North Carolina State's Ikem Ekwonu (79) prepares to guard during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker) Credit: Karl B DeBlaker

A year ago, with the Texans void of their first and second draft picks thanks to the deal with Miami for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills, there wasn’t a lot of buzz around Houston going into the NFL Draft.

But this year, the Texans are sitting on a mountain of draft picks heading into the three-day NFL Draft that begins April 28. The Texans have needs almost across the board after coming off back-to-back 4-win seasons and have an NFL-high 11 picks in this draft – two within the first 13 picks of the first round – to start the process of getting back on a winning track.

Texans general manager Nick Caserio spent much of last season trading away talented players for draft capital in preparation for the future, but the biggest payoff came last month when he was finally able to unload disgruntled and troubled quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns for their first round (13th overall) and fourth round (107th) this year and then some for the next two years. Suddenly, the Texans’ draft prognosis is looking up.

What a difference a year has made.

But good luck getting Caserio and first-year head coach Lovie Smith to show their hand heading into this year’s draft.

“I think the most important thing is just trying to continue to build the team,” said Caserio, who has mastered the art of not answering direct questions about his draft priorities. “That’s the most important thing, and do not get too caught up in the short term, where a player is picked, who the player is.

“The most important thing for any new player that comes in our building, rookie, veteran, second-year player, is work hard, be a good teammate, be selfless, put the team first, and just try to make progress and try to develop your individual skillset more importantly than anything else.”

While Caserio is short on specifics, the most glaring needs for the Texans are quite obvious. With the decision to go forward with second-year quarterback Davis Mills as the franchise cornerstone, the priority has to be building around the second-best quarterback in the 2021 rookie class.

And that starts up front where the Texans desperately need a right tackle to play opposite of Tunsil. Alabama’s Evan Neal and Ikem Ekwonu of North Carolina State seem to be the prime candidates to be taken with the Texans’ No. 3 overall pick.

The expectation is the Texans will then use the No. 13 pick they inherited from the Browns to take a dominant edge rusher like Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II to help improve a pass rush that ranked 26th in quarterback pressures last season.

Going back to the offensive side, the Texans could also use a big-time receiver to complement veteran Brandin Cooks. That player might come with the 13th pick, but most likely will be selected in the second round. Look for names like Drake London, Chris Olave and Jameson Williams to fill the void that Nicol Collins and Chris Conley failed to consistently fill in 2021.

At running back, veteran Rex Burkhead has filled in admirably, but the Texans will need to address one of its most glaring deficiencies the last two seasons likely in the third round where Georgia’s Jamal Cook could still be waiting.

The Texans also need to fix the broken secondary if they want to have success in Smith’s Tampa 2 defensive scheme. They lost their best secondary member this offseason when Justin Reid left for the Kansas City Chiefs.

So the Texans needs are vast and their draft opportunities are again robust.

“There are good players at various levels at most positions,” Caserio said. “You have to be careful about quote-unquote what your needs are or what people perceive your needs to be, and then just picking players based on your needs.

“Pick good football players that are going to enhance your overall team and give yourself the opportunity to put together a sustained team over the course of however many years.” 

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....