Monday, February 6

A night of excitement but questions for Texans



Question marks.

It wasn’t Texans fans booing the announcement of J.J. Watt at No. 11 overall in the 2011 draft. But the instant reactions to Derek Stingley Jr. and Kenyon Green becoming the newest Texans captured the risk-versus-reward gamble at the heart of Nick Caserio’s unexpected first round on Thursday night.

Good news first: The Texans’ decision to relocate their draft party to Miller Outdoor Theatre was a total winner.

Booming music. A light breeze and a setting sun. Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Deshaun Watson jerseys scattered among the seats.

A rebuilding franchise in need of a rebrand intentionally changed things up on a night when second-year starting quarterback Davis Mills appeared on stage and first-year head coach Lovie Smith pumped up the crowd with a predraft chat on an oversized screen.

“We understand where the last couple of years have been and we want our fans to know how important they are,” Texans president Greg Grissom said before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell officially got the evening rolling in Las Vegas and Travon Walker became the latest No. 1 pick. “We are looking for ways to evolve, welcome our fans in and welcome our players to Houston. We felt like what better place than in the heart of Houston, at this time, with two first-round draft picks.”

Aidan Hutchinson followed Walker and the stage was officially set for the Texans. With two premier defensive linemen off the board, Caserio had his choice among top offensive linemen Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal.

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Texans fans increasingly filled in the seated and lawn sections of the outdoor venue. Then they collectively stood as “Pick is in” began flashing on the big screen.

A fan wearing a white No. 99 Watt jersey held up a phone. Watson and DeAndre Hopkins jerseys were nearby.

Goodell called out a junior cornerback from LSU, who was one of the most talented names in the draft but whose best college season was three years ago.

It was almost all cheers, with the sound of surprise mixed in with the echoing applause.

“When I see the ball in the air, most of the times I don’t think of it as 50-50,” Stingley said. “It’s mine.”

That strong line created peak volume in the crowd and an instant connection with Stingley, who became the Texans’ biggest draft investment in a defender since Jadeveon Clowney was taken at No. 1 in 2014.

Then it was back to watching and waiting for Thursday’s No. 13 pick.

An offensive weapon for Mills?

Another defensive standout to complement Stingley, who was future No. 1 pick material in 2019?

Garrett Wilson’s name was removed from the board.

Caserio traded No. 13 to Philadelphia for Nos. 15, 124, 162 and 166, creating buzz and confusion at the same time.

Alabama speedster Jameson Williams? One of the most dynamic talents of 2022, also recovering from an injury, was scooped up by a rebuilding Detroit franchise.

Ah, what about Kyle Hamilton from Notre Dame?

The safety went to Baltimore at 14. For the first time on Thursday night, disappointment was heard.

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The third and final Texans announcement also wasn’t followed by immediate cheers. There was a pause within the crowd, then a slow recognition that a team that needs so much had just used its No. 15 pick on Green, a versatile offensive lineman who played college ball in College Station, grew up in a northeast Houston suburb and went to high school at Atascocita.

The A.J. Brown blockbuster followed, as the AFC South’s best team immediately replaced Brown with Arkansas wideout Treylon Burks.

Pittsburgh truly went full circle by taking Kenny Pickett instead of Malik Willis, giving the Steelers an instantly known replacement for Ben Roethlisberger.

Detroit had more flash than the Texans on Thursday night, adding Hutchinson and Williams, and winning the first round on paper.

The New York Jets, also rebuilding and already possessing a top QB pick in Zach Wilson, were equally interesting. The same for the New York Giants, who added the incredibly confident Kayvon Thibodeaux and Neal in between the Texans’ first-round picks.

If Stingley shines for years in red and blue, the cheers that followed his name will have been the first sign that Caserio got it right when he jumped the mocks and risked No. 3 on the former Tiger.

If the Texans picked the wrong players in a draft that lacked big names and clarity at the top?

The surprise that surrounded Stingley and hesitation attached to Green will have captured the unexpected.

It could have been a historic night for the Texans.

It was exciting – and featured a couple question marks.

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