Lombardi: What should the Houston Texans do with the second overall pick?

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Houston has a problem.

When Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban finally realized his team had zero chance to compete in NBA playoffs, he pulled the plug on the season, hoping to salvage the only asset he had left—a lottery-protected top-ten pick in this upcoming draft.  The NBA will research the tanking efforts by Cuban, probably sending Inspector Clouseau of Pink Panther fame to handle the investigation.  Cuban did the smart thing—he retreated and protected his franchise.  

Meanwhile, three months earlier and further south, the Houston Texans had the first pick in the draft locked up, until their former head coach Lovie Smith fought hard to save this job-winning two of the last three games and cost the Texans their chances of controlling the draft.  

Before Christmas, everyone knew the Texans were firing Smith at the conclusion of the year (I’m sure even Inspector Clouseau), so why did they let him win games and affect their draft position?  Probably because they didn’t have the guts to fire him and knew he wasn’t going to buy into the losing program like Jason Kidd did for the Mavericks. 

The fundamental question to answer:  Did the Texans cost themselves a Blue-Chip quarterback by winning?  If Bryce Young were 6’2”, Smith would have and should have been fired before the end of the year.  Young’s lack of height making his generational quarterback skill set questionable might have saved Smith his job for the interim.  Now, everyone assumes the Texans will take CJ Stroud from Ohio State because he is the next-best quarterback, and the Texans need one.  It could prove to be true, but I am not convinced. 

One of the biggest fallacies when putting together a draft board is the lack of awareness from prior drafts.   None of the mock drafts factor in the past or future when making a pick.  For example, if the Texans have CJ Stroud graded lower or slightly higher than Kenny Pickett, then why would they make him the second overall pick?  To be the second overall pick, a team must grade the player with a description that carries a lofty future.  We all know Pickett might become a good player, but he will never be a top-five quarterback in the league.  This doesn’t make him a bad pick especially considering he went 20th overall.  

If the Texans pick Stroud, they need him to be a top-five player, and if he isn’t, they made a mistake.  Are you ready to say Stroud can be a top-five quarterback in the NFL?  I like Stroud, but I can’t go there.  Draft fans need to understand that teams grade players and each grade is a value. That value is tied to the draft position. We all know teams must overpay for the quarterback—how much overpayment is the issue—and that’s why no one can say with certainty Stroud is their pick.  Mock drafters can because they never grade players; they only predict rounds. 

The point is there is value to each pick—money value and if the talent doesn’t match the value, then how can you make the selection?  Some teams will play the long game—and DeMeco Ryans said he is not rushing the roster:   "It’s exciting for us to have the No. 2 pick, but also at the same time, there is no pressure where a young man is picked," he said. "I think it’s unfair to ask a guy just because you’re picked No. 2 overall, you have to come in and you’re the face of our franchise and you’re the leader. That’s unfair to the guy. I’m not going to put that type of weight on the shoulders of whoever that is that we pick. That’s not what we’re anticipating. That’s not what we’re expecting them to do.”

Does that sound like someone who is going to select a quarterback?  He might, but for me, I am dubious.   Had Ryans said, look, we all know to win in the NFL is having a great quarterback, then I might be less skeptical. 

The best player for Ryans and the one that makes the most sense is Jalen Carter, the defensive tackle from Georgia.  Had Carter’s off-season not been as disruptive with his arrest, then the Bears might not have traded the pick.  He is the second-best player—with apprehension over his weight gain and off-the-field issues.  Ryans is a defensive coach and understands the value of having a great defensive line—which is the reason he was selected to be the head coach.  The 49ers defensive front dominating the game made decision-makers in the NFL notice Ryans.  So why wouldn’t he duplicate what made him successful?  When his former boss Kyle Shanahan took over the downtrodden 49ers, he needed a quarterback but instead chose a defensive tackle, Solomon Thomas, believing he would solve the quarterback issue later. That draft had Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson available—two players better than Stroud.  Shanahan had received a six-year deal from the 49ers like Ryans has from the Texans, so he played the long game, knowing eventually he would get the right player at quarterback.  Will Ryans do the same?  When you know you have time—then it helps to think long-term. 

I believe Houston would pick Young if he slipped—and it’s one of the reasons they haven’t been mentioned as a trade-down team. They want to be certain.  We are moving to the certain portion for the Texans, and the next two weeks will shed more light on their plans. 

I think we all need to be wary of the mock drafts and look past filling needs because teams like Houston and others have more needs than a quarterback.  Value is the key determining factor in the draft, and how to handicap that value is always difficult for those who don’t understand each team’s grading system.  The worst thing for Houston and Ryans would be to pass on a Blue-Chip player, take a positional need and still have the need two years later. Unless Houston is “all in” on Stroud as their quarterback for the next ten years, then they cannot pick him. They can’t waste their draft slot.  Ryans knows he can’t miss—which tells me it might not be what everyone is believing today.

It will be a fun two weeks. Remember, as we lead up to the draft there is more fiction now than ever before.