Here is a closer look at the positions the Houston Texans could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis:
Positions of need: The Texans have several holes that need to be addressed on both sides of the ball, but whom they look at in the NFL draft could depend on which needs general manager Brian Gaine can fill with the $64 million he has available to spend during free agency. That said, the Texans’ biggest offseason need right now is to upgrade their offensive line. Houston had the worst offensive line in the NFL in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. The group gave up 252 total pressures, which is the second-most allowed by a team in any of the previous 12 seasons. Three of the Texans’ starting offensive linemen from last season are free agents -- left guard Xavier Su'a-Filo, left tackle Chris Clark and right tackle Breno Giacomini -- and it’s unlikely that more than one of those players will be back in 2018 if the team wants to upgrade its protection for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The other area the Texans need to address is the secondary. The unit went from the No. 2 group in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game in 2016 to No. 24 is 2017. Although Houston could bring free-agent cornerback Johnathan Joseph back, the Texans need to decide if they trust cornerback Kevin Johnson to fill a major role next season. Last season, Johnson was ranked 121st of 121 eligible cornerbacks by PFF. The Texans could also look for a safety to play alongside Andre Hal.
Of course, while the Texans have nine draft picks, they do not have any in the first or second rounds, so Gaine will be looking to find some sleeper picks who can help contribute in 2018. Otherwise, he will have to fill holes primarily through free agency.
Three players the Texans should focus on at the combine:
Tyrell Crosby (OT), Oregon: Crosby is ESPN’s eighth-ranked offensive tackle in the draft, and if he is still available in the third round -- or the Texans can package their third-round picks to trade up -- he could compete for a starting tackle spot in 2018. According to PFF, Crosby did not allow a sack on 362 pass-blocking snaps for Oregon last season. Last season, he won the Morris Trophy for the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12 and had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. Crosby played at both right and left tackle in college.
Jordan Whitehead (S), Pittsburgh: Whitehead played at both safety positions at Pitt and could be another versatile option for the Texans as they look to upgrade their secondary. He also has had success on special teams, which is an area Houston certainly needs to improve. There are quite a few highly rated safety prospects who could go early in the draft, so Whitehead is a candidate who has a chance of being available when the Texans finally get to pick.
Deon Cain (WR), Clemson: Although wide receiver is not as big of a need as some of the other positions, if the Texans are able to address the offensive line or secondary in free agency, Cain could be a Day 3 pick for Houston. The wide receiver played two years with Watson at Clemson and caught a combined 72 passes for 1,306 yards and 14 touchdowns from him. While the Texans have one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in DeAndre Hopkins, having 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller and Cain could make the Texans’ offense even more potent in Watson’s second NFL season. The Texans ended last season with six players from Clemson on their roster, so why not add another?