Despite no early picks, Texans draft class making early impact

HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans didn't have a first- or second-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but general manager Brian Gaine and coach Bill O'Brien have still managed to assemble a rookie class that has been making an impact this season.

With three third-round picks, the Texans selected safety Justin Reid, tackle Martinas Rankin and tight end Jordan Akins. Then in the fourth round, Houston took wide receiver Keke Coutee, who has made a significant impact in just two games. Sixth-round pick Jordan Thomas has also seen playing time at tight end.

"That's huge, not having a first-rounder, or first and second, and being able to get some third-round guys who can contribute to the team," defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said.

O'Brien said there is still work to do, but the rookie class, "relative to where they are in their careers, all of them have contributed in some way, shape or form."

Reid has played significant snaps at safety and had his first NFL interception in the Texans' 19-16 overtime victory against the Cowboys on Sunday night. Reid also runs the Texans' punt protection, which is something O'Brien called a "difficult" task, especially for a rookie.

In Reid's case, Crennel said the coaching staff was "a little surprised that he was there" when they picked him in the third round.

"He's shown that he was worthy, because he's been able to come in and play and make some plays," Crennel said. "I think he'll get better as the season progresses."

Houston also feels that way about Coutee, who missed the first three games after injuring his hamstring during training camp. In his first two NFL games, Coutee has 17 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, he passed DeAndre Hopkins for the most catches through a player's first two games in franchise history.

Though O'Brien has cautioned that Coutee has left plays on the field and needs to continue to grow, it's clear the Texans value his skills. Coutee scored Houston's lone touchdown against the Cowboys on a shovel pass and has been used in motion and out of the backfield in the two games he has played.

Rankin was thrust into an important role early in the season opener after right tackle Seantrel Henderson injured his ankle in the first quarter against the Patriots. Rankin came in at left tackle and started three of the Texans' past four games protecting Deshaun Watson's blind side. Rankin struggled to protect Watson, but Houston is hopeful that with more experience he will develop into a reliable starter at tackle or guard.

O'Brien has also been impressed with the contributions the Texans have gotten from Thomas and Akins, their two rookie tight ends. Both have seen consistent playing time, and Thomas has made several impact plays; he has four catches for 91 yards.

Crennel said he thinks the fact that so many players in this rookie class have seen playing time early -- "the game is what really gets them up to speed," he said -- will help speed up the players' development as they learn the Texans' system.

"Sometimes, a rookie's able to come in and start playing, sometimes it takes him a half a year, sometimes it takes him a year before he can become a really good player," Crennel said. "They have to understand that.

"We try to coach them up. We meet extra with them, watch film with them and all those kinds of things to try to get them up to speed. But, a lot of times, the game is what really gets them up to speed. When they see how the game is played, the speed of the game, the speed of the receivers, what the quarterbacks are looking for and what quarterbacks are reading and all of those things. Then, once they learn all of that, then they can become a pro.”

And although the secondary has taken advantage of Reid's rookie status to send him on a few grocery store runs for snacks and anything else the group needs -- for cornerback Johnathan Joseph, it's soap and lotion -- he is already viewed as just another important contributor in the secondary.

"He ain't a rookie no more," veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu said.