Will Houston Texans bypass a QB in the first round of 2022 NFL draft?

2022 NFL draft

There’s nothing worse than being desperate for a quarterback with a high draft pick during a year when there’s no consensus best option at the position.

But that’s where Houston finds itself right now.

Not bad enough to have the No. 1 overall pick, in need of a roster overhaul, and in limbo with its current QB, who has made himself almost untradeable due to off-field issues.

It’s no fun to be a Houston fan right now.

So let’s take a look at the Texans’ biggest needs in terms of how the draft is expected to play out. With a 2-9 record and 28 unrestricted free agents, Houston could lose as many as eight starters to free agency, including current starter Tyrod Taylor at QB. (Deshaun Watson also has to be factored in here as a potential loss.)

But the top QBs are somewhat underwhelming and all come with more warts than you’d typically want or expect out of a high first-rounder. That includes Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, the No. 13 overall prospect in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board who is third in the nation in passing yards (4,444 yards and 31 TDs). Armstrong is followed closely by Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, the Nos. 14th and 15th-ranked prospects. Pickett is fifth in the nation in passing yards with 4,066 yards and 40 TDs, while Corral is 15th with 3,334 yards and 20 TDs.

Of the teams with the same or worse record as Houston, only one team – the 0-10-1 Detroit Lions – also needs a QB, so Houston should be able to land one of those QBs in Round 1.

But why force a square peg into a round hole?

We’ve seen teams over-draft time and time again, especially at that position. Former North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky was seen as a bit of a reach when he went No. 2 overall to Chicago in 2017. Even Zach Wilson has New York Jets fans worried after the BYU rookie was taken with the No. 2 overall pick this year.

Furthermore, there’s almost no rhyme or reason to the “bust” rate at that position. Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, and Justin Herbert, the No. 6 pick, look like future stars, while Tua Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick that year, has struggled. Kyler Murray has looked as good as advertised as the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, while Daniel Jones, the No. 6 pick, continues to struggle, and Dwayne Haskins (No. 15) and Drew Lock (42) are now backups.

Does Houston still need a QB? Absolutely. But the team took one with its first pick this past draft, Stanford’s Davis Mills in the third round, and one of the better ones could slip a round or two.

And there’s always this: Without a serviceable QB, Houston will likely have a crack at a top one in the 2023 draft.

Round 1: OT Evan Neal, Alabama

Auburn gave the 6-foot-7, 350-pound Neal as much as the junior could handle over the weekend, as Neal gave up a sack and was called for a holding penalty. But Neal remains the undisputed top prospect at his position after starting 36 games in three years across three different positions along the line: 13 at left guard in 2019, 12 at right tackle last season and 11 games and counting this year at left tackle.

Still, the Auburn game illustrated why Neal’s best position at the next level might be on the right side. From WalterFootball: “Overall, this tape will fortify the belief of some area scouts that Neal should be a right tackle in the NFL. He is a monster of a tackle who is a tough run blocker and has a ton of media hype. Some NFL scouts, however, think his massive size leads to him not having left tackle feet and he would be a better fit on the right side in the NFL. Regardless, Neal looks like a top-16 pick next April in the 2022 NFL Draft.”

Neal and LT Laremy Tunsil would give Houston a pair of young, Pro Bowl-type talent at one of the most important positions in the game, regardless of who the signal-caller is.

Round 2: G Kenyon Green, Texas A&M

Would Houston consider drafting an offensive lineman with its top two picks?

The answer should be a resounding “yes” if the team wants to protect its future investment at quarterback – plus, passing up on Green would be hard. The 6-foot-4, 325-pound junior has filled a variety of roles this season, playing at least 85 snaps at every position along the offensive line but center.

Furthermore, getting Green at the top of the second would be a coup for the Texans, as he’s projected to go higher by many evaluators. Here’s what Pro Football Network said about him earlier this month: “Green possesses that mauler mentality that makes interior offensive linemen a force in the ground game. Additionally, he has an anchor that would rival any boat in the ocean. From stance to snap and beyond, Green is a phenomenal prospect.”

