The B-Gap: For the Texans, now is not the time to overthink the second pick

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

If you believe where there’s smoke there’s always fire, you need to start preparing yourself for the unthinkable. Because the Houston Texans might actually do this.

Take it from those that won’t shut up about it. Adam Schefter. Peter Schrager. FanDuel. They’ll tell you the Texans, winners of three games a year ago and employers of one of the most uninspiring starting quarterbacks in the NFL, are about to pass on three (!) consensus first-round quarterbacks with the second overall pick.

So, is this really about to happen?

It’s a funny one. The illicit response is to ignore, to say ‘they couldn’t, could they?’ at the thought of a franchise left with Davis Mills, staring at Anthony Richardson, CJ Stroud and Will Levis, and saying no. Yet Schefter, Schrager, and Vegas, all three in the know like few others, won’t budge. A quarterback, it appears, will not be the Texans’ pick.

But — Houston couldn’t, could they?

No, they really couldn’t. Passing on a quarterback has some ‘galaxy brain’ vibes to it, of course. It’s different. It’s quirky. It’s cute. Stepping so far outside of the box can be attractive and easy to get behind. But let’s call this like it is.

Houston needs a quarterback, and that’s a bridge that will inevitably need crossing. Waiting to cross it will only make it longer.

Perhaps the best way to prove that is to consider the over-thought process behind the Texans’ hesitation to take a quarterback in the first place. Why, and how, is Houston convincing themselves that this is a good idea?

The answer: uncertainty.

If there really is a fire creating all this smoke, it means Houston simply doesn’t believe in any of the quarterbacks available to them enough to swallow the opportunity cost that comes with an asset like the second pick. Picking that high is a valuable, franchise-changing type of decision. If you’re going to stay that high, certainty in the player being selected feels like a required entry ticket.

And certainty with either Richardson, Stroud or Levis has been hard to come by. 

Richardson has thrown fewer than 500 passes in his career. Stroud would be one of the least athletic first-round quarterbacks to succeed in the last decade. Levis’ senior year was marred with injuries and notable regression.

So, hesitancy is understandable! But what does Houston really expect?

Drafting and developing quarterbacks is hard. There’s an element of uncertainty that is absolutely unavoidable — such is the hole Houston has dug themselves into. They need to hit a home run, which means eventually, they’re going to have to take a swing.

And no, waiting to take a safer swing at a better quarterback in a future draft class is not a safer alternative. Waiting to maybe draft Caleb Williams is not a solution.

Because the Texans, functionally, would have a one in 32 (just over a 3% chance) of drafting a future prospect like Williams. And that’s assuming that Williams’ stock remains steady over another entire season. Remember, the entire league was trying to ‘Tank for Tua (Tagovailoa)’, and he became the fifth pick in the 2020 Draft. Is Houston really more certain of all of those factors playing in their favor than they are of Richardson figuring out his accuracy inconsistencies? Or Levis proving his senior year was just a fluke?

The Texans need a quarterback, and with that comes unavoidable uncertainty. Uncertainty should be mitigated, absolutely, but passing on the chance to get their guy this year only creates more of it.

Of course, there’s something to be said for the alternative options at the second pick. Will Anderson, Alabama’s dominant pass rusher, seems about as safe of a hit as any player in this class. Houston, who won the fewest games of any team in the NFL last season and needs just about everything, could absolutely use him. But can the value he’d bring to the Texans really assume a second overall selection?

Suppose Anderson becomes a decade-long starter and an All-Pro, about the best the Texans front office could ask for. Is an All-Pro pass rusher worth the second pick? Probably. But it’s hard to imagine him providing any surplus value — that is, the Texans turning a profit on the pick rather than only breaking even. Surplus value, most commonly achieved through second and third round picks turned Pro Bowlers, is the backbone of any Super Bowl contender. It’s much less significant within a pick as high as number two; it’s much harder to turn an extraordinarily valuable pick into a player even more valuable. Anderson shouldn’t be penalized for that.

But the one position significant enough to be an exception to that rule, the one position that can bring surplus value at such a high pick is, you know, quarterback.

That’s the problem with passing on a quarterback with a top three selection. The moment the pick is used at any other position, the return value it can provide becomes prohibitively limited. It’s the reason the Bears, after deciding they didn’t need to draft a quarterback with the first pick, traded it. It’s the reason the Cardinals have been taking calls to do the same with the third pick. The only way to turn a profit on a top three pick is to take a quarterback, or trade it.

So, if Houston is really serious about passing on a quarterback on Thursday (which they shouldn’t be!), taking Anderson isn’t an acceptable alternative. They really, really need a quarterback. But if they aren’t going to take one, at the very least, they need to return surplus value on a pick as high as second overall. Anderson, for as good as he is and as good as he can be, can’t do that.

The Texans have an unfathomably large decision to make on Thursday. Hitting a home run with a pick as high as this one feels almost like an absolute necessity for a team that has won only 11 of their last 50 games. It’s natural, in the face of such a fork in the road, to back into the comfort of certainty, of the sure thing. And Anderson is a sure thing.

And no, none of the four quarterbacks the Texans could select are a sure thing. They’re all uncertain, in each of their own frustrating ways. 

But the NFL isn’t easy. Success is hard, it’s unstable, and above all, it’s never guaranteed. In a number of ways, what separates the good from the bad in the NFL is the manner in which they overcome uncertainty. So if the Texans want to get where they’re trying to go, eventually, they’re going to have to get comfortable with taking a swing.