Why the most exciting thing about the Houston Texans draft may surprise you

The Texans could go a number of different ways at No. 12 overall. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The scouting combine is done. Pro days are upon us. Soon, in person visits will be taking place. Free agency has seen a flurry of signings. The NFL offseason is in full swing right now, with about a month before the draft is to take place. Teams are flipping cap space like pancakes. Vets are being cut now or have post-June 1 designations to be cut. Franchise tags have been placed with some guys getting new deals, but others left waiting.

The Texans have taken another conservative approach to free agency this offseason; much to the chagrin of some fans in the fan base. With the draft ahead and the team owning the number two and 12 overall picks in the first round, speculation is running rampant. For the most part, number two is considered to be the top quarterback left on the board after the Panthers pick first overall. They're a quarterback-starved team who made a splash deal to get the top pick.

Who Carolina takes first isn't of much consequence to me. The Texans need a franchise quarterback to build around. C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young are widely considered the top two at that position. Drafting the one the Panthers don't still leaves the Texans in a good spot. At number 12 overall is where things get really interesting. More intriguing than number two in my opinion.

The main reason I say 12 is more interesting than two is stated above. I wholeheartedly believe quarterback at two is where they're going. The team hasn't traded for or signed a guy who could be deemed a future franchise guy or even a bridge at quarterback. Case Keenum fans and Davis Mills truthers can all have several seats. Neither of those guys can sniff being a franchise guy, and neither are bridge quality quarterbacks. They're both backups. Drafting Stroud or Young gives this team what they desperately need most to get on the road to competing for the division and playoffs. It's the most important position, the most glaring need, and therefore the least exciting pick. Everyone knows what they're most likely going to draft.

Another reason I feel 12 is more exciting than two are the other needs of the roster. Despite the excitement around some of the young talent on this roster, there are still some holes to fill. The trade of Brandin Cooks leaves a bigger void at receiver. Pass rush has been abysmal. There's a need for playmakers on both sides of the ball. Imagine what Derek Stingley Jr would look like if he had another top flight corner on the opposite side? What if he had a beast of a pass rusher getting after quarterbacks? How much easier would life be for the rookie quarterback if he has a big time receiver, and fellow rookie, to throw to? Imagine those guys growing together? What if DeMeco Ryans identifies a guy he can mold into a centerpiece for his defense? What if they see a guy like Bijan Robinson as the centerpiece for this offense? 12 is a sweet spot to get a guy that'll contribute from day one, especially if one falls from a projected top five slot.

The final reason I feel 12 is more exciting than two is the trade option. Whether it's trading up for a guy they feel is a must-have, or trading back to acquire more picks, trading that pick is a million times more likely than trading two. Let's say Jalen Carter or Tyree Wilson falls to the Falcons at eight, and the Texans want to get to one of them before the Bears do at nine. Or how about a team in the 15-22 range sees a guy they're willing to pony up the price to move up to 12 to draft? Do you turn down a golden goose package for that pick? I think the Texans would entertain the offer at minimum. I also think they'd use some draft capital to move up and get a game changer if the price is right. Another interesting thought I had about 12: what if there's a player that wants a new contract/fed up with his current team and this regime feels he's worth that pick, or being a piece in a trade back scenario?

There are so many options and scenarios at 12 that are way more exciting than what'll happen at two. I'm truly looking forward to that pick and what surrounds it more than two. It's as if you know what you're getting for your pre-Christmas December birthday, but are more looking forward to your Christmas gift. My fellow December babies will get this. I'm so excited about this pick, it made me think of one of the funniest scenes from Step Brothers. “With the twelfth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans…”

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Numbers don't lie. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros better be mindful. The Texas Rangers are better than the Astros right now because while the Rangers’ offense has been awesome, the Astros’ attack continues to rate as screamingly average. The Rangers have opened up a four and a half game lead over the Astros in the American League West. 27 games represent one-sixth of the regular season schedule. Over their last 27 games the Astros have gone 19-8. Extrapolated over 162 games that’s awesome 114 win baseball. Over those 27 games the Astros have gained zero ground in the standings on the Rangers.

