Here are five options the Houston Texans may have in the first-round of the 2017 NFL Draft as they try and build for a third-straight AFC South crown
What a roller coaster ride it was in 2016 for the Houston Texans. After struggling through some ups and downs they now have more questions heading into the 2017 NFL Draft than they did to start this past season. That’s not what they were hoping for when they shelled out big money on free agent acquisitions Brock Osweiler, a quarterback from the Denver Broncos, and Lamar Miller, a running back from the Miami Dolphins.
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Miller held his own, but injuries slowed him down as the season wore on. Osweiler on the other hand was a giant letdown and may become the richest backup in the NFL next season after losing his job late in the year to Tom Savage. The two will compete for the starting position this season, and Houston could add some help either through the draft, or free agency.
After being burnt so badly by Osweiler, it would make sense that they avoid free agents this offseason. Houston learned why so many franchises believe in building through the draft rather than trying to pry players from other teams.
With them trying to keep their team atop the AFC South, as well as trying to right some wrongs from previous off seasons, here are five potential first round picks to help them do both those things.
Nov 26, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Utah Utes offensive lineman Isaac Asiata (54) and offensive lineman Garett Bolles (72) in the first half against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
5. Garett Bolles, OT — Utah
One of the biggest areas of weakness for Houston last season was in their offensive line. It’s not so much that the players they had were that bad, but health really became an issue. Starting right tackle Derek Newton suffered a severe injury to both knees and was placed on IR. His injury not only hurt them last season, but there’s doubts he could ever regain his form. That loss came after they already lost rookie center Nick Martin to an ankle injury. The second round pick missed his entire rookie campaign.
Left tackle Duane Brown wasn’t as unfortunate as Martin or Newton, but he battled nagging injuries all season long. There was a revolving door all along the line, and it may be time to start bringing in some young, fresh talent. That brings Utah tackle Garrett Bolles into focus.
A kid with some issues as a youth, Bolles was able to right the ship and become a productive player for Snow College in Utah. Those junior college years allowed him to mature and showcase his skills, which translated into a one-year career for the Utah Utes.
An incredible athlete, Boles has the size (6-5, 300 pounds) to hold up against NFL talent. He is quick enough to deal with speed rushers on the left side, but may have to develop some thanks to only playing one year of college at FBS level. In Houston, he could potentially be a swing tackle as he works, or maybe even a starter at right tackle until Brown retires.
Nov 26, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) throws a pass against the Southern California Trojans during a NCAA football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
4. DeShone Kizer, QB — Notre Dame
Oh, how happy would fans be to hear a quarterback finally called in the first round? Not since their inception in 2002 has the team spent a top pick on a signal-caller. Back then, they took Fresno State star David Carr. They then started him with a subpar team surrounding him and were shocked when him being sacked at an alarming rate due to bad protection rattled him.
The fear of getting it wrong again has led them to keep trying to pick up free agents, or trade for backups, to play the most important position. They traded for Matt Schaub and Ryan Mallett. They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Hoyer and Osweiler. None of it has worked and they also ignored some serious talent in the drafts as well like Blake Bortles and Paxton Lynch. The biggest mistake though was letting their fear of another Carr (which was more their fault than his) lead to them passing up on Carr’s little brother, Derek Carr. Twice.
The younger Carr is now an MVP caliber player and Houston is a quarterback laughingstock. Enough is enough. Right? If Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer is still on the board with the 25th pick, the Texans should be interested, but history says they may not draft him.
If they did though, they could get a two-year starter who completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 5,805 yards. He had 47 touchdowns and 19 picks, but never topped 3,000 yards through the air in a season. Kizer may not be a day one starter, but he is a talented kid who could hurt teams with his legs as well as his arm. The 6-4, 230-pound Kizer rushed for 997 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Irish and could help open up the stagnant Texans office if selected.
Nov 5, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku (86) leaps over Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Terrish Webb (2) for a touchdown during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
No. 3 David Njoku, TE — Miami
The Texans finally got some great production out of their tight end position after two straight seasons of futility. Starter C.J. Fiedorowicz broke out in his third season by snagging 54 passes for 559 yards and four touchdowns. He was a bright spot in an otherwise awful offensive season for Houston.
Part of the reason he did so well is the fondness Osweiler has for throwing over the middle of the field. When starting receiver DeAndre Hopkins was moved into the slot for the team’s playoff win against the Oakland Raiders, he and Osweiler looked like they finally had the rhythm they had spent the whole season searching for.
To help give more options to line up and produce over the middle, the Texans could look to Miami tight end David Njoku. By most accounts, he is looking like a second round pick after playing just two seasons, but Houston may be intrigued enough by his skill set to take him in the first.
What Njoku brings to the table is a better route runner than Fiedorowicz and a better blocker than Ryan Griffin, who Houston starts often in two tight end sets. He is quick off the snap and incredibly strong. He can fight for extra yards and plays like a receiver at times. This pick would allow the offense to open things up more, especially if Njoku could take safety help away from their outside receivers who struggled so much in 2016.
October 1, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley (98) brings down Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
2. Takkarist McKinley, OLB/DE — UCLA
This one may end up being a pipe dream once people get a closer look at the athleticism of UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley. He entered his junior season as a sleeper pick for several scouts, but then broke out. He used his great athleticism and speed to record ten sacks, after having just six his first two seasons for the Bruins. He also recorded 18 tackles for a loss, as he proved to be an explosive, and disruptive player.
McKinley (6-2, 265 pounds) has been described as being best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, and would be an ideal fit for the Texans. Should he last until pick 25, they could decide to pounce and start him opposite Whitney Mercilus, who has been an excellent pass rusher the past two seasons for the Texans. Such a move would also allow them to keep Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end moving forward.
After losing three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt to a back injury, Clowney moved to end from linebacker and was great at the position. Should he keep his hand in the dirt opposite a healthy Watt, the Texans would have one of the best lines in the game. With McKinley and Mercilus rushing the passer as well, they would be nearly unstoppable.
While there are plenty more holes on offense, the Texans would have to consider this move if the explosive McKinley was there for the taking.
Nov 5, 2016; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes (5) throws a pass against the University of Texas Longhorns in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium. UT defeated Texas Tech 45-37. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
1. Patrick Mahomes II, QB — Texas Tech
We round things out by looking at one more quarterback. Again, for all the reasons mentioned when discussing Kizer, Houston fans would have to be excited to see the team at least considering a quarterback in the first round after ignoring the position early in the draft for more than a decade. While he doesn’t have the same name recognition as Kizer, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes had a lot of success for the Red Raiders.
He threw for 11,252 yards with 93 touchdowns and just 29 interceptions in three seasons. He added another 22 touchdowns on the ground as he proved to be a threat with both his strong arm and his quick feet. He also will have to battle the perception that his numbers were inflated by the high-octane offense he was in.
Mahomes has NFL size at 6-3 and 215 pounds and is fresh off a season in which he topped the 5,000-yard mark through the air. He is still considered a project though as he made an awful lot happen on improvisational plays during his tenure with Tech.
While such skills can be a positive, the fact is he needs to show he can play within a system as well, rather than just producing via hero ball. It would be interesting to see if head coach Bill O’Brien was able to get Mahomes to work within a system, especially considering how high of a ceiling this exciting prospect has.