After years of stumbling around the AFC South, the Houston Texans finally stepped up and made the playoffs. Considering the obstacles they had to overcome (losing two quarterbacks and their star pass rusher), it was all the more impressive that Houston suffered a narrow defeat in the AFC Divisional round to an impressive Ravens squad.
So what was the trigger for such a turnaround? We’re going to put the Texans 2008 to 2010 draft classes through the Draft Grader. As is always the case, every pick gets a grade between +2.0 and -2.0 (in 0.5 increments) that depends upon:
• Where they were drafted
• Their performance
• Their contribution (how many snaps their team got out of them)
• Other factors such as unforeseen injuries and conditions that could not have been accounted for
Let’s take a look at how the Texans drafted.
+2.0: You’ve just found Tom Brady in the 6th round
Maybe T.J. Yates will one day be the fifth-round version?
+1.5: Getting much more than you bargained for!
+1.0: The scouts nailed it!
Duane Brown, T (26th overall pick in 2008): Brown was viewed as something of a project when he was selected as a first round pick, and given how he performed in his rookie year, you wondered just how much development he needed. Year-on-year Brown has got better, to the point where you wouldn’t argue too strongly against suggestions he’s a Top 5 left tackle in the league. A win for the scouts, a win for the coaches, and a win for patience.
Brian Cushing, LB (15th overall pick in 2009): The star of an excellent 2009 draft class, Cushing has quickly become one of the league’s best linebackers. His 2010 didn’t go to plan after a suspension and he struggled to regain his rookie form, but the Texans’ move to a 3-4 got him back on track and he responded with our second-highest grade of all inside linebackers.
+0.5: Never hurts to find a solid contributor
Connor Barwin, LB (46th overall pick in 2009): The jury is still out on Barwin, who is capable of looking extremely good (see Week 12 versus Jacksonville), but too often struggles to get the better of tackles. An aggressive scheme will always inflate his numbers, but he needs to do more to prove he can be a team’s premier pass rusher. Very productive last year though.
Antoine Caldwell, G (77th overall pick in 2009): It may surprise some to realize Caldwell has managed 1,145 snaps over three years with the Texans. Rotating in at right guard regularly, Caldwell will finally get his chance to start in 2012, and given how he’s played so far (+4.0 grade) we like his chances.
Glover Quin, S (112th overall pick in 2009): One of the most versatile defensive backs in the league, Quin was the only defensive back in Houston to come out with any credit in 2010, and followed it up with a solid 2011. A competent NFL starter.
James Casey, TE/ FB (152nd overall pick in 2009): Spent his early career buried on the depth chart, but took his opportunity in 2011 to be something of a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. Expected to see an increase in opportunities with the departure of Joel Dreessen.
Brice McCain, CB (188th overall pick in 2009): Looked out of his depth until a new coaching staff turned him into a slot corner. The result? A +5.9 coverage grade and McCain looked like he could be one of the league’s premier slot cornerbacks.
Troy Nolan, S (223rd overall pick in 2009): Not cut out for starting, Nolan has caved out a role for himself as a sub-package safety in the Texans’ dime defense. Looked much better in 2011 in his 438 snaps.
Ben Tate, RB (58th overall pick in 2010): Despite missing all of his rookie year, Tate has lived up to his drafting with a series of impressive performances as a rookie. Averaged 5.4 yards per carry and earned a +6.2 rushing grade as he formed a potent one-two punch with Arian Foster.
0.0: It could have been worse
Steve Slaton, RB (89th overall pick in 2008): Back in 2008, the Texans looked like they’d hit the jackpot with Slaton as a late third-rounder, putting forth a season that earned him a +10.1 grade. But things went south from there, as he couldn’t replicate his form and put the ball on the ground once too often. The rookie year means Houston got something out of him, but it threatened to be a lot more at one point.
Frank Okam, DT (151st overall pick in 2008): Houston gave up on Okam in 2010, after just 138 snaps which earned him a -7.6 grade. Just didn’t work out for them at all.
Dominique Barber, S (173rd overall pick in 2008): You wouldn’t want Barber starting for a prolonged period of time, but in addition to providing depth at the safety spot he’s also contributed with 24 special teams tackles over four years.
Alex Brink, QB (223rd overall pick in 2008): Spent a year hanging around Houston before the Texans finally cut the cord.
Earl Mitchell, DT (81st overall pick in 2010): Still waiting to see whether Mitchell can make a huge contribution as part of the Texans’ defensive line rotation. Has made plays, though can at times look a little undersized for life as a nose tackle.
Darryl Sharpton, LB (102nd overall pick in 2010): Will likely get his chance to start in 2012, Sharpton has looked built for a two-down linebacker role with impressive work coming downhill and looking a bit lax when on his heels.
Garrett Graham, TE (118th overall pick in 2010): Just 32 career snaps on offense, though interestingly did line up on defense for two snaps in Week 17 last year. Will likely see more of him in 2012.
Sherrick McManis, CB (144th overall pick in 2010): While he hasn’t done a good job of getting on the field in a crowded defensive backfield (30 snaps on defense), has become something of a core special-teamer for Houston.
Shelley Smith, G (187th overall pick in 2010): Bounced on and off the roster as a rookie while missing all of 2011 with an injury. Odds of him catching on appear to be low.
Trindon Holliday, WR (197th overall pick in 2010): Meant to be a dynamite kick returner with upside on offense, but ball security issues in pre season meant that Holliday fair caught just three balls in his NFL career.
Dorin Dickerson, TE (227th overall pick in 2010): A developmental project, he struggled to adapt from turning from college tight end to receiver in the pros. Waived after a year.
-0.5: That pick was not put to good use
Xavier Abidi, LB (118th overall pick in 2008): Abidi was given opportunities to start, but the former fourth round pick never grasped them. Struggling before being waived in 2011, Abidi earned a -12.1 grade on just 474 snaps.
Anthony Hill, TE (122nd overall pick in 2009): The only dud from the 2008 class, Hill got on the field for just 20 snaps. Tearing his ACL as a rookie didn’t help, but Hill was always going to have a hard time catching on.
Kareem Jackson, CB (20th overall pick in 2010): After a horrendous rookie year, took some strides in 2011, but still has a long way to go to live up to being a firs t round pick. Telling that Houston didn’t trust him to be an every-series starter last year.
-1.0: What a waste!
Antwaun Molden, CB (79th overall pick in 2008): A real disappointment for the Texans, Molden managed just 32 snaps on defense. The former third round pick was limited by injuries and excelled on special teams, but didn’t threaten a lineup that was particularly weak at corner.
-1.5: The scouts/ coaches failed, big time!
Good job with the scouting–none here.
-2.0: You just drafted the love child of Jamarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf!
No Russell/ Leaf hybrids in this draft.
If there was ever a model franchise for how to make itself competitive, it’s the Texans. Years in obscurity seem set to be replaced by years in prosperity and, in large part, it’s the result of finding players from their drafts who can contribute and then filling in the gaps in free agency. The 2010 class may go down as one of the most productive in recent memory, with Houston able to churn out a number of starters and role players. They have shown that patience can be a virtue with some talented players who have developed over time to become quality starters.