With two weeks until the beginning of the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, the next article in our series “32 NFL Mock Drafts in 32 Days” is a Houston Texans mock draft. The Texans will enter the draft not only without a first-round pick but also with no selections until the early portion of the third round, almost halfway through Day Two.
That doesn’t mean they have no components that seek improvement, however. The Texans were one of the most inconsistent teams during the 2020 NFL season. While their offense was close to the top of the league in many departments, their defensive unit was, from top to bottom, the worst in the National Football League.
Meanwhile, their secondary will be the group with the most severe holes. Also, the offensive guard position was a vulnerable post last winter whereas the defensive line and the receiving corps could also use some serious upgrades. The drama around Deshaun Watson and the potential trade negotiations that have circulated in the rumors for months add extra work to new general manager Nick Caserio’s task list, which has been as loaded as ever from the very start of the 2021 NFL offseason.
It is beyond clear that a draft order that features only picks after the second round would do very little compared to a strong free agency class. Yet, since there are a plethora of holes in this roster post-free agency, the most major platform that will serve as a tool for Caserio to achieve his goals is the upcoming draft. Therefore, the Texans will have to outperform all other 31 franchises and find incredibly undervalued players as the event progresses. Of course, that isn’t impossible but it remains a monumental task. Let’s take a look at how Caserio might tackle it in this 2021 Houston Texans mock draft.
2021 Houston Texans Mock Draft: Day Two
3.67 | Daviyon Nixon | DT | Iowa
During the 2020 NFL season, the front line of the Texans’ defensive unit was by far the worst in the league, allowing 5.2 yards per rushing attempt. This makes the group and the defensive tackle post one of the main priorities for Houston heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the task turned out to be more difficult when J.J. Watt departed and joined the Cardinals on a two-year deal.
The Texans responded by adding Vincent Taylor. Moreover, prolific nose tackle Brandon Dunn will return to lead the front line in Houston’s 3-4 scheme. However, the group has marked almost no improvement so far in this offseason and looks poised for another abysmal display during the 2021 campaign.
This is why in this Houston Texans mock draft, the team addresses these issues with their opening picks on the second day of the draft event. Daviyon Nixon, a defensive tackle out of Iowa, has a good chance of being on the board when the Texans hit the clock with the third selection of Round Three. Meanwhile, the outlook on his potential to make an impact at the professional level is good.
Nixon only played two seasons with the Hawkeyes but didn’t disappoint. After posting 29 tackles in 13 games in 2019, Nixon’s production and involvement rapidly increased when he registered a 45-tackle performance in just eight appearances over the course of the 2020 season, which Big Ten Conference played under a shortened schedule after starting the campaign in November.
Furthermore, Nixon’s dominance is even more noticeable when it comes to not only stopping running backs early on a play but also putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The latter is a major quality that the Texans should be looking for now that they have subtracted the sack leader of a middle-of-the-pack pass-rush.
Across his past two seasons with Iowa, Nixon posted 5.5 and 13.5 tackles for loss, respectively. In the latter of those campaigns, he led the conference in tackles for loss and ranked second in sack production. From the 19 TOL he registered during his collegiate tenure, 8.5 were QB sacks, 5.5 of which occurred during his latest and most promising effort to give the Hawkeyes a boost up front defensively.
Considering the deficit of quality and talent Houston experiences, and their league-low figures, indicative of those woes, Daviyon Nixon could be a rare third-round pick made a first-year starter, and could be the Texans’ best opportunity to add an upgrade in that department via the 2021 NFL Draft.
4.109 | Keith Taylor Jr. | CB | Washington
Houston’s second-worst passing defense in terms of conceded passer rating was extremely vulnerable at the corner and safety positions alike. Bradley Roby, whose campaign was cut short due to a PED violation suspension, was dominant in 10 games, surrendering a measly passer rating of 89.8 over 45 targets in coverage. Meanwhile, Lonnie Johnson had mixed success whereas Vernon Hargreaves, who faced the heaviest workload of any cornerback, was weak on the outside with a conceded rating of over 109.0.
However, this past offseason brought in the wind of change. With slight but noticeable personnel replacements, is the Texans’ plan set to pay dividends?
Hardly, if at all, say the numbers. Nick Caserio made three important signings that have something to do with the team’s secondary. Firstly, he signed Terrance Mitchell to a two-year, $6.5-million contract. That is a very good deal for a player who struggled mightily over his busiest workload last year but had completed two steady campaigns previously. Although he allowed a passer rating north of 100.0 on 99 targets, the 2019 and 2018 seasons saw his conceded figure fall under 80.0, with Mitchell facing at least 30 targets on both occasions.
