With less than two weeks remaining until the 2021 NFL Draft, Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio held his pre-draft press conference for media on Friday.
He kicked off his presser with a brief opening statement on the work done in the past few months evaluating the roster and draft prospects.
"It's been a while since we've all been together, exciting time of year for the organization, for the respective staffs, our scouting staff in particular, excited about the opportunity that's in front of us here in a couple of weeks with the draft," Caserio said. "That staff has worked extremely hard, Matt Bazirgan, James Liipfert, on the college side, and even going back to what's happened here over the past few weeks and months. On, free agency, the staffs have done a great job. Everybody's put a lot of time and effort, a lot of energy."
Caserio then answered questions for about 30 minutes with local and national media about the Texans draft preparation and evaluation process among other topics.
Uncertainty surrounding Deshaun Watson
Caserio was asked about the uncertainty of Deshaun Watson's legal situation and how it impacted the Texans draft evaluation. He didn't comment on the current situation, citing the Texans were respectful of the legal process, nor did he speculate on what could happen in the future.
"Yeah, we're not going to really get into a lot of hypotheticals and a lot of speculation. I'm not really good at that. So we're just going to focus on the things that we can control, which is going to get right for the draft and trying to take advantage of the opportunities, continue to add to our team and build a roster. And we'll just take it one day at a time and focus on the things that we can control."
A flurry of free agent transactions
The Texans have made over 70 transactions in free agency. Caserio credited his scouting department, but also acknowledged that a number of additions at any particular position doesn't necessarily mean that the Texans won't still draft at that position.
"Ultimately, it's not going to be about what I think," Caserio said. "The players are going to ultimately determine how big of a role or who plays. So just try to bring as many good players, as many good people into the building and let the competition sort itself out. I think that's the mindset approach that we're taking as opposed to 'we need to draft this specific position because of this or we want to take this particular player because of this' because if you do that, it might lead you astray. And I think you just want to try to be true to your evaluations of specific. We're talking about the draft, be true to those evaluations."
Moving up or down in this year's draft
Right now, the Texans won't pick until the third round at No. 67. Houston owns eight picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Caserio says the Texans remain "open-minded" about moving up or down but that there is no set formula for doing so. The decision to move is "very player-specific and very player-driven" and needs to be weighed with the cost associated with trading into a new draft spot.
"Part of our draft preparation is look at different scenarios," Caserio said. "How far could we actually move relative to the resources that we currently have in place? So I think the most important thing is always being prepared to pick whenever you're scheduled to pick and if there's an opportunity to move up or down, we'll have we'll be flexible, we'll be open-minded, and we'll just try to make the best use of the resources that we have."
Evaluating draft talent with COVID restrictions in place
With no traditional NFL Scouting Combine this year, teams have relied more on Pro Days to evaluate draft prospects. Team have been limited to three representatives for each Pro Day with no one-on-one interaction with players like in previous years. Caserio said the process hasn't been harder, just "different."
"You just have to come up with maybe some alternative ways to gather information and I think our staff has done a good job of that as possible scouting staff and coaching staff, because we do have the opportunity to interface with these players on a one on one basis, kind of like we're doing here right now," Caserio said. "Like we could have that call. You can get on a call the player for an hour and go through some of the same things that you would do with the school. Right. So you just had to sort of shift your mindset, shift gears a little bit and be flexible with your thinking."
In addition to the Pro Day process, many colleges played fewer games which results in less film for players and differing sample sizes. For that, Caserio said his scouting department had to rely more on their process to make their evaluations
The start of a voluntary offseason workout program
The NFL will begin its offseason workout program on Monday, later than originally scheduled and with no extra time for new head coaches. The NFLPA has issued statements of players opting out of the program due to concerns regarding COVID protocols. While Caserio was asked about Watson's participation specifically, he did give his thoughts on all player participation in the offseason program.
"This year's no different, it's a voluntary program so players have the option to participate in the program," Caserio said. "So it's a case by case basis and each player will make the choice they feel is best. We're going to do what we've done actually the past couple of months, like the building's been open. We've had a multitude of players that have been in to come in the building. They test, they go into the weight room, they work out, they go through their process. So, again, whatever players are here, that choose to participate like that's their choice. And we're going to create as good of a working environment for the players as possible so when they come here, they feel comfortable and they feel like they're improving as Houston Texans football players. So that's what our focus is going to be on."
The 2021 NFL Draft will take place beginning Thursday, April 29 through Saturday, May 1.