Texans GM Rick Smith's Former First Round Picks Are Coming Unglued

The Houston Texans’ ebbs and flows with their on-field product over the past decade have swept up and swallowed a head coach, numerous assistants and countless players. When you bottom out at 2-14 in 2013, and then sit on 9-7 for three straight seasons, burning and churning through quarterbacks like carbs in the process, turnover is bound to happen.

The one guy immune to all of that has been general manager Rick Smith, despite a draft history that, second round through seventh round, has been spotty at best, and despite a roster that has consistently had depth issues in key areas (manifesting itself the past few years in wretched special teams) for most of his tenure.

But the one thing that has buoyed Smith and kept the perception of him in the mainstream conscience as that of, at least, an adequate general manager has been his success in selecting first-round picks. Despite free agent washouts like Brock Osweiler and a history of picks in the third round that would have you believe he just uses a random name generator to select players, Smith has been able to hang his hat on "hey, every first rounder since 2008 is still on our roster!"

While that factoid is still technically true, Houston's castle of first-round glory is beginning to crumble, and Sunday night's game against the Chiefs, which doubled as a M*A*S*H episode, was a crushing blow. This time last season, Duane Brown was returning from injury, and all of the first rounders from Brown (2008) through Fuller (2016) were on the team and playing at a high level, save J.J. Watt, who'd left for his second back surgery.

J.J. Watt's injury is the next in a stunning string of bad luck for Texans former first-round picks.
J.J. Watt's injury is the next in a stunning string of bad luck for Texans former first-round picks.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

This season? Well, it's much gloomier. Consider the following former first-rounders and the various odd circumstances that have either sidelined or hindered them this season...

Brown is five weeks into a holdout that has cost him nearly $3 million in fines and lost wages. He would need to return after the Browns game to ensure the Texans place him back on the roster in time to get credit for a full season for pension and benefits purposes. Whether he will be welcomed back is a separate issue.

Cushing was suspended for ten games after the first game of the season for PED use, his second career suspension for a PED violation. He will be available after the November 27 game against Baltimore. In his absence, rookies Zach Cunningham and Dylan Cole have been more than adequate. Cushing's time as a Texan is, at the very least, winding down, and possibly over.

After having maybe his best game as a Texan in Week 2 against the Bengals, Jackson has been a bit of a circus in coverage. Per Pro Football Focus, from Sunday night:

Cornerback Kareem Jackson continues to be victimized by opposing pass offenses as he allowed 7-of-8 targets for 71 yards with one touchdown, 46 yards after the catch and a 143.2 passer rating allowed. Jackson currently ranks as the 98th-best cornerback with a grade of 42.1 for the year thus far.

Jackson has been a major culprit in coverage on these constant 3rd and longs being converted against the Texans defense.

2011 - J.J. WATT, DE
Out for the season, now two years in a row, before we even get to mid-October. Last year it was two back surgeries, and this year it's a tibia plateau fracture that, worst-case scenario, could signal the end of J.J. Watt as a reasonably dominant force in the league. Sad, sad story for a guy who's done seemingly everything right as a player and a person.

Torn pectoral muscle, out for the season. This will sound weird, but Mercilus might be harder to replace than Watt, just given the lack of juice at outside linebacker on this team. The good news is Mercilus's injury is one from which he will fully recover and he will be back at full strength next season.

In the midst of a four- to six-week stretch on the inactive list with a knee injury, after suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week 6 last season. Johnson is closer to being a medical bust than a Pro Bowler at the moment.

Just returned from a broken clavicle suffered the first week of training camp. The good news is he appears to have come back a better player, snagging four touchdowns in his first two games, and dropping zero balls.

Now, that leaves just three former first rounders who have remained healthy and steaming forward all season without interruption (unless you count Tom Savage playing the first 30 minutes of the season at quarterback instead of Deshaun Watson), and it's no surprise that they are the three most valuable players remaining on the entire team:

Signed the richest contract for a wide receiver currently in the league, with a guarantee of $49 million. Off to a very solid start this season with 35 catches, 353 yards and five touchdowns.

Ironic to see Clowney on the good list, considering how much time he spent injured his first two seasons in the league. Now is the time for him to step up and take the reins. This is his defense, whether he wants it or not.

Honestly, the most important first-round pick on this entire list. The one guy who can help erase all of the angst and worry caused by the slew of players now missing. The defense may be Clowney's, but this TEAM is Watson's.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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