So why would Green still be available near the top of the second round? Blame it on the position he’s most likely to play at the next level, guard. Few go in the first round. If you include N.C. State’s Ikem Ekwonu as a tackle instead of a guard, then Green and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum are the only interior linemen ranked among the top-32 prospects. One guard went in the first round in 2019, none in 2020 and one this past draft. So it’s possible that Green falls to the top of the second.

Besides, it’s fun to imagine an OL made up of LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Tytus Howard, RG Green and RT Neal.

Round 3: QB Carson Strong, Nevada

Let’s be clear: Taking a quarterback in Rounds 1 or 2 likely means the end of Mills’ career in Houston, fair or not.

But the team could give Mills at least one more season if it drafts a QB in Round 3 or later, as he has had some decent moments this year. Overall, Mills has completed 67 percent of his passes (140-of-209) for 1,357 yards, 7 TDs and 8 INTs in seven games and six starts.

By comparison, Wilson, the No. 2 pick this year, has completed 58 percent of his passes (118-of-205) for 1,313 yards, 4 TDs and 10 INTs.

But, like A&M’s Green, it may be too tempting to pass on the 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior. The only reason Strong might still be available in the third round is because of his injury history. Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports detailed Strong’s injury history earlier this season.

Otherwise, Strong looks a lot like a first-rounder, as he’s completed 70 percent of his passes (367 of 523) for 4,186 yards, 36 TDs and 8 INTs.

Round 3: RB Breece Hall, Iowa State

Hall entered the season as the best- or second-best RB by several publications. It’s not that the 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior has performed poorly, as his 1,472 rushing yards rank fifth nationally and his 23 TDs rank first. It’s just that other RBs have also performed well, with a few like Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III inching ahead of Hall in the rankings. Furthermore, teams can find solid RBs in later rounds as the league focuses more on the passing game.

Hall would give the Texans a bit of everything, as he can also catch the ball with 36 receptions for 302 yards this season. He would likely walk in as a starter, too, as David Johnson will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Round 4: CB Marcus Jones, Houston

Everyone knows how dangerous the 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior is as a returner, as his nine return TDs (6 kickoff returns, 3 punt returns) tie him for the most in NCAA history.

But he’s also solid defensively, although his size may limit Jones to slot/nickel at the next level.

From Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy, via the Associated Press: “He has the speed and off-man cover skills to play outside, he has good reactions and closing burst inside at nickel, he has legit NFL return skills, and he could even get you out of a game at slot receiver in a pinch. … The more I watch this guy, the more I like him. … Maybe even more importantly, the Houston coaching staff raves about his football character. If I still worked in the NFL I’d be pushing hard for my team to draft him.”

Round 6: G Emil Ekiyor Jr., Alabama

Day 3 interior linemen for Alabama don’t have a recent history of success. Still, the 6-foot-3, 324-pound redshirt junior has versatility along the line and could be moved to center.

Round 6: DL Jermayne Lole, Arizona State

If it wasn’t for a triceps injury that has cost the 6-foot-2, 305-pound senior his entire season, Lole might have been a much higher pick.

Round 6: Edge Ali Gaye, LSU

The 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft, as he could go as high as the first round or go undrafted. It’s all dependent on his medicals after undergoing surgery for an upper-body injury. Even when healthy, Gaye didn’t have dominant numbers with 32 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 2 sacks last season, then putting up a line of 19-2.5-2.5 in four games this season. But a team might believe it can unlock Gaye’s obvious potential and traits and take him much earlier in the draft.

Round 7: WR Ronnie Bell, Michigan

This is the third consecutive player who could have been drafted higher had he been healthy all season. The 6-foot, 190-pound senior suffered a right knee injury in the season opener that required surgery. Prior to that, Bell was mentioned as a potential Day 2 prospect.

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