With less than 24 hours until the start of the 2016 NFL Draft, I sat down last night to crank out a little retrospective content on Texans drafts gone by. I find hindsight to be more my wheelhouse, and leave the time-consuming things like film study and forecasting to the experts (like John Harris, whose Top 100 is ALWAYS a must-read).
So I sat down and started doing a post in which I would pick out the best Texans draft choice for each of the seven rounds going back to the birth of the team in 2002. Simple and subjective enough. However, as I began writing it, I felt like I'd read an exact piece like this before.
Sure enough, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle had done that exact post a couple of years ago, which means my post would've been a near carbon copy in terms of our choices. So I scrapped the post, but still went through with the exercise of coming up with my picks just to see how closely they matched McClain's. And I'm glad I did that, because from that, I actually found another topic about which to post.
With Day 1 of the draft tonight, what I'm about to lay out doesn't really become relevant until Friday and Saturday, rounds 2 through 7. Round 1 has historically been a cake walk for the Texans. For eight straight drafts, they appear to have gotten their first-round pick "right," or, at the very least, they still have a chance to have them all be "right." (Yes, I'll admit the jury is still out on Jadeveon Clowney.)
For the record, my pick for the first round of the aborted multi-year Texans draft post I was going to do would've looked like this:
BEST PICK: J.J. Watt, DE (11th overall, 2011)
NEXT THREE: Andre Johnson, WR (2003); Duane Brown, T (2008); DeAndre Hopkins, WR (2013)
It's after the first round that everything falls apart draft-wise for the Texans. My pick for best second-rounder for the Texans was a no-brainer — linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the 33rd overall pick in 2006. Ryans was a great player for the Texans, and a fantastic leader. Easy pick.
However, for a team that's had its fair share of second-round picks, it was way too hard to find three players worthy of a "Next Three" in the second round. Ultimately, I would've settled on outside linebacker Connor Barwin (2009); guard Chester Pitts (2002); and outside linebacker Brooks Reed (2011). (RB Ben Tate misses by a notch.)
Think about that for a moment. The second round is a round where good teams regularly find starters, and the Texans' second- through fourth-best second-rounders are a guy who had one big season (Barwin), a steady eight-year interior lineman (Pitts) and a guy who was solid for about a season and a half (Reed). That's in the team's HISTORY. I get that the Texans' history is much shorter than most, but it's been 14 drafts! (Here are all of the team's second-round picks, by the way.)
Now, if you vomited over the second round, you'll positively dry-heave over the third! Again, as in the second round, the best third-rounder in Texans history is also a) from the 2006 draft class and b) a no-brainer — Eric Winston, a tackle taken with the 66th overall pick, a solid starter for the team for five or six seasons who is still getting a paycheck in the league.
Again, the next three are not exactly overwhelming — guard Brandon Brooks (2012) was a solid starter who is now gone in free agency. Fred Weary, another guard and solid starter (2002), is decent enough. Then, finding a third worthy runner-up comes down to one-season wonder RB Steve Slaton (2008), solid backup nose tackle Earl Mitchell (2010) and mercurial kick returner Jacoby Jones (2007), who was run out of town on a rail after a crucial muff in the playoffs against Baltimore in January 2012.
While the third round is historically a round in which finding regular starters is not easy (according to Forbes, in 2014, 30 percent of starters were originally second- or third-round picks.), good teams generally find a few here and there. The Texans' third-round history is a wasteland. Here are all of their third-round picks, in order of total starts with the Texans:
87: T Eric Winston (2006)
44: G Brandon Brooks (2012)
43: G Fred Weary (2002)
26: RB Steve Slaton (2008)
23: LB Antwan Peek (2003)
22: TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (2014)
21: WR/FR Jacoby Jones (2007)
19: G/C Antoine Caldwell (2009)
18: T Seth Wand (2003)
17: DT Earl Mitchell (2010)
2: G Charles Spencer (2006)
2: QB Dave Ragone (2003)
1: RB Vernon Morency (2005)
1: WR Jaelen Strong (2015)
1: WR DeVier Posey (2012)
0: DB Antwaun Molden (2008)
0: NT Louis Nix III (2014)
0: T Brennan Williams (2013)
0: LB Sam Montgomery (2013)
0: DT Charles Hill (2002)
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If you're keeping track at home, the Texans have as many third-round picks with two or fewer starts (ten) as they do with 17 or more starts (also ten!). They have three in the history of their franchise who have been regular starters for more than one season, all offensive linemen, and zero Pro Bowl berths.
Actually, while we're at it, they have had exactly two Pro Bowl berths total among their second- and third-round picks EVER, both from DeMeco Ryans (2007, 2009). (I will not deny that they traded second-round picks in 2007 and 2008 for Matt Schaub, who made a couple of Pro Bowls as well.)
I say all this to implore Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien to please, please, please stop picking stiffs in the second and third rounds, and find some guys who can effect winning. Hell, find some guys who can get on the field. Benardrick McKinney was a decent start. Need more, though.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.