Houston has been here before.
The Texans owned the No. 1 overall pick back in the 2006 draft.
David Carr was the quarterback, but the team had already soured on the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2002 draft. Carr was coming off yet another “meh” season as he passed for 2,488 yards, the second lowest of his career despite playing all 16 games. He also had 14 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions as the Texans fell to 2-14.
Surely the team would draft one of the top three QBs, right?
At the top of nearly everyone’s list was former Texas QB Vince Young, fresh off a national championship. Young had elite measurables and athleticism after passing for 3,036 yards and 26 TDs and rushing for 1,050 and 12 TDs in 2005.
Not your jam?
There was also the QB Young faced in the national championship, USC’s Matt Leinart. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner didn’t have the strongest arm but was lauded for his intermediate game and his intangibles. Then there was the rocket-armed Jay Cutler, a relative unknown out of Vanderbilt.
However, those three weren’t even the top prospects in the 2006 draft. That would be USC’s Reggie Bush, who was tabbed as “the next great RB” before he even took an NFL snap.
Finally, somewhere in that top-5 range was N.C. State defensive end Mario Williams. A giant at the position – both then and now – at 6-foot-6, 300-pounds, Williams was coming off a historic season for the Wolfpack, setting school and conference records that still haven’t been broken.
But Williams was the clear No. 3 prospect in the 2006 draft, falling behind top prospects Bush and Young.
Instead, Houston took the more costs-effective route and selected Williams with the first overall pick, much to the shock of the NFL draft world.
Ultimately, Williams was the smart pick.
He went on to play 11 seasons for three different teams, earning first-team All-Pro once and second-team twice and was named to the Pro Bowl four times. Williams finished his career with 399 tackles and 97.5 sacks and is now in the N.C. State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Young, Bush, Leinart and Cutler, meanwhile, enjoyed various degrees of success, but it’s safe to say all had somewhat disappointing careers in the NFL.
Don’t be surprised if Houston does it again.
The top three QBs all come with questions, plus Houston may want to give young QB Davis Mills another year to figure things out.
Finally, this isn’t the first time Houston has taken a pass rusher with the first overall pick. The Texans took former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 in 2014. Like Williams, Clowney has had a solid-to-sometimes-great career, albeit for a different team now.
1. Houston Texans: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
While Anderson is still widely considered the top prospect, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound true junior hasn’t put up the numbers this season that he did last year – but he may have set the bar too high after his insane sophomore season when he had 17.5 sacks, 31 tackles for loss and an incredible 101 tackles. This season, Anderson still has 8 sacks, 14 TFLs and 42 tackles overall.
However, Alabama’s defensive line hasn’t been as good as it has been in recent years, which could explain the dip in Anderson’s statistics.
One area for improvement: Anderson has missed nine tackles this season
2. Las Vegas Raiders: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
Expect Las Vegas to trade this pick to a QB-needy team if Anderson is already taken. The Raiders aren’t likely to take another QB – especially this high in the draft – as long as current QB Derek Carr is still on the team, so the pick goes to the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Jalen Carter, the most disruptive defensive tackle since Quinnen Williams in 2019.
3. Carolina Panthers: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
The only way the Panthers would be able to nab one of the top two signal-callers would be if Anderson goes No. 1 overall. Otherwise, Carolina might have to trade away assets to move up if it picks third overall. This would be the ideal situation for a team that’s quietly building a solid, young offensive line. Add a tight end and maybe another receiver with its two second-round picks, and the Panthers might get better in a hurry – as long as the QB pans out.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
How’s this for a possible exodus: Defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Robert Quinn, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave will all be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. It’s hard to envision the team bringing all of them back. Center Jason Kelce will also be an UFA, but Philadelphia drafted a center in the second round this past spring, Nebraska’s Cam Jurgen. And cornerback James Bradberry could potentially leave in free agency, although there’s no CB ranked that high. That’s what makes the Murphy pick feel like such a natural fit. If the team can re-sign Cox and Hargrave and if Derek Barnett can return to form from an ACL tear, then the Eagles will have a nice mix of veterans and youth along the defensive line with the additions of Murphy and 2022 first-round DT Jordan Davis.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor will be a free agent at the end of the year and isn’t playing particularly well with a PFF score of 57. Left tackle Cam Robinson hasn’t been much better (66.7). Fashanu would likely walk in as the team’s best offensive lineman. However, he would also be one of the youngest prospects in the draft (if not the youngest), so the first-year starter could just as easily return to school.
