The Houston Texans have one of the worst rosters and won’t be able to add any rookies through the 2021 NFL Draft until the third round unless they make some serious trades.
Well, a blockbuster deal involving disgruntled superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson could be the ticket for Houston to move its rebuild along.
Unfortunately for Texans fans, it’s a lose-lose right now. Watson doesn’t want to play for the team anymore, so even if he stays, it won’t be a pleasant situation. Watching a top-five QB leave Houston isn’t ideal, either — unless the return is massive.
Watson would command tons of assets in a prospective trade. Given what the Texans have to work with now, though, let’s take a look at who they. should target beginning in Round 3 with their top 2021 NFL Draft picks.
Houston Texans draft picks: Best prospects to target in 4-round mock
Third round, 67th pick: Elijah Molden (DB, Washington), Deonte Brown (OL, Alabama), Payton Turner (EDGE, Houston)
The big knock on Molden is that he’s undersized. As to whether or not he can shine in the secondary, that much is of very little doubt.
With the skill set to play safety or slot cornerback, Molden fits the mold of an ideal defensive back for Houston. With so many holes to plug on this roster, having a high football IQ, versatile prospect like Molden who can address multiple deficiencies on the back end on his own is invaluable.
Other directions Houston could potentially go with this pick would be to stay in-state and land an edge-rusher in Turner, or bolster the trenches on offense with someone like Alabama’s Brown.
Why are the latter two good fits? Starting with Brown, he’s a mauler who brings a physicality and tenacity versus the run that would help the Texans be more balanced on offense for whomever is taking snaps at quarterback in 2021. Brown can also play right tackle or guard, which are both areas of need. Houston could stand to upgrade about anywhere up front, save for Laremy Tunsil at left tackle.
In Turner’s case, he’s a lengthy edge player listed at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds who can slide inside on pass-rushing downs and get pressure, not to mention disengage and make plays versus the run. Across five games for the Cougars this past season, Turner had 25 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quite the impact.
Fourth round, 109th pick: Rodarius Williams (CB, Oklahoma State), Kyle Trask (QB, Florida), Paris Ford (S, Pittsburgh)
Hopefully it doesn’t come to Houston resorting to a Day 3 draft pick as its potential 2021 starter. That worked once upon a time for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, but such success stories are few and far between.
Trask is a great contingency option in the event the Texans do wind up swinging a blockbuster Watson trade. The organization would likely draft a quarterback earlier if, say, the Jets or Dolphins with the second and third overall picks respectively were the trade partner.
In the event Watson goes somewhere else and the team isn’t in range to land one of the premier QB prospects, though, Trask is a great second-tier option. He was regarded as a possible first-rounder for much of the college football season until an uninspiring finish derailed his stock.
With 4,283 passing yards and a nation-leading 43 touchdown passes in 2020, however, Trask isn’t a slouch. The problem is his lack of mobility, which could be a problem if Houston doesn’t upgrade its offensive line around Tunsil. Hopefully, the haul in a prospective Watson trade would leave room to do just that.
The other prospects listed here are for clear holes in the defensive backfield. Williams is a pure outside cover corner who ranked 15th among all players at the position this past season, per Pro Football Focus. That was while playing in the pass-happy Big 12 and without many other NFL-caliber players around him on his unit.
Ford is a tone-setting box safety who initially played cornerback at Pittsburgh and does have some decent coverage skills, but is a physical player who, like Molden can play a variety of roles. The question is whether Ford’s upside still to explore as a relatively new safety will entice teams to draft him sooner than this.
Fourth round, 122nd pick: Adetokunbo Ogundeji (EDGE, Notre Dame), Cade Johnson (WR, South Dakota State), Tre Brown (CB, Oklahoma)
What makes Oklahoma’s Brown an appealing prospect is his extensive experience as one of the few bright spots on the Sooners’ defense for multiple seasons — their 2020 collective improvement notwithstanding — and his hard-hitting nature despite his smaller size.
Brown has the tools, coverage ability and play strength to hold his own in most situations on the outside. He’s also quick enough to play in the slot, and thanks to having years of experience under his belt out wide, he could absolutely bully opposing slot men in press coverage.
To stray away from the secondary, Notre Dame’s Ogundeji is getting some love lately, and deservedly so. The junior has been overlooked in three solid years for the Fighting Irish, serving as a stalwart across their defensive front.
A strong showing at the Senior Bowl got Ogundeji more notice among NFL scouts. His hand technique is sound, he understands leverage, and Ogundeji is a load to handle as a strong edge-setter in the running game. He had solid PFF grades throughout his Notre Dame career, and Ogundeji is the classic “better in the pros than college” candidate.
Johnson is among the most intriguing Day 3 prospects in the 2021 class. He could see his stock rise up further and go earlier, but in this scenario, Houston nabs him.
ESPN’s Turron Davenport made a fascinating pro player comparison that is very apt for Johnson:
Due to being stuck in limbo with the transfer portal and the FCS playing a spring season, Johnson didn’t play in 2020. In two seasons before that with the Jackrabbits, he was incredible, averaging 18.4 yards per catch on 139 receptions for 2,554 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Thanks to his elite acceleration, ball skills, and playing much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 180-pound size, there’s reason to buy the hype on Johnson. The Texans should, since Brandin Cooks is a cap casualty candidate and Will Fuller could leave in free agency.
Houston Texans draft picks: Ideal 2021 NFL Draft mock scenario
- Third round: Elijah Molden, defensive back, Washington
- Fourth round: Adetokunbo Ogundeji, EDGE, Notre Dame; Cade Johnson, wide receiver, South Dakota State
Really, this ideal Texans mock is all about value, versatility and plugging as many holes as possible with either immediate starters or depth players who could eventually evolve to achieve such status. The Texans would love a scenario in which Molden was still on the board and Turner fell to the fourth round, yet it doesn’t seem like the mock simulations favor that outcome.
Molden is a good starting point for this class, and Ogundeji played superior competition to Turner in college. He offers similar schematic versatility and strengths. He’s only recently been buzzed about in draft circles, so it’s possible Ogundeji could be a Day 3 steal who winds up starting right away in Houston.
Given the dire need the Texans have to cut cap, it feels pretty likely the oft-injured Cooks is going to get the boot this offseason, paving the path for someone like Johnson to step in for him. Cooks will dislike having to change teams again, but at least he should be pursued by a championship contender instead of toiling away amid a rebuild in Houston.
To focus on Johnson again: His level of competition isn’t too concerning, because his uncommon agility, knack for beating jams despite his slight frame and sheer explosiveness all translate to the NFL. If he wasn’t a small-school prospect, you’d hear Johnson’s name called in the first two rounds.
Again, the Texans could be rewarded for taking a swing on an under-the-radar prospect in Johnson if he’s there in Round 4. It’s going to take several of those hits on Day 3 in the next couple years to successfully rebuild this depleted team.