NFL draft season is the time of year where hot takes just start flowing out of your boy CThaw. Limitless potential fills the spring air, and all rationality is thrown out the window. Crazy CThaw has arrived. And once the 2017 NFL Draft wrapped up, the HOUSTON TEXANS became my Super Bowl 52 pick.
Going into the 2016 season, the Houston Texans believed they had all the pieces to legitimately contend for a Super Bowl after signing their $72 million man Brock Lobster (Osweiler). They returned the 2x defending NFL defensive player of the year in JJ Watt and a defense that finished 3rd overall in yards allowed per game. Their offense consisted of all world WR DeAndre Hopkins, they splurged on Lamar Miller from the Dolphins, and they spent significant draft capital on 1st & 3rd round WRs, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller.
In 2016, the defense jumped from 3rd overall to 1st even though JJ was put on IR early in the season. Alas, some truly awful Quarterback play from Brock Lobster doomed Bill O’Brien and co. to remain everyone’s favorite team to bet against in round 1 of the playoffs.
This offseason the Texans were the only team in the NFL not to sign an outside free agent, and lost breakout corner A.J. Bouye, starting safety Quentin Demps and rush LB John Simon. Their only significant move was dumping Osweiler to the Browns and forking over a 2018 2nd round pick in the process.
After watching Tony Romo ignore their overtures for the broadcast booth, things did not look rosy going into the draft for the Texans. But over a year of watching all their personnel decisions go to shit, everything changed for GM Rick Smith with their favorite trade partner the Cleveland Browns on the clock at #12.
Smith may have jeopardized his entire 2018 draft by no longer having a 1st or 2nd rounder, but coming away with the best QB in the draft in Deshaun Watson was an absolute must for the franchise. The minor fact that he’s a proven winner and champion is a nice bonus as well. We can squabble all we want about mortgaging your future for one player, but for the 2017 season their outlook just blasted through the roof.
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Watson is a QB that has all the tools, can make every throw and has tremendous athleticism to navigate and escape the pocket when needed. He always keeps his eyes downfield and is not the traditional “mobile” quarterback that looks to run at the first sign of trouble, but is more in the “Dak” mold where his first priority is to make a play downfield.
Look, Watson has some shortcomings. He threw too many interceptions this past year, and sometimes forces balls into windows that are too tight. His offensive line play this past year was subpar, and it clearly affected his decision making at times as he waited too long to escape the pocket or tried to throw receivers open. But look at this throw to a former walk on WR, against the vaunted Alabama defense, into double coverage, in the national championship game, and tell me your heart doesn’t skip a beat.
Before Sam Darnold stole my heart this past season, Deshaun Watson was my guy at QB in the college ranks. From the moment he stepped on campus he demonstrated the poise, leadership, and MOXIE needed from the game’s most important position. In 3 years of watching nearly every Clemson game, I never saw him once look overmatched, and he constantly improved his play year after year, game after game. What these “evaluators” don’t understand is that there’s only so much scouting you can do for the quarterback position. A huge aspect of being a successful NFL Quarterback is your mindset and whether or not you have that elusive and impossible to define ‘IT’ factor. Deshaun Watson unequivocally has that ‘IT’ factor and as the 3rd QB drafted the NFL just gave this man a gigantic chip on his shoulder. I can promise you, you don’t want a hungry, motivated, Deshaun Watson gunning for your team in the 4th quarter.
But I digress. While QB is the most important position, the Texans still had other needs that they filled admirably. After trading up for Watson, Houston stood pat and took Zach Cunningham in the 2nd round. Many thought Cunningham was a first round talent via the combine and he has the credentials to boot as the only unanimous All-American selection in the history of Vanderbilt football. While he won’t necessarily fill the pass rushing void left by Simon (the return of Watt should take care of that), Cunningham is extremely impressive from a size/speed/athleticism standpoint and projects as a 3 down LB at the next level. His plus athleticism allows him to stick Tight Ends downfield in coverage, and his 6’3″ 240 frame makes him a STUD run stuffer. Cunningham loves taking on lead blockers, and ranked 4th in the country among LBs in run stop percentage in 2016 (per PFF). He has the flexibility to play inside and outside and should vie for significant playing time as a rookie.
Normally, getting 2 impact prospects in the first 2 rounds would be enough to hang your hat on, but GM Rick Smith wasn’t done by a long shot. In the third round he took the stud Texas RB D’onta Foreman. While Foreman only had one season of impact performance at Texas, he made the most of it tallying an astounding stat line of 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns. Foreman is a BIG back at 6’1″ 230 lbs, but flabbergasted NFL scouts by running a 4.45 40 at his pro day and that speed definitely translates to the gridiron. While he had some massive holes to run through playing against absolute jokes of Big 12 defenses, he impressively was 4th amongst all draft eligible running backs with 64 missed tackles (per PFF). He’s not much of a pass catcher, but he won’t be asked to do that as he perfectly complements Lamar Miller.
Smith worked to bolster the trenches in the 4th round picking up developmental offensive tackle prospect Julie’n Davenport from Bucknell, and one of my favorite defensive tackle sleepers Carlos Watkins from Clemson. While Davenport seems to be a project, RT was arguably the biggest hole on Houston’s roster and Davenport might be in the mix to start at some point this season. Watkins is an extremely underrated prospect, and while he’s undersized he projects as a great fit to fill the 325 pound sized hole of Vince Wilfork at Nose Tackle.
You might be thinking, how can this team be a Super Bowl contender if they expect so many of their draft picks to become immediate contributors? I refer you to the Super Bowl 42 champion New York Giants who relied on picks all the way through the 7th round to contribute in very meaningful ways to take down what many considered the greatest team in the history of football, the previously undefeated 2007 New England Patriots.
With Watt ready to return, former first round pick Kevin Johnson ready to fill the void left by Bouye, and this incredibly impactful draft class, the 2017 Houston Texans are well positioned to challenge the Patriots for AFC supremacy.