Falcon Points

Is the Texans lack of success with third round picks as bad as it looks?

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A curious thing might be happening with the Texans. This year's third round pick, Kahale Warring, has barely played in camp due to injuries and is in danger of being stashed on IR for the season. One of last year's third round picks, Martinas Rankin, may be in danger of not making the roster. The 2017 third rounder D'Onta Foreman was cut earlier in camp. While historically the Texans have been terrible picking in the third round, just taking a look at the Bill O'Brien years makes for some surprising results.

Keep in mind that these numbers are very fluid. Everyone has different criteria for what makes a hit or a miss. But let's dive in and see how the Texans have done.

By the numbers

First, let's take a look at the historical success rate by position of third round picks in the NFL. "Success rate" means the player became a functional NFL starter, which you would expect from most players selected in the third round.

The numbers:

3rd Round - OL (40%) TE (39%) LB (34%) DL (27%) WR (25%) DB (24%) QB (17%) RB (16%)

(Source: Arrowheadsports.com)

Now the Texans

Bill O'Brien has been around since the 2014 draft, so that is where we will focus. Let's look at the third round picks:

2014: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Louis Nix DT. Nix was a complete bust; C.J. developed into a decent tight end before concussions prematurely ended his career. Still, you could reluctantly call him a hit. Nix is a clear miss.

2015: Jalen Strong, WR. Complete miss.

2016: Braxton Miller, WR. He at least saw some action on the field before being cut but another big miss.

2017: D'Onta Foreman, RB. Cut in camp this year, so another complete whiff.

2018: Justin Reid, S, Martinas Rankin, OL, Jordan Akins, TE.

Reid has all the ear markings of a perennial Pro Bowler. Akins has emerged as a decent threat in a crowded tight end room. Rankin, as mentioned earlier, might not make the team. So two hits and for now Rankin is a miss. We won't look at 2019 yet, but the Warring pick - questionable at the time - could easily be another clunker, but we may not know until next year. What happens to those two over the next few years will help add clarity to these numbers.

Is it as bad as it looks?

So overall, with nine third-round picks in the O'Brien era, the Texans have three hits, five misses (if you count Rankin) and an incomplete.

The positives? They are batting 1.000 on tight ends (pending Warring) and safety. They are zero percent on OL, RB and WR.

The overall hit rate is .375. In a given year, NFL starters from the second and third round combined make up roughly 30 percent of the league. Even if you count Fiedorowicz as a bust, they are still at almost 29 percent out of the third round, which would be above the league average, according to a Forbes study from the 2014 season. While that number varies year to year, it is likely no more than a few percentage points. So about average.

Throw in the second round picks, where Bernardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Nick Martin have all become starters with one glaring bust - Xavier Sua'Filo - and they are hitting at 75 percent in the second round, 66 percent overall in rounds 2-3. Now you could argue Martin is not a good player, but he has been a starter pretty much since Day 1. Even taking him out, that is still 55 percent. Again, the bust is glaring in Sua'Filo, which makes it look a lot worse.

The good news

The narrative is the Texans tend to nail their first round picks. According to the Riot Report, first rounders only hit at a 53 percent rate for a player to become a consistent starter over five years.

Again, looking at the O'Brien era only, the top picks have been Jadeveon Clowney, Will Fuller, Kevin Johnson, Deshaun Watson and Titus Howard. Eliminating Howard since it is too early, Clowney and Watson are clear hits; Fuller is a good player who can never stay healthy. If he does, he could be a key contributor but that remains to be seen. Still, he is an NFL starter so give him a hit, even if it is incomplete. Johnson was a disaster and is gone. If you give them Fuller, that is still 75 percent, well above the league average. If you don't count Fuller, they are right at the league average, slightly below. Again, all of this is specific to the O'Brien era.

What does it all mean?

The third round misses have been high profile, colossal mistakes, which makes it look worse. Foreman was supposed to develop into a home run threat on offense. Miller was a high profile project. The team traded up to get Strong. Nix never made it to the field. But overall, the results are about on par with the rest of the league, even above average. Those were not the results I expected when I started this article. But there is also no way to quantify players who hung around and contributed but were never really "hits" or "misses." The Texans misses were clear, as they are no longer on the roster.

Which brings us to Duke Johnson

While many have been critical of the Texans for giving up a third to get Duke Johnson, it makes a lot of sense. You are getting a proven NFL player with starting capabilities for a pick that hits less than 30 percent of the time. While building through the draft is important, it also goes to show that most teams and fans greatly overvalue draft picks. And most picks are like buying new cars - the value goes down as soon as you get them off the lot. Johnson should provide a much surer thing than a third-rounder.

The bottom line

As with most things, when it comes to drafting, the Texans are about average. The third round busts look bad relative to expectations, but overall the number of hits is about where the league is. They probably aren't as good in the first round as the perception. Obviously good teams do better than than average, bad ones do much worse, but as with most things, the Texans aren't bad at drafting high-round picks.

They are just mediocre, a staple of the organization since its inception.

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Dameon Pierce was a bright spot for the Texans on Saturday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The Houston Texans played a football game for the first time since January on Saturday, and while it was only the preseason, there were some things that should create a sense of optimism for fans.

One of those groups is none other than the running back position, which is unfamiliar territory for Texans fans to have any hope about that unit.

Since the turn of the new decade, the running back group has been abysmal for Houston, ranking among the bottom in the NFL, including 31st in 2020 and 32nd in 2021. Entering into the 2022 season, it seems like the tide has begun to shift, and that is due to rookie running back Dameon Pierce, who impressed in his first outing ever in a Houston uniform.

Pierce garnered some attention with his 49-yard rushing performance, including a 20-yard run in the second quarter. The fourth-round pick out of Florida looked like he was gliding in between the land of giants at times as he shifted through his own offensive linemen and opposing defenders.

He also displayed his ability to get to the edge and turn the corner on the outside as well, something that not many Houston backs have been able to do over the last few seasons.

Now it is early, and after one preseason game, there should be no reason to crown Pierce the second coming of Arian Foster. But the reason Houston fans should have optimism when it comes to the running backs is because of the potential Pierce has shown.

In 2021, Houston’s best running back for most of the season was Mark Ingram, and he spent half of the year with, coincidentally, the New Orleans Saints.

Running back Rex Burkhead took charge towards the tail end of the season, and finished as the team’s leading rusher with only 427 yards for the entire campaign. Pierce got roughly one-eighth of that in limited action against the Saints.

Running back Marlon Mack started the game for Houston. While he only finished with a lackluster six yards on three carries, it is also worth noting that starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil, starting center Justin Britt and guard Kenyon Green all did not play for the Texans against the Saints.

Burkhead is still on the roster. He also did not play against New Orleans, but going back to 2021, he proved that he still has the capability to make an impact on games in spurts.

With both Mack and Burkhead good veterans to help Pierce’s development throughout his rookie season, and the small sample the young back has put on film, there is reason to be enthusiastic about Houston’s running back group for 2022.

After all, the bar has been set pretty low following the past two seasons. The silver lining about hitting rock bottom is that eventually you can only go up.

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