Three Years Later, Did the Texans Win or Lose the 2011 NFL Draft?

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The Shiloh Keo Era ended earlier this week. I think most of us could see that coming, what with Keo only being healthy for like one day this entire 2014 preseason and regular season. (To be fair, it was a very productive day, as he had 11 tackles in the final preseason game to temporarily save his spot on the 53-man roster.)

When I think back to Shiloh Keo's time in Houston, I will remember two things:

1. He was a celebrity guest at a station event of ours earlier this year and played poker with listeners for hours. I have no idea how good or bad he was, but he seemed like a cool dude.

2. He was the star of J.J. Watt's first celebrity softball game two years ago, making a circus catch in center field to save the game then hitting a walk off home run in extra innings. Without a doubt, Shiloh Keo was a much more impactful slow pitch charity softball player than he was an NFL safety.

But Keo's release also got me thinking about the 2011 Texans draft class, and the fact that five of the eight draft picks from the 2011 class are no longer with the team. To refresh your memory, here is that class of Texans draft picks (bold are still with the Texans):

1. J.J. Watt, SH ("SH" is abbreviation for "Super Hero") 2. Brooks Reed, OLB 2. Brandon Harris, CB 4. Roc Carmichael, CB 5. Shiloh Keo, S 5. TJ Yates, QB 7. Derek Newton, OL 7. Cheta Ozougwu, LB

On the surface, the gut reaction to this development, five of eight draft picks gone (and Brandon Harris' name being anywhere close to a piece of analysis), is a blend of horror and anger. I mean, logical reasoning says "If we're supposed to build depth through the draft, then what the hell is up with a majority of a class still on rookie contracts being either out of football or with other teams?" This is horrible, right?!?

Well, kind of. It's a little more complicated than that. I mean, it's not what you'd hope for, but just how much less proficient (if less proficient at all) are the Texans as compared to the other 31 NFL teams when it comes to overall contributions from their 2011 draft class?

If you go look at all 32 draft classes from 2011, using pro-football-reference.com's draft filter and data (data which contains a metric called "Weighted Career Approximate Value"), on average, teams still have around two or three players left from their 2011 draft classes who have contributed and are still contributing for the team that drafted those players.

Here are probably the six best 2011 draft classes as pertains to the here and now:

BALTIMORE RAVENS: Ozzie Newsome is generally thought to be a personnel savant, and this draft class moderately supports that impression. The guys still left who contribute from 2011's draft are Jimmy Smith (solid starting CB), Torrey Smith (starting, somewhat forgotten WR), and then a few filler guys (OL Jah Reid, DB Chykie Brown, DL Pernell McPhee). To Ozzie's credit, having five guys left from that class who are even on their roster makes it one of the best "2011 remainders" in the league.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: They got their WR/QB battery of the future in A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, as well as a fixture on the offensive line in fourth rounder Clint Boling. All things considered, this is probably the best "2011 remainder" draft class in the league. And still, you have an injured WR, a QB who is above average on his best day, and a lineman.

DALLAS COWBOYS: Check that, I said Cincy was the best, but look at what Jerry Jones has done. Maybe the best left tackle on football in Tyron Smith, starting LB Bruce Carter, and early season MVP candidate RB DeMarco Murray. Also, backup WR Dwayne Harris. GREAT class by The Jerry, which means he was probably hammered the entire weekend of the 2011 draft, as that is the chemical state in which he seems to do his most accurate scouting...

DENVER BRONCOS: Part of the reason they're so good is Peyton Manning, but before Peyton got there, the 2011 class was there -- OLB Von Miller, S Rahim Moore, OL Orlando Franklin, and TE Julius Thomas. Another really good class.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers: Talent-wise, the Niners knocked it out of the park with their first two picks in OLB Aldon Smith and QB Colin Kaepernick. Future foundation pieces. Third round CB Chris Culliver is a contributor when he's not bashing gays or threatening civilians with brass knuckles, and they landed a seventh round regular in FB Bruce Miller.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: They drafted an offensive lineman who starts for them in the first round (James Carpenter), and built the foundation of their league-standard defense in the middle and late rounds (K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, Malcolm Smith).

So these are the six best classes, by my subjective eyeball test. What do they have in common? Well, they all landed a starter/contributor in the first round (some Pro Bowl level contributors, and yes Carpenter has had his struggles leading up to 2014), two of them landed quarterbacks (the other three all had QB's or ended up with Peyton Manning), and they're all chalk picks to make the playoffs right now in 2014.

The lesson? You need a quarterback, and drafting well around that quarterback is a major help.

Now, again, the Texans 2011 class:

1. J.J. Watt, SH ("SH" is abbreviation for "Super Hero") 2. Brooks Reed, OLB 2. Brandon Harris, CB 4. Roc Carmichael, CB 5. Shiloh Keo, S 5. TJ Yates, QB 7. Derek Newton, OL 7. Cheta Ozougwu, LB

The three players still here are all starting players. J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the universe, so that's an easy one. The quality of the 2011 class will play itself out over the next twelve weeks. If Derek Newton develops into a trustworthy starting right tackle (and his trajectory has gone in that direction so far in 2014), and if Brooks Reed has more games like he did in Week 1 against Washington, then you have an MVP candidate and two solid starters. In the end, that's an above average class.

Of course, if Newton and Reed regress or flounder, then Rick Smith basically got a lotto ticket in J.J. Watt and that's it, which is also a scenario that is firmly in play (and possibly the favorite).

By the way, if you think the Texans 2011 draft class is some sort of smoldering mess, consider these teams:

ATLANTA FALCONS: They drafted WR Julio Jones, who's been really good. After that, the only guy still left who matters is fifth round RB Jacquizz Rodgers, a part timer. In fact, their third round pick is now a Houston Texan, LB Akeem Dent!

CAROLINA PANTHERS: They landed their QB of the future in 2011 in Cam Newton, so you'd hope they built around him in that draft, right? I mean, like the Texans in 2014, they were picking first in every round (in which they kept their picks), right? Yeah, there's no contributors left other than Newton. In fact, their third round pick, DT Terrell McClain, played more games as a Texan than a Panther the last three years. (A trend! See, the Texans may suck at drafting in the third round, but they scoop everyone else's third rounders, so we're even, right? RIGHT???)

DETROIT LIONS: The only contributor remaining from the 2011 draft is 13th overall pick Nick Fairley, who has more arrests than Pro Bowl appearances. Actually, he has more of "anything that he has" than Pro Bowl appearances (zero Pro Bowl appearances).

GREEN BAY PACKERS: The Packers are the gold standard for building through the draft, right? Well, they have one player left from 2011 who is a regular contributor, WR Randall Cobb. That's it.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Ditto, Indy. One contributor left from 2011, starting offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo. Sadly, outside Andrew Luck, this remains a trend for this sad front office. Andrew Luck blots out all of their stupidity.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: They drafted starting tackle (and scorned tackle) Nate Solder in the first round, a couple of rotation RB's in Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, and starting OL Marcus Cannon. Not much to see here, and nothing defensively.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: First round, starter on defense in Cameron Jordan. Second round, backup RB in Mark Ingram. Nothing left after that.

Yeah, there are other examples of disastrous draft classes in 2011 -- the usual cast of characters (Jacksonville, Oakland, Tennessee, etc) -- but I bring up these seven teams, all of whom have worse 2011 holdovers than the Texans without question to once again point out this...

Ryan, Newton, Stafford, Rodgers, Luck, Brady, Brees. Those are the quarterbacks for those teams.

Even more than J.J. Watt, a good QB supersedes everything, including the impact of a bad 2011 draft.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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