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McClain: Texans could target defensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver with first three draft choices


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.

Despite signing 10 defensive players in free agency, it won't be surprising if the Texans continue to target that side of the ball in the draft on April 25-27. With three of the top-86 picks, including two in the second round, Executive Vice President and General Manager Nick Caserio still has substantial needs on defense.

As it stands today, the Texans have eight draft choices, including five in the first four rounds but none in the first after last week's trade with Minnesota. Now that he has two second-round selections, Caserio could select a defensive tackle with the 42nd pick acquired in last week's trade with the Vikings.

With his second selection in the second round – 59th overall – Caserio could satisfy another need by taking a cornerback. Or he could go cornerback and then defensive tackle. Caserio will work closely with Head Coach DeMeco Ryans, and they could take the highest-rated defensive tackle and cornerback on their draft board.

As the Texans continue to prepare for the draft, they could sign more free agents, which could alter Caserio's draft plans.

The Texans still need a defensive tackle to play with ends Will Anderson Jr. and Danielle Hunter and tackle Denico Autry. Veteran defensive tackles who can stop the run and collapse the pocket with a pass rush up the middle are no longer available in free agency unless the Texans want Calais Campbell, who turns 38 before the season begins but started 17 games for Baltimore in 2023. That's not likely to happen.

When analyzing what direction the Texans could still go, let's start with defensive tackle. Not often do you see a team improve from 3-13-1 to 10-7, go from 30th to 14th in defense and leap from 32nd to sixth against the run and need to replace three starting linemen who helped the Texans set a franchise record with 46 sacks.

Defensive End Jonathan Greenard signed with the Vikings. Tackle Sheldon Rankins signed with the Bengals. Tackle Maliek Collins was traded to the 49ers for a seventh-round draft choice. They combined for 23.5 sacks.

Just about everyone around the league agrees that Hunter (16.5) and Autry (11.5) were upgrades at end and tackle who, by the way, combined for 28 sacks.

Even though Caserio has signed two veteran tackles – Tim Settle and Foley Fatukasi – to compete with Khalil Davis and Kurt Hinish, he's got a chance to bring in a second-round pick to add depth to the defensive line.

Whether it's the 42nd or 59th pick – and Caserio may not be finished making trades – talented tackles who could still be available may be Braden Fiske, T'Vondre Sweat, Kris Jenkins Jr., Kingsley Suamataia and Kiran Amegadjie.

Or perhaps Ryans will fall in love with a tackle who's going in the first round, and when he's still available, maybe Caserio trades back into the first round to get him. That worked out quite well last year when Caserio moved into the third spot to draft Anderson one pick behind quarterback C.J. Stroud, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Texans also have a need at cornerback opposite Derek Stingley Jr., who missed time with injuries in each of his first two seasons. Stingley was so good last year that if he can stay healthy, he could be headed for Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition.

Jeff Okudah was signed to one-year contract, but there's no guarantee he'll win the other starting job. Steven Nelson is still available after starting the last two seasons.

There are still a lot of veteran cornerbacks available if the Texans elect to go that route and consider corners like Xavien Howard, Stephon Gilmore, Tre'Davious White, Levi Wallace, Adoree Jackson, Tre Herndon or C.J. Henderson. Looking at that list shows why the Texans need to draft a cornerback in the second round and perhaps another one in a later round.

Among the cornerbacks who could be available in the second round are Ennis Rakestraw, Kamari Lassiter, T.J. Tampa, Max Melton and Mike Sainristil.

Among the Texans' eight picks, which could increase or decrease because of trades, two could be defensive linemen and two cornerbacks. Nobody has to tell Ryans and defensive coordinator Matt Burke a team can never have enough corners when it's going against such quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, Tua Tagovailoa, Jared Goff, Trevor Lawrence, Anthony Richardson and Jordan Love.

Fans and some members of the media want Caserio to beef up at wide receiver for Stroud. In free agency, there's not a strong group remaining. Tyler Boyd is the highest rated, but he's asked for a lot of money.

The draft is a better avenue to go down, and Caserio doesn't need to use a second-round pick to get a receiver unless the prospect is a lot higher rated than a defensive tackle or cornerback on their board when they make their selection. Considering Nico Collins and Tank Dell were third-round picks, that sounds like the ideal round to add talent and speed.

Wide receiver is a deep and talented position. Once teams get past the top guys in the first round, other prospects could drop while general managers target other positions. Just in case Caserio and Ryans are tempted in the second round, they could have a shot at Troy Franklin, Keon Coleman, Xavier Worthy, Ricky Pearsall, Xavier Legette, Jermaine Burton, Malachi Corley, Roman Wilson, Ja'Lynn Polk and Devontez Walker. Maybe one will drop into the third round, and the Texans will add to the talent pool.

The Texans do have other needs. On offense, they can use another running back and lineman even though they've got a lot of candidates up front when they're healthy. Defensively, they can use another linebacker and safety.

Well, there you have it. With their eight draft choices, the Texans will end up with two defensive linemen, two cornerbacks and one linebacker, safety, running back and offensive lineman. Truthfully, that prediction will end up being about as reliable as a mock draft.

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