The Houston Texans joined the NFL in 2002, five years after the city had lost the Oilers franchise to Nashville. In the past 12 years, the Texans have ranged from a bottom feeder, to a fringe playoff contender, to an underachieving team when it came time for the big games. They finally got over the playoff hump, making it to the playoffs in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, by winning the AFC South. Both their playoff victories were home wild-card round wins against the Cincinnati Bengals. They lost in the divisional round to Baltimore and New England. This past season, they were expected to go even further, but instead injuries and inconsistency at quarterback spelled doom and they finished 2-14. The Texans will pick first overall for the third time in their history. Looking back at all of their first-round selections may give us an idea as to why they have not been able to win the big one. Teams’ success usually starts with the draft. So how have the choices of the NFL’s 32nd franchise fared? Here they are and how they fit in with Houston.
2002: David Carr – Quarterback – Fresno State
The expansion Texans were given the first-overall pick and decided to immediately give themselves the face of their franchise, going with Fresno State’s David Carr. The only problem was Carr didn’t have the tools around him to be successful as a young quarterback.
A shoddy offensive line led to the rookie being sacked 76 times in his first season. Carr ended up playing five seasons for the Texans, showing some flashes of great potential. In his third season, he passed for 3,531 yards, 16 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 61.2. However, after five seasons, Carr had shown he wasn’t the franchise quarterback the Texans had hoped he would be and new GM Rick Smith released him. The Texans traded for Matt Schaub.
Carr wound up playing for the Panthers, Giants and 49ers. He has not been active in the NFL since last August. Overall, given the expectations Houston had for him, Carr has to go down as a bust.
2003: Andre Johnson – Wide Receiver – Miami
Well, here comes the make-up pick. The Texans knocked one out of the park in their second draft, taking the Miami Hurricanes’ top receiver Andre Johnson at third overall.
This pick was their way of helping their quarterback Carr out, but Johnson is on his own as the Texans’ greatest draft pick in their history. Eleven years later and Johnson is still on their active roster, is still one of the league’s best receivers and is a team leader.
Through the ups and downs of the Texans’ history, Johnson has compiled a Hall of Fame worthy career. He has 913 receptions for 12,531 yards and 61 touchdowns in 154 career games. A seven-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All Pro, Johnson has just about every franchise receiving record there is.
2004: Dunta Robinson – Cornerback – South Carolina
Okay, so not every draft pick can be a home run, but this was still a solid pick for Houston. They took speedster Dunta Robinson out of South Carolina 10th overall and he served them well in his six years with the team.
Robinson was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, recording 87 tackles and six interceptions in his first season. Robinson had a solid run up until the 2009 season, when he was upset about being franchise tagged and not given a long-term contract.
He was so frustrated he even wore shoes that said “Pay me Rick” directed at general manager Rick Smith. The Texans chose not to re-sign him following the season and Robinson found a home in Atlanta. The Texans’ defense dipped significantly in the 2010 season, falling to last in pass defense.
Robinson played last season with the Chiefs and has yet to be signed by any team. Overall for Houston, it wasn’t a bad pick.
2004: Jason Babin – Defensive End – Western Michigan
The Texans traded their second, third, fourth and fifth round picks to the Tennessee Titans to draft Jason Babin 27th overall. Babin played three seasons for Houston and was a good, but not great player.
He was traded to Seattle prior to 2007 and quickly released.
Babin didn’t have a dominant season until 2010, which ironically was with the team who passed on him back in 2004, the Tennessee Titans. There, he recorded 12.5 sacks. That made him a hot free agent and he recorded 18 sacks in the 2011 season in Philly.
For the Texans, this pick didn’t quite work out for them.
2005: Travis Johnson – Defensive Tackle – Florida State
Here is a rather uneventful tenure with the Texans, and when counting first-round picks, that’s a bad thing. Travis Johnson was projected to be the top defensive tackle available and Houston snagged him at 16th overall.
However, injuries plagued most of Johnson’s career and he struggled to find playing time. By 2007, he did receive some more playing time, but he never developed into the impact player many had imagined.
He was eventually traded to the San Diego Chargers, where he played a couple more uneventful years, let go by San Diego following the 2010 season.
He finished his career with 102 tackles and three sacks.
2006: Mario Williams – Defensive End – North Carolina State
The Texans had plateaued in the 2006 season and found themselves picking first overall once again. This selection was highly debated, with many expecting the Texans to pick Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush first overall.
Some local fans even wanted local quarterback hero Vince Young, who had just led the Texas Longhorns to a national championship.
The Texans ultimately opted to stick with David Carr for another year and took defensive end Mario Williams.
Williams proved to be a force, enjoying two Pro-Bowl seasons with Houston and being a two-time second team All-Pro. In six seasons with the Texans, he recorded 53 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, to go with 241 tackles. Injuries plagued his 2011 season and the Texans allowed Williams to hit free agency.
