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McClain: Picking Texans' best draft choice in each round a labor of love that ranges from no-brainers and to no-win selections

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John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

With the April 25-27 draft approaching, this is a good time to look back at the Texans' first 22 drafts and select the best player chosen in each of the seven rounds. We'll even throw in the best undrafted free agent in team history, an easy choice, but there is competition, believe it or not.

Some of the picks are no-brainers. Some are difficult. There will be disagreements over who are the best picks made by general managers Charley Casserly, Rick Smith, Brian Gaine, Bill O'Brien and Nick Caserio.

The Texans have drafted 173 players, not counting supplemental draft picks or their inaugural expansion draft. We're going to select the best seven draft choices in each round.

By the way, the most picks they've had was 2002, their first draft, when they selected 12 players, including quarterback David Carr first overall. They've had double-figure picks two more times – 10 each in 2003 when receiver Andre Johnson was chosen third overall and 2014 when defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the first overall pick.

The fewest the Texans have had was five in 2020 and 2021 because of O'Brien trading first-round picks for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. Other players and draft choices were involved, but Tunsil was the centerpiece of the deal with Miami.

The Texans have had nine picks six times, including in the last two drafts, seven picks six times and eight four times. The Texans' draft choice who has played the longest is left tackle Duane Brown, who completed a two-year contract with the Jets last season and is hoping to play a 17th season. Brown, 38, was the Texans' first-round pick in 2008, selected 26th overall.

Now, let's take a trip down memory lane and select the best pick in every round.


This was the most difficult decision. The Texans have drafted a lot of terrific players in the first round, but two stand out, and you know who they are. How do you choose between receiver Andre Johnson, third overall in 2003, and defensive end J.J. Watt, 11th overall in 2011? Decisions, decisions – really tough decisions. Okay, here's the tiebreaker: Only one has been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that's Johnson, Class of 2024.

Watt will be a first-ballot inductee in four years, but for the stake of this analysis, we're going with Johnson – first great Texans' player, first player inducted into the team's Ring of Honor and now the first Texan to be immortalized in Canton. Sorry, J.J. Your time will come, too.


Ladies and gentleman, introducing your current head coach, DeMeco Ryans, linebacker from the University of Alabama in 2006 – General Manager Rick Smith and Head Coach Gary Kubiak's first draft together. Defensive end Mario Williams was the first-round selection, first overall, and Ryans was the lead-off pick in the second round. He was voted NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year to kick off his six seasons in Houston before he was traded to Philadelphia, where he played four more. And he came oh-so-close to being voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season.


There are so many possibilities, but we have to choose one. Nico Collins (2021) established himself as an elite receiver playing with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud last season. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard (2020) had two good seasons as a pass rusher and signed with Minnesota as a free agent. Safety Justin Reid (2018) had four productive seasons and has won consecutive Super Bowls with Kansas City. Guard Brandon Brooks (2012) was a solid guard who elevated his game with Philadelphia. But it says here that right tackle Eric Winston (2006) is the best third-round pick in team history. He played six of his 12 seasons with the Texans and was a starter for five years.


This one was easy. Owen Daniels (2006) is the best tight end in team history. In a 10-year NFL career, OD played eight seasons with the Texans and was the starter in all of them, including two that were curtailed because of injuries. The Weather Man became one of quarterback Matt Schaub's favorite targets on a staff that included Head Coach Gary Kubiak and assistants Kyle Shanahan, Mike McDaniel, Robert Saleh and Matt LaFleur – each of whom became an NFL head coach.


Another easy one. Nose tackle D.J. Reader (2016) is preparing for his ninth season, the first four with the Texans, all as a starter. He was one of the most popular and respected players on the team, excellent against the run. The Texans didn't want to pay him because he was a run stopper rather than a pass rusher, so they paid defensive end Whitney Mercilus. Reader signed with Cincinnati and played in the Super Bowl. In March, he signed with Detroit.


This was a tough one because the Texans haven't been real successful in the sixth round as they have been in other rounds, including the seventh. Tight end Ryan Griffin (2013) played in 77 games during his six-year career with the Texans. Griffin was the pick over running back Alfred Blue (2014), who spent most of his five years in Houston as a backup.


In 2011, fans were talking about the first-round pick, J.J. Watt, and not their two seventh-round picks. When offensive tackle Derek Newton was the 214th overall pick out of Arkansas State, nobody had any idea he'd play six years for the Texans, including five as a starter. In 2016, he suffered two torn patellar tendons in each leg on the same play, ending his season and, basically, his career after six games that season. He spent 2017 on injured reserve and was waived in 2018.


In 2009, Tennessee running back Arian Foster wasn't drafted. The Texans signed him, and he was on the practice squad and played on special teams as a rookie. He rushed for 100 yards in the last game of the season. Then his career took off in 2010 when he became one of the NFL's best backs and the best player at his position in Texans' history. Foster excelled as a runner, receiver and blocker in Gary Kubiak's system. Overall, he played seven seasons with the Texans, including four with at least 1,200 yards rushing.

One year later, the Texans signed Baylor snapper Jon Weeks, who had been out of football before going to a tryout camp in Arizona. Weeks, who's never had a bad snap, enters his 15th season as the best snapper in the NFL, including one of the best in league history. He deserves special mention for playing in more games than anyone in team history.

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