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It wasn't supposed to be this way. The 2021 NFL Draft prospects entered school three, four or five years ago with the thought of getting an education, playing some ball, making forever relationships and, potentially, prepping for an opportunity to play professional football. It all started in the right direction before March 2020 hit and a pandemic that changed everything. As such, the 2021 Texan rookie class might be the most adversity challenged group in draft history. The journeys may have all been different, but these five all ended up in Houston for an organization that truly needs this group to make a significant impact in 2021 and beyond.
Similarly to the 2020 Texans Draft class, the 2021 Texans draft consisted of five players, but that's about the only similarities between the two classes. Honestly, that's about the only thing the 2021 Texans draft class has in common with ANY draft classes that came before it. Even the person responsible for making the picks in 2021 was different, yet the 2021 class was undeterred and unphased with what preceded its arrival.
This quintet of draft picks, led by the Texans first selection Stanford quarterback Davis Mills, suffered through a pandemic, missed a game due to a botched COVID test, played a season's worth of road games in a month, opted out after his conference completely botched the decision to play or not play, returned from injury during the season and transferred back home for one final college campaign, among other COVID-related maladies. All of that, unfortunately, was for a season that didn't really feel like a true football season. Yet, they all made the most of the opportunity in 2020 and the Texans took notice.
Mills was the perfect example of making the most of the challenge. Coming out of high school, he was thought to be one of the best young signal callers in the country. He was an Elite 11 star quarterback from the state of Georgia, but injuries in high school and early in his college career slowed his progress. Finally, in 2019, he took over as the full-time starter at Stanford for the final three games of the 2019 season. He threw for an AVERAGE of 357 yards in those three games, setting him up for a crucial 2020 season. Then, COVID, the Pac-12 and Stanford's local municipality, unfortunately intersected, limiting Mills to five games (the opener he missed due to a false positive test). Furthermore, Stanford played the last four games on the road, unable to even come back to Stanford to practice. The Cardinal practiced at local Seattle high schools prior to a matchup with Washington and Mills led them to a 31-26 win with 252 yards and a touchdown. In fact, Mills led the Cardinal to four straight wins, all four without going back to Stanford.
After selecting Mills, GM Nick Caserio, in his first draft for the Texans, traded up to find one of the wide receiver unicorns in this draft class. 6-4, 215 lb. pass catchers with 4.4 speed don't grow on trees, so Michigan's Nico Collins was a definite target for the Texans and will be the focus for Texans quarterbacks. Collins had a brilliant 2019 season, averaging 19.7 yards per catch and a team high seven touchdowns for the Wolverines. He emerged as one of the best deep threats in the nation, but, like Mills, COVID and the B1G had other ideas. When the B1G initially cancelled the season, Collins started his prep for the 2021 NFL Draft. When the B1G relented months later, Collins was so deep into his draft prep that he decided to just stick with it. He did, though, return to his home state of Alabama for the Senior Bowl where he certainly turned heads prior to the Draft.
After making a pair of trades to move up for the opportunity to draft Collins, Caserio had to wait until the fifth round to make another selection. Who he found at pick 147 was certainly a shock because on the Harris 100, Miami tight end/pass catcher Brevin Jordan was number 37. With athleticism for days and better blocking acumen than many opined, Jordan, similar to players in drafts past, was a gem sitting there on day three. He only played eight games in 2020, missing a trio of games in the middle of the campaign. But, when he returned for the final four games, he caught 20 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns. In the final three, he averaged six catches for 104 yards and over one touchdown per game. It's a talented tight end room in 2021 yet Jordan should fit right in.
The only Texan draft pick that experienced anything close to a full season was TCU's All-Big 12 linebacker Garret Wallow. Put it this way, the other four draft picks combined to play just 18 games in 2020, while Wallow played ten for TCU. He averaged nine tackles per game and just under a tackle for a loss per game as well. He was the brains of the TCU defensive unit and consistently showed how well he played the run and the pass throughout his career. With a high school career at famed John Curtis HS in River Ridge, LA and four years under defensive guru Gary Patterson at TCU, there's little question that Wallow has as strong a football education under his belt as anyone in the entire 2021 NFL Draft class.
The final pick for the Texans was a guy that played just five games for a school in which he attended for just one year. Defensive tackle Roy Lopez played the first three years of his career for New Mexico State but in his senior campaign for the Aggies, he suffered a leg injury that cost him all but four games of that season. He chose to redshirt and then transferred to Arizona to play in 2020 when it appeared New Mexico State might not have a season. Then, the Pac-12 went back and forth on playing and it appeared Lopez might be out of luck completely in 2020. Fortunately, Arizona did get on the field for five games and Lopez flashed the strength, power, commitment and high football IQ that made him a star at New Mexico State. With a wrestling background and legs like redwood tree stumps, Lopez is as intriguing as anyone in this Texans draft class.
There's no telling what this group of five will do for the Texans in the future although the early returns in the preseason were impressive. That said, there's something commendable in just getting here after what this group has been through. It's now time to prove they belong in this community, this organization and this city. Given what it took to get to the Texans in 2021, though, don't expect any of them to shy away from the challenge.