While Mitchell is a confident candidate to record a bounceback season, the same doesn’t apply to the team’s other two additions in that field. Houston will pay Tavierre Thomas, another former Cleveland Brown, $4 million despite him having started just three games and faced 27 targets in his three-year stint in the NFL. Last year, Thomas’s rating was 113.2 on 24 targets. Tavierre Thomas resembles a substantial risk, to say the least.
Also, Desmond King was brought in after allowing a passer rating over 100.0 in each of his last two seasons with the Chargers and the Titans.
As a result, the Texans have very few reliable pieces beyond Roby and Mitchell, which is what the need for a draftee outside corner derives from. Washington corner Keith Taylor is a suitable prospect to fill in the holes down the Texans’ depth chart. Between 2018 and 2019, when he appeared in 21 games, he registered 48 solo tackles, 73 total tackles, and eight passes defended. The Draft Network describes his role as an outside cornerback on schemes that feature nickel and dime corners. Also, the outlet notes his success in press coverage either in man or zone coverage.
2021 Houston Texans Mock Draft: Day Three
5.147 | Patrick Jones II | DE | Pittsburgh
The Texans’ weaknesses as regards mobilizing a productive pass-rush have already been well-documented in this Houston Texans mock draft. Houston recorded just 34 sacks against opposing QBs, placing 15th within the National Football League. Also, as already mentioned, J.J. Watt, who led the unit with five sacks, is no longer, switching his “affiliation” to the Arizona Cardinals.
Considering the available talent at this stage of Day Three, Patrick Jones II is a very undervalued prospect who can have a bigger upside than his draft position indicates. Across his last three years with the Panthers, each with more than 11 appearances, Jones registered 21 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. Moreover, he led the ACC with nine sacks and was sixth with 13 TOL en route to a consensus All-American campaign in 2020.
Those numbers make it all the more baffling why experts and pre-draft publications project him as a selection in the fourth-to-fifth-round range. Regardless, Jones’s addition could be highly beneficial to the Texans’ shorthanded defensive line and woeful pass-rush production. Furthermore, Patrick Jones should have no problem if he has to move to outside linebacker in order to be utilized as an edge-rusher in the most complete way for a 3-4 defensive scheme.
The team’s two current outside linebackers, Whitney Mercilus and Jacob Martin, produced four and three sacks last year, respectively. However, given how he was used with Pittsburgh for the last four collegiate campaigns, he remains a better fit for a 4-3 formation. Nonetheless, even if the Texans have to change their defensive outlook, Jones is much more dominant than any pass-rusher at that point.
5.158 | Dez Fitzpatrick | WR | Louisville
After Will Fuller‘s departure, the top weapons within the Texans’ air raid are now Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Keke Coutee, and Chris Conley. Even though Houston is likely to pump up the use of the ground-game stable after acquiring the likes of Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram, as well as experiencing the return of David Johnson, the offense offers an insufficient receiving corps for the Texans quarterback, whether that is Deshaun Watson or somebody else.
Despite the offense’s position as second in passer rating and third in completion percentage last year, it can use another target given the exit of a vital member of the weaponry and the concern of a possible change under center.
When the Texans are on the clock with the 158th pick in the fifth round, it will be a choice between Louisville deep-threat Dez Fitzpatrick and Auburn ace Seth Williams. In this Houston Texans mock draft, Williams went off the board one pick before Fitzpatrick but different scenarios could occur on May 1st.
Given his role as a primarily downfield target, Fitzpatrick has been both incredibly consistent and impressively efficient. In each of his four seasons with the Cardinals, Fitzpatrick had between 30 and 45 receptions in either eleven or twelve appearances. While catch percentage numbers, otherwise vital for WR evaluation, aren’t available here, from the offense’s numbers you could come to the conclusion that he didn’t have a share much wider than his receptions figure, thus not dropping an awful amount of passes directed at him.
In particular, Louisville finished the 2020 season third within the ACC in terms of completion percentage, meaning the unit was very efficient. The total amount of yards might not show that, however, as the pass amounted to only 42 percent of the Cardinals’ play selection, which adopted a 58-42 split in favor of the run, or around 38-28 on a game basis. Fitzpatrick was second in catches within his squad, trailing just Chatarius Atwell by three receptions. His solid portion of the group’s overall production means that the unit could only be that efficient if its most frequent weapons also fit that category, even when it comes to a less utilized group like the Cards’ offense.
Furthermore, not only is this very indicative of efficiency but it also has been a constant over the last four Louisville seasons with the Cardinals betting on the run every year. On the other hand, Seth Williams has had a similar workload over the last two seasons. Moreover, he took up a portion of the workload similar to Fitzpatrick, was less utilized as a downfield target, and his team had the fourth-lowest completion percentage in the SEC.
