Is the Texans lack of success with third round picks as bad as it looks?
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.
3rd Round - OL (40%) TE (39%) LB (34%) DL (27%) WR (25%) DB (24%) QB (17%) RB (16%)
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.