Perhaps no NFL team holds more sway over the 2023 draft than the Houston Texans. While they did not secure the No. 1 overall pick thanks to a surprise surge late last season, they enter the process with a league-leading 12 selections, including two in the first 12 overall picks. In fact, they would've owned 13 if not for a salary-cap violation that required a forfeiture.
It's fitting, of course, that Houston possesses so much draft-day firepower. The Texans have a laundry list of needs on both sides of the ball. New coach DeMeco Ryans certainly oversaw some lineup improvements in free agency, where general manager Nick Caserio added starting-caliber veterans like Devin Singletary, Dalton Schultz and Jimmie Ward. But the draft is where this club can -- and must -- rebuild its foundation, starting under center.
With that in mind, here's one logical Texans scenario for the 2023 NFL Draft -- a complete seven-round mock draft:
Lukas Van Ness
Warren McClendon Jr.
Robert Beal Jr.
Don't get too hung up on Young versus Ohio State's C.J. Stroud at No. 2. The thinking here is that regardless of the Panthers' selection at No. 1, Houston will indeed go QB with its first pick, despite recent hints they won't feel pressured to do so. Why? Because it's the one spot they need to get right after settling for two years of an unsupported Davis Mills. In this scenario, we're assuming Carolina will ultimately prefer Stroud's prototypical size. But Young is a premium consolation prize; save for his smaller stature, he's a total package on and off the field and would instantly give the Texans offense credibility.
There will, of course, be immediate temptation and/or pressure to give Young weapons with the next first-round pick. But it's hard to envision Caserio, who hails from the Bill Belichick-led Patriots, and Ryans, who earned his job by leading the 49ers' defense, leaving Day 1 without a major investment on the other side of the ball. Enter Van Ness, the power rusher nicknamed "Hercules" who could see immediate snaps at both defensive end and tackle. Ryans will surely want to beef up the trenches after overseeing such a deep rotation in San Francisco, and the Iowa product is among the more well-rounded at his position.
At the top of Round 2, the Texans should have a handful of intriguing options at pass catcher, where their current starters are veteran possession types like Nico Collins, Noah Brown and Robert Woods. Hyatt is a different breed, drawing DeSean Jackson comparisons for his lean frame and deep speed. In other words, he offers the kind of juice they're lacking at the position -- and the kind of downfield ability that could help Young air it out early.
The third round here is all about the trenches, which Ryans will assuredly champion. The Texans added Sheldon Rankins on a one-year deal to help plug the interior, but at 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds, Ika is even bigger as a potential run-stuffer to develop behind and alongside Maliek Collins. Duncan, on the other hand, leaves Maryland with lots of left tackle experience but projects best as an athletic interior blocker at the NFL level. If he can't challenge right tackle Tytus Howard, it's possible he could make a surprise push for a starting guard job and/or serve as Houston's top swing tackle. Anything to help protect the QB..
McClendon is another OL depth piece for a unit that can never have enough reinforcements. While undersized for tackle (6-4, 306), his reputation as a durable, versatile leader for Georgia's national-title line could give him a high floor wherever he lines up. Dennis and Izien -- the other sixth-round projections -- profile as low-risk, high-reward bets for the defense. The former isn't an athletic freak but possesses the kind of instincts and special teams ability that Ryans could covet for developmental purposes. Izien has cornerback/safety flexibility that could come in handy provided ex-49ers standout Jimmie Ward can't stay healthy.
The final three picks represent double-dips at areas of need: Billingsley is a speedy pass-catching prospect at tight end, offering another downfield option for Bryce Young, Beal is inexperienced but boasts all the physical tools of a moldable pass rusher and Bell is a grind-it-out-type receiver willing to put in the dirty work as a blocker and tight-window competitor for the ball.