When it comes to draft strategy this time of year, every NFL general manager trumpets the same mantra — "We will NEVER draft for need! We trust our board and select the best available player! Always! NOW! FOREVER!" Okay, maybe they're not that obnoxious about it, but they do talk about drafting for need like they're committing some sort of twisted, Law and Order: SVU style crime. It's weird.
I do think, though, that when Texans' general manager Brian Gaine says he trusts his board and would take the best available, I want to believe him. We only have one draft of which to go with Gaine, but taking the best available player, independent of need, was exactly what he did with his first pick last year, the 68th overall selection, which he used on safety Justin Reid.
I would say that one worked out swimmingly, as Reid has become one of the ten most important players on this roster, a player whose rapid development cushioned the blow of NOT having a first or second round pick last year.
So we all know that the Texans desperately need a foundational player on the offensive line, as well as one in the secondary. However, what if the draft unfolds in a way that the top tier tackles go off the board quickly, and the cornerback market looks deep enough to use one of their two second round picks to address that area? In other words, what if the Texans are in a classic "take the best available player" scenario at pick number 23?
Here are five players, NOT offensive lineman and NOT cornerbacks, that I could see them jumping on, if they're available.
JOSH JACOBS, RB, Alabama
Lamar Miller is in the last year of his contract, and he isn't getting any younger. Whether he's lived up to the expense on that deal is another question, as well, but he will likely be this team's starting tailback in 2019. D'Onta Foreman was drafted in 2017 to be that guy, but coming back from an Achilles tear has been predictably rough. Reportedly, Foreman is in great shape, but what if he doesn't have that juice the team thought they were getting when they selected him in 2017? Jacobs is the consensus best running back in this draft class, and because he was part of a committee of backs at Alabama, there is very little wear on his tread. THIS would be a phenomenal weapon for Deshaun Watson.
T.J. HOCKENSON, TE, Iowa
The Texans would appear to be stocked at tight end, having taken two (Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas) in last year's draft, having signed Darren Fells off the street, and having Ryan Griffin still in the building. However, O'Brien comes from a system that LOVES using the tight end (when they are usable!), and Hockenson is thought by many experts to be a top ten talent. However, if teams are filling different positions on the way down the board in the first round, and Hockenson, who's drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski, were there, could O'Brien and Gaine pass that up? Worth mentioning, like Gronk, Hockenson is a great blocker, so you could rationalize this as quasi-offensive line help, too.
JERRY TILLERY, DT, Notre Dame
The Texans are good with pass rushers coming off the edge in J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus (when he's used that way, different topic for a different day), but getting a push up the middle would be huge for this defense, and also theoretically help the woebegone secondary. Tillery was a stud in that area for Notre Dame this past season, and O'Brien seems to like Notre Dame guys, at least recently (Will Fuller, Nick Martin). One interesting wrinkle with Tillery is that he has a reputation for having many interests outside of football, and the last time the Texans took a Notre Dame defensive lineman who has many non-football interests, it became the Louis Nix III Bust Scenario. Could there be any guilt by association? (I hope not.)
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MONTEZ SWEAT, Edge, Mississippi State
Sweat dazzled at the combine, running a 40 yard dash in the low 4.4's that would have put him among the leaders if he were a CORNERBACK, let alone a 260 pound edge rusher. However, the fly in the ointment with Sweat is a hearty condition, which is reportedly manageable, but scary enough for some teams to have him off of their boards altogether. The Texans were reportedly doing some investigation on Sweat recently, and if you feel like you're getting a top five player with the 23rd pick, and your doctors are okay with him (full disclosure — the Texans MAY not be, I'm not sure), why not take him, especially at a highly leveraged position like edge rusher?
DEXTER LAWRENCE, DT, Clemson
The Texans LOVE Clemson players — D.J. Reader, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Carlos Watkins — and there certainly could be plenty to choose from along the defensive line with Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, and Lawrence. Lawrence would have some explaining to do about his failed PED test that kept him out of Clemson's title run through the playoffs, but if Gaine is inclined to build the pass defense from the front seven out, Lawrence would be a fine selection at 23rd overall.