Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, in a 32-part series, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality, quantity and relative safety of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: Houston Texans
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien
Vice President of Football Operation: Jack Easterby
Players selected in 2020:
Round 2, Pick 40 overall: DT Ross Blacklock, TCU
Round 3, Pick 90 overall: DE/OLB Jonathan Greenard, Florida
Round 4, Pick 126 overall: OL Charlie Heck, North Carolina
Round 5, Pick 141 overall: CB John Reid, Penn State
Round 4, Pick 144 overall: WR Isaiah Coulter, Rhode Island
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
DT Auzoyah Alufohai, West Georgia
RB Scottie Phillips, Mississippi
TE Dylan Stapleton, James Madison
LB Jamir Jones, Notre Dame
LB Jan Johnson, Penn State
Overview of the Texans’ 2020 draft:
When evaluating the totality of a team’s draft class I have always thought it important to acknowledge the unique ways in which teams use their selections to build the roster. The Texans are a perfect illustration of this as the club entered the 2020 draft having already invested their first round pick (among other things) in veteran left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who rewarded Houston by starting 14 games as Deshaun Watson’s personal protector and being named to his first Pro Bowl, before signing a three-year extension. Of course, to be fair, it is also important to acknowledge when quality players – like Jadeveon Clowney and Deandre Hopkins – are shipped away for seemingly pennies on the dollar. Was that really the case, though? As he did throughout his time in Houston, Clowney flashed in Seattle but ultimately recorded just 31 tackles, including seven for loss and three sacks – the worst numbers since his injury-shortened rookie season. The Texans received the 40 overall selection in the 2020 draft, a fourth rounder in 2021 and veteran running back David Johnson for Hopkins and the 131 pick in 2020 (which Arizona used to select LSU DT Rashard Lawrence) and while removing the four-time Pro Bowl wideout from this offense seems illogical on the surface, he, too, wasn’t as effective in 2020 and the remaining two years and $26 million on his contract loomed large. Johnson is a smoother accelerator and much better receiver out of the backfield than Carlos Hyde, who led the Texans with 1,070 rushing yards a season ago but has since signed with Seattle. The point is for all of the criticism O’Brien and the Texans have taken, it is worth remembering that the club has finished with a winning record in five of his six seasons as head coach and four division titles (including the past two consecutively), only the past three of which had superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson as his starter. Now, all of that said, possessing just a handful of picks year after year, makes the draft less entertaining for fans and more difficult to build and maintain a playoff-caliber roster. Top choice Ross Blacklock filled a “big” need inside with the free agent loss of nose guard D.J. Reader and the Texans added underrated edge rusher in Jonathan Greenard a pick later, injecting youth, enthusiasm and minimal salaries to a Houston defensive line needing all three. The selection of Charlie Heck, the son of former NFL blocker and current Kansas City Chiefs’ OL coach Andy, won’t generate much excitement in the fan base, maybe, but don’t be surprised when he plays in the league for a decade. Heck is a classic “glue” guy who scouts felt can play multiple positions. Late rounders John Reid and Isaiah Coulter need significant polishing but exceptional athletes with the former leading all Combine-invites this season with the speediest short-shuttle times (3.97 seconds) recorded, a reflection of the easy change of direction which allows him to shadow receivers in coverage.
Best Player of the Texans’ 2020 Draft: DT Ross Blacklock
Already up against the cap, the Texans had little choice but to watch Reader accept a monster four-year, $53 million deal from the Cincinnati Bengals and with Blacklock, a popular first round projection, still on the board at No. 40 overall, the Texas native simply made too much sense to pass up. That said, it is important to point out at the 6-3, 290 pound Blacklock is a very different type of defensive tackle than the run-stuffing Reader, who was listed at 6-3, 327 pounds a year ago. Blacklock is much more athletic than his predecessor, winning with his initial quickness and active hands to penetrate. The biggest knock on him at this early point in his career is that he does not possess the upper body strength and consistent pad level to hold up to multiple blockers. The Texans may already have their starting nose guard in Eddie Vanderdoes (listed at 6-3, 320) and could see Blacklock, instead, outside at defensive end in their base 3-4 scheme opposite superstar JJ Watt and sliding inside on passing downs.
Best Value of the Texans’ 2020 Draft: DE/OLB Jonathan Greenard
It is perhaps appropriate that Greenard landed with the Texans as he, too, has often been forced to bear the brunt of criticism while his statistics paint a different picture. It was Greenard, not Jabari Zuniga, who led the Gators in both tackles for loss and sacks in 2019, for example, but the former remained on the board 11 picks longer than his former teammate (selected 79 by the New York Jets) and well after multiple other rushers lacking his proven production. Greenard, of course, began his career at Louisville where he racked up 22.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in two seasons as a starting rush linebacker. When Bobby Petrino was fired at Louisville, Greenard opted to transfer to Florida, rejoining Todd Grantham, the defensive coordinator who had recruited him to Louisville in the first place. The highly anticipated reunion was forced to wait a year after Greenard suffered an injury to his wrist in the season opener, ruining his 2018 campaign before it even started. He returned with a vengeance in 2019, racking up career-highs in tackles (52), tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (9.5), passes broken up (five) and forced fumbles (three) before turning heads at the Senior Bowl, as well. Reservations about the wrist and a relatively average Combine workout left Greenard out of the conversation for many when it came to discussing the top edge rushers in this class but I like his fit in Houston. Greenard is much quicker off the ball than his 4.87-second 40-yard dash would indicate and complements this burst with both lateral agility and vine-like arms (34 7/8”), which help him keep tackles off of him. Don’t be surprised at all when Greenard, as a rookie, posts more sacks in 2020 than Clowney had for the Seahawks a year ago… Now, that would be value.
Best Project of the Texans’ 2020 Draft: WR Isaiah Coulter
As mentioned previously, I am intrigued by the pro-readiness and positional versatility that fourth rounder Charlie Heck will provide, as well as the exceptional fluidity of fifth round pick, John Reid. Coulter, however, has ranked among my favorite Diamond in the Rough sleepers throughout the draft process and, obviously, landed in a soft spot with a young superstar quarterback like Watson needing to find new weapons with Hopkins now a member of the Arizona Cardinals. The 6-2, 198 pound Coulter dominated at Rhode Island in 2019 but also fared well against top competition when had the opportunity, including at the Combine when he was clocked at 4.45 seconds and posted a solid 36” vertical jump. In terms of his current strengths and where he fits in with the Texans, Coulter is a speedy vertical threat who tracks the ball well over his shoulder, providing a similar (but less developed, obviously) skill-set as current Texans’ starter Kenny Stills, the “other” player brought in with Tunsil as part of the trade with Miami that “limited” the Texans’ draft-day options.
Overall Grade for the Texans’ 2020 Draft: C+
Previous 2020 NFL Draft Report Cards: Cincinnati Bengals |Washington Redskins | Detroit Lions | New York Giants | Miami Dolphins | Los Angeles Chargers | Carolina Panthers | Arizona Cardinals | Jacksonville Jaguars | Cleveland Browns | New York Jets | Las Vegas Raiders | Indianapolis Colts | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Denver Broncos | Atlanta Falcons | Dallas Cowboys | Pittsburgh Steelers | Chicago Bears | Los Angeles Rams | Philadelphia Eagles | Buffalo Bills | New England Patriots | New Orleans Saints | Houston Texans | Minnesota Vikings | Seattle Seahawks | Baltimore Ravens | Green Bay Packers | Tennessee Titans | San Francisco 49ers | Kansas City Chiefs