HOUSTON -- When Nick Caserio took the Houston Texans' general manager position in January, he knew he was doing it without a pick in the first two rounds.
Both picks were part of a trade made by former general manager and coach Bill O’Brien in August 2019 that brought left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to Houston. But in his pre-draft news conference, Caserio said it’s “not difficult at all” to not be picking until the third round because Houston’s staff is instead focused on how they have evaluated the players that may be available with the 67th pick.
“I think the most important thing is to evaluate the players, have an understanding on the board top to bottom, and whatever opportunity you have to pick, whenever that is, just be ready to pick the player that you feel most comfortable with,” Caserio said. “... Quite frankly, it's not that big of a deal. I think it gets made into the bigger deal than the reality of what it is. So whatever our opportunities are, whatever picks that we have, we are just going to try to maximize those opportunities.”
Caserio, the former Patriots director of player personnel, was no stranger to trading down in New England, and said this offseason that draft picks seem to be “50-50” in whether the player pans out. Could that mean he moves down to add to his chances of finding talent in the middle of the draft?
The Texans have quite a few positions of need, especially on defense, and if they do stay at pick 67, here’s a look at three spots Caserio could address with their first pick:
What was a position of strength for the Texans the past few years with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V, and then Fuller and Brandin Cooks for part of last season, has a lot of question marks for the 2021 season. With Fuller gone, the Texans have a No. 1 receiver in Cooks and a slot receiver in Randall Cobb, but otherwise don’t have proven talent.
Houston drafted Isaiah Coulter in the fifth round in 2020, but he didn’t see much playing time in his rookie season, first dealing with injuries and then a coaching staff who preferred to focus on playing proven players. Coulter appeared in only one game last season, playing just six snaps.
If the Texans do choose to take a receiver with the 67th pick, they could be looking at Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace (ESPN’s No. 11-ranked receiver), Michigan’s Nico Collins (No. 12) or North Carolina’s Dyami Brown (No. 17).
In ESPN’s three-round mock draft, analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Texans taking Western Michigan receiver D'Wayne Eskridge, writing, “Eskridge is a slot weapon who will also be a key contributor in the return game.” The Texans do have a high-paid slot receiver on the roster in Cobb, but given Houston is rebuilding its roster, Caserio won’t be focused on what the draft picks mean for the next season or two. but rather focusing on the long-term team.
While it may be tempting to give Tyrod Taylor -- likely the Texans’ starting quarterback -- another target, Houston’s defense appears to need more help. The Texans were ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA and even after adding Desmond King II and Terrance Mitchell in free agency, Houston still has a need for more capable bodies at the position.
In what is thought of as a strong draft at the position, the Texans could choose to address cornerback with their first pick, especially if someone they have ranked high on their board drops to their spot. Around pick No. 67, cornerbacks Elijah Molden from Washington (ESPN’s No. 7-ranked CB), Ifeatu Melifonwu from Syracuse (No. 9) or Aaron Robinson from UCF (No. 11) could be options. Houston could also go with Ohio State’s versatile cornerback Shaun Wade with that pick.
Could the Texans’ use their top pick -- or one of their top picks -- on a quarterback? If Deshaun Watson doesn’t play in Houston in 2021, the only two quarterbacks on the roster would be Taylor and Ryan Finley.
It seems more likely that the Texans would try to add a starter or find an impact player on defense with their first pick, but if a mid-round quarterback Caserio and the coaching staff like happens to fall, it could make sense to try to find a quarterback they can develop. Houston might still trade Watson and/or target a top-tier quarterback in the 2022 draft, but why not take a shot at drafting one in 2021 first?