These are not closely guarded secrets heading into tonight’s NFL draft.
The Carolina Panthers will draft Alabama star quarterback Bryce Young with the first overall pick, according to league sources. And the Texans wanted to draft the former Heisman Trophy winner, per multiple sources, losing out on a potential franchise player due to a meaningless victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season finale, a comeback manufactured behind a Davis Mills touchdown heave on fourth down and ensuing two-point conversion.
Where that pivotal day and unsuccessful trade negotiations with the Chicago Bears to try to obtain the No. 1 pick ultimately traded to the Panthers leaves the Texans is in an altogether different position as the owners of the second overall and 12th overall selections.
Here are the most likely scenarios for the Texans and where things currently stand heading into the draft, according to multiple NFL sources:
With Young unavailable to acquire, the Texans may indeed pass on a quarterback with their second overall pick.
The Texans have evaluated and considered Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud for months, including hosting him for a visit at NRG Stadium, interviewing him at the NFL scouting combine and scouting his campus Pro Day workout. Stroud excelled for the Buckeyes, but he isn’t the Texans’ first choice at quarterback as he ranked behind Young on their draft board and other NFL teams seeking a quarterback.
Multiple sources anticipate the Texans opting to go with a defensive end instead of Stroud with those opinions echoed throughout the past month and this week.
One league source noted Wednesday night that the Texans have conducted significant due diligence in recent days and weeks about Stroud and have debated the merits of potentially drafting him. They have also discussed, should they not pick Stroud, how they might obtain a quarterback in the draft or via a trade given the wide gamut of opinions on Stroud, a tall, strong-armed pocket passer who showed some ability to go off-script during an impressive performance against Georgia’s elite defense.
If the Texans were to draft Stroud, sources emphasized, it would be considered a major surprise at this point and a departure from the direction they’ve been headed in during the latter stages of the draft process. Not drafting Stroud is not expected to have anything to do with him being represented by David Mulugheta, former Texans Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson’s Austin-based agent. It would simply be a football decision based on Stroud’s ability to process on the fly, read defenses and run the Kyle Shanahan-Gary Kubiak offense being installed by offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.
Where will Stroud wind up if the Texans don’t pick him? The Tennessee Titans are exploring a potential trade up to the Arizona Cardinals’ third overall selection with Stroud their target, according to league sources.
Contrary to speculation, including an unfounded Reddit rumor, the Texans are not expected to draft Kentucky quarterback Will Levis at No. 2 or No. 12, per sources. And the Texans didn’t conduct a visit or private workout with Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson and are not expected to draft him, per sources.
The Texans do have a high opinion of Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, per sources. Hooker visited them directly after the NFL scouring combine, and might not be available for their 33rd overall pick in the second round. Hooker is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is expected to be able to practice in some capacity by August and play at some point this season. The highest spot for Hooker might go in the first round, per sources, would be the Minnesota Vikings’ No. 23 overall pick.
For several months, the Texans and other NFL teams have had Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. ranked as one of, if not the the highest graded prospect on draft boards. Anderson plays the game with a dynamic, relentless style, chasing down quarterbacks with skill and determination.
Although the Texans have a strong comfort zone with Anderson, who visited them, the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, from a football and character standpoint, there are legitimate questions about whether his ceiling is high enough to justify the pick.
Anderson is an all-out effort player, a two-time Bronko Najurski award winner who hustles to pick up sacks. At 6-3, 253 pounds with 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, Anderson is athletic, but rarely operated out of a pure three-point stance for the Crimson Tide as he recorded 34 1/2 career sacks and 58 1/2 tackles for losses.
The two-time consensus All-American and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year is regarded as more of a pure fit as a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker rather than a classic 4-3 defensive end who plays with his hand in the dirt.
Those factors are why the Texans have contemplated drafting Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson.
Wilson is regarded as having a greater ceiling than Anderson, but also a lower floor because of health concerns. Wilson has been cleared medically by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Anderson after undergoing surgery to repair a Lisfranc fracture. The Texans are one of the NFL teams drafting in the top 10 who have cleared Wilson, per sources. He is expected to be available to practice at some point this offseason after having surgical hardware removed from his foot by Anderson this spring.
At 6-foot-6, 271 pounds, Wilson has the requisite size (35 5/8 arm length and 9 5/8 hands) to fit into coach DeMeco Ryans’ defense. A Texas A&M transfer and Rusk native, Wilson was named a first-team All-American and All-Big 12 selection last season. He primarily works out of a three-point stance. He had seven sacks, 61 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and 13 1/2 tackles for losses last season. He was named Defensive MVP of the Liberty Bowl in 2021 when he recorded two sacks to cap a seven-sack season.
Wilson wasn’t able to work out for NFL teams other than bench pressing 225 pounds 23 times.
“Good player,” an NFL source said. “Has the potential to be a great player.”
Wilson checks a lot of boxes for size and skill.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio hasn’t tipped his hand on how the AFC South franchise will handle the draft, maintaining an air of mystery about how he and Ryans will conduct business during their first draft. By all accounts, they’ve collaborated together smoothly.
How the draft will unfold is even more unpredictable this year.
“Anything is possible,” Caserio said. “I think what’s possible and what the hope is, is that we can come out of this draft with good football players we think can help our football team. That’s what we’re focused on doing.
“We want to have a good football team. I think building a team is the most important thing. How that all comes together, there is always multiple moving parts, so we’ll do whatever we think is best for our team and try to make good decisions.”
Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.