Relative to expectations, arguably no team went off the rails last season in a more inglorious fashion than the Houston Texans.
Fresh off a come-from-ahead defeat in the divisional round playoffs, the Texans managed to drop their first four games of 2020 by a combined score of 126-80. The catastrophic start cost head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien both of his jobs, leaving 73-year-old Romeo Crennel to guide the team the rest of the way. While Houston would win its first game under Crennel — a 30-14 victory over a Jacksonville Jaguars squad that went on to earn the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft — the results largely remained uninspiring. The defense finished 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, spoiling weekly MVP-caliber performances from quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The disastrous regular season spilled over into the offseason when Watson demanded a trade from Houston. A befuddling head-coaching search did little to squash his concerns, resulting in Watson’s request becoming public. Of course, those issues took a backseat to the subsequent filing of more than 20 civil lawsuits against the signal-caller relating to alleged sexual misconduct.
Houston Texans 2021 Draft Picks
Round 3: No. 67, QB Davis Mills; No 89, WR Nico Collins
Round 5: No. 147, TE Brevin Jordan
Round 6: No. 195, DT Roy Lopez
Offense: Wide receiver, quarterback (?)
In each of the past two offseasons, the Texans have lost their top wideout from the previous year leave Houston. In 2020, the still-empowered O’Brien traded All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for a second-round pick and little else. This time around, the Texans’ lack of cap flexibility allowed former first-round pick Will Fuller to depart as a free agent and sign a deal with the Miami Dolphins. With Hopkins and Fuller gone, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and Keke Coutee headline the remaining receiving corps.
Accordingly, the Texans need to add some receiving talent in order to keep the offense afloat. The rookie class has no shortage of options, and some should last unit the third round when the team finally goes on the clock. Amon-Ra St. Brown has decent size movement skills, though he could get lost in a loaded receiver class and wind up available late into Day 2. Similarly, Ihmir Smith-Marsette could make sense as a less-heralded but highly productive wideout from the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, Watson’s precarious legal and well-documented disinterest in playing another down for the Texans makes quarterback a potential draft option. The team has maintained that Watson will play in Houston this season, but that argument grows harder to push with each passing day. If, for one reason or another, it becomes clear that the Pro Bowl signal-caller will not suit up in 2021, the Texans could consider a prospect such as Davis Mills or Jamie Newman with a mid-round pick.
Defense: Edge rusher, secondary
A bad Texans defense lost J.J. Watt this offseason. While Watt hasn’t replicated his Defensive Player of the Year form since a series of injuries cost him most of the 2016 and ‘17 seasons, he remained the team’s most productive (and double-teamed) pass rusher. With Watt gone, Whitney Mercilus in decline, and no clear successor already on the roster, Houston could use a boost at edge rusher. However, finding one outside the first two rounds poses a daunting task. Perhaps a prospect like Patrick Jones II falls into the third round, but the Texans might have to either trade up or wait until next year to address the need.
Meanwhile, the secondary remains in disarray. Bradley Roby and Vernon Hargreaves serve as the primary starters at corner while safety has little beyond proven talent beyond Justin Reid. The Texans could spend their draft capital on either position group and make a meaningful impact, perhaps grabbing a prospect like corner Kelvin Joseph or safety Tyree Gillespie.
Dream first pick
Barring a trade, the Texans don’t come on the clock until the early third round, so projecting any particular prospect to Houston seems a fool’s errand. Still, the team probably can’t refuse a pass-catcher like St. Brown should he last until the No. 67 pick.