The Houston Texans’ 2023 NFL Draft included a huge swing for the fence, with the team taking Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud at No. 2 and Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr. at No. 3. The latter cost the Texans their 2024 first-round pick, and that’s not only the riskiest move of the Texans’ draft or the Texans’ NFL offseason. It is one of the riskiest moves in NFL history.
Texans' draft of CJ Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. might be the riskiest move of the entire NFL offseason
There were some bold moves made this NFL offseason. The Baltimore Ravens played chicken with their franchise quarterback, the Denver Broncos brought back a retired Super Bowl-winning coach, and the New Orleans Saints laid out $150 million for a new signal-caller.
However, no team took a bigger leap toward a Super Bowl or off a cliff than the Texans at the 2023 NFL Draft.
Thanks to their own putrid 3-13-1 record last season, the Texans owned the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. And thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade, they also had the No. 12 selection.
However, the rumor that circulated following the NFL draft was that the Texans owner, Cal McNair, was dead set on drafting a franchise QB at No. 2 in Ohio State signal-caller CJ Stroud. On the other side of the war room, general manager Nick Caserio and new head coach DeMeco Ryans wanted to take the outside linebacker from Alabama, Will Anderson Jr.
So, instead of doing what most (good) teams do and deciding on one or the other, the Texans decided to trade No. 12, No. 33, and 2024 first- and third-round picks to the Arizona Cardinals in order to go up and get Anderson Jr. after taking Stroud second.
The theory is a sound one when used by 12-year-olds playing Madden.
To get back to NFL relevancy, the Texans needed to start building a playoff-caliber offense and defense. And what are the cornerstones of each? A franchise QB on one side and a dominant pass-rusher on the other.
That said, in the real world, giving up the second pick of the second round (which became Kentucky QB Will Levis, a prospect not that far off from CJ Stroud), a 2024 first-round pick, and a 2024 third represents three potential starters to move up nine spots.
If Will Anderson Jr. becomes the next T.J. Watt or Nick Bosa, and CJ Stroud becomes the next Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Joe Burrow (plus is better than Levis), then maybe it’s all worth it.
But that’s a high bar to clear. And it’s especially hard to clear when you look at the discrepancies between the 2023 and 2024 NFL drafts.
If the Texans skipped Stroud, just took Anderson Jr., and then finished in the bottom two or three in the league next season — which they likely will with or without Stroud and Anderson Jr. — they would have had a shot at two generational QB prospects.
Next season, Caleb Williams from USC and Drake Maye from North Carolina are two future NFL signal-callers who not only have a higher ceiling than Stroud, but No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young as well.
And behind them are Texas QB Quinn Ewers, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix from Oregon, Michael Penix Jr. from Washington, Bo Nix from Oregon, and Shedeur Sanders from Colorado, all of whom could raise their stock to be on par with CJ Stroud when the next NFL Draft rolls around.
As for drafting Stroud and waiting on a pass rusher, there aren’t as many sure things in the 2024 NFL Draft. However, if the Texans would have just sat at No. 12, they could have taken Lukas Van Ness from Iowa or Will McDonald IV from Iowa State, neither of whom are prospects who are that far behind Will Anderson Jr.
The team obviously liked both these players as Texans’ draft targets, and maybe McNair, Caserio, and Ryans know exactly what they are doing.
However, in recent NFL history, the smart teams — the perennial playoff teams — may move around a bit here or there to get a guy they like in the NFL draft. What they don’t do, though, is mortgage the future for one player during an event as unpredictable as the draft.
The Texans took a huge, risky swing this NFL offseason, and now they better hope it not only works out long-term but also results in wins next year. Because if it doesn’t, Houston fans will have to sit in front of their TVs next April and watch the Cardinals change the future of their franchise by taking Caleb Williams and Marvin Harrison Jr. at picks No. 1 and 2.