After months of speculation, mock drafts, and the settling of the dust after a veritable shopping spree in the free agency, the Houston Texans finally have a 2016 draft class. In order of pick, they are Wide Receiver Will Fuller, Center Nick Martin, Wide Receiver Braxton Miller, Running Back Tyler Ervin, Safety K.J. Dillon, and Defensive Tackle D.J. Reader. They’ve been ranked, graded, and scrutinized by the sporting news world, but their life in the NFL is just beginning.
I will not be grading this draft class, because slapping a grade on a team or player before anyone hits the field (especially before the first whistle in Rookie Mini-camp has even been blown) is nothing more than click-bait fodder from analysts who want to humbebrag or complain about their mock draft comparisons. There’s nothing to grade but potential, and that has already been done with combine grades, pro day ranks, and draft stock designations. And nobody knows what the Texans needed more than the guys running the organization.
So, what did the Texans want? Speed. And also speed. Versatility, and then speed. By position, there were tangible needs that could be typed out: wide receiver, tight end, running back, center, safety, defensive end, nose tackle, and perhaps an offensive tackle. One could tack on a linebacker, too, if one were looking for every hole to be patched in the draft. The Texans got wide receivers, a running back, a center, a safety, and a nose tackle. Still lacking and of immediate concern: defensive end, tight end, and offensive tackle. Gained: speed, versatility and speed.
Offense got a face lift, simply put. Will Fuller’s primary job will be breaking away downfield on the outside, so that Hopkins can do his thing and/or Fuller can race to the end zone. Nick Martin is arguably the best/second best center in the draft (depending on who you speak to) and an immediate upgrade to recently departed Ben Jones. Braxton Miller adds another demension to the Hopkins-led WR corps, has the agility to be dropped in the slot, as well as lining up behind center in the Wildcat. Tyler Ervin brings speed to the RB corps, led by Lamar Miller, as well as a much-needed boost as a potential punt returner for special teams.
Defense was largely ignored in this draft, with K.J. Dillon and D.J. Reader being the only defensive draft picks. That’s the way it needed to be, since defense has been the primary focus on the past few drafts. This is why the Texans have consistently received high marks on defense over the past few years. There was one glaring need that was overlooked at right defensive end (with the departure of Jared Crick in the free agency) and there’s nothing but speculation on what the Texans will do at that end. However, Dillon adds some speed and depth in the somewhat anemic secondary, and Reader will be primed to take over for Vince Wilfork in 2017.
Special teams gets an automatic upgrade as well, with the speed and versatility brought in with the draft. Ervin, alone, will be an upgrade with his punt return experience. The depth at WR and now RB leaves a lot of wiggle room to sub players in and out on returns as well. The punting and kicking unit remains the same, with Novak and Lechler returning for one more season, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an undrafted FA punter stick around on the practice squad. That is one of the better aspects of signing some of these faster players in the middle to later rounds, too. They won’t start, but the depth added on offense and ST is worth the signing.
The biggest question in the Texans draft was why the trade-ups in the 1st and the 2nd round? Primarily, why the trade up a single spot in the 1st? Simple, there were four teams in a row that wanted a WR in the 21st-24th positions: Redskins, Texans, Vikings, and Bengals. Texans wanted their pick, so they traded ahead to get it. It cost one of two 6th round picks the Texans had for 2017 (which will likely be replaced with a compensatory pick next year). Texans got their pick, 2 WRs were picked after, and the Bengals didn’t get one. The 2nd round was a trade up to get a top C who shouldn’t have still been on the board.
Overall, the Texans had a great offseason. A major overhaul was needed on offense and was achieved. Special teams improved automatically with the new depth built on offense. The tight end situation wouldn’t have been fixed with this year’s weak tight end class, so there could be a vet pick up. The glaring hole remains at DE, and it will be interesting to see what plays out there. A few guys may be shuffled around on defense, or a vet may be picked up. There’s a little room in the cap left, especially with the move to exercise Hopkins’ 5th year option on his contract. One thing is certain, though: this team just got a little more exciting to watch.