The Buffalo Bills signed Williams to an exorbitant six-year, $100 million contract. He has continued to flourish with Buffalo, albeit short of the expectations that come with that kind of contract.
2007: Amobi Okoye – Defensive Tackle – Louisville
Amobi Okoye made history, becoming the youngest first-round draft pick ever at just 19 years old. The Texans took him tenth overall out of Louisville.
Okoye hit the ground running in Houston, registering four sacks in his first month of play, being named Rookie of the Month in September, 2007. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t reach a pace like that ever again. He recorded just 1.5 sacks in the rest of that season and in his four seasons with Houston, he totalled just 11 sacks.
He played two seasons for the Chicago Bears, as a rotational pass rusher, recording five sacks during that time. He has not played a game since 2012. A definite miss for Houston.
2008: Duane Brown – Offensive Tackle – Virginia Tech
The Texans ended their run of five straight defensive first-round picks in 2008. They took tackle Duane Brown out of Virginia Tech 26th overall.
The Texans got it right with this one. Brown protected Matt Schaub‘s blindside very well, allowing Schaub to enjoy a 4,770 yard season in 2009, leading the NFL. The offense also set Houston franchise records.
Duane Brown has been named to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons. He was rewarded with a six-year, $53.4 million contract following his 2012 Pro Bowl year. The Texans will lean on him once again this season to help Houston’s incoming franchise quarterback, whoever that may be.
2009: Brian Cushing – Outside Linebacker – USC
It’d be great to see Brian Cushing play a full season. Cushing has been a great player when he’s been healthy, but he’s only played 12 games over the last two seasons.
In 2009, he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, recording five sacks, 134 combined tackles, two forced fumbles and four interceptions. He was also named to the Pro Bowl.
His only other full season was in 2o11, and he was AP’s second team All-Pro. That year, he recorded four sacks, 114 combined tackles, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
In 2012, he tore his ACL and last year he broke his fibula, ending his last two seasons prematurely. It’s part of the reason the Texans’ defense suffered down the stretch last season.
Let’s see what Cushing can do if he’s able to stay healthy in 2014. For his production and his talent, the Texans got it right back in 2009.
2010: Kareem Jackson – Cornerback – Alabama
The Texans went to the Crimson Tide talent pool and took Kareem Jackson with the 20th overall pick in 2010.
Jackson’s career began on an atrocious defense, as it was ranked 32nd against the pass in 2010. He got on track with the hiring of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. His best season came in 2012, with 16 passes defended, 47 tackles and four interceptions.
He remains a starter for Houston and will look to help get the team back to the playoffs. The Texans’ pass defense was actually ranked third in 2013, but 25th in points allowed.
2011: J.J. Watt – Defensive End – Wisconsin
J.J. Watt is a perfect example of the fact that you don’t need a top-five pick to nab an elite player. Watt was taken 11th overall in 2011 and has quickly grown to be one of, if not, the best at his position.
In three seasons, he’s already been named to a Pro Bowl, been an All-Pro and won the Defensive Player of the Year Award for the 2012 season.
In 2012, he had 20.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two recoveries and 16 passes defended to go with 81 tackles.
In three seasons, he has amassed 36.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 27 passes defended. He’s likely only going to get better. It’s safe to say, this is one of Houston’s best picks ever.
2012: Whitney Mercilus – Defensive End – Illinois
Houston’s success in 2011 led to them picking 27th overall in the 2012 draft.
The Texans took a defensive end for the second straight year, picking Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus. The idea perhaps being to pair him with J.J. Watt.
Mercilus has been solid in his young career so far, not missing a game, and totalling 13 sacks, 72 tackles and two forced fumbles in his two seasons. He worked his way into a starting job last year, but his impact was far less significant, considering the playing time he got.
Perhaps his home is as a rotational pass-rusher, like he was in his rookie year, but we’ll see if Houston’s new coaching staff can get more out of him.
2013: DeAndre Hopkins – Wide Receiver – Clemson
The Texans finally did what many had been clamouring them to do for a long time. They got Matt Schaub, some receiving help and someone to take a little pressure off of Andre Johnson. They picked Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins 27th overall.
Hopkins actually put up some impressive rookie numbers, considering the mess the Texans had at quarterback last year.
Hopkins caught 52 passes for 802 yards and two touchdowns. His quarterbacks ranged from Matt Schaub to Case Keenum and T.J. Yates.
The Texans are likely picking a quarterback at some point in this year’s draft whether it’s a no.1 overall or later on. Hopkins showed good potential last year, so we’ll see what he can do when the Texans solve their quarterback situation.
Needless to say, the Texans’ draft this year is perhaps the most important in the history of the franchise.