Off-Season Review – Part III – The Draft – Directing Digital Whilst Balancing Out A Roster

As the Texans enter the draft this week, post an underwhelming free agency period, which has riled the most avid supporter, leaving a number of unique dynamics and questions, in need of address.

Houston are entering this years draft, albeit with a franchise passer in tow but they are one of six teams, devoid of a 1st round pick. They have multiple defensive needs and a fan base to appease after trading a favoured son at wide-receiver. In the last nine months many picks have been traded in and out of NRG stadium, to move veteran players. Undoubtedly, they have unconventionally approached the task of constructing their team, to universal criticism. The plea to fans was – “let it all play out”. Although that end point would seem frustratingly predictable, given the many years of precedent set by this organisation. The draft poses another corner for the team to turn, as they move towards the 2020 season.

Immediate Returns Over Low Cost Rookie Deals

The draft is not the only way to build a roster, a departure from what the media and the NFL present it to be. Certainly, it’s a primary means of roster building but not the only. Furthermore, draft picks are far form a sure thing, yielding a 50% or less success rate. Bearing in mind the NFL average career in less than three years, the majority are short term solutions at best.

Demon Deacons travel to play the Warhawks in opening night of the 2014 collegge football season Aug. 28.

Take the selection Kevin Johnson by the Texans in the first round, 2016. That miss has continually left them searching for answers at cornerback. Not only did they not succeed in landing a star at that position. That evaluation lead to allowing AJ Bouye to walk in free agency. Proving, the draft can be equally as harmful to your roster composition as it can bolster. Secondly, the Texans best ever tail-back, Arian Foster, came from a modest pedigree as an un-drafted free agent. So there are always options to find varying levels of on-field contribution beyond the early rounds.

“Trader-Bill” has continued to shoot for his vision on Kirby Drive (whilst don’t forget to pay co-creation royalties to Jack Easterby) and the countless trades executed can be looked at in two ways: they have brought in a higher quality and refined player to contribute in ’20 & ’21; or they have significantly hamstrung their abilities to manage the salary cap and land high up-side talent to develop, in the years to come.

To recap the myriad of moves impacting the Texans draft this year & next:

2020 PickUsageStatus2021 PickUsageStatus
1stTo MIATunsil/Stills1stTo MIATunsil/Stills
2ndFrom ARI (Hopkins)Pick 402nd To MIATunsil/Stills
2ndTo LARCooks3rd
Pick TBC
3rdFrom SEA to LVRConley4thFrom ARIPick TBC
3rdPick 904th
Pick TBC
3rd (comp)To CLEDuke JohnsonTBCDJ R. CompPick TBC
4thFrom MAIPick 1115th
Pick TBC
4thTo ARIDavid Johnson6th
Pick TBC
5th
Pick 1717th
Pick TBC
6thTo NEKeion Crossen


7th
Pick 240


7thCompPick 248


7thComp
Pick 250


TEXANS DRAFT PICKS 2020 & 2021

Although it would seem highly counter intuitive, it appeared that Hopkins’ contract demands lead to non-conducive trading conditions for a star receiver. It would have then seemed the choice to hold, would have proved prudent. Though it was another characteristically heavy-handed move, lamented by many and will likely cloud the current leadership until their reign concludes.

Regardless, as a collective we must attempt, to push aside the raw emotion of trading Hopkins, the team’s most established offensive contributor and consider the resulting move for Brandin Cooks which may have eased some of the resulting vitriol. A move for speedier playmakers has proven to mean success, hasn’t it?

It’s worth noting that, on the whole, a roster is typically of a ‘championship calibre’ before teams begin aggressively adding the “missing piece”, in the way the Texans have. You’d be hard pressed to scour the current depth chart and come to that conclusion but it would seem the Texans they feel they are at least, on the cusp of that level.

Taking that view, in essence, Houston felt they were faced with a fundamental choice: 2-3 years of a relatively known quantity or 4-5 years of a more cost effective, unknown quantity. 

If presented with the choice, in another context, which would you choose? The options weren’t quite simply, door number one or door number two, however, there’s a consistent strategy shown. Ship-out draft picks, to acquire a lower risk veteran player who already poses the required knowhow. That vital mental leap, over the gaping chasm that exists between a successful college athlete and that of a pro, is the primary cause of prospects not realising their potential. 

Perhaps, the most questionable aspect of the strategy is the capital outlay. As it can be easily argued that the return for Hopkins or the the cost invested for Cooks, Johnson(s), Stills and Tunsil does not align to a fair market value. That factor is at the heart of what makes this approach a non-traditional one. There was a perceived need or issue and it duly addressed, first and foremost, with a consideration to the expenditure a distant second. Which, at this point, most would state that is the role of a true GM, to provide a longer term and more considered view.

As Bill described the 2020 season could well be a “veteran year” based on the global pandemic, reducing off-season programs and contact with coaches. He could possibly, by limited ingenuity of his own, be in a situation where the outcome of his decisions, may be less glaring than they otherwise would have been, within the backdrop of a ‘regular’ NFL season. Just as he’s been given years of additional scope by his AFC South compatriots due to personnel errors and of course, some Luck.

