The NFL draft lasts three days, but the scouting process leading up to it takes almost a full year.
Texans director of college scouting Mike Maccagnan oversees a group of nine scouts – two national scouts, six area scouts and one scout who evaluates college and pro prospects. They started studying the 2013 draft class about three weeks after the 2012 draft, more than 11 months of player evaluations that led to nine draft picks from April 25-27.
"What we try to do is have three people visit each school with a draftable-rated prospect," Maccagnan said. "They'll go in at different points in time of a season. They'll talk to different people. The whole thought process is to get each guy has an independent evaluation of that particular prospect at the school. Once we go beyond that, we factor in the coaches' evaluations down the road later on.
"We'll have pro scouts also get involved in the process doing position checks. We do security background checks, we do physical evaluations of players, so trainers and the director of security gets involved in the process also. At the culmination of the process is (Texans general manager) Rick Smith, who sits at the top of the process and we funnel all the information to, and he's given the tough task of putting a value on each player and then during the draft deciding which player to pick."
Maccagnan has worked in the Texans' scouting department since 2000 and as the director of college scouting since 2011, the year the Texans drafted J.J. Watt. The 2013 draft was the latest the Texans have ever picked in the first round, at number 27 overall.
"It's always a little different when you're picking later in the round," Maccagnan said. "You never know who's going to be there and who you may move up and chase. The way the draft sort of worked out, players that we liked and were more or less the best players on the board were available at certain spots in the draft that also corresponded to needs that we had. We don't necessarily factor needs into our picks, but we actually felt we got good value for the picks we did have."
Maccagnan said Smith stresses finding "good character guys that have a passion for football." The Texans like players who are mentally tough and hard-working with good core values. The idea is that those qualities combined with a physical ability to play the game help build a good foundation for the chemistry of a team.
First-round draft pick DeAndre Hopkins, the wide receiver from Clemson, certainly fits that bill.
"We liked him as a football player in terms of his skill set," Maccagnan said. "We really liked him from a character and intangible standpoint... When we saw him in mini-camp, it sort of confirmed everything we had seen from what we knew about him as a prospect. He's a very big, physical receiver. He's got excellent hands and catching radius. He's very quick into and out of his breaks. He still has aspects to develop of his game, but he has made a very positive impression early on and we feel very good about him so far."
Among the Texans' late-round picks, Maccagnan was particularly excited about San Jose State tackle David Quessenberry, who the Texans moved up to get via trade.
"I had scouted him in the fall," Maccagnan said. "I thought he was a very intriguing prospect not only from his ability to play the game but as the kind of guy you would like to have in your locker room on the offensive line from a mental toughness, intelligence, work ethic standpoint. For example, he was a walk-on tight end who sort of grew into an offensive lineman, so he's a bit of a self-made guy.
"I liked him quite a bit because I thought at that point in the draft, we had actually had him rated a little higher. He was a very good value-type pick and he fit what we do from a scheme standpoint. He still has to go out there and obviously play and do well, but he was a guy that I personally was very excited when we drafted him in the sixth round."