Not A Daft Draft

May 6, 2003
Not A Daft Draft
by Keith Weiland

Break out the coulda’s. Pop open the woulda’s. Swallow down the shoulda’s.

2003 will be remembered as the year of the SARS draft, a year where maybe the top five to ten percent of the known cases were really worth fretting. The Texans must’ve thought so, too, since before the first day had ended, they were already drafting a long-term project at tackle and a backup at quarterback.

As fans of a toddler team, we should be getting used to the drill by now. This draft signified yet again that the Texans, guiltless followers of their draft boards, were building for future seasons, present be damned.

We should be thankful. Not just thankful to Charley Casserly, his scouts, coach Dom Capers and his staff, but first to owner Bob McNair for not making anyone within his football operations to necessarily feel like a playoff roster has to materialize in year two.

So what if he 2003 NFL Draft may not be remembered as Casserly’s best? It sure had more fizz than a Natty Light at a Mizzou post-game party. I may be loopy with the kind of unbridled optimism that the NFL’s Annual Selection Meeting usually serves, but I tend to believe that the Texans war room fared quite well with a sub-par talent pool.

So rather than review all the coulda’s, regurgitate all the woulda’s, and rehash all the shoulda’s, I’m here to actually admire the promise the Texans’ draft haul has to offer. We can worry about the unfulfilled potential of the 2003 class at a later time. Let’s just bask in the as yet unfulfilled potential of today.

The team’s first round pick, Andre Johnson, is an investment at wide receiver, a position that takes time to develop premium talent. I don’t expect him to light up scoreboards the way Randy Moss did in 1998, but I do expect him to be a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber wide receiver. Johnson will be money inside the red zone when his time comes. We’re just going to have to suffer through an occasional drop until he gets there.

Second round pick Bennie Joppru gives the Texans the combination of Billy Miller’s reliable hands plus the size and blocking ability that Miller unfortunately lacks. Fans hold Miller in a special place of their hearts for scoring the franchise’s first-ever touchdown, but he is not the long-term, every-down answer at tight end. Joppru is someone that may be that player. He was not a reach by any stretch of the term since he was likely to have been taken by another team before the Texans’ next pick.

Third rounder Antwan Peek is exactly the kind of undersized defensive end that 3-4 defenses crave in the NFL. Is it a guarantee for success? Of course not. No third round pick ever is. Peek is, however, a prospect that could lead the team in sacks when he wins a starting job, something he should be able to accomplish within another year or two.

The Seth Wand selection was the first indication from the Texan war room that the 2003 draft class came with many, many question marks. Wand has the makeup of a starting left tackle, but his ETA is years away. Like Chester Pitts from the previous draft, Wand could be considered this year’s reach, but I like that the team is assuming risk with a player that has a chance to blossom.

And heck, the Pitts selection has worked so far. It’s possible Pitts and Wand could anchor Carr’s blindside for years to come.

Then came the mysterious pick of Dave RagoneĀ… it would come off as gloating if I said I saw this one coming, but honestly, I did see it as possible scenario. The obvious concern is that Ragone will somehow create a quarterback controversy with David Carr. Or worse, that the team maybe has some doubts about their franchise quarterback.

Actually, the pick says a lot about how much faith the team has in Carr to handle such pressure if the controversy ever unfolded. Carr is the unquestioned future of this franchise. The Ragone selection emphasizes the axiom that the second-most valuable spot on the roster is the backup quarterback, something Ragone will become in 2004 or 2005.

Embrace Ragone. Just not too tight, okay?

As for the draft’s second day, the Texans essentially punted since they really only found special teams players available. The team hopes they added a good returner (and third down back) in Domanick Davis, a nasty gunner in Curry Burns, and a reliable long snapper in Chance Pearce.

Casserly’s slight of hand in drafting Mudville’s own, Drew Henson, could be a special player, too, if Casserly finds a way for the misguided passer to return to football. If he does, Henson won’t be playing in Steel Blue, but it was a selection with incredible possibilities. The gamble may never pay off for the Texans, but then again, few sixth rounders ever do.

Can’t forget the previous supplemental draft selection of interior lineman Milford Brown that cost Houston a sixth rounder and the pre-draft trade of a fifth rounder for Greg Randall. Both will add depth to a line that sorely needed it a year ago.

The only disappointment from the second day was in seeing Casserly bypass an attempt to unearth that late-round gem that he’s done so many times in the past in Washington. Trading two picks, however, to move up a round with each in 2004 further signifies that this team is being built for long-term, sustainable success.

So maybe next April the Texans take their early second round pick and bundle it with one or more of those forwarded 2003 picks to move into the first round for a franchise back. If they do, let’s just hope they’re after a player with two good knees and no Jerry Maguire-lite for an agent.

Keith Weiland hopes to compare the 2004 draft class to a far more life-threatening virus than SARS.