The Houston Texans entered the 2018 NFL Draft without a first or second round pick last night, but they have a golden opportunity to make a big splash Friday night with three potential third-round draft steals.
There are plenty of potential targets, with needs to address at tight end and quarterback (backup), along with the offensive line, secondary and an edge rusher. But without further adieu, here’s my third-round projections for the Texans.
Third Round, Pick No. 68 Overall: LB Shaquem Griffin, UCF
Houston’s secondary was a major issue last season, but the Texans have already revamped the back-end of their defense with the additions of Aaron Colvin and Tyrann Mathieu in free agency. In addition, the main reason Houston’s perennially elite defense fell off a cliff last year was the lack of pass rush following the season-ending injuries to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
The best way to prevent that from happening again this year is to draft Shaquem Griffin.
What does J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Tyrann Mathieu have in common?
They’re all very versatile play-making chess pieces that line up all over the field. None of them remain in one spot. They all move around to create confusion, different looks, get different matchups and wreak havoc for opposing offenses. That’s the biggest reason I was convinced and proclaimed the Texans would pick up Mathieu in the first place (along with the need at safety and having ample cap space).
Everyone loves Griffin’s inspiring story. He’s an energetic, fast-rising prospect (expected to go in the third round) with coveted intangibles, a relentless motor, blazing speed, pass rush ability and coverage skills.
Griffin rocketed up draft boards at the scouting combine in Indianapolis when a ran a 4.38 40-yard dash and posted 20 reps on a bench press using a prosthetic arm. For context, that’s three more than Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews (also a potential third-round pick) and a whopping six more reps than 345-pound Oklahoma OT Orlando Brown.
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien has already had an opportunity to coach him and utilize his impressive versatility at safety, linebacker, on special teams and as a designated pass rusher.
“What a kid. I’ve been impressed with him in the meeting room and on the practice field,” O’Brien said at the Senior Bowl. “He’s got a way of playing that is really interesting to watch. He’s going to be an interesting guy to evaluate. He’s a tough guy, he’s fast, he’s good on special teams and a fun kid to coach.”
While Griffin has some obvious obstacles at the next level, he has the special traits and determination to overcome them, and O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel would know how to best utilize his skills set.
Third Round, No. 80 Overall: Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
Houston had plenty of needs to address this offseason — most notably the offensive line and secondary. And because they were loaded with cap space and lacked a first and second round draft pick, they had to overhaul those positions via free agency.
While neither is completely fixed, there’s no question the secondary and offensive line is in much better shape now.
But new second-year franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson still needs some more weapons and added protection, and Dalton Schultz hits two birds with one stone as arguably the most complete tight end in this year’s draft class.
Schultz, who dined with the Texans and worked out privately for tight ends coach Tim Kelly, didn’t post prolific numbers in Stanford’s run-heavy offense, but he should be Houston’s top tight end target, as noted by Harry Latham-Cole of Texans Wire.
He fits the bill as Y tight end and replacement for the recently retired C.J. Fiedorowicz with strong hands, impressive route-running skills and blocking ability. Ryan Dukarm of Inside the Pylon had a great breakdown of his game tape.
Third Round, Pick No. 98 Overall: Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State
The Texans produced by far the worst offensive line in the NFL last year. And while they weren’t able to pick up a big-name free agent like left tackle Nate Solder, they still made some savvy, key upgrades last month.
While none of them are stars, Zach Fulton (a solid starter from Kansas City who can line up at left guard, center or right guard) and ex-Saints Swiss Army Knife lineman Senio Kelemete can start at any of the five OL positions.
They’ll both help LT Julie’n Davenport and C/G Nick Martin immensely (replacing Xavier Sua-Filo and Jeff Allen) as they look to develop in the Texans’ new-look high-octane offense. There are some questions surrounding newly-signed right tackle Seantrel Henderson, but new GM Brian Gaine knows him well from their time together in Buffalo.
Even if Davenport and Henderson wind up exceeding expectations and prove to be solid starting offensive tackles, the team still needs to find a reliable swing tackle through the draft who can line up as an extra lineman and step up if an injury occurs.
Deshaun Watson doesn’t need an elite offensive line to excel in the NFL. He proved that as a rookie. But he needs to stay healthy, and the team still needs to add more competition and give him the best possible protection.