Texans address offensive needs early; have 3 picks Saturday
HOUSTON (AP) After years of focusing on defense in the draft by choosing J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Kevin Johnson, Kareem Jackson and Brian Cushing, the Houston Texans shifted to offense this time around, adding a bevy of playmakers that should help new quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Houston took offensive players in the first four rounds of the draft for the first time since its first draft in 2002.
First-round pick Will Fuller, a Notre Dame receiver selected 21st overall, should take some pressure off star DeAndre Hopkins, who made his first Pro Bowl last season after finishing third in the NFL with 1,521 yards receiving.
''There's still going to be some double teams on a guy that caught 111 balls,'' coach Bill O'Brien said of Hopkins. ''He's a great player. But I think one of the things we looked at was ... trying to give him some help. Trying to get it where he could be more 1-on-1 and things like that. And I think that's what we've done with this offensive skill draft class.''
Fuller had 62 receptions for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns last season for the Fighting Irish. It was his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season after he had a career-high 76 receptions for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns - also a career-best - in 2014.
In the second round, Houston addressed another need by trading up two spots to take Fuller's teammate, center Nick Martin. Houston added Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller in free agency to boost their offense, but were looking for a center after losing Ben Jones in free agency to the Titans. The 6-foot-4, 299-pound Martin is the younger broker of Zack Martin, who was a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2014 and a two-time Pro-Bowler at guard.
Their third-round pick is an intriguing playmaker: Former Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was the 85th overall selection after converting to receiver this season following sitting out a year with a shoulder injury.
He was the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year in 2012 and 2013 after throwing for more than 2,000 yards and rushing for more than 1,000 in both of those seasons. He finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2012 when he ran for a career-high 1,271 yards and was responsible for 28 touchdowns.
He couldn't throw more than 45 yards after his shoulder injury so he requested a move to receiver. In 13 games he had 26 receptions for 341 yards and three touchdowns and ran 42 times for 281 yards and another score.
O'Brien said they had a long conversation on Friday night after drafting Miller about the importance of not overwhelming him early.
''We have a plan for Braxton,'' he said. ''You can't throw everything at these guys right away because you have to give them a chance to learn and to be able to play fast. To be able to play the game at a good pace, the way they played the game in college.''
In the fourth round they added depth at running back, making San Jose State's Tyler Ervin the 119th pick. Ervin ran for 1,601 yards with 13 touchdowns last season after rushing for 888 yards and four scores in 2014. He's also a threat out of the backfield after grabbing 74 receptions for 640 yards combined in the last two years.
Ervin, who also saw limited action at cornerback, could find a place in Houston's return game after finishing his college career with 2,374 return yards and three touchdowns. He left San Jose State as the school's career leader in all-purpose yards with 6,146 yards.
''He's a dynamic football player,'' general manager Rick Smith said. ''Those stats are impressive ... he is a tough, durable football player. I think with his skillset and his versatility there are a lot of things we can do with the young man.''
The Texans have placed a premium on speed in this draft. Ervin ran a 4.41 40-yard dash, to become the third player they've drafted this season to run a 4.5 or faster. Miller, who was a two-time Big Ten player of the year at quarterback, was clocked at 4.5 in the 40.
''Some of it is just how the board falls so we were fortunate to be in multiple positions where we had guys we really liked at the corresponding values,'' Smith said. ''We were able to take those guys and they spoke to (our) intent ... (of) trying to get faster. It was something that we were trying to add to our football team.''
Houston finally looked to the other side of the ball in the fifth round when they chose West Virginia safety K.J. Dillon with the 159th pick and Clemson nose tackle D.J. Reader at 166.
The Texans did not have any picks in the sixth or seventh rounds after trading them away to move up to get Fuller and Martin and because of past moves.
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