Having the privilege to broadcast at every Texans draft party since the beginning of time (OK, 2002. But that's when we began this saga), I have personally witnessed the reaction to every franchise-first selection.
(Side note: Sure, it would be fun to go to the draft in Nashville, or wherever they have it each year. But the real action is right here at NRG Stadium. This is where the coach and GM make the picks. This is where our fans, our people, YOU, thrive on the tension and drama.)
Here are my opening draft day party memories from the beginning…
2002 – David Carr #1
The draft party was in the Astrodome, as the stadium wasn't finished yet. Looking back, it was a bizarre setting. Everyone knew Carr was going to be the guy because they signed him prior to draft day. The reaction was great. There was tremendous excitement as the franchise was getting its first crop of college players.
2003 – Andre Johnson #3
This was the only draft party in the bubble at the Houston Methodist Training Center. Carson Palmer went first to Cincinnati and Charles Rogers was grabbed second by Detroit. The crowd erupted for Andre. We knew he was a great prospect. We didn't know he'd play 12 years here and retire as a Hall of Fame candidate.
2004 – Dunta Robinson #10 and Jason Babin #27
The draft party moved to a long time home in the Verizon West Club. Robinson was well-received, as the Texans were looking to get younger in the secondary and strengthen things with Marcus Coleman moving to safety. The surprise of the day came later when Charlie Casserly traded a 2,3,4, and swapped 5s with Tennessee to get back into the first round and take Babin, who wasn't exactly a household name. Ironically, Babin would later find the best success of his career in Nashville.
2005 – Travis Johnson #16
You now know him as the fun-loving Texans Ambassador. But once upon a time, Johnson was a first-round draft choice. The crowd didn't like seeing the Texans move back, skipping popular Longhorn Derrick Johnson. Travis played four seasons here and helped the team get to the .500 mark for the first time. He's a Houstonian and it's often fun to hear his football takes on the air.
2006 – Mario Williams #1
The party was loaded with many irate fans who learned the night before that not only would the Texans certainly not take Vince Young, but they would pass on Reggie Bush, as they signed Williams on draft weekend eve. There was a torrential downpour, but that didn't stop a huge crowd from booing when Mario was announced. The first three rounds were still on Saturday and the day got a better review as DeMeco Ryans was selected at the top of the second round and Eric Winston was nabbed at the start of the third with Charles Spencer. This was ultimately a big lesson in patience as Mario turned out to be the right choice.
2007 – Amobi Okoye #10
The Texans picked 10th and Okoye dropped to them. It was a nice 'get' at the time as they gave up two spots in the Matt Schaub trade and Okoye wasn't necessarily supposed to be there. Okoye was 19 years old when he was drafted and there were still rookies older than him as he began his fourth season in the NFL. The crowd buzz was good.
2008 – Duane Brown #26
The 18th pick seemed like a safe spot to get a tackle. But they started to fly off the board. Houston traded down anyway, enabling Baltimore to get Joe Flacco, who didn't draw much of a reaction here. Duane Brown was the eventual pick, the eighth tackle taken. The crowd didn't know what to make of it, at the time, but it was the best OT pick.
2009 – Brian Cushing #15
Everyone thought that the pick was going to be either Clay Mathews or Brian Cushing. As Cushing got announced, fans were happy. There might have been some minor negative reaction because Mathews had local ties and more flamboyant hair. Cushing was rookie of the year and is the all-time leading tackler in franchise history. Oh, and he's now a member of the coaching staff.
2010 – Kareem Jackson #20
This was a strange one. Everyone knew the pick was going to be a corner. But the prevailing thought was that Houston would take either Devin McCourty or Kyle Wilson. When KJack got picked, the fans let out a collective 'huh?' but nothing too negative. There was a wait-and-see vibe. Things were tough the first year but Kareem became a staple through last season and has contributed big time to the best seasons in the history of the team.
2011 – J.J. Watt #11
It's urban legend that Watt was roundly booed. Yes, there were some boos because the Texans needed a pass rusher and Watt was not projected to be, well, who he became. Which is one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game. The really knowledgeable football people felt Watt was, at worst, a very solid pick.
2012 – Whitney Mercilus #26
The draft party was in the East Club this time. Our Texans radio stage was covered in cameras and the place was way more rowdy than it ever was. Mercilus led the NCAA in sacks the year before and the Texans were coming off the break-out year of 2011. Whitney was projected to go much higher, so when he was chosen, the crowd went bonkers. It was so loud before the selection, it sounded like third down during a playoff game.
2013 – DeAndre Hopkins #27
This is the latest the Texans have ever picked in round one. And if you could re-draft 2013, Hopkins would likely go number one. There was super upbeat reception for a player who fans figured would be very good. We just didn't know he would be as great as he is - the best in the game.
2014 – Jadeveon Clowney #1
This is the first draft party that was held on the 100 level and it didn't disappoint. Clowney was the chalk pick and everyone erupted when the decision was announced. There was shock, two picks later as the Jaguars took Blake Bortles. And Johnny Manziel got a bit of a roar when the Browns moved up and got him as the party was thinning out early due to the 7:10 p.m. Texans pick.
2015 – Kevin Johnson #16
The fans cheered big for Johnson, even though they didn't know much about him. They knew the Texans wanted to shore up the defense. I feel like all the 100 level parties have been overtly optimistic, enthusiastic affairs.
2016 – Will Fuller #21
Houston moved up one spot to grab Fuller, who everyone seemed to know could run like the wind. The fans were already juiced by the signing of Brock Osweiler and felt the Texans needed extra firepower aside from Hopkins.
2017 – Deshaun Watson #12
This was an unforgettable night. The Texans have never moved up significantly on draft night. Your announcer (that's me) was actually in the restroom when my phone went off with a message that Houston was on the clock. We all knew what was happening. The unthinkable. After finding a way to part company with Osweiler, the Texans made the ultra-aggressive move to acquire Watson. There was a monstrous celebration. This was the biggest draft day shocker in franchise history. And it was glorious.
2018 – Justin Reid #68, Jordan Akins #80, Jordan Thomas #98
After dealing their first and second round picks the previous year, the organization held the draft party on Friday night. It still felt like first round excitement when Reid was picked. The fan base knew that Watson was the reason there was no first round party. And everyone was just fine with it.