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Houston Texans

McClain: Dreaming big with the Texans' first three picks in the draft


Now that the NFL meetings have concluded in Orlando, the Texans' draft preparation is almost a 24/7 enterprise for Executive Vice President and General Manager Nick Caserio and Head Coach DeMeco Ryans, as well as their personnel and coaching staffs.

As the Texans approach the April 25-27 draft that'll be headquartered in Detroit, they have eight picks – none in the first round but five in the second through fourth rounds. We know that's going to change unless Caserio gets locked in a closet for three days and is unable to wheel and deal, which has become his trademark.

One of the most intriguing things about a Texans' draft is watching and waiting for Caserio to engineer deals involving picks, whether he goes up or down, or into 2025 or even 2026.

The Texans will never have another first round like 2023 when Caserio selected quarterback C.J. Stroud with the second overall pick, then orchestrated a trade with Arizona to acquire defensive end Will Anderson Jr. one spot behind Stroud. Stroud and Anderson – voted NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – helped catapult the Texans from last place in the AFC South to a division championship and a playoff victory over Cleveland in Ryans' first season.

So far, the Texans have signed 13 free agents, re-signed seven of their veterans and traded for running back Joe Mixon. There are still free agents available who could help the Texans, but the focus is now on the draft and what Caserio and Ryans believe will be picks who can improve the roster.

Because the Texans will play a first-place schedule that includes five division champions, 11 games against teams that finished with winning records and a Murderer's Row of elite quarterbacks, defense should continue to be a priority, especially tackle and cornerback.

Fans and members of the media have their dream picks. Here are three players who appear to be ideal fits for the Texans with their first three draft choices based on talent and team needs. Even though all could be gone before the Texans make their selections in the second and third rounds, it never hurts to dream big, right? So let's do it.

DT Braden Fiske, 6-4, 292, 4.78, Florida State

Ever since the Seminoles' senior put on a show at the combine, including his impressive 40-yard dash, it's been easy to envision him playing next to tackle Denico Autry, sandwiched between Anderson and Danielle Hunter, one of the NFL's most consistently productive pass rushers. What a fearsome foursome that would be. The problem is that Fiske might be long gone by the time Caserio makes the 42nd pick.

With Sheldon Rankins signing with Cincinnati and Maliek Collins traded to San Francisco, the Texans have a need in their interior defensive line. Veterans like Foley Fatukasi and Tim Settle join a rotation that includes veterans Khalil Davis and Kurt Hinish, but the defense still needs a premier tackle for Ryans, coordinator Matt Burke and the position coaches to develop.

Fiske has the tools that make scouts drool. He had a 1.68 10-yard split and a 4.37 20-yard shuttle at the combine. He did 26 bench presses with 225 pounds. That means he's quick and strong. He's also got that "relentless mindset" Ryans always talks about. He seems like the perfect fit for what Ryans and Burke want at defensive tackle.

WR Malachi Corley, 5-11, 215, 4.47, Western Kentucky

The player Corley is most compared to coming out of college is 49ers' receiver Deebo Samuel, a second-round pick (36th overall) in 2019. Ryans and Slowik were on Kyle Shanahan's staff when Samuel was drafted out of South Carolina. Comparisons are appropriate. Samuel was 5-11, 214 and ran a 4.48. Like Samuel, Corley plays like a running back and is outstanding once he gets the ball, carrying the nickname 'The YAC King" in college. One advantage Corley has over Samuel is strength. Samuel benched 225 pounds 15 times at his combine. Corley did 27 reps. That's tremendous for a receiver who's built like a running back.

In college, Corley lined up wide, in the slot and in the backfield. He was put in motion a lot to try to keep defensive players off balance. He's powerful, agile and instinctive when he's got the ball. In his last two seasons at Western Kentucky, Corley had 190 catches for 2,277 yards and 22 touchdowns. Fans should close their eyes and keep their fingers crossed he's still available when the Texans have the 59th pick. And while your eyes are closed, just imagine Stroud throwing to Corley in the slot, Nico Collins and Tank Dell on the outside and Dalton Schultz at tight end. That could be a core four.

CB Max Melton, 5-11, 187, 4.39, Rutgers

A third consecutive senior prospect who received a lot of playing experience in college, Caserio may have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to get Melton, who's not likely to be on the Texans' draft board when they make the 86th pick. But Caserio can work some magic, right? He's done it before. He does have two fourth-round picks to work with. Melton plays a deep position, so there's a chance he won't go as high as he would in a draft that didn't have so many talented cornerbacks.

The Texans should have a starting job available opposite Derek Stingley Jr. because Steven Nelson isn't expected to return. They can't have too many corners in a normal year, but 2024 is abnormal because they'll be competing against  quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Tua Tagovailoa, Jared Goff and Jordan Love. That doesn't count the quarterbacks in the AFC South or Caleb Williams, expected to be drafted first overall by Chicago. No wonder Caserio has been stockpiling veteran corners like Jeff Okudah, C.J. Henderson, Mike Ford and Myles Bryant.

Melton has decent size and excellent speed. He's smart and instinctive. He can play outside or inside, zone or man. He does well playing combination coverages and works hard to support the run. He could push Desmond King II in the slot or compete for the starting job opposite Stingley. He's got that kind of talent, which means he probably won't be available in the third round, but, again, it doesn't hurt to dream big, right?

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