hall of Fame player in the first round, of course, but they’d be happy with a player who becomes a starter and helps them get closer to their goal of winning a Super Bowl.
The Texans would be excited to select a player like three former 23rd picks: Oakland outside linebacker Dee Ford (2014 by Kansas City), Detroit offensive tackle Riley Reiff (2012 by Minnesota) and Green Bay offensive tackle Bryan Baluga (2012).
Since the Texans have such a pressing need at left tackle, they might be satisfied with a pick akin to two other offensive tackles taken with the 23rd pick: Baltimore’s Michael Oher (2009) or New England’s Isaiah Wynn (2018).
After Gaine makes his first-round pick, he’ll turn his attention to his pair of second-rounders — 54th and 55th overall.
Second-round draft choices are expected to become starters at some point in their careers, sooner rather than later.
Gaine and O’Brien would like to get a player in the 54th spot like the last two drafted in that position: Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates and Miami linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Bates and McMillan started every game as rookies. McMillan has started every game in his first two seasons.But in the previous six drafts before McMillan was taken in 2017, there were only disappointments selected in the 54th spot.
Some of the more productive 54th picks were Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap (2010), Minnesota offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (2009), Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard (2006) and Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin (2003).
As for players who were drafted with the 55th pick, the last three have worked out well: Carolina cornerback Donte Jackson (2018), New York Giants defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson (2017) and Cincinnati receiver Tyler Boyd (2016).
An FYI to Texans fans demanding an offensive tackle: In 2006, the Bengals used the 55th pick on offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who’s still going strong for the Los Angeles Rams.
The Texans are confident they’ll be able to draft some starters and contributors in the first three rounds, in which they have four picks.
“We have a scouting staff and a coaching staff that are on the same page,” O’Brien said. “We talk the same language. We work hard (and) try to supplement the scouts’ information with our coaching information.
“We understand the scouting system we have in place. There’s a lot of communication, a lot of hard work that goes into it.”
And beginning Thursday with the first round, O’Brien and Gaine expect that hard work to start to pay off.