The 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and if the ratings on the draft are any indicator, perhaps the regular season dip in television ratings we've seen the past couple seasons is just temporary. According to a press release from the league, the first round of the draft, which featured coverage on the NFL Network, ESPN, FOX, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes, delivered the second largest viewership for a draft opening night in league history.
To quantify, the combined 11.2 million viewers drew a 7.0 cumulative rating, and that was an increase of 22 percent and 27 percent, respectively, in those metrics, as compared to the 2017 NFL Draft. A handful of those viewers were folks in the Texans' front office, relegated to watching the other 31 teams enhance their rosters while they sat by and fiddled with their big board.
Of course, the reason the Texans lacked a first round pick — the 2017 trade up to get QB Deshaun Watson — was totally worth it, and eventually the Texans filled out an eight man draft class that we will classify as "wait and see." There were some universally approved selections (Justin Reid in the third round) and a few head scratchers (two tight ends, but just one offensive lineman?).
Sprinkle in a few undrafted free agents, and now we have a 90-man roster to sink our teeth into. The Texans' decisions over the last few days reveal a few things and spur a few questions. Here are four Texans observations I have after draft weekend:
4. Secondary is crowded
Prior to free agency, most of my observations on the Texans' secondary circled back to something along the lines of "Man, they just need bodies!" Then, they sign cornerback Aaron Colvin, they re-sign cornerback Johnathan Joseph, they sign safety Tyrann Mathieu, and they draft safety Justin Reid. We are all praying for a Kevin Johnson rejuvenation in 2017, but we know, at least, he will be part of the mix. Andre Hal is penciled in as a starter at safety, for now. Oh, did I mention that Kareem Jackson is still on the team? My point is that now, all of a sudden, there are seven capable bodies in an area of the team where, most of the time, five guys, MAYBE six, see the field. (Four are listed as starters, for what it's worth.) If I were Kareem Jackson's people, I might have my eye on secondary situations around the league, as he is the most contractually (and functionally) expendable player of this bunch.
3. Bring your "versatility" card
I heard Paul Gallant say this on the Texans' draft show over the weekend about the Texans' second third round pick, Mississippi State offensive tackle Martinas Rankin — he is listed as a center on some websites, is viewed by many as a guard, and drafted by the Texans with hopes he will be a solid tackle (which he was in the SEC last season, garnering first team all-SEC honors). We know that versatility is almost viewed as a necessity by GM Brian Gaine and head coach Bill O'Brien, and man, they take that to the extreme on the offensive line. There's not a single guy on their depth chart that hasn't played, or at least been openly discussed, as a guy who can play multiple positions. The Texans should conduct a Powerball style pool to reward the fan who can correctly guess the five linemen (and their positions) that will open Week 1 in New England.
2. Anything for Deshaun
Along with "versatility," another key element of the Brian Gaine code this offseason has been to do whatever it takes to help Deshaun Watson thrive. This is a logical and encouraging way for the first time GM to assess his decisions. Every decision Gaine makes should be made with the question "Is this in the best interest of Deshaun Watson?" chiming in the background. It would appear that Gaine approached the draft in this fashion, as, after the Reid selection, the next three players taken were all on the offensive side of the ball — a potential left tackle in Rankin, a play making tight end in Jordan Akins, and an explosive slot receiver in Texas Tech's Keke Coutee. Watson generated well over 30 points of offense a game last season with rags along the offensive line, Ryan Griffin as the only real tight end, and not much at wide receiver after DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. The selection of Coutee alone is something that should excite Texans fans.
1. Alignment — the O'Brien and Gaine Story
The theme of "everybody pulling in the same direction," in the wake of the uber-divisive Rick Smith Era, was on display again this weekend. Here was Gaine's first answer following the completion of the draft class on Saturday afternoon, when we was asked how it was to finish up his first draft as a GM:
“Exciting. I would call it a partnership with Coach (Bill) O’Brien. Great process as it relates to what we put in place with the scouts and the unification with the coaches as well as the medical. Everybody coming together working together, hand in hand to achieve the best results. But, I would describe it as a great team effort.”Alignment, partnership, coming together... all of that, expressed on repeat. Hell, I feel like we're a few joint pressers away from Gaine pulling out Rick Smith's face on a cardboard cutout on a stick, like the ones they use on PTI, and he and O'Brien role playing what his conversations with Smith used to be like:
O'BRIEN: "Hey, Rick, are you really saddling me with Breno GIacomini at right tackle?"
GAINE (holding a SMITH cutout face): "Well, Bill, I can't answer that, but WHAT I WILL TELL YOU is that I'm on the competition committee."
And guess what? I'm fine with Gaine and O'Brien over-communicating their love for one another. Whatever works. Just pick good players. Hopefully, that's what they've done these last few days.
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.