December 5, 2003
Just Win, Baby
by Warren DeLuca
Are the Texans winning too many games? Are they messing up their draft position, which will cause them to miss out on the best players next April? Is it in the best interests of the franchise, long term, to lose more games this year?
The team’s recent successes are hurting their chance at grabbing another blue chip prospect in the David Carr/Andre Johnson class near the top of the 2004 draft. If the season ended today, the Texans would hold the 15th spot in the first round, and unless Charley Casserly sees something in a player or two that other teams do not, the players with the very highest grades on the Texans’ draft board would be gone by the time that pick rolled around.
If the Texans’ injury count continues to mount, finishing with too many more wins will not be a problem. At this rate, the players in street clothes on the Texan sideline will soon outnumber those in uniform. Few teams can sustain success with so many key players either missing time or playing at less than full strength, especially a second-year franchise that started the season with little quality depth.
There still could be a great deal of movement in the draft order over the remaining four weeks of the season. The Texans are one of six teams in a logjam with a record of 5-7, separated only by the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker. Another five sit just above on the projected order at 4-8. If a few of these other teams finish the season with winning streaks, the Texans’ ranking could improve.
However, winning helps the franchise more than does losing even if that means the Texans will not have as lofty of a draft position. The Texans should have more success in signing quality free agents if they can show that they have a realistic shot of contending for the playoffs in the near future. The type of player with which the Texans want to build is one who wants to win, not simply collect a fat paycheck.
The team must also learn how to win, and how to handle the success when it does. Casserly and Dom Capers cannot flip a switch when they feel like they have acquired enough raw talent, and have a team ready to make a playoff run.
Identifying the best players is more important to having a successful draft than the initial selection order. In 1974, the Steelers drafted four future Hall of Famers who led them to four Super Bowl victories. Of those four, only WR Lynn Swann was a first-rounder, and he lasted until the 21st pick. LB Jack Lambert (second round), WR John Stallworth (fourth), and C Mike Webster (fifth) made up the rest of that group.
Having extra picks helps a team’s odds as well. Jimmy Johnson gets well-deserved acclaim for the drafts that built the Cowboy powerhouse of the 1990s, but few remember that he selected offensive lineman James Richards before Erik Williams in 1991. Without the extra picks from the Herschel Walker trade, the Cowboys may have passed on the future All-Pro Williams in favor of the washout-to-be Richards. The Texans enter the 2004 draft with their own seven selections, the Colts’ fourth rounder, and trade bait in the form of Drew Henson.
No doubt 49er fans in 1986 would have loved to add one of the big names in that year’s draft, like RB Bo Jackson, DT Tony Casillas, or DE Jon Hand. However, San Francisco only had eight picks in what was then a 12-round draft, including their first selection at the 18th spot. Bill Walsh went to work, moving out of the first round and making a total of six trades. He ended with 13 players as well as extra first and second rounders for the following year. Eight of those draftees became starters on the 49ers’ next two Super Bowl teams: DE Larry Roberts (second round), FB Tom Rathman (third), CB Tim McKyer (third), WR John Taylor (third), DE Charles Haley (fourth), OT Steve Wallace (fourth), DT Kevin Fagan (fourth), and CB Don Griffin (sixth).
Some point to the Carolina Panthers as an example of an expansion team that “won too much, too soon” with their meteoric rise to the NFC championship game and subsequent collapse. What the Panthers are a better example of is a franchise that did not draft very well and had no young players to step up when the veteran starters could not perform at a high level any longer.
An improved draft position is the silver lining in the dark cloud of defeat, not the goal itself. Texan fans should not feel guilty about the enjoying Carr shoving the ball over the goal line against the Jaguars, or Shantee Orr taking down of Michael Vick late in the game last Sunday. It would be nice to have a top-five pick every year, but in the end it comes down to finding players.
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