The Houston Texans hope to reload their roster with talent in the 2017 NFL Draft as they set out to defend back-to-back AFC South titles
Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien may have the hottest seat of any winning coach in the NFL. After going 9-7 for three seasons in a row, the feeling in the league is that the Texans have to get over the hump this season and make some real playoff noise or he could be gone. A good 2017 NFL Draft could go a long way towards helping the coach who’s had to do some patchwork all along his roster during his tenure with Houston.
The biggest area of weakness has been the quarterback spot. In 2014 he won with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Tom Savage and Ryan Mallett as signal callers. The next season it was Brian Hoyer, Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden all playing significant snaps. This past year it was supposed to be fixed with Brock Osweiler, who stunk it up worse than any of the aforementioned guys before being benched for Savage.
Now much of the offseason has been spent with the Texans banking on landing Tony Romo as the Dallas Cowboys moved on from him. They were able to trade Osweiler to get him off the books, but still hadn’t landed the veteran quarterback. Well, those plans got thrown away essentially on Tuesday with the announcement, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, that Romo will retire and turn to a career in broadcasting. Now, the Texans are back to square one (or Savage) at quarterback.
O’Brien would love to find someone to turn to permanently in this draft, but there are other holes as well. Starting safety Quintin Demps left via free agency as did one of their edge rushers John Simon and standout corner A.J. Bouye.
There’s also a reoccurring injury issue all along the offensive line that could use some attention. Here is a prediction on how the Texans will address those needs with this 2017 NFL Draft seven-round mock.
Nov 19, 2016; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) looks to pass in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1, Pick 25: Mitchell Trubisky, QB — North Carolina
This draft seems like it could work out to the Texans advantage. There’s a trend away from drafting a quarterback in this first round because the options aren’t great. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is the best choice and could go to either the New York Jets at six, or Cleveland Browns at 12.
If New York skips on him—which they may given the amount of picks used on quarterbacks recently—and Cleveland does pull the trigger at 12, North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky may fall quite a ways. That could be great news for the Houston Texans who need a young quarterback, now more than ever given the news of Romo’s retirement.
Even if they’d gotten Romo, it would’ve been likely that the Texans would grab someone like Trubisky. Despite being one of the top rated passers in the draft, Trubisky started just one season for the Tar Heels. A lot of general managers may be too worried about throwing such a player into the fire—which is why he is still on the board in this mock.
Sitting behind a pro like Romo for a season or two would’ve been best-case scenario for the Texans and Trubisky. O’Brien’s reported faith in Tom Savage may now really be put to the test. Regardless, the necessity of taking a player like Trubisky is paramount now that the Romo option is no longer on the table.
Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Youngstown defensive end Derek Rivers speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2, Pick 57: Derek Rivers, DE/OLB — Youngstown State
After getting a potential franchise quarterback with their first pick in the draft, the Texans go for an edge rusher in the second round. Here they pick up Youngstown State defensive end Derek Rivers, who would line up as an outside linebacker in the Texans scheme.
The 6-4, 248-pound Rivers would replace John Simon and also would keep Jadeveon Clowney in the line as a defensive end. After starting defensive end J.J. Watt went to IR with a back injury which required surgery, Clowney moved from linebacker to end and finally became an impact player.
A first overall pick in 2014, Clowney had struggled mightily at outside linebacker. In all fairness to him those struggles centered around health issues rather than his talent. Still, moving him from the spot he started to shine at makes little sense given the time it took for him to blossom. Drafting someone to keep him where he is makes perfect sense.
Rivers had 14 sacks as a senior for Youngstown as well as 19.5 total tackles for a loss. He would start opposite Whitney Mercilus and would give the Texans an even more feared defense than they already have.
Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson (54) in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3, Pick 89: Dalvin Tomlinson, DT — Alabama
With their third pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Texans get some beef for their defensive line. Their selection is Alabama nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. The imposing player will do his best to fill the void left by Vince Wilfork, who manned the middle of the Houston three-man line the past two seasons.
Wilfork assumed a thankless role of clogging up running lanes and eating up blockers so the playmakers could do their jobs. Currently the Texans have a potential replacement in 2016 fifth-round pick D.J. Reader, who showed some promise as a rookie. The 335-pound Reader had 22 tackles and a sack during the regular season in a rotational role and added three tackles and a sack in the playoffs.
