8 Biggest Draft Day Mistakes in Houston Texans History
Like the game itself, the NFL draft has its winners and losers. Those organizations that master the process will remain competitive, year after year. Those that do not will be constantly reminded of the mistakes they have made, year after year. Due to the lack of success over their short history, the Houston Texans fall into the latter category.
For hardcore NFL fans, the draft holds all of the allure of a trip to Las Vegas. But instead of putting their own capital at risk, these armchair general managers get to watch how their 32 real-life counterparts play their seven chips.
While the marks in Vegas wager against unbeatable house odds, Rick Smith of the Texans and his fellow talent evaluators have a chance to come out winners if they do their homework. Even though improvements in technology have given them an enormous volume of facts and figures to use in their decision making, no one has come up with the means to quantify human nature.
On the other hand, hindsight can provide some insights. Mike Bostock and some co-workers at The New York Times analyzed the drafts from 1995 to 2012 and discovered 62 percent of the “top performing players in the NFL” were taken in the first ten picks. The success rate jumps to 78 percent for the top No. 1 overall selection.
Bostock et. al. used the approximate value (AV) statistic devised by Pro Football Reference to determine their rankings. What follows will display the AV assigned to each player so it can be compared to the average AV for each round.
The choices for this list were all drafted in the first through third rounds, where the vast majority of starters are selected. The average AV for those rounds are 36 for the first, 23 for the second and 15 for the third. This will illustrate how each player performed relative to his draft position.
Draft position: 2nd round (41st overall) of the 2003 NFL draft
Key Statistics: One game played (2006) in four seasons with Houston, no receptions
The first touchdown in Texans history was scored by tight end Billy Miller in the 19-10 upset win over the Dallas Cowboys. Miller went on to become the leading receiver in the team’s inaugural season, with 53 receptions for 613 yards and three touchdowns. This alone makes Joppru, an All-Big Ten tight end from Michigan, a curious use of a very high pick.
Quarterback David Carr had been sacked 76 times in 2002, an single-season NFL record that stands to this day. Maybe there were no highly ranked offensive linemen available in the second round, but defensive end Cory Redding and linebacker Lance Briggs were still on the board. Offensive tackle Seth Wand was added in the third round but was part of a line that allowed 69 sacks of Carr in 2004.
Joppru was hurt in three consecutive seasons, with injuries ranging from a groin pull that put him on injured reserve his rookie year to a torn ACL in 2005 that caused him to miss the entire year. He played in 18 games for the Seattle Seahawks in 2006-07, and still could not manage a single catch.
The top tight end in this draft, Jason Witten, was snapped up by the Dallas Cowboys with the 69th pick in the third round. His 879 receptions place him second all-time to Tony Gonzalez among tight ends. If this was the Fates balancing the scales for that 19-10 win, their method was particularly cruel.
Draft position: 1st round (27th overall) of the 2004 NFL draft
Key statistics: 13 sacks in three seasons with Houston
From the Texans' perspective, Babin’s AV of 44 is completely misleading. Casserly was so enamored with the defensive end from Western Michigan University he sacrificed picks in second, third, fourth and fifth rounds to the Tennessee Titans.
To justify all that largesse to the team that left Houston without pro football for five years, an AV adjustment of 58 would have to be added to the 44 he earned on his own. That total of 102 would place Babin above perennial Pro Bowlers Neil Smith, Richard Seymour and Ed “TooTall” Jones, dominators who are way out of his league.
The Texans must shoulder much of the blame for trying to turn a 4-3 lineman into a 3-4 outside linebacker. Babin’s skill was lining up outside the tackle in a wide-9 technique and hitting the jets. The image above is an example of the alignment that brought him his best years, specifically in 2011 when he had 18 sacks and made second-team All-Pro.
If head coach Dom Capers really wanted a 3-4 lineman, Darnell Dockett (6’4”, 295 lbs) could have been had in the third round without gutting the rest of the draft to get him. This kind of reach paved the way for the 2-14 implosion in 2005 and the start of the Gary Kubiak era.
Draft position: 1st round (16th overall) of the 2005 NFL draft
Key statistics: Two sacks and 106 tackles in four seasons with Houston
The geniuses that turned the 2004 draft into a “Ricky Williams” charade by throwing away four draft choices could not resist picking the wrong player for the wrong position one more time.
Seth Payne had been the starting nose tackle since 2002 and had done a yeoman job even though he was undersized by around 20-30 pounds. Payne would turn 30 in 2005 and a replacement needed to be developed to take over for him.
