Nick Caserio will begin to truly forge his legacy as the general manager of the Houston Texans on day one of the 2022 NFL draft.
The team possesses selections at Nos. 3 and 13 overall in Round 1, representing an opportunity to flush one of the NFL’s worst rosters with talent.
Across the media and seemingly even within the league, people are at a loss for how to anticipate Caserio’s upcoming decision at third overall. Just ask Daniel Jeremiah. Even the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport went as far as to call Houston “the wildcard of the draft,” and the sentiment is certainly true.
With so many options available, it is an interesting exercise to rank them in an attempt to quantify what could bolster the team the most in both the short and long term. Here, the Texans Wire will attempt to do just that.
This article will rank the seven best options for Houston at the pivotal third overall selection in the draft under the premise of three assumptions.
Travon Walker is selected first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguar (consensus favorite)
Aidan Hutchinson is selected second overall by the Detroit Lions (consensus favorite)
Houston cannot trade the selection
Here are some thoughts on how the Houston Texans can best employ their first pick tomorrow night.
1. DE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
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Thibodeaux is a ridiculous talent. A year ago, he was the projected No. 1 pick in this draft by a wide margin and his junior year included 7.0 sacks and 49 total tackles.
Somehow, his performance as a 2021 consensus All-American hasn’t mattered for the Oregon product. Like many Ducks before him, the draft process has served to tear down Thibodeaux much more than to build him up. Concerns have come up over his love of playing football and some analysts have gone as far to fabricate Thibodeaux taking plays off during the season.
For the rebuilding Texans, the 6-5, 250-pound mega talent should be too great to pass up. There are few positions that offer the value and impact of an elite edge rusher and Thibodeaux’s film is as good as any in the class. He would serve as a perfect compliment across from Jonathan Greenard and help new coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense generate the necessary pressure up front to be successful.
Thibodeaux ultimately may not check the “character and culture” concerns that Houston so openly loves, but his talent and fit make him the best option at third overall.
2. CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
(AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Gardner has it all as a prospect. His college film shows off a player with elite footwork that simply destroyed his competition. Gardner was so dominant that he didn’t allow a touchdown his entire career. He was relatively injury free and improved each and every season. Off the field, Gardner has shown himself to be a team player above all and someone who loves to study football. His interview with former All-Pro Richard Sherman was one of the most impressive of the draft season.
There is plenty of noise in Houston that Smith isn’t satisfied with the corner group and the Texans’ new coach is right. It’s been one of the worst position groups on the team for years now. Gardner steps in as possibly the team’s most talented player and the immediate No. 1 cornerback. He has the length at 6-2 and speed to play the zone concepts in the Tampa 2 and is a more than willing tackler to project improvement.
3. S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
After Thibodeaux, another talent checks in who Houston is unlikely to select at third overall. Hamilton is considered one of the “unicorns” of this draft and his tape may be the best of his entire class. Hamilton was also a 2021 consensus All-American who projects as a do-it all defensive back that can tackle like a linebacker in the box but with the coverage range and instincts to play the free safety role.
Unfortunately for the 6-4, 220-pound talent, there are some things working against him. Safety is not considered a premier position despite its evolving importance as the league transitions to pass heavier schemes each and every year. Additionally, Hamilton ran a slow 40 time at both the NFL Combine and his pro day at Notre Dame. This has forced scouts to reconsider their initial evaluations and how his speed may translate to the NFL game.
Hamilton’s talent is undeniable despite these petty concerns. He would serve as a foundational piece of the defense for years to come and a cornerstone against the elite quarterbacks of the AFC. Smith is more than capable of finding ways to deploy Hamilton’s elite skillset.
4. G-T Ikem Ekwonu, NC State
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Ekwonu has had a phenomenal rise during the draft process. The 320-pound mauler from NC State is considered one of the most versatile prospects in the draft and, although hailed as an offensive tackle prospect, many believe he could be one of the best guards in the league should he make the transition. His pass blocking has some work to do but his run blocking projects as an instant difference maker for any NFL team.
Ekwonu would slide in nicely at one of the guard positions alongside tackles Laremy Tunsil or Tytus Howard. Should the team move on from either of them following the 2022 campaign, Ekwonu looks like the caliber of talent that could become a franchise talent.
With the relative holes on defense and the depth of the interior offensive line class, it may not be wise for Houston to invest in guard this early. However, Ekwonu’s versatility and high floor as a run blocker make him a safe pick for Caserio to assist young quarterback Davis Mills.
5. OT Evan Neal, Alabama
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Neal, compared to Ickey, is a bit more of a polished product. The latest in a long line of talented players to come from the Crimson Tide, Neal projects as an immediate high level tackle at the NFL level. Neal played some offensive guard during his first year with the Tide and could also be asked to step inside if necessary.
As more of a “true tackle,” this option ranks barely below Ekwonu for the Houston Texans. It would signal an end to the Howard era before it truly began and likely doom Howard to faltering once again at left guard. Neal additionally has some injury concerns that some are marking as medical red flags.
Although a great prospect, Neal just doesn’t project as well into Houston’s current infrastructure as well as the prospects listed before him.
6. CB Derek Stingley, LSU
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Stingley is considered the draft’s other premier corner alongside Sauce. As a freshman at LSU, Stingley dominated college football and has been projected as a future high first round pick ever since. His 2019 tape and the best of what he showed in college football may make him the best prospect in the class.
There are also a load of concerns with Stingley. He did not show the requisite improvement one would expect from a college player during their sophomore and junior seasons. He suffered a litany of nagging injuries that kept him off the field frequently. Questions exist regarding how hard he wants to work at a game that comes so naturally to him.
Stingley, like Gardner, would fill a huge need at the No. 1 corner position and potentially have a higher ceiling doing so. Unlike the former five players on this list, Stingley carries legitimate bust concerns between the injuries and a total lack of clarity over which version of Stingley is coming to the league. Talent trumps everything though, and he may be worth the gamble.
7. Sell the team
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
This is the nuclear option for the Texans. Caserio ultimately has no business passing up on the talents listed above. There isn’t a wide receiver in this draft worthy of the No. 3 pick, Charles Cross is inferior to the other two tackles, and Jermaine Johnson is a reach with Thibodeaux’s talent available.
Although it could workout, Houston should seriously consider their scouting process should they choose to go in another direction with this pick. It may not be a top-heavy draft but the talent as the top has done more than enough to establish itself.
Don’t miss, Nick.