*For this article I used prospect rankings from CBS Sports to determine which players will be available in each round.
1st Round - Teddy Bridgewater (QB - Louisville, 3rd overall prospect)
This was a tough call to make. Teams should always take the best player available regardless of position, but of course there are exceptions to every rule. If the Texans grade Jadeveon Clowney to be far better than the best quarterback available, they should select the South Carolina defensive end. However if the grades are close, they should take a risk and select the top overall quarterback. No other single position in the NFL or perhaps all of sports can impact a team's chances of winning like a quarterback.
The Texans have the best defensive player in the league on their roster and won just two games last season. Defensive studs like J.J. Watt or Clowney can be game changers, but they can't carry a team on their back the way a great quarterback can. The first overall pick should be the player most capable of making a major impact. It's inarguable that a great quarterback impacts a team more than a great defensive player, so if the ratings are close, they have to take their top rated quarterback. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning have all led teams without a deep, talented roster in the past five years to playoff wins.
Please save your "Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl" comments, I know, again, there are exceptions to every rule. Trent Dilfer and later Brad Johnson both had all-time great defenses when their team won the championship. An all-time great defense can obviously carry a team to a championship, but because of the luck it takes to build a defense like that, I believe it's easier to find the quarterback than to depend on building the Steel Curtain. I've heard a lot of people suggest that the Texans should build a defense like the Seattle Seahawks, as if that is an easy thing to do. The Seahawks built their all-time great defense on late round draft picks (Kam Chancellor 5th round, Richard Sherman 5th round, Malcolm Smith 7th round, Byron Maxwell 6th round) and short-term contracts (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril); that's nearly impossible to replicate.
No quarterback, even one selected number one overall, is a guarantee but the odds are much higher in my opinion of nailing the selection of a quarterback than nailing several late round defensive picks, plus convincing several vets to sign short-term contracts. With big contracts already on the books for Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph, and one coming up for Watt, the Texans won't have the cap room to build a defense like Seattle unless they get lucky on middle and late round draft picks. Not impossible, but difficult. Selecting Clowney obviously would help their defense, but they'd still have several holes to fill and wouldn't be close to the Seahawks level. If you want to hinge their future on middle and late round picks, be my guest.
For those thinking the Texans should risk their future on a second or third round quarterback, click here to read my previous article on the situation.
My choice at quarterback is Teddy Bridgewater. If the Texans grade another quarterback to be better, then they should take him instead. I prefer Bridgewater because I have fewer questions about his ability to adjust to the NFL game and have more confidence in his chances of becoming a great player. Among the trio that is most often discussed in the top quarterback conversation, Bridgewater has shown superior mechanics and accuracy, has been more disciplined in going through his progressions, and is the only one of the three that excelled in a pro-style offense in which he was asked to make audibles and protection calls at the line. That's not to say that Manziel and Bortles aren't capable of doing the same thing, but we haven't seen it from them at this point. Bridgewater was treated like an NFL quarterback at Louisville. He came to the line with multiple plays and depending on the look of the defense, had to pick the best option just like NFL quarterbacks. Bridgewater also didn't have the benefit of a spread offense that was designed to create easy throws. What we saw Bridgewater do in games can be easily applied to the NFL; not so with Manziel and Bortles. Both Manziel and Bortles are legit prospects who could end up being Pro-Bowl quarterbacks, but their chances are lower in my opinion because of the adjustments they'll be required to make.
For a more in depth discussion of why I wouldn't select Johnny Manziel, click here for my previous article on the subject.
Other Options -Jadeveon Clowney
2nd Round - Kyle Van Noy (OLB - BYU, 38th overall prospect)
Other than quarterback, linebacker is without a doubt the Texans second biggest position need. Brooks Reed has been a complete nothing over the last two seasons, Whitney Mercilus has under performed, and Brian Cushing is coming off back to back seasons that were ended by a knee injury. The BYU linebacker's combine numbers don't pop off the page; he's more football player than amazing athlete. What he does possess are great instincts, a nose for the ball, and a tendency to always be in a good position to make the big play. In that way, he reminds me a lot of Brian Cushing.