Knowing this, the brain trust went for a sub-300 pound 4-3 lineman who waltzed through his first three years at Florida State. Johnson turned it on his senior year and made the All-ACC team at defensive tackle. As a pro, he was going to take this intermittent work ethic, gain 20-30 pounds and make everyone forget about Payne.
Johnson bulked up but still had a tough time handling the role of a two-gap tackle. When Gary Kubiak took over and the team switched to a 4-3, many hoped the light would turn on once the neophyte returned to a more familiar position.
The change failed to take place when the Texans defensive line started playing an under front that frequently placed Johnson over the center. He hung around through 2008, after which he was traded to the San Diego Chargers just before the start of the 2009 regular season.
The players drafted after the 16th pick in 2005 cannot help but lead to a lot of “what if” questions. Roddy White went to Atlanta with the 27th selection in the first round, and would have been the perfect partner for Andre Johnson. Jay Ratliff was there for the taking in the seventh round and became the best 3-4 nose tackle in the NFC when he went to four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-11.
Then there is Aaron Rodgers, who was expected to go in the top five but dropped all the way to 24 before the Green Bay Packers brought him in to caddy for Brett Favre. The David Carr experiment had just about run its course, but a 7-9 record in 2004 lent an aura of false promise to an organization that would soon run out of answers. Rodgers turned out to be the answer for the Packers when Favre was traded to the New York Jets in 2008.
Draft Position: 1st round (10th overall) of the 2007 NFL draft
Key Statistics: 11 sacks and 138 tackles for Houston in four seasons
By 2006, Houston had drafted a defensive lineman in the first round for three consecutive drafts. It looked as if they have finally hit gold with Mario Williams, so why not go 4-for-4 in 2007?
Okoye was touted as “can’t miss” everywhere you turned. USA Today published an article titled “Mountain of youth: Okoye, 19, has NFL scouts salivating.” The New York Times had their own puff piece, “N.F.L. Prospect Is a Prodigy in Helmet and Pads.”
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com went completely over the top with this strained analogy:
Compares To: REGGIE WHITE-ex-Philadelphia/Green Bay … To compare a player to White is something that cannot be done without much consideration. But the more you see Okoye on game films, the more convinced you become that he will not only have a long, fruitful career, but will continue to grow both physically and mentally.
That his age would make him the youngest player drafted in the first round since the AFL-NFL merger was always mentioned and always brushed off. Okoye was supposedly mature well beyond his years and destined for greatness.
Then something got in the way: The game of football. At least it is called a game at the professional level when it suits whomever is speaking. But the pros will tell you that much of it is a grind, like most jobs.
In The Times article, Amobi’s mom, Edna Okoye, mentioned he played his first high school game at 13 and his first college game at 16. “He doesn’t like to be bored,” she said.
The money and the cheers are great, but two-a-days can be a real drag. It wasn’t that Okoye did not work hard enough, just that he had to work harder because he was up against fully grown men.
His rookie season gave a hint of what he could do: 5.5 sacks and 32 tackles. When his development became stagnant and the Texans switched to a 3-4 in 2011, Okoye was released.
Without an NFL job in 2013, 10 years in the league is no longer within reach. Perhaps the time has come to pursue his first goal, one in which he is unlikely to ever be bored.
Wherever Reggie White may be, his concerns have never included Okoye surpassing his legacy. He is probably hoping J.J. Watt has given some thought to becoming a doctor.
Draft Position: 1st round (20th overall) of the 2010 NFL draft
Key statistics: Has never allowed fewer than four TDs in a season; seven career interceptions.
The favorite whipping boy when the discussion turns to the Texans defense, Jackson has flirted with bust status throughout his career. Closer inspection indicates his effectiveness is dependent on the consistency of the pass rush, as is the case with the rest of colleagues at cornerback.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) will tell you his best seasons in coverage were 2011 and 2012, when defense recorded 44 sacks each season and had an opposing quarterback ratings of 69 and 80.2, respectively.
His AV puts him in below average territory for his draft position, and what keeps him there is the performance of Devin McCourty. The New England Patriots corner was the 27th selection in the 2010 draft and has 15 interceptions for his career.
McCourty was moved to safety in 2013, which used to be considered a demotion. With multiple receivers running in every different direction, safeties are more important now than at any other time since the coverage rules were changed in 1978.
The comparisons on offense are even more damning. Demaryius Thomas was drafted 22nd, is Peyton Manning’s No. 1 receiver and has been to two Pro Bowls. Dez Bryant, who was drafted 24th, is just as dangerous as Thomas, and made his first Pro Bowl in 2013.
