The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Houston Texans 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 3 (67)
Round 4 (109)
Round 5 (147)
Round 5 (158)
Round 6 (195)
Round 6 (203)
Round 6 (212)
Round 7 (233)
Houston Texans Offense
By Rich Hribar
The Texans are in a tough spot here with everything orbiting Deshaun Watson. Watson has expressed he does not want to play another down with the team, but also no team is willing to acquire him with the ongoing off-field allegations surrounding him.
At this time, we do not know if Watson will be available to play for anyone in 2021 and the Texans have loosely-accounted for that with the acquisitions of Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Finley. Knowing that they are basically punting the 2021 season, the team could throw Taylor out there for a season should Watson be unavailable. They should take a shot at a mid-to-late round quarterback contract to add for 2021 and future competition in preparations that Watson will either not be on their team or available come the start of this season.
No backfield averaged fewer touches per game than the Texans last season at 20.7 per game. Texans backs were 11th in yards per touch (5.0 yards) despite the low workload.
Houston is well aware of its roster situation and multi-year plan of rebuilding. The Texans restructured the contract of David Johnson (who will turn 30 years old this December) and added Mark Ingram (who will be 32-years-old in December) and Phillip Lindsay on one-year contracts. This gives them a stable of viable bodies immediately to use, but no running back on the Houston roster is currently signed beyond 2021. In fact, everyone here with the exception of Scottie Phillips is an unrestricted free agent after this season.
With Houston fully aware that they are making moves beyond this season, they should outright roll into the 2021 season with this current backfield roster and not even invest one of their low-leverage, late-round draft picks into the position. Having a day three running back on a rookie contract provides them little at this time.
Houston made a bunch of similar moves at wide receiver as they did at running back, adding Chris Conley, Chris Moore, Donte Moncrief, and Alex Erickson on one-year contracts this offseason. It is doubtful all make the opening day roster when we get to that point, but the only wideout they gave a multi-year contract this offseason was Andre Roberts, who was really signed as a kick returner.
The team still has Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb signed through the 2022 season. After his first disappointing NFL season in 2019 (42-583-2), Cooks bounced right back in his first season with the Texans, catching 81-of-119 targets for 1,150 yards and six touchdowns. Cooks became just the second player to have 1,000 yards receiving with four different teams.
Cobb will be 31 years old at the start of the season. He appeared in 10 games in his first year in Houston and has not played a full season since 2015. He carries a $12.2M dead cap hit this season, but just a $2M hit afterward. The team also still has 2020 fifth-rounder Isaiah Coulter on a rookie deal through 2023, but Cooks, Cobb, Roberts, and Coulter are the only wideouts signed beyond this season with all of the other expiring contracts becoming unrestricted free agents.
With Cobb a likely cut candidate after this season and Coulter an unproven project, Cooks is the only viable wide receiver on this team big picture.
Are you ready for more expiring contracts? Well, we have them.
Everyone here will be an unrestricted free agent after 2021 with the exceptions of Kahale Warring (two years remaining on his rookie contract) and Paul Quessenberry (an exclusive rights free agent).
Jordan Akins has improved his per-game reception and yardage output in each of his three seasons in the NFL, but at 2.8 catches for 31.0 yards in 2020 with just three career touchdowns, he will already be 29-years-old heading into this season.
LT: Laremy Tunsil/ Roderick Johnson/Jordan Steckler
LG: Max Scharping/Justin McCray
C: Cohl Cabral/Justin Britt*/Cole Toner
RG: Marcus Cannon*/Lane Taylor*/Hjalte Froholdt
RT: Tytus Howard/Charlie Heck
The Texans’ offensive line was all over the place in varying metrics, ranked 19th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (56%) and fifth in their Run Block Win Rate (73%) despite never running the football. Pro Football Focus had Houston eighth in overall pass blocking grade, but 26th in collective run blocking grade.
The two linemen that played the most snaps for Houston in 2020 (Nick Martin and Zach Fulton) left the team via free agency this offseason. Outside of those two, the only other linemen they had play more than 500 snaps in 2020 were tackles Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard.
Tunsil is locked in as a viable starter and signed through 2023. Howard still has two years remaining on his rookie contract, but has struggled heavily through his first two seasons in the NFL. Despite allowing just two sacks, Howard’s 42 pressures allowed in 2020 were the sixth-most allowed by all tackles in the league last season. The team also added Marcus Cannon this offseason on a two-year deal, who has right tackle experience, which gives them some flexibility. 2020 fourth-rounder Charlie Heck also took 103 snaps at right tackle last season.