On the whole, its hard to lean away from their approach being short-sighted. But the fact of the matter remains, the true cost of such moves may not be realised by the franchise until the ’22 season. Either way, when O’Brien is the front office’s, almighty figurehead, he doesn’t think or act like a traditional GM would. Nor would you, if given such unprecedented autonomy to make such staggering levels of change. Fans “should be excited” according to the owner, at the “bold” nature of the moves. Excitement, has been the antithesis of the supporters sentiment, for much of the off-season. Although it was clear, that even the strong-haded O’Brien was visibility shouldering it at last weeks presser. He’s running out of time to deliver, based on the moves he’s made.

Striking with limited shots in the armoury

The Texans are now left with only 3 picks in the first 111 selections to find at least one substantial defensive contributor and multiple role players. This logically poses the question: will trading back be a more optimal stance? 

The answer will be apparent, on the eve of night two, if there is a fall into the second round of first-round calibre players who can contribute across the defensive front. Zack Baun (Wisconsin), was reportedly guilty of an overly diluted sample at the combine, AJ Epenesa (Iowa) has questions about this athleticism and Ross Blacklock (TCU) is a year removed from a significant injury. So any of these calibre of players could provide value for the Texans to hold at the 40th overall. But if there’s no clear unanimous choice for the team, then trading down to accumulate a further third or a fourth rounder, would seem a plausible move.

As the failure to address any form of pass rush and coverage ability in free agency perhaps, for the second year in a row, sign-posts to all, their draft intentions. The defence will need to be a point of emphasis and hope the current talent is maximised whilst remaining healthy under 1st year play caller, Anthony Weaver. 

The Texans have more questions than potential answers on their roster, with needs at:

  • Defensive Tackle who can rush the interior and hold up in the run game
  • EDGE player who can upgrade the OLB or DE and create pressure
  • Cornerback who can compete in man coverage and play in Nickel and Dime
  • Inside Linebacker/Safety athletic with pass coverage ability & box tackle
  • Guard/Centre who can fit the scheme and compete for a spot
  • Running Back with a downhill style to develop and be a complement
  • Wider Receiver to compliment & possibly replace either Stills or Fuller

The pressure to find value in this years draft will be higher with a lessened suite of picks. But fans can take some solace in the recent history of the 2018 draft, where they were able to find multiple players who have flashed and by the traditional graph of development will need to be prominent players in 2020 season.

To recap that draft:

3Justin Reid68S
3Martinas Rankin80T
3Jordan Akins98TE
4Keke Coutee103WR
6Duke Ejiofor177DE
6Jordan Thomas211TE
6Peter Kalambayi214LB
7Jermaine Kelly222CB
Houston Texans 2018 Draft Selections

The Martinas Rankin’s selection aside, a perfect example on the negative impact missing training camp, where Rankin was injured. He then suffered a loss of form in pre-season of year 2 after a rookie season of trialing behind the steep development curve and multiple position switches. At risk of being cut he was then traded for a one-year-rental on a veteran running back, who will no longer be on this years roster.

Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee (16) runs against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Broadly speaking, that Brian Gaine lead draft, was a positive one based on the picks at their disposal with Reid & Atkins being the highlights. Whilst Thomas, Coutee & Ejiofor could be candidates for breakout season and potential X factors, who’s progress has been hurt by a mix of health and form. Gaine’s closest lieutenants, in Matt Bazargain and James Lipfert remain on the staff and will be on line-1 to Bill as his advisors. Finding that level quality in the later rounds of the draft needs to be replicated, in order to balance out the roster.

All Bets Are Off

This draft is likely to be just as unconventional as Bill’s approach to draft value. When combining the two, it’s hard not to envisage further trades over the three days that could “be in the best interest of the T. E. A. M”.

There are rumours of multiple high-profile players being on the trade block this year. So more B.O’B style trades could be occurring, well beyond the realms Harris County. Or will the Texans be happy to sit at their spots and chose the best player available?

Thought the former seems rather more conceivable. Bill can at the very least be credited for keeping it interesting.

It’s not been since 2015 when the they engineered an on-the-clock player-trade with the Jets. The Texans moved up to select Jaelen Strong, although it was designed to pick Tyler Lockett but Seattle jumped ahead of them. The Jets sent the 70th overall choice to the Texans, in return for a third-round pick (82nd overall), a fifth-rounder (152nd), a seventh-rounder (229th) & receiver DeVier Posey.

Which ever way this “plays out” for O’Brien, if he reaches relative success or if he inevitably fails. He’s either be a hero and his strategy was ahead of the curve or it will be the role of a new management team to mop the hallways of Kirby and start again. Regardless of future decisions, this draft will be required as a memorable vintage, if the teams trajectory isn’t to stall with Watson in his penultimate year of his rookie contract. 

Listen to our latest number of podcasts on potential Texans draft picks:

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