6. Chicago Bears: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State
Trading for receiver Chase Claypool means Chicago doesn’t have to overdraft a receiver on Day 1. And it means the team can pull the trigger on an OT like Skoronski. Consider the team’s current situation at OT: Right tackle Riley Reiff will be an UFA at the end of the season, and the left side is being manned by rookie Braxton Jones, the team’s fifth-round pick out of Southern Utah. Meanwhile, Larry Borom, who started much of last season as a fifth-round pick out of Missouri, is now the backup, and Teven Jenkins, a 2021 second-rounder out of Oklahoma State, is now the starting right guard. To be fair, all have performed fairly well this season; still, Johnson would likely step in immediately as Reiff’s replacement at right tackle, but he could also play guard, if needed.
7. Detroit Lions: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
As of now, it would be a huge shock if Stroud fell this far. Most likely Stroud and Young will go within the top three picks of the draft. However, a couple of factors makes it possible for him to fall a bit, as he’s rarely been tested and the Buckeyes’ recent history of first-round QBs is alarming.
8. Seattle Seahawks: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Although Levis is having a bit of a down year, the scarcity of the position alone says he will still likely go within the first 10 picks. Seattle could always wait for its second first-round pick and hope that someone like Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker might still be available, but, again, hoping for a rookie QB to fall to you in the draft is extremely risky.
9. Houston Texans: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall in the QB room if Houston drafts Davis’ replacement at Stanford? Tanner McKee, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior, became the starting QB for Stanford after Davis was drafted in the third round by Houston in 2020. But this is still a bit high for McKee, who is a tad older than other true juniors after serving two years of LDS missionary work in Brazil before enrolling at Stanford. The Texans could also use an upgrade at receiver, too, although this is a bit high for a receiver. Without many other options, Houston could go with Skoronski and move him to right guard, where current starter A.J. Cann will be an UFA after next season.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
This is a worst-case scenario, as Pittsburgh could use an upgrade at left tackle over 2020 fourth-rounder Dan Moore Jr., who has a 62.4 PFF grade. They could also use a CB, but drafting Joey Porter Jr. might put too much pressure on the son of the former Steelers great – then again, taking a different CB over Porter would be incredibly awkward, too. Instead, the Steelers give rookie QB Kenny Pickett another monster to throw to on the outside in TCU’s Johnston. As mentioned in the previous pick, this is a bit high for a receiver, but with the top OTs already off the board, Pittsburgh may see this as the best-way to improve an anemic passing offense.
11. Detroit Lions: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Former No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah is having a career-best year but has largely been a disappointment his first three years. The other starting outside corner is former safety Will Harris, who will be an UFA at the end of the season. Taking a CB here is a no-brainer.
12. Green Bay Packers: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
Green Bay has a mixture of young and veteran linemen, but injuries have tested their depth and exposed a few weaknesses.
13. Atlanta Falcons: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Tyler Allgeier leads the team with 443 yards rushing with just 1 TD and a “ho-hum” 4.3 yard-per-carry average. Sure, it would be nice if Atlanta could find a way to snag one of the top QBs, but a solid running game should do nothing but help current starter Marcus Mariota and third-round rookie backup Desmond Ridder.
14. Arizona Cardinals: WR Jordan Addison, USC
Arizona’s receiving corps includes one promising second-year player, Rondale Moore, two veterans who are on the downsides of their otherwise stellar careers (DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green) and another veteran who was acquired via trade due to declining play (Robbie Anderson). The best receiver, Marquise Brown, whom the Texans traded a first-round pick to acquire, has missed most of the season with a fracture in his foot. When healthy, a Brown-Moore-Addison trio would be scary.
15. Indianapolis Colts: CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
Need a QB? Get in line. Indianapolis is another QB-starved team that could trade up to acquire one. The pick might come down to South Carolina CB Cam Smith or Texas Tech edge Tyree Wilson, as the Colts could use help at either position.
16. Washington Commanders: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
If QB is the biggest need, then CB might be the second-biggest. The team hasn’t had a lot of luck over the years reaching for a QB in the first round, so instead the Commanders boost their leaky secondary.
17. Los Angeles Chargers: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
The play of sixth-round rookie Jamaree Salyer at LT and the return of Rashawn Slater from injury means Los Angeles doesn’t have to take a tackle on Days 1 or 2. Bresee would give the Chargers a deadly front 7 with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack, plus starting DL Morgan Fox will be an UFA at the end of the season.
18. Cincinnati Bengals: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Despite adding pieces to its offensive line in the offseason, QB Joe Burrow is still being asked to do everything for the Cincinnati offense, as the revamped line has struggled, as has the running game. Burrow has been sacked 30 times, second-most in the league. By adding Gibbs, the team is giving its ground game a huge boost – which should also lead to fewer sacks – and it should help with playactions and screen plays, as Burrow is 16th in screen yards and 22nd for drop-backs that are screens, according to FanNation’s Bring Me The Sports. Gibbs, one of the fastest players in the draft, has 774 yards and 6 TDs rushing and has caught 40 passes for 370 yards and 3 more TDs.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DL Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
Who’s the pass rusher that puts fear into opposing offenses? Currently, massive DT Vita Vea leads the team with 6.5 sacks, followed by LB Devin White’s 5. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2021, has 3.5. Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson would also be tempting here, but he’s a better fit as a defensive end in a 4-3, while Tuipulotu can play end in an even- or odd-front.