Interior linemen Max Scharping, Justin McCray, Hjalte Froholdt, and Cohl Cabral all are signed for multiple seasons. The only long-term starter on this offensive line at the moment is Tunsil, so a talent upgrade is still needed across the line, but Houston does have enough bodies under contract to kick the can at the position for when they have actual draft capital to spend.
Houston Texans Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
J.J. Watt played 90% of the defensive snaps last season and with him gone, there will be a void to fill both inside and outside along the defensive line — one that is likely to have four down linemen more often than not in a switch to a Lovie Smith defense. At 280 pounds, 2019 fifth-round pick has the ability to play on both the interior and on the edge. Omenihu was able to have some pass rush upside last season bouncing between the two spots with 16 quarterback hits.
Ross Blacklock was the team’s second-round selection in 2020 (and the team’s first selection of the draft) but he got on the field for just 23% of the snaps. However, he is likely to be in line as an interior starter in Year 2.
As depth, Houston added a few veteran pieces to add as part of the rotation — more quantity than quality. Last season, the Texans kept a heavy rotation with five linemen outside of Watt on the field for at least 23% of the defensive snaps.
After a year with the Miami Dolphins, Shaq Lawson was traded to the Texans and could become their No. 1 pass rusher. Lawson was aided a bit by the exotic looks and blitzing of the Dolphins’ defense, but he ranked fourth in pressure rate among edge rushers in 2020, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Whitney Mercilus played 55% of the defensive snaps but ranked just 92nd among edge rushers in pressure rate. Jacob Martin, acquired in the Jadeveon Clowney trade, was more impactful when he got on the field. Martin played 33.8% of the defensive snaps and ranked 52nd in pressure rate.
Jordan Jenkins was a veteran depth signing from the New York Jets. He ranked 66th among edge rushers in pressure rate. Jonathan Greenard, a 2020 third-round pick, was on the field for 24% of the defensive snaps with three quarterback hits and a sack.
As a team, the Texans ranked 25th in pressure rate last season, even though they blitzed at the eighth-highesr rate in the league.
Hardy Nickerson Jr.*
After signing a massive extension last offseason, Zach Cunningham had a slight drop in production. He still led the NFL in tackles and a league-high 62% of them came before a first down but his coverage left a bit to be desired. Cunningham ranked 41st among 59 qualified linebackers in yards allowed per coverage snap and 58th in yards allowed per target, according to data from SIS. Cunningham remains the lone constant in the middle of the Houston defense.
The trio of Kamu Grugier-Hill, Christian Kirksey, and Kevin Pierre-Louis were brought in to flank Cunningham on a defense that’s likely to use a lot of base personnel if comments from Lovie Smith are to be believed. The Texans already tied for the third-highest rate of base defense (35%) in the league last season.
Bradley Roby was one of the few on-field bright spots for the Texans. But with some disciplinary and injury issues, he played just 10 games in 2020. While he was on the field, Roby ranked 30th among 148 cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap (which accounts for touchdowns and interceptions). Roby is on the second year of a three-year deal but the Texans could save $10 million on the cap if they move on after 2021.
Vernon Hargreaves ranked 132nd among that cornerback group in 2020.
While the Texans made multiple handfuls of depth signings in the offseason, one did come with some quality. The one-year/$3 million deal for Desmond King is perfect for a defensive back that can play all over the secondary. King ranked 34th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. Between his low trade value from the Chargers and no interest in free agency, King’s ability on the field has consistently outweighed how those in the league feel about him.
Lonnie Johnson Jr.
Justin Reid has developed into one of the league’s better safeties, though 2020 was not his best and a hand injury cut his season short after 13 games. Reid played more in the box and upped his tackles for loss and quarterback hits but his coverage took a bit of a step back. Though Reid did have the fourth-highest pressure rate among safeties with at least 30 pass rushes on the season.
Lonnie Johnson converted to safety and his play there was better than it was at corner during his rookie year. Johnson is expected to stick at safety with a chance to develop there.
Terrence Brooks came over as a free agent but the 25% of the defensive snaps he played with the Patriots last season was just 2% away from the career-high for the seven-year vet.
The Texans were 22nd in DVOA against deep passes in 2020, according to Football Outsiders.