Feb 28, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio during the NFL combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In the days leading up to the draft, general managers contend they select the best athlete available. What they almost always mean is they draft the best athlete available at a position of need. The Texans are the perfect example. They entered the draft with 12 picks and glaring needs at four positions – quarterback, defensive end, wide receiver, and center.
General manager Nick Caserio used his first four picks on Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, Alabama defensive end Will Anderson Jr., Penn State center Juice Scruggs and Houston receiver Tank Dell. And to make sure he continued to fortify two of those need positions, Caserio drafted Notre Dame center Jarrett Patterson and Iowa State receiver Xavier Hutchinson in the sixth round. With his last pick, Caserio took Pitt safety Brandon Hill, another position needing depth.
Coach DeMeco Ryans will never admit it, of course, but as excited as he was about the draft, you know he blew out a huge sigh of relief because of the players the Texans selected. He watched tape of last season’s games and practices. He went into the offseason knowing the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Other than Stroud and Anderson, there are no rookies guaranteed to start, but the Texans do have openings in their lineup, and they’re in dire need of quality depth. And they did quite nicely in Caserio’s third year of running the draft.
“The goal each step of the way is to add players we think have an opportunity to help us,” Caserio said Saturday when the draft ended. “Through that lens, I would say, hopefully, we’ve done that. We’ll find out more when they actually get started in our program.”
Caserio went into the three-day draft with 12 picks. He made eight trades and finished with nine selections, including five on offense. This season, it’s like the Texans have an additional second-round pick because they’re hoping receiver John Metchie III will be able to play. He missed his rookie season while undergoing treatment for Leukemia and rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn ACL. Metchie has been participating in the offseason program.
“He’s making progress,” Caserio said. “He was a full participant last week when we got on the field for phase two. He hasn’t played football in a long time.
Nobody’s worked harder to get himself to this point. I wouldn’t say anybody is surprised that he’s arrived at this point.
“I’d say his will to work, his effort, his mental and physical toughness and the work with the sports performance staff have been incredible. There’s a lot of people that deserve a lot of credit that have helped him get to this point. I’d say it’s kind of inspiring to see somebody do that. (We) haven’t seen any setbacks. (There’s) still a long road ahead of us. We’re all cautiously optimistic about where he’s headed.”
The fact Metchie is on the practice field after what he’s experienced should inspire every player on the team, especially impressionable rookies, who report for their minicamp May 12-14 and then phase three of the offseason program that begins with OTAs.
“It’s about where can we be as a team?” Caserio said. “Are we making progress? Do I think we’re improving the team? Hopefully (but) we have to play good football. That’s going to come with time. This is about work. The process hasn’t ended. We’re going to try to take advantage of our opportunities every step of the way.”
Other than shocking the NFL by trading up to get Anderson with the third overall pick – one spot behind Stroud – Caserio’s shrewdest move was Saturday when he used a fifth-round pick on Alabama middle linebacker Henry To’oTo’o, a tackling machine who’d been projected to go in the third round.
Anytime Ryans has a chance to add a player from Alabama, where he played before the Texans drafted him in the second round in 2006, he’s all for it. To’oTo’o will join Anderson, his teammate for the last two years, and outside linebacker Christian Harris, a third-round pick in 2022, on Ryans’ defense. All three could start. To’o’To’o, 6-1, 227, had no idea the Texans were interested in him.
“It was like a big shock because I didn’t talk to them,” he said. “I’m juiced. I’m so excited, I’m really at a loss for words. I didn’t know the call was coming, but I was super-excited when it did.”
To’oTo’o, who ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine, was a four-year starter in college. He played his first two seasons at Tennessee before transferring to Alabama, where he led the defense in tackles in 2021.
To’oTo’o and the other rookies have a lot of work to do whether they were drafted or signed as undrafted free agents. This is the third year of Caserio’s rebuild, and the Texans need to see progress in Ryans’ first season.
“The big thing is (for) all players, they have a lot to learn,” Caserio said. “They have a lot to improve. What they need to focus on is getting better individually. Start with your position. Start with the skills that are required to play that position. Ultimately, the coach is going to work with them on some of the things they can improve.
“Each player has things they can work on, including our returning players. That’s your responsibility. If you don’t know the answer, then we have resources in the building, people to help you get better in that area – how you sleep, how you train, your nutrition. You’re playing football, but a lot goes into playing football.”
In two weeks, the rookies are going to find out just how much goes into playing football at the next level.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).