Van Noy isn't a guy that will lead the league in sacks or become your primary pass rusher, but he excels in every other aspect of the position. Unless the defensive coordinator calls a blitz, both OLB's in a 3-4 aren't rushing the passer anyway so don't think of him not being a great pass rusher as a negative. He's more Derrick Brooks than Lawrence Taylor, but both players are in the Hall of Fame. The Texans will have to hope Mercilus develops into their every down rush linebacker, otherwise they'll need to look for that player.
Other Options - Right Tackle
3rd Round - Chris Borland (ILB - Wisconsin, 92nd overall prospect)
Like Van Noy, Borland isn't an amazing athlete but is still a great football player. You didn't have to look at the TV screen last year during Wisconsin games to know who was making plays; the announcers called his name what seemed like every play. Borland is always around the ball and would be a great fit next to Cushing.
From Rob Rang of CBS Sports:
Heady, passionate player. Consistently diagnoses action correctly, attacking seams to make plays near the line of scrimmage and showing better than advertised speed and change of direction while dropping into coverage. He is a no-nonsense LB, showing impressive pop and determination to get to the ball. Borland is disciplined in space and is rarely fooled, showing good body positioning and timing in coverage.
Other Options - Safety, Running Back, Offensive Guard, Right Tackle
4th Round - Charles Sims (RB - West Virginia, 119th overall prospect)
With Ben Tate leaving and Arian Foster coming off back surgery, suddenly one of the Texans biggest strengths has become a giant question mark. If all goes well Foster will still be their every down back but the Texans at least need one more back that can take away a few carries and fill in if Foster misses a few games. Sims is a three down back who excels in running the ball, receiving, and pass blocking in the backfield. Sims led the Houston Cougars in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns in 2012, and then followed up by doing the same thing for West Virginia in 2013. Great value in the fourth round.
His size belies impressive quickness and acceleration, making him a tough target for would-be tacklers. Presses the hole before making decisive cuts with a strong plant foot to burst through the crease. Shows good vision and beautiful acceleration to speed up in a hurry.
Good receiver with excellent hand-eye coordination who caught a team-high 45 passes in 2013. Can split out wide and put defensive backs on their heels with a hesitation move off the snap. Shows good burst and understanding of route concepts. Reliable pass blocker who shows good recognition skills and courage in taking on hard-charging pass-rushers.
Other Options - Safety, Offensive Guard, Right Tackle
5th Round - Ahmad Dixon (Safety - Baylor, 130th overall prospect)
My gut feeling is Dixon will go in the 4th round even though CBS has him ranked as a 5th round prospect, but if he does last, he'd be a steal here. Like most strong safeties Dixon isn't strong in man coverage, but has shown the range and instincts to play an effective deep zone and jump routes. Dixon also was strong in run defense around the line of scrimmage at Baylor making him a versatile safety.
With the Ed Reed signing flaming out and D.J. Swearinger going through a lot of growing pains last year, the Texans have a big need at the position.
Other Options - Offensive Guard, Right Tackle
6th Round - Cameron Fleming (OT - Stanford, 190th overall prospect)
Hopefully Brennan Williams and/or David Quessenberry, who both were on the I.R. list last season, will be able to step forward and prove worthy of snaps at right tackle during training camp. Either way, the Texans need better play out of the right tackle position next season. Derek Newton is not the answer so I wouldn't mind them addressing the need earlier in the draft but there was better value at other positions when I made this list. Hopefully they'll sign a veteran (salary cap number is going up) to compete with Williams and Quessenberry.
Cameron Fleming has ideal size for the position and proved to be a solid run blocker while at Stanford, but scouts have questions about his ability as a pass blocker. Most likely Fleming will be nothing more than depth, but that's something they need and he does have upside as a prospect. Also has potential to move inside to guard due to his lack of quickness, where the Texans also have a need at left guard.
Other Options - Offensive Guard
7th Round - A.C. Leonard (TE - Tennessee State, 254th overall prospect)
If Owen Daniels doesn't become a cap casualty and the Texans are able to re-sign Garrett Graham, then tight end isn't a huge need. I don't see both of those things happening so the Texans will likely need depth at the position or at least a body for camp. Leonard's 40-yard dash time (4.50) and vertical jump number (34 inches) indicate he's a pretty good athlete for the position. At this point in the draft, why not take a good athlete at a need position and see if you can catch lightning in a bottle?
Other Options - Offensive Guard