Lovie Smith’s decision to go for two and win the Texans’ Week 18 game against the Colts just got a whole lot more interesting.
When the Carolina Panthers moved into first place in the 2023 draft, they turned what we all thought a reality: that a team in need of quarterbacks would draft ahead of the Texans.
Now Houston has a decision to make: Will they try to trade down to the No. 1 pick or stick with whoever gets there with the No. 2 pick?
Texans have the capital leverage to make a move. Although the NFL snapped Houston a fifth-round pick after the franchise was found to have committed a 2020 salary cap violation when it paid for a gym membership for Deshaun Watson, Texas also got a seventh-round pick round: the last pick of the draft. In all, the Texans still have 11 picks in the 2023 draft.
A mock draft of Houston’s top five picks (barring any trades):
First round (#2): Bryce Young, quarterback, Alabama
Don’t rule out the Texans who trade the No. 1 pick to ensure they get their top pick, rather than having their decision hinge on what the Panthers will do.
The Panthers are still not sure who they will pick. The decision makers within Carolina’s organization (coach Frank Reich, owner David Tepper, and general manager Scott Fitterer) certainly have their preferences, but one choice hasn’t been decided.
That said, many across the league believe Reich favors CJ Stroud.
As for the Texans, Bryce Young seems to fit the type of player DeMeco Ryans and Nick Caserio often talk about. Caserio talks about players with great attitudes. Ryans said he wants to know about a player’s character and how that trumps everything.
Young is seen as the quickest quarterback in this draft. He has been dubbed the Steph Curry of college football for his ability to throw amazing plays. But the thing that is mentioned the most is his leadership of him, how much he loves football and how well he is liked by his former Alabama teammates.
Consider what Ryans said about Young at the combine.
“I know Bryce is an outstanding leader from what I’ve seen, and an outstanding quarterback,” Ryans said. “It’s no surprise how successful he’s been. Just because of the makeup, the kind of guy he is.
In three seasons and 36 games in Tuscaloosa, Young threw for 80 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, completed 65.8% of his passes and won 23 of his 27 starts.
Young’s size is a legitimate concern for some teams. At the NFL scouting combine, he measured 5 feet 10 ⅛ and weighed 204 pounds. Some scouts question his toughness and wonder if he can take the beatings of NFL defenders. He played with a shoulder injury during the 2022 season.
But he’s still so good and has all the traits that it would be a shock if he was still on the board and the Texans didn’t take him. It could be their future.
The real question over the next few weeks is, after personal workouts and interviews, will Young be the Panthers preference on April 27? Its size affects them too. And they may be open to trading back.
But there are some in the Carolina organization who like Young and recognize that with his intangibles, he’s probably the safer pick in this draft.
But for now, it seems Stroud is the guy, leaving the Texans with Young.
First Round (No. 12): Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
If defensive linemen Will Anderson, Jalen Carter, Tyree Wilson or Myles Murphy were available at No.
They are all among the most talented players in this draft and fill an important need, but will likely leave when the Texans pick.
That leaves one more need: the wide receiver. And with the inevitable Brandin Cooks trade (league sources expect that to happen sooner or later), the Texans need to find their #1 wide receiver.
Smith-Njigba improved his stock with his performance at the NFL combine. The bigger question concerning him was the hamstring injury that limited him to three games and five catches for 43 yards last season. At the combine he didn’t seem hindered. In fact, some believe he was the best of the wide receivers who attended the drills.
The thing to remember about Smith-Njigba is what he did with Ohio State when he was healthy in 2021. He played with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year nominees Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson – the latter won the award — and Smith-Njigba was arguably the best receiver on that roster.
Smith-Njigba (6-0, 197) led that Buckeyes team with 95 catches for 1,606 receiving yards. He also had nine touchdowns. Wilson had 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns. Olave had 65 catches for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Second Round (#33): Keion White, DE, Georgia Tech
If the Texans go with the catcher with pick no. 12, will go with an edge rusher with their first pick in the second round. It was a position they haven’t addressed in free will so far, and it’s a necessity.
Defensive Endings Jonathan Greenard and Jerry Hughes are entering the final years of their deals. The Texans let Ogbo Okoronkwo, one of their top pass rushers, walk to free agency and cut off defensive end Mario Addison.
They need to tackle this position so they can get a more consistent pass rush.
It seems like a dream for Georgia’s Nolan Smith to be available at No. 33. He recently skyrocketed after running a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash and had a 41½-inch vertical leap at the combine.
White is the next best thing. And while he may be late to the first round, he could be there at number 33.
White was a standout in the Senior Bowl. He’s a good size for the position, at 6-5, 286 pounds. He transferred to Georgia Tech after playing one season at Old Dominion. During his senior year, he had 7½ sacks, 14 tackles for loss in 12 games.
He suffered a hamstring injury during his pro day earlier this week and did not participate in drills, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
This could drop it.
Third round (No. 65) Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
The Texans signed running back Mike Boone in free agency to a two-year, $3.1 million deal, but that doesn’t guarantee the Texans won’t be looking for another running back in the draft.
One of the best running backs is Tyjae Spears (5-10, 190), despite tearing his ACL in 2020. But he’s back and hasn’t missed a beat. Spears rushed for 1,581 yards and 19 touchdowns. and 22 catches for 256 yards and two TDs last season.
He was making the boys lose with ease in the Senior Bowl and was a standout in Mobile, Ala.
Spears could potentially become a complement to Dameon Pierce, who desperately needs it. Despite Pierce having an outstanding rookie season, the Texans were still one of the worst teams in the league at throwing the ball.
Pierce invites contact and is known for delivering free kicks, so he takes a lot of hits. The Texans, who will use the power running game to open up the play-action pass in new coordinator Bobby Slowik’s offense, need to find a way to downplay it without taking away his best attribute, because those shots take their toll over time. .
Adding another running back is an option.
Third Round (No. 73): Luke Wypler, C, Ohio State
The Texans haven’t found their starter in center in free agency, which would lead us to believe they’ll find that guy in the draft.
Luke Wypler (6-3, 303) has started 26 games over the past two seasons for the Buckeyes. He is slightly undersized but is athletic.
One of the Texans’ biggest weaknesses in 2022 has been protection up center. They swapped for guard Shaq Mason earlier this week to face the right guard post. They hope 2022 first-round pick Kenyon Green will improve. And adding a center to the draft will strengthen their offensive line.
Wypler could become their future center for many years to come.