The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly upon us, and the Houston Texans have plenty of work to do. New head coach Lovie Smith, a proven defensive mind who previously led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl appearance, is tasked with ushering in the post-Deshaun Watson era of Texans football.
As of publication, the Texans were slated to have nine total selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, including three picks in the first 38. Now feels like the perfect time to analyze who the six-time AFC South champions could select within the draft’s first three rounds.
For the sake of simplicity, we only used the Texans’ current draft selections; there are no trades here that have not already happened. We also drafted players based on need and team fit. Unfortunately for Smith, he took over a rebuilding team with plenty of holes and a lack of rising young stars.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, our three-round mock draft looks as follows:
Round 1 (No. 3 overall): Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
For months, it appeared the Jacksonville Jaguars would use the first overall pick on Neal and install him as Trevor Lawrence’s blindside protector. Instead, the long-suffering franchise is currently expected to select Michigan pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, especially after Jacksonville applied the franchise tag on offensive tackle Cam Robinson.
Could the Jaguars still select Neal? Possibly. However, we believe Jacksonville will draft Hutchinson, and the Detroit Lions will either reach on Liberty quarterback Malik Willis or add Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. Those moves will allow the Texans to use the third overall pick on Neal, a consensus All-American choice in 2021. The 6-foot-7, 350-pound lineman is an imposing force in the trenches, one capable of making quarterback Davis Mills’ life far easier.
Besides, if the Texans are among the league’s worst teams once again, Neal might have an opportunity to reunite with former teammate and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young next year.
Other options: Hamilton or Hutchinson; Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State; Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State; Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Round 1 (No. 13 overall): George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Although injuries and COVID-19 limited him to two sacks in three games during the 2020 season, Karlaftis bounced back to tally 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, and force two fumbles for the Boilermakers last year. Although it’d be an understatement to call the draft unpredictable, the reality is that the Texans should have an opportunity to select the 6-foot-4, 266-pound pass-rusher at No. 13.
If Thibodeaux somehow falls to No. 13, he should be the pick here. However, the odds appear likely that he’ll be off the board, so we have no issues penciling Karlaftis in here.
Other options: Thibodeaux, if he somehow drops this far; Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU; Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State; Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia; Trevor Penning, OT, Central Michigan (if Texans go defense at No. 3 overall)
Round 2 (No. 37 overall): DeMarvin Leal, DT, Texas A&M:
Smith loves his defensive players, and Leal would be an excellent addition to the Texans’ front seven. The Texas A&M standout totaled 13 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss in three seasons with the Aggies. Whether or not he stays at defensive tackle or moves to defensive end remains to be seen.
Although Leal has first-round talent, he is expected to drop to the draft’s second day. That’s terrific news for a rebuilding Texans team in desperate need of defensive playmakers. And speaking of defensive playmakers…
Other options: Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati; David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan; Kaair Elam, CB, Florida; Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington;
Round 3 (No. 68 overall) Derion Kendrick, CB, Georgia
Honestly, the Texans could go offense to open the third round and be fine. Selecting a running back, receiver, or tight end here won’t kill them, although this year’s receiver group has been lauded as extremely deep. It’s also worth noting there are several potentially impactful running backs, including Florida’s Dameon Pierce and Georgia’s James Cook, who could fall to Day 3.
We’ll stick with defense here and suggest the Texans add Kendrick, a Clemson transfer who impressed at times during his lone season at Georgia. There are justified concerns about Kendrick’s maturity (he was arrested in Mach 2021 on drug and gun charges that were later expunged) and his ability to hold his own against top-level receivers, but he’d be in good hands under Smith and the Texans’ defensive staff.
Other options: Darian Kinnard, OT, Kentucky (if Texans do not select an offensive tackle in the first round); David Bell, WR, Purdue; Isaiah Likely, TE, Coastal Carolina; Phidarian Mathis, DT, Alabama
Round 3 (No. 80 overall): Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis
If one of the projected Round 2 receivers, primarily Bell or Alabama’s John Metchie III, fall to the 80th overall pick, they should be the pick here. We’re also good with the idea of Houston potentially trading up for either of those prospects.
However, if neither is available at No. 80, we encourage the Texans to take a chance on Austin, the shifty all-purpose weapon from Memphis. Cynics will suggest he’s better off in a system led by a more creative head coach such as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Andy Reid or the San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan, and that opinion is certainly fair. However, we trust Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton to try finding ways to get Austin — who totaled 137 catches, 2,202 yards, and 19 touchdowns from 2020-21 — on the field.
The NFL Mock Draft Database listed Austin’s overall rank at No. 97, so this would admittedly be a slight reach. But the Texans need to do something drastic to start winning, right?
Other options: Kyren Williams, RB, Notre Dame; Sean Rhyan, G, UCLA; Tariq Woolen, CB, UTSA