Draft Preview: 27. Houston Texans


Help is coming, Andre (maybe).

Andre Johnson is injury prone (he missed 12 games between 2010 and 2011), and Andre Johnson isn’t young (he’ll turn 32 this summer). But Andre Johnson is also still quite fast, and generally quite skilled (112 catches for 1,598 yards in 2012).

He’s also still so utterly alone. Cold, and alone.

The Texans haven’t invested a first- or second-round pick in a wide receiver since they made Johnson the third overall pick in 2003. Just beyond that, third-round picks have tried to be an adequate complement across from Johnson, with Jacoby Jones doing sort of alright, but in both Houston and now Baltimore his moments of brilliance have mostly come as a kick returner. There was hope that an answer to the ancient complementary No. 2 receiver riddle was found last spring when DeVier Posey was selected. Then nature corrected its course, and he ripped apart his Achilles in the playoffs.

The search should intensify during the draft this year due to both that injury, and the impending departure of Kevin Walter through free agency. But how early will a receiver be targeted? And which receiver is the right fit? Those questions and more seem pretty appropriate for Rivers McCown since he writes many words over at the Battle Red Blog, and does many things with numbers for Football Outsiders.

1. The search for a true No. 2 receiver to complement Andre Johnson could continue this year due to DeVier Posey’s late-season Achilles injury. Will this be the year a first-round pick is used on a wideout? Some early mocks have Robert Woods coming off the board at No. 27, and DeAndre Hopkins could also be available.

I’d really like to say that this is the year, but this may be a scenario where there are too many teams targeting receivers in the mid-first round for a true first-round talent to fall to Houston with this pick. New England and Minnesota are the “hottest” spots to place a receiver, but I could see Indianapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Carolina, and Pittsburgh all hovering around the same four players: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, and Keenan Allen. Hopkins and Allen are the two likeliest to be there when Houston selects, and I think Allen is the better fit schematically, but when you’re picking at 27 it’s hard to zero in on anybody as a sure target.

2. Maybe there’s a different and more aggressive direction taken at wide receiver. You recently wrote that “maybe it’s time to focus more on finding the next Andre Johnson and less on finding the next Kevin Walter”. This doesn’t feel like the right draft for a Falcons-esque leap up to get a receiver, but is that a possibility? Maybe Tavon Austin?

The problem with linking Austin and the Texans together is that Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison have had a really hard time adjusting their game plans to accommodate players who don’t fit specific roles. James Casey is getting all sorts of pub for his ability to create matchup problems in Philadelphia now, and the Texans offensive braintrust never fully integrated him into the game plan.

I don’t think this is a very good draft to be trading up in anyway, but Austin would be a very curious fit for this team given what we know about their offense. I was much more interested in the Texans securing a proven receiver of the Greg Jennings/Anquan Boldin ilk with some of the cap space they let lapse when Glover Quin and Connor Barwin walked.

3. Obviously there’s excitement around Whitney Mercilus and his growth, but pass rushing support is another need after Barwin’s departure. If that’s the chosen direct with an early pick, who’s the best fit?

Again, it kind of depends on who slips. This might be a reach to some, but I think Texas’ Alex Okafor would fit in very nicely from a pass-rushing perspective. If a Jarvis Jones or someone like that goes tumbling down the board because of concerns over his medicals, that’s a direction the Texans could look in.

Really, though, if Houston is going with a defensive player, I’m locked in on Datone Jones of UCLA as someone to take Antonio Smith’s job away eventually. His hands are incredible, and while I’m not saying he’s the next J.J. Watt, I think he could very well become the next Muhammad Wilkerson.

4. Matt Schuab had a poor end to his 2012 season. Although his starting job isn’t at all in jeopardy (I think), could some quarterback competition be drafted in the later rounds?

Well, you only really create quarterback competition with a pick in the top two rounds. I think the Texans are a mortal lock to not do this, because the roster has plenty of holes and they are pot-committed to Schaub. I could see them tossing another pick out there on a T.J. Yates-ish guy, perhaps Matt Scott or Landry Jones if they slip into the fourth round, but I don’t think it will be a serious focus this year. Which is too bad, because it probably should be.

5. And about those later rounds: some tight end depth would be nice too after James Casey walked, yes?

I’m not sure how high a priority the Texans will place on this because Casey didn’t really spend much time lined up at tight end anyway, but certainly Owen Daniels is getting up there in age and it would make sense to spend a pick at tight end. I’m a huge Jordan Reed fan, but that’s probably too early for Houston. A couple of guys who I could see in Houston with a mid-or-late-round pick are Stanford’s Levine Toilolo and New Mexico’s Lucas Reed. Reed is the brother of Brooks Reed, so Houston might have some inside scoop on him.