Jackson is going to work for his third defensive coordinator in his five-year career. Romeo Crennel may not be able to make Texans fans forget how many times No. 25 has been caught with his back to the ball, or how many top-flight players could have been selected in his place.
What Crennel can do is design a defense that gets the most out of someone who is only as good as the players around him.
Draft Position: 2nd round (60th overall) of the 2011 NFL draft
Key statistics: Zero games started, zero interceptions, 37 tackles and seven passes defended
Harris has played sparingly in his three seasons with the Texans, usually in relief of an injured Brice McCain. Now that McCain has been sent packing, he will get first shot at the slot cornerback position. This is because A.J. Bouye and Josh Victorian are the only other alternatives at the moment.
For a second-round pick from a big-time program like the University of Miami, his work has been distinguished by the very lack of it. It is likely Harris might not have stepped on the field at all in 2012 if McCain had not broken his leg.
The disarray in the secondary in 2013 was another invitation for him to help out. If things had gone slightly better, Harris might have been a spectator for most of the season.
Considering the contemporary prototype for your position, Richard Sherman, was drafted in the fifth round in 2011, his AV of 41 is remarkable. No one expects Harris to approach his stature, but he'd better do something to warrant his inclusion on this roster or McCain will have some company on the waiver wire.
Draft Position: 3rd round (95th overall) of the 2013 NFL draft
Key Statistics: Zero games played
The difficulty of converting college defensive ends to NFL outside linebackers is well known to the Texans. The trials of Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus bear witness to the tribulations of this transition. But when you lack the discipline to stay in shape, everything gets harder.
When Montgomery skipped one too many workouts at LSU, his strength and conditioning coach, Tommy Moffitt, posted a sign that cited all the slackers on the team. This reputation may have been the reason one of the best defensive linemen in the SEC slipped from a possible first-round selection to the late third round.
Then Montgomery could not even pass a simple conditioning test prior to training camp and had to be placed on the non-football injury list. This warning sign was ignored and he still managed to make the active roster because, well, he is a third-round draft choice after all.
But the handwriting was on the wall. When the slacker was caught smoking something that may or may not have been marijuana with fellow rookies Cierre Wood and Willie Jefferson, all three were waived.
This could have been prevented by drafting wide receiver Kenny Stills, taken by the New Orleans Saints in the fifth round, who had 32 receptions for 641 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Andre Ellington would have appreciated making third-round money, who rushed for rushed for 652 yards and had 39 receptions as a member of the Arizona Cardinals via the sixth round.
This may have been the draftee that caused the rift between Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak to break wide open. Now that Kubiak is gone, Smith will take most of the heat for this year’s allotment of rookies. Will they all be solid citizens or will another wild card, like Montgomery, slip in?
Draft Position: 1st round (1st overall) of the 2002 NFL draft
Key Statistics: 65 touchdowns vs. 71 interceptions and 249 sacks in five seasons with Houston
When a new pro football franchise is just starting out, drafting a quarterback feels like the right move. Especially when a clean-cut, married college star that led the nation in passing yardage and touchdowns is there for the choosing.
David Carr had all the hallmarks that would label him the No.1 overall pick. Even Boomer himself, Chris Berman of ESPN, gave his blessing when he proclaimed, “There can be no debate. What a person—what a person—to build a franchise around, guys.”
There was even a storybook christening of the newest team in the NFL when the Texans beat their in-state rival, the Dallas Cowboys, in their very first game. The city of Houston was jubilant, filled Reliant Stadium for every game and was willing to wait for great things to come.
The city is still waiting to this day, even though there have been glimpses of greatness here and there. But greatness never came for David Carr, who left the team after five seasons as a broken and defeated football player.
There are those who said Carr never had it in him—that he would not put in the time it takes to succeed as an NFL quarterback. He held the ball too long and never learned when to get rid of it and that the finer points of reading defenses eluded him, including how to look off receivers and read through his progressions.
Then there are others who insist management never surrounded him with enough talented players. A makeshift offensive line allowed him to be sacked more times than any other quarterback during his time with the Texans. The lack of a consistent running game for all but two seasons put the pressure on Carr to carry the offense.
There is a measure of truth in both sides of the argument. But one thing is certain: Whatever chance Carr had to evolve into an upper echelon quarterback ended when he left Houston. After attempting 2,070 passes from 2002 to 2006, he had just 197 attempts in the final six years of his career.
Whenever the top pick in the draft fails to produce it qualifies as a mistake, regardless of the circumstances. Would the Texans have been better off drafting Julius Peppers, then going after Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger in 2004? Would those quarterbacks have developed into the same players on different teams?
There are no answers for these questions. Anyone who thinks they have them is simply mistaken.