20. Denver Broncos: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
Offensive line is far-and-away Denver’s biggest need. Garrett Bolles is out for the year with an injury, while Cam Fleming, Billy Turner and Dalton Risner, a tackle in college, will all be UFAs. This may be a bit high for Jones, but the team has little choice, especially after trading for QB Russell Wilson.
21. New England Patriots: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Current starting TE Hunter Henry is having a down year with just 19 receptions for 240 yards. Mayer is a big target that should only help second-year QB Mac Jones.
22. Seattle Seahawks: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Marquise Goodwin will be an UFA, and the always-steady Tyler Lockett is now on the wrong-side of 30. Hyatt teams up with teammate Hooker in this scenario.
23. New York Jets: S Brian Branch
The soon-to-be 32-year-old safety Lamarcus Joyner can’t play forever.
24. Buffalo Bills: LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Tremaine Edmunds has been a tackling machine since Buffalo drafted him in the first round in 2018. He’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – and Sanders could turn out to be a better pass rusher than Edmunds is, too.
25. Baltimore Ravens: CB Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M
The Rigdon big board lists Georgia CB Kelee Ringo as the higher prospect; however, there are some grumblings that Ringo might fall to Day 2, according to Walter Football. Jones, meanwhile, is also a big CB who has been moving up draft boards. Either way, expect Baltimore to address the position, as current starter Marcus Peters will be an UFA at the end of the season.
26. Dallas Cowboys: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
Every single full- or part-time staring defensive back will be a free agent at the end of next season or the year after that. Dallas run’ defense is getting gouged. The team has yet to solidify the left guard position. And the CeeDee Lamb-Michael Gallup duo has underwhelmed this season. So why take Wilson when pass rusher is one of the team’s strengths? At 6-foot-6, 275-pounds, Wilson is just too good of a prospect at this point in the draft to pass up. Plus, adding Wilson to an edge group that already includes DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorrance Armstrong and second-round rookie Sam Williams would help free up star linebacker Micah Parsons, meaning, the team might not play Parsons as often at defensive end as it has this year, making him more of a chess piece like he was used as a rookie.
27. Tennessee Titans: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Tennessee could use another TE, as both Austin Hooper and Geoff Swaim will be UFAs, but with Mayer off the board, the Titans could take a best-player-available approach. Simpson is a bit like Parsons in that he’s a chess piece teams can use all over the field.
28. New York Giants: S Antonio Johnson
This is assuming New York re-signs QB Daniel Jones. If not, then all bets are off. One of New York’s most glaring needs is at receiver; however, the best-remaining receiver, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, is likely a slot-only receiver, a position the team already has covered after drafting Wan’Dale Robinson this past spring in the second round. It’s also hard to envision the team drafting another receiver after taking Robinson this year and the-since-traded Kadarius Toney, their 2021 first-rounder. Instead, the Giants’ secondary gets a big boost with Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson, a big safety/nickel hybrid at 6-foot-3, 190-pounds.
29. Minnesota Vikings: CB Clark Phillips III, Utah
A bit undersized at 5-foot-10, 191-pounds, Phillips would give the Vikings the playmaking CB they’ve so desperately tried to find in recent years. Minnesota has drafted a CB in the first or second round five out of the last eight years. Phillips has 5 INTs this season, including 2 pick-6s.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Edge B.J. Ojulari, LSU
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Ojulari isn’t a perfect fit in Kansas City’s 4-3 defense, as he’s probably best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Still, it would be a huge coup for Kansas City if Ojulari fell this far, as he would pair with 2022 first-round edge George Karlaftis to give the Chiefs bookend pass rushers for the next decade.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
What do you give the team with the best OL in football? How about a sixth offensive lineman. Washington doesn’t have the best hands, and he’s not even the top TE on his own team. But the 6-foot-8, 280-pound junior is incredibly athletic for his size, and is a terrific blocker. Washington would be a bit like one of Philadelphia’s first-round picks this past spring, DL Jordan Davis, as neither player will receive a ton of snaps or fill up the stat sheet – but their presence would be felt nonetheless. Plus, Washington could be used as the Eagles’ secret weapon against Dallas and its potent pass rush.
New Orleans Saints, second round: QB Tanner McKee, Stanford
Los Angeles Rams, second round: OT Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland
Cleveland Browns, second round: DT Siaki Ika, Baylor
Miami Dolphins, second round: RB Devon Achane, Texas A&M
* Draft order courtesy of Tankathon.
** Miami lost its first-round pick due to tampering charges.