Texans hope to benefit from 'sweet spot' of NFL draft

HOUSTON -- If the Houston Texans want to repeat the success of the 2023 draft, it'll be more of a challenge in 2024.

Their first two draft picks in 2023 were at No. 2 and No. 3, but as it stands eight days prior to the this year's draft, the Texans don't hold a first-round pick after trading back and are slated to pick at No. 42 and No. 59 on Day 2.

Coach DeMeco Ryans called their two second-round picks the "sweet spot," as the organization plans to fill their needs there.

"We feel like in this draft, there's a really large amount of players there that can come in and help our team," Ryans said at the annual league meetings. "We're really excited about that move, and we feel like we're going to add some really quality players on our team."

The Texans could trade back into the first round, but their draft board suggests that there isn't a large talent gap between who they could draft in the late first versus the players who they think will be available in the second.

Their top two picks -- quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson Jr. -- swept the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards last year.

To trade up to No. 3 to get Anderson they had to trade their original 2024 first-round pick (No. 27) that went to the Arizona Cardinals.

Then, in March, they traded the No. 23 pick (via the Cleveland Browns) to the Minnesota Vikings for the Vikings' second-round pick (No. 42), a sixth-round pick (No. 188) and a second-round pick in 2025. The Vikings trade helped the Texans land four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs, as they sent the 2025 second-rounder to the Buffalo Bills for Diggs.

Still, the Texans have eight picks in the draft with three in the top 100, and they have needs at cornerback, defensive tackle and safety.

Houston lost defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency and traded Maliek Collins to the San Francisco 49ers for a seventh-round pick. They signed former Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Denico Autry to a two-year, $20 million deal, but the rest of the rotation at DT has four players on one-year deals.

Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. started to come into his own in Year 2 with five interceptions (tied for fourth in the NFL) in 11 games. However, the secondary was feast or famine last season.

The bad: On pass attempts over 20 yards, the Texans allowed the third-most yards (1,108), the sixth-most touchdowns (8) and the eighth-highest completion percentage (41.7), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

The good: They had an NFL-best seven interceptions in those situations.

The Texans haven't been aggressive in addressing the secondary. They haven't re-signed cornerback Steven Nelson, who was second on the team in interceptions (four). But they signed two former top-10 picks from the 2020 draft on one-year deals in Jeff Okudah and CJ Henderson to replace Nelson. Both were promising prospects, but the Texans will be the third team in five seasons for each.

Safety Jimmie Ward was one of the Texans' significant additions last offseason, but he finished the year on injured reserve (quad) and played only 10 games because of hip, hamstring and shoulder injuries as well. Ward turns 33 in July and is entering the last year of his contract.

Safety Jalen Pitre regressed in Year 2. He had zero interceptions after having five as a rookie in 2022. He was also benched against the Browns in Week 16 for coverage issues.

The Texans don't have much in terms of long-term investment in their secondary either. Stingley, Pitre and cornerback Mike Ford are the only defensive backs under contract after the upcoming season.

"This is a people business," general manager Nick Caserio said at the combine in February. "So when you bring the right people into your locker room, you want to make sure that they fit with the rest of the team and the rest of the program and the culture that you're trying to create."