Nick Caserio downplayed the likelihood of potentially finding a trading partner for the Houston Texans' top pick in the draft.
Holding the third and 13th overall picks of the first round and five of the first 80 selections, the Texans' second-year general manager and former New England Patriots executive characterized his approach to potential trade as "flexible, open-minded, and adaptable."
That doesn't necessarily mean that Caserio will find a trade-back scenario to his liking at No. 3 overall. That could be a different story altogether for his second first-round draft pick. The No. 13 pick could potentially be in play for the AFC South franchise, which is logical because there could be good opportunities to maneuver at that stage of the draft.
“The reality is probably very few teams are going to want to come up to 3, just being honest, that's okay,” Caserio said during a press conference Thursday afternoon at NRG Stadium. "So, probably pick at 3. Then at 13, could we go up? Could we go down? Over the next week or so, you’re going to talk to different teams just more about positioning, about, 'What’s their philosophy? What’s their willingness to move?'
"Some teams are just set. ‘We’re not moving. We’re going to pick.’ Some teams only want to move down. Some teams say, ‘You know what? I’ve never really thought about that, but okay, maybe we’d consider moving up.’ I think it’s important just to be open-minded and be flexible. I'm a pretty flexible, open-minded individual."
Caserio now has significant draft capital to work with after not drafting until the third round last season when he selected current starting quarterback Davis Mills out of Stanford.
After trading three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns, the Texans have 11 overall draft selections.
Among the Texans' top areas of need: defensive end, offensive line, cornerback, and wide receiver.
Indeed, they have brought in Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker, Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad "Saucer" Gardner, Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams and LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr. for official visits.
The Texans have multiple options for the third overall selection, including Walker, Thibodeaux, Gardner, North Carolina State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu, Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal and even Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson under the unlikely possibility that he's not drafted first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars or with the next pick by the Detroit Lions.
The Texans hold two fourth-round draft picks and have seven selections in the top 108 overall picks.
"I’ve never used the term rebuild," Caserio said. "I think the rebuild has kind of been an external term. I think what we’ve focused on is building our team. How do we build our team? What are the resources that we have available? What are the assets that we have to deploy? That’s how we’ve viewed it. I would say just in terms of the player acquisition process, like you said we have five picks in the first 80 and then another two in the fourth round, so call it seven in the top 108 assuming nothing changes, which I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. It’s no different.
"It’s try to get good players that are good people that understand we’re building a program and we are building the 2022 team. That’s really where the focus is. It’s short term, but it’s also understanding. I would say one of the things that’s probably unique to this year’s draft, there are some players that injuries are going to factor into the evaluation, right, wrong or indifferent, but that could affect some players to some degree. So, having an idea of if there may be a player that isn’t going to play this year, are you okay with that? Are you comfortable with that? You might be. What is the draft capital that you have to allocate to that particular player? So, you’re worried about this year, but part of my job is to worry about the long-term position of the franchise and try to put ourselves in the best position possible."
Before Caserio and the Texans are on the clock during the draft, a significant amount of research and planning goes into being ready for however the draft board might unfold in what is typically an unpredictable night.
There's also a lot of gauging of what potential trades may look like to better ascertain the wisdom of a move or non-move.
"What's the cost associated with that?" Caserio said. "Or if we're going to move up four spots what are you giving up in return? Those are things you kind of do on your own to kind of have an overall awareness and understanding, so that the first time you're talking about a trade up or down, you're sitting on the clock with seven minutes and some team calls and says, 'We're interested in pick 37, okay, here's what it's going to take,' and you're scrambling around saying: 'We never really thought about that.' So, you try to do some of that now, but you can't get too caught up in that because there's so much that could happen. Trades are really player-driven anyways."
Caserio emphasized that the Texans exercise caution in not simply drafting based on needs or perception of needs. The goal is always to draft the best football players that fit their system.
Caserio said that the Texans regard roughly 80 to 100 players as worthy of drafting.
“You have to be careful about what your needs are or what people perceive your needs to be and then just picking players based on your needs,” Caserio said. “Pick good football players that you think are going to enhance your overall team and give yourself the opportunity to put together a sustainable team over the course of however many years.
"Our job is to develop players. Certain players may take more time than others. The attributes we look for in players are no different in drafted players, veteran players to players who have been in other programs. What can I do to be the best Houston Texan and the best teammate? That's where the focus needs to be."
Caserio emphasized that finding the right fit in terms of culture and the players' character is pivotal to their draft evaluation process.
"Honestly, that’s a huge part of the process," Caserio said. "When a player comes into our building, he’s a Houston Texan and he has to embrace everything that comes along with being a Houston Texan. Quite frankly, our building is different. There are 32 buildings that are all different. When they walk in here, here’s the standard, here’s the expectation, here’s what we ask of you each day, and there’s going to be a learning process that they have to go through. What we try to do is be as comprehensive as possible in as many areas as possible. It’s playing, it’s coaching, it’s interpersonal development, it’s strength development, it’s nutrition development and overall education and understanding. They have to figure out the city of Houston, where to live, how far they want to be from the stadium."
Part of that is assimilating to the Texans' expectations, leadership structure and following the example of veteran players like linebacker Christian Kirksey, a team captain.
"When you walk in that room, you have to be able to kind of have self-awareness to know that, ‘Look, I’m new, I’m a rookie,'" Caserio said. "I don’t care how good of a player you are or what round you were drafted in. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter because you haven’t earned anything. I would say a lot of the rookies more than anything is off the field and interpersonal and overall self-awareness and understanding of how they act on a day-to-day basis and being conscious of who they may interact with.
"That’s as important as how fast they can run, how high they can jump, how many touchdowns they’re going to score or how many tackles they’re going to make. If you’re bringing up good people that are hard-working, that are selfless, that put the team first, that work hard, that are smart, that go out there and play decent football, then our execution ultimately is going to determine how much success we have. I’m not saying talent’s not important. Talent’s important, but you have to combine that with a lot of other attributes, and that’s what goes into making a successful player and, ultimately, what goes into having a successful team.”
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.