He will get a crack at the starting job, but there’s not much behind him. Tomlinson will be there to compete for that job—or at worst provide depth. The plus is he comes from a pro-style program that also runs a 3-4 defense. Tomlinson already understands his role is to do the dirty work while letting others get the credit.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t able to be a playmaker at times though. The 310-pound nose tackle had 62 tackles with three sacks last season for the Crimson Tide. Getting a player this strong late in the third round could be a huge steal.
Mar 3, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Bucknell offensive lineman Julie’n Davenport squares off in the mirror drill against San Diego State offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Round 4, Pick 130: Julie’n Davenport, OT — Bucknell
As mentioned earlier, the Texans have injury issues in their offensive line. In 2016 they saw starting left tackle Duane Brown battle injuries all season long. His problems were nagging and reoccurring but shouldn’t be a huge concern this year.
Starting right tackle Derek Newton is a different story. He tore the patellar tendon in each of his knees last season and there hasn’t been a lot of talk in the way of his recovery. There also is a huge scare that he may not be himself again once he does return given the significance of the injury he suffered.
In an attempt to shore that up, they go to the small school Bucknell and get themselves a big offensive lineman in Julie’n Davenport. The tackle is a talented prospect who measures in 6-7 and 318 pounds and has impressive arm length. What isn’t impressive is how raw he is, or the level of competition he faced.
Despite that he has the tools to develop into a potential starter and is able to come in the middle rounds. Davenport also has some athletic bloodlines as his cousin in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
The Texans have a good starting running back in Lamar Miller. The free agent acquisition from the Miami Dolphins went for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns in his first season as a Texan and nothing makes it look like he would do any worse in 2017. The one issue with Miller is that he isn’t a power back or a goal line beast.
Neither is the guy behind him, Alfred Blue. The 223-pound Blue is a bigger back than Miller, but his vision is subpar and thus he is poor in short yardage situations. Blue can get decent gains as an every-down back but when asked to churn the tough yards he often comes up short.
With their second fourth-round pick Houston finds a guy who may be better in those must-have yardage situations. At 6-1 and 233 pounds, the Pittsburgh running back is an absolute load.
He’s also a feel good story who was able to beat cancer and return to the field in 2016 with a vengeance. Conner had 1,092 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on the ground. He added another four touchdowns as a receiver while catching a career high 21 passes for 302 yards during his senior season.
Mar 2, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Texas Christian offensive lineman Aviante Collins speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5, Pick 169: Aviante Collins, OG — TCU
With their fifth-round pick the Texans again address the offensive line. After getting a project player with a hight ceiling like Davenport, they grab a versatile player in Aviante Collins from TCU. Collins is much more athletic than he is strong, but has plenty of room to grow into a starter at either tackle, or most likely guard in the NFL. His athleticism is the main thing noticed by draft guru Lance Zierlein of NFL.com:
The more you watch of Collins, the more you like. His athleticism is the first thing you will notice, but his toughness and determination to stay tied to his blocks are what will start to win you over. Finding the right fit will be the problem. He lacks size and length as a tackle and his below average hand usage will get him in trouble against bull rushers if he moves to guard. Collins is a talented move blocker, but he may need a year or two to get stronger and to tighten up some technique issues.
In Houston, Collins would provide depth behind Xavier Su’a-Filo and Jeff Allen for the time being. In the future though he could keep them from having to overpay to keep one of their starters when a new deal is desired.
Sep 10, 2016; South Bend, IN, USA; Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Ty Gangi (6) is tackled by Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker James Onwualu (17) in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7, Pick 243: James Onwualu, LB Notre Dame
With their last pick in the 2017 NFL Draft the Texans just look to get some depth and potential upside. The player they target for that role is Notre Dame linebacker James Onwualu. The former team captain for the Fighting Irish is a long shot to get drafted, and tested “OK” at the team’s pro day according to Frank Vitovitch of the Notre Dame focuses site UHND.com.
Despite his numbers being average at best, Vitovitch claims that Onwualu could still carve out a long NFL career. The reason he says this has to do with the linebackers insane work ethic.per Vitovitch:
So why do I think he could end up having a sneaky long NFL career? Because Onwualu has a work ethic that is second to none who could carve out a role as a special teams ace and NFL teams have been showing a willingness to pay for such players in recent years.
The 232-pound Onwualu recorded 77 tackles as a senior, including 11.5 going for a loss. He could serve as a special teams contributor for Houston while grooming to be a potential starter middle linebacker one day. If he never does develop at least it won’t cost them much. If he does, the Texans could wind up looking very wise.