While 19-8 is an impressive stretch no matter what, it is notable that within that stretch the Astros went 11-1 versus the A’s, Cubs, and White Sox, three bad teams. Winning five of six from the mediocre Angels was good, particularly beating Shohei Ohtani twice. The Astros lost two out of three to the Brewers, lost two out of three to the Twins, and need a getaway win in Toronto to gain a split with the Blue Jays.

Maybe the Rangers will be akin to the 1979 Astros, rising but not quite ready yet. July 4, 1979 the Astros led the Reds by 10 and a half games in the National League West. Reds’ pitcher and top 10 greatest pitcher ever Tom Seaver said no worries, the Astros would “fall like a lead balloon” in the second half. The Reds won the division. Here is one stat that points toward Rangers' slippage: as a team they are batting a preposterous .335 with runners in scoring position. No way that holds up all season. The Astros and Rangers have a four game series in Arlington starting June 30. That series looms as much more important to the Astros than one would have thought back in spring training.

Here's the catch

Dusty Baker this week offered his most elaborate explanation for his playing time split at catcher. It was largely balderdash. Thursday’s series finale in Toronto is Martin Maldonado's 45th start behind the plate. Yainer Diaz has 15 starts, Cesar Salazar three. Dusty talked of how there is more to the catching position than hitting. Fair point. His “points” deteriorated from there. It’s definitely attention getting that General Manager Dana Brown has publicly acknowledged talking with Baker about Diaz playing more. Good for Dana.

Let’s leave aside that Maldonado is a lousy offensive player, while Diaz brims with potential and recently has translated some of that potential into results. The Astros’ record is better with Diaz catching than with Maldonado. The pitchers’ earned run average is better when Diaz catches. The “Machete” blade has dulled. Maldonado has thrown out just six of 28 base stealers. Diaz has nailed seven of 18. Maldonado has three passed balls (and at least a couple more that were generously for him scored wild pitches), Diaz has none. All upside growth lies with Diaz.

Dusty sees it as tough to have rookie pitchers throwing to a rookie catcher. I guess if they stink that’s true. Especially dubious is Dusty’s “point” in having Maldonado catch Hunter Brown’s last six starts so that should Diaz get hurt, Maldonado wouldn’t have to start catching Brown with little familiarity. How about the inverse? Diaz catching all the other starters more so that should the approaching 37 years old Maldonado break down, Diaz is more up to speed. Oh, Brown’s earned run average over those six starts with Maldonado is 4.81. Over his first six starts, five of them pitching to Diaz, Brown’s ERA was 2.60.

Wednesday Dusty gave Alex Bregman and Jeremy Pena the night off. Nothing wrong with that. The 29-year-old Bregman had played in all 61 games this season to date, the 25-year-old Pena in 60 of 61. Meanwhile, 36-year-old season long disaster Jose Abreu was penciled into the starting lineup for the 60th time in 62 games. Abreu’s ended the night with his OPS at .534. He is the worst player in the Major Leagues getting everyday run. Thursday marks his 61st start in 63 games. Another spot where Diaz should be getting more time.

All eyes on Texas

Some more on those Rangers, who last season finished 68-94. They are now 40-21, and that with their desperate five year 185 million dollar contract dice roll on pitcher Jacob deGrom crapping out. deGrom finishes with all of six starts and now faces a second Tommy John surgery that could sideline him until 2025. One of the very few pitchers to ever pitch viably again after two Tommy John surgeries is Alvin native Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers gave him 34 million guaranteed for two years, which so far is the best signing of the offseason. Eovaldi has been every bit as good as Framber Valdez.

Will he hold up is a very fair and very important question. Since 2015, only in 2021 has Eovaldi topped 125 innings in a season. He’s on pace for about 200 this year. Overall, Rangers’ starting pitchers have a lower ERA than Astros’ starters. The Rangers weakness is their bullpen. There is virtually no doubt they will strengthen it by the trade deadline. Their offense has had no weaknesses. Only one team since 1950 (1999 Indians) has amassed more than 1000 runs in a season. About 40 percent of the way through this season the Rangers are on pace for 1025. Going position by position, Yordan Alvarez remains the only Astro who would crack the Ranger lineup so far this year.

Reminder that there are no one game tiebreakers to decide division titles or wild card spots. Season series winners win out. Astros-Jays Thursday outcome decides the season series. It’s conceivable that could be very important come season’s end.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule a first video segment goes up at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, with the complete audio available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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