Texans answer pre-NFL Draft questions with emphatic answer: They're trying to win now

The intrigue was always going to begin with the Houston Texans.

The Carolina Panthers, trading up for the No. 1 overall pick, drafted Alabama quarterback Bryce Young as expected.

But when the Texans’ clock began ticking at No. 2, possibilities swirled.

Would the Texans take their favorite defensive player to capitalize on first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans’ strengths, a possibility gaining increasing steam in recent days? Or would they begin their rebuild in earnest now, filling the gaping hole at the most important position of quarterback in a year when more than one QB was worth prime draft capital?

The Texans chose both.

And they didn’t wait around.

For the first time since 2000, the same NFL team selected the second and third overall picks in the NFL Draft.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. are now headed to Houston.

And while the jury’s still out on whether each prospect will validate the capital invested in them, the Texans’ message is clear: This franchise isn’t messing around. They’re not tanking or settling. And they’re tired of waiting.

So on Thursday night, the Texans took a risk.

Will Anderson Jr. and the Houston Texans aren't waiting to win, not after their aggressive moves during Thursday's NFL Draft first round. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Will Anderson Jr. and the Houston Texans aren't waiting to win, not after their aggressive moves during Thursday's NFL Draft first round. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

With Stroud and Anderson, Texans trying to win now

The Texans deserve credit for their shrewd draft maneuvering, selecting Stroud before sealing a deal for Anderson at No. 3 in order to reduce their trade competition from teams like the Tennessee Titans, who may otherwise have traded up to select Stroud.

General manager Nick Caserio knows the price was still steep. To trade up from No. 12 to No. 3, Caserio dealt 2024 first- and third-round draft picks. He surrendered his 33rd pick this weekend for the 105th.

Caserio acknowledged that fans and team members calculating points on a trade chart probably wouldn’t agree. But he was focused more on the talent he acquired than the cost he exchanged. The price of mediocrity, after all, is steep, too.

“The draft is a 50-50 proposition,” Caserio said. “It’s a coin flip. There’s nobody who’s any smarter. In my case, I am probably dumber. There’s a lot of risk, and you’re not really sure how it’s going to go. So you try to take the information, you try to process, and you try to make good, smart decisions.”

The Texans decided: Rather than wait another year to find a cornerstone on one side of the ball, they’d begin their culture-setting process in earnest now. In Ryans' first year, Stroud and Anderson will help establish the culture their head coach wants. Entering Caserio’s third year, he’ll look for the first-round duo to shore up his job security after four- and three-win seasons in his first two campaigns.

The Texans know they may not quite be ready to win now, but they’re at least operating under a try-to-win-now approach. Hire arguably the best coach of the cycle. Draft arguably the most accurate passer and the cleanest pass rusher, ushering in players with high floors and immediate potential.

And then? Center expectations more on their work ethic and growth trajectory than their timelines for starting and expectations for ascent.

“We’re not going to put any labels, we’re not going to put any timetables on anybody,” Caserio said. “We’re about consistent, purposeful work trying to build a program that’s sustainable over time.

“We’ll put the best players out there who are ready to play and ready to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Anderson and Stroud should both be the best players. Caserio just isn’t saying it.

Stark contrast to Jets could help Texans

Fewer than 36 hours removed from the New York Jets’ introduction of Aaron Rodgers, the Texans’ discussion of their new players stood in stark contrast.

The Jets had requested applause for their new MVP quarterback and blatantly mentioned Super Bowl expectations to the point that Rodgers (perhaps unconvincingly) tried to insist “I’m not here to be a savior.”

Caserio, meanwhile, did not hail his draft picks as saviors or even solutions. He acknowledged Stroud’s accuracy, leadership and competitiveness; Anderson’s production and pride; both of their mental and physical toughness.

“There are certainly things he’s going to have to work on, things he’s probably never seen defensively,” Caserio said of Stroud.

Work, for all Texans parties, is ahead.

Houston’s trade dynamic Thursday set the tone for what’s ahead. Caserio described the conversations Houston shared with Arizona from the 10-minute pick clock until they agreed to a trade with under 5 minutes to spare and consummated it — getting formal approval from both teams and the league — with fewer than 2.

With about 90 seconds to go, the Texans successfully grabbed Anderson. Adrenaline ran high.

But “the clock didn’t run out,” Caserio said, “so at least we were able to make the pick.”

For Caserio, too, the clock has not yet run out after two cellar-dwelling years. He was able to make these picks, a chance to right the Texans ship and begin the return to relevance.

Will the “50-50 proposition” pan out? It’s too soon to say. But the Texans are on the road to relevance again — because they know that mediocrity, too, has its cost.