John P. Lopez – It’s DeMeco’s Texans world and for all his influence, even Nick Caserio is just living in it

Feb 2, 2023; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans head coach Demeco Ryans speaks to the media during his introductory press conference as general manager Nick Caserio (right) looks on at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

John P. Lopez – It’s DeMeco’s Texans world and for all his influence, even Nick Caserio is just living in it

The cake is baked.

The scouting is done. The Texans’ draft board is complete. Interviews are over, research is complete, and the only thing left to do is see which hunking slice of cake DeMeco Ryans and Nick Caserio take.

Just know this: Don’t expect plain vanilla. And do expect these Texans’ draft picks to have much more of a Ryans flavor to them than Caserio’s.

“Expect the unexpected,” Caserio said when framing the Texans’ draft approach recently.

Yes, indeed.

In most organizations, the expectation is for the general manager to make all the calls. With Ryans’ arrival and the desperate desire for him to put his stamp on the team, this isn’t most organizations.

The Texans are in one of, if not the most unique positions in the NFL Draft. They need everything, can look everywhere, and have a whopping 12 draft picks at their disposal. Nothing is off the table – not even passing on a much-needed quarterback.

I would guess that after all the rumors and reports to the contrary, the Texans will in fact take Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud at No. 2, but everything is possible because everything hinges on what Ryans prefers.

For various reasons — from this not being the best top-to-bottom draft class in recent years to Ryans wielding the kind of personnel pull usually reserved for the Andy Reids of the world — this will be the kind of draft that whenever the rest of the league expects the Texans to zig, we should expect them to twerk.

It’ll be that crazy. It’ll be that DeMeco Ryans-influenced.

Passing on a career-boosting quarterback at No. 2 may not be how you would normally expect an NFL general manager to operate, especially considering he is working with his third head coach in as many years and said, “the clock is ticking” on his Texans career.

But Caserio has no choice anymore. His value is high, and he has the endorsement of CEO Cal McNair and wife, Hannah. But remember those rumors and reports that Caserio quashed of his perhaps moving on after the draft? They didn’t come out of thin air.

The two biggest misconceptions of the monthslong draft build up have been that Caserio is calling all the personnel shots, and he runs a tight no-leaks ship at NRG.

While Caserio prefers to run a tight ship and does call a lot of shots in the personnel department, neither really is completely true anymore. And neither has been true leading up to this weekend when you consider the planted leaks and stories coming out of the building. Even Wednesday, it was widely reported the Texans are not seeing a lot of interest in trades for the No. 2 overall pick, but they would be willing to trade down, or up, with the No. 12 pick.

OK. Thanks for the clarity.

The reality is the Texans are in fact casting bait all over the media to see who bites, a commonly used tactic, but not something from Caserio’s playbook. They may well trade the No. 2 overall pick if Ryans believes acquiring his kinds of players can be had elsewhere. They may well draft an edge rusher like Alabama’s Will Anderson or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, or trade up from 12 to acquire a potentially game-changing running back like Texas’ Bijan Robinson.

Only Ryans, Caserio, and a few well-placed personnel people really know, and only they will be in the draft room beginning Thursday night.

But for all the respect and power Caserio has, this is Ryans’ draft. This is Ryans’ playbook. This is Ryans’ Texans world.

To be clear, Ryans has worked well with Caserio and leans heavily on his hard-working sidekick. They are working in concert like forever friends. They talk and meet every day about every prospect. They debate and land on a decision.

But when DeMeco Ryans came available after the 2022 season, virtually every team that had a head coaching opening had him at the top of their list. That’s called leverage. And Ryans is no dummy.

The opportunity to choose your future path and be able to ask for assurances don’t come along very often. As much as he loves Houston and is a beloved former Texan, Ryans simply would not have taken this job unless he knew his word would be heard, and Caserio was willing to acquiesce.

Remember, even Caserio said during the head coaching search – with Ryans already on the radar – that he would be willing to take on another role if the new coach saw fit. And legendary Texans beat writer John McClain, who has staunchly pointed out that the final say when it comes to personnel is written in Caserio’s contract, said in his final mock draft for Gallery Sports predicting the Texans would take Wilson, “Nick Caserio has his choice of four quarterbacks, but DeMeco Ryans talks him into one of the two-best edge rushers.”

Could David Culley or Lovie Smith have done that? Would they even have tried?

Caserio is not anything close to minimized either in his player-evaluation role, his importance in constructing a front office, and having a strong voice. He’s still the boss of just about everything. His word still carries a lot of weight and will be strong.

Just not the strongest. DeMeco Ryans came back to Houston talking about his culture, his preferred style, his coaching staff, his dream.

This is his draft.

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