Usually, it is much more objective to isolate a player from his unit and using his most individual (and relevant) numbers to establish his value. If catch percentage was available, basing a conclusion off a group’s numbers and not the player’s figures is not only ineffective but also wrong. However, with Williams and Fitzpatrick having a similar workload with a different type of utilization, this is the best way of predicting or estimating their efficiency while also considering the standard for that role.
Therefore, now that it has been concluded that Fitzpatrick was perhaps more efficient for his average of 19.1 yards per catch, it is also true that the Texans need a long-threat WR more urgently after losing Will Fuller to the Dolphins. Nobody with over 30 targets, except for Fuller, posted an average of more than 15.0 yards per catch for the 2020 Houston Texans.
6.195 | Tommy Kraemer | G | Notre Dame
As if it wasn’t enough of a problem that the Texans allowed the fourth-most sacks last year but, they lost a vital piece of their offensive line in free agency to put the cherry on the top. Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard might be solid and confidently approach starting jobs. However, the same cannot be said about the guard position.
Zach Fulton, who was amongst the best players on Houston’s interior OL alongside center Nick Martin, departed, only to join the Giants. Moreover, Martin departed as well. Now, the only returning inside lineman is Max Scharping, who posted a PFF grade of just 52.1 last year, nearly 10 points below Martin and Fulton. Furthermore, Fulton’s current replacement, Cole Toner, only has three career starts and participated in just 25% of the LA Chargers’ offensive snaps in 2020.
Consequently, the Texans will need to add at least one interior offensive lineman via the draft, even if they stick with the current inside trio of Scharping, Toner, and Justin McCray. Tommy Kraemer, meanwhile, was an all-ACC guard during Notre Dame’s only conference campaign and projects as a potential contender for a starting job within a small amount of time.
6.203 | Aashari Crosswell | S | Arizona State
During the offseason after the Texans passing defense crumbled and broke down, becoming one of the worst in the NFL, the safety job is just as big of a need as the weak corner posts. Eric Murray and Justin Reid, the starting safety duo last and probably this upcoming season, both surrendered passer rating figures above the 100.0 threshold. Moreover, Murray and Reid’s deals expire in 2023 and 2022, respectively. Therefore, this is a fitting time to cover the losses if their struggles carry on to the 2021 season.
At the same time, Aashari Crosswell posted a combination of 19 passes defended, 76 solo tackles, and 93 total tackles through his first two campaigns in the Pac-12 before missing the 2020 season. He ranked fourth with 10 PD within the conference in 2019, a year after his four interceptions and nine passes defended were the third-best and sixth-best accomplishments in the West Coast-based conference.
6.212 | Noah Gray | TE | Duke
Last month, Darren Fells became a free agent and he hasn’t agreed upon conditions with any team thus far. That includes the Houston Texans. If the Texans lose out on Fells or have no interest in re-signing him, they will be left with Jordan Akins as the only reliable option.
Meanwhile, Noah Gray might not have had the best 2020 season, which puts his consistency into question. However, his 2019 performance represents the light in the darkness that could mean the Texans could get more than as per normal from a sixth-rounder with such a selection. In 2019, Gray had 51 reception, which was seventh-most among NCAA Division I tight ends. His success under that solid workload could mean steady potential come NFL time.
7.233 | Shane Buechele | QB | Southern Methodist
The Deshaun Watson saga is heating up and his NFL career, let alone his 2021 job with the Texans, looks all but in jeopardy. If the Texans feel forced to trade Watson, or even if they just decide it’s not worth it, the leftovers of the free-agent market don’t have much to offer. Instead, the move will come from the draft and Houston will most probably have to trade up for a first-round selection.
However, this Houston Texans mock draft considers that Watson won’t be gone from the organization by April 29th or even April 30th. Should that be the case, the Texans would back themselves up perfectly by using a low-round pick on a QB addition that would start if Deshaun Watson gets released after the 2021 NFL Draft.
SMU playmaker Shane Buechele is perhaps their best gamble from the sixth round on. Since transferring from Texas to the Mustangs, Buechele has been a very accurate and relatively risk-free quarterback. In the last two years, his completion percentage remained over 62 percent and reached a career-high of 65.4 percent in 2020. This was the first year that saw him post a figure over 64 percent across more than 200 passing attempts. Furthermore, the 2020 season also marked the first time Buechele had an Int./passing attempt ratio south of 3% across at least 200 throws.
2021 Houston Texans Mock Draft: Recap
The Texans have many needs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft beyond the newborn problems they have to deal with at quarterback. However, having traded most of their first and second-round selections over the last couple of years, they will find it extremely difficult adding many significant prospects who could grab a starting post quickly. Furthermore, as the Deshaun Watson saga gets resolved, an opening at the position might prompt the Texans to trade up and acquire a first-round pick.