By Chris Duncan
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans have loaded up their defense through the draft in recent years. It seems like a good time for the Texans to turn their eyes toward offensive help, particularly a big-play receiver to pair alongside All Pro Andre Johnson.
The Texans have the 27th overall pick in the first round Thursday night. Houston has been looking for a suitable complement for Johnson for years, and the missing component was obvious again last year. The Texans ranked 11th in pass offense (239.4 yards per game) and had only 46 receptions covering at least 20 yards, half of them by Johnson.
Last year, Houston picked DeVier Posey (Ohio State) in the third round and Keshawn Martin (Michigan State) in the fourth. Martin settled into a return role, while Posey took most of the season to blossom. Posey had three catches in the playoff loss, but tore his left Achilles tendon and is likely to miss much of the 2013 campaign.
The Texans cut dependable Kevin Walter and didn’t get enough production out of Lestar Jean, an undrafted free agent in 2011. Johnson, who’ll be 32 when the season begins, says he’s “all in” for adding a first-round receiver because a team can never have too many weapons.
“I don’t have a problem with having more help,” said Johnson, the third overall pick in 2003. “It just makes your team more explosive, makes your team much better. The injury to Posey really hurt us, but I think we can get another guy and with him, Keshawn and Lestar, it’d probably the best group here since I’ve been here.”
Texans general manager Rick Smith said they wouldn’t target a particular position in the first round, but rather pick the best player available. But he did acknowledge the need for someone to play opposite Johnson.
“It’s been well-documented. I think we could use some help at the wide receiver position,” Smith said.
Houston has nine picks overall this year, two of them compensatory.
They could have plenty of receivers to choose from, including Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, California’s Keenan Allen and Tennessee’s Justin Hunter.
Hopkins had 82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2012.
Allen is skipping his senior season to enter the draft and finished his career as the school’s all-time leader with 205 receptions.
Hunter had 73 catches for 1,083 yards for the Vols last season.
The Texans could end up not picking in the first round, and Smith said the team would certainly consider all trade possibilities.
“In this draft there are a lot of players that we like in the mid-rounds and I think some players that can impact your football team,” he said. “I think maybe we’ve had one draft since I’ve been here that I didn’t execute a trade. We are always open to trades, moving up and moving back. We’ve done that and certainly are willing and open to doing that again this year as well.”
The Texans’ last five first-round picks have moved into key roles, including All-Pro selections Duane Brown and Brian Cushing and 2012 defensive player of the year J.J. Watt. Linebacker Brooks Reed (second round, 2011), nose tackle Earl Mitchell (third round, 2010) and linebacker Darryl Sharpton (fourth round, 2010) have also taken over starting roles.
“The key is that we pick the best player,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “I know that’s cliche, but if you panic because you’ve got a need here or there, you may make a mistake. We need to pick the best players available to our team, put them in and go from there. We’ve got certain spots we can improve upon very quickly, but you can’t push the envelope, so to speak.”
The Texans could also use help on the offensive line and in the linebacker corps.
Houston retooled the right side of the line last year after cutting tackle Eric Winston and letting guard Mike Brisiel go in free agency. Derek Newton, a seventh-round pick in 2011, won the right tackle job from Rashad Butler in the preseason, and was rotating with veteran Ryan Harris by the end of the season. Rookies Brandon Brooks (third round, 2012) and Ben Jones (fourth round, 2012) shared time at guard with veteran Antoine Caldwell, who missed time last year with a hamstring injury.
Smith expects Newton, Brooks and Jones to make leaps in progress in 2013.
“Obviously, I think we got some real benefit from last year with the young guys being able to play the way that they did,” Smith said.
Cushing tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Week 5, and the Texans’ defense was never quite as good without him. The Texans re-signed Tim Dobbins, who filled in for Cushing, but outside linebacker and 2011 sacks leader Connor Barwin signed with Philadelphia in free agency.
“There are plenty of areas on our football team where we can add good football players,” Smith said. “And that’s why I think you have to always exercise the discipline in taking the right player at the corresponding value because at some point, that player will help your team win.”