Houston Texans 2015 Draft Strategy: Keep It Simple, Stupid


Initially formulated by an aircraft engineer around 1960, the “KISS Principle” suggests that simple systems are much more likely to succeed than complex ones. Whether or not the Houston Texans have intentionally taken a “complex” approach to the NFL Draft over the course of the last two seasons is debatable. That said, the early returns on their last two classes suggest that the team could benefit greatly from a more simplified approach in preparation for this year’s draft. Namely: selecting players who can contribute immediately.

The Texans were a Cleveland Browns Week 17 victory away from a playoff spot last season despite receiving next to nothing from a draft class that many pundits graded as a resounding success. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks gave Houston an A- for their 2014 effort, as did ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. Brooks called Jadeveon Clowney, Xavier Su’a-Filo, and Louis Nix “blue chip talents” who “can provide significant contributions as rookies.” Fans shared that enthusiasm, with one online poll showing that 92% of respondents gave the team either an A or B grade.

But that optimism soon gave way to frustration as the three players Brooks and others had praised struggled through injuries throughout the season (and in several cases, before the season even started). Clowney missed time after tearing his meniscus in Week 1, then returned only briefly before suffering a second knee injury that required microfracture surgery in December. Su’a-Filo struggled to log any consistent playing time, although some of his difficulties can perhaps be attributed to a nagging back issue that kept him out of two of the season’s last three games. Nix, on the other hand, never even suited up for the Texans after arthroscopic knee surgery in August landed him on injured reserve.

While it’s hard to fault a front office for player injuries, Houston had to know that it was taking a risk with the selections of both Clowney and Nix. Reports surfaced that Clowney had played through a sports hernia during his junior season at South Carolina, something that the Texans had to have been aware of before drafting him (he underwent the first of his three surgeries during his rookie campaign to repair the issue in June).

The team also definitely knew about Nix, as Irish coach Brian Kelly made it clear that his star defensive tackle’s knee would require surgery following the 2013 season.

Regardless of whether or not GM Rick Smith and the rest of the Texans’ brass are to blame for rolling the dice with two of their top four selections following a disastrous 2013 season, the fact remains that one of Houston’s top priorities in this year’s draft is finding an outside linebacker who can rush the passer: a sad state of affairs considering they selected one of those with the #1 overall pick the season before.

The team also spent valuable free agent dollars on an aging Vince Wilfork, indicating that the Texans are not exactly enthusiastic about what Louis Nix may be able to contribute. How unenthusiastic are they? When Coach Bill O’Brien was asked what he’d like to see out of Nix this season, O’Brien said, “I’d say the ability to make it through a practice.” And remember, this is a player that the Texans traded up to select in the third round.

Aug 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans outside linebacker

Trevardo Williams

(54) plays defense during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Reliant Stadium. The Texans won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Similar (although somewhat more tempered) enthusiasm abounded after Houston’s 2013 draft. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks was especially intrigued with the Texans’ mid-round selections, calling offensive linemen Brennan Williams and David Quessenberry “intriguing O-line additions with the capacity to fortify the Texans’ front in the future.” He also praised the selections of Trevardo Williams and Sam Montgomery, noting that the young edge rushers possessed “diverse defensive skills and relentless energy.”

We all know how that worked out. Not one of those four players played a single regular season down for the Texans (although Quessenberry’s lymphoma can hardly be blamed on the front office and we pray for Quessenberry’s well-being). Neither did sixth round picks Alan Bonner or Chris Jones, although Jones went on to finish second among rookies in sacks in 2013 with the New England Patriots after Houston released him. DeAndre Hopkins and D.J. Swearinger have been solid, but the fact that five of the players the team drafted in 2013 were no longer on the roster after two seasons is embarrassing.

Five of the players the Texans drafted in 2013 were no longer on the roster after two seasons.

How small are the contributions of the Texans’ last two season’s worth of draft picks? A whopping 79% of those players (15 out of 19) have started five or fewer games since being drafted, with 11 of them having never started a single game. And it’s not just starts. Seven out of the 19 players selected by the Texans in the last two years haven’t played a single down for the team since being drafted.

Consider this: Houston has drafted 19 players since 2013. That makes 448 potential starts that those players could have made since joining the team. How many starts have the Texans gotten out of those picks? A total of 83, or roughly 18.5% of the starts for which they were eligible. If you take away Hopkins and Swearinger, arguably the only two players that the Texans have “hit” on during this period, that number drops to 29, or an appalling 7.6% of the total for which they were eligible.

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In order for them to take that next step toward being perennial contenders, the Texans need to start getting immediate contributions from the players they draft. The days of taking flyers on injury-prone players and “projects” who may or may not pan out need to be long gone.

Few of us would have expected that a 2-14 team that got so little out of its draft picks would be in contention for a playoff spot until the final ticks of the 2014 regular season. Just imagine the possibilities if this 9-7 Texans team actually drafts players that can come in and contribute right away.

Certainly sounds simple.

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