May 25, 2024

The Texans' turnaround started with a “special” NFL Draft class


First of all, Ryans believed in it Houston Texans had just landed “two staples” to build their roster around.

“When I knew we had an opportunity to trade up and get Will [along with] “CJ, it was, 'Okay, it's working,'” Ryans told ESPN. “You don’t always get the top guys you want. “So for us to be able to get two top guys that we wanted at two key positions at quarterback and defensive end, that was the beginning.”

On the second day, the Texans selected select wide receivers Tank Dell in the third round.

“Then we came along and took our favorite receiver, Tank, in the draft. … I knew things were going right when I just added those three guys,” Ryans said.

Their rookies are a big reason the Texans advanced to the playoffs. Houston now heads to the divisional round, where they will visit the top seed in the AFC Baltimore Ravens on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/ESPN+).

On paper, Houston believed the draft had taken a step in the right direction, but Ryans knew he had to see what the players could do to turn his optimism into belief.

“When you watch the guys step on the field at practice, you see who they really are and how they play,” Ryans said. “And it was special.”

This draft class helped turn around an organization that went 11-38-1 from 2020 to 2022 and led the Texans (10-7) to the AFC South title for the first time since 2019.

Stroud had a pretty good playoff debut in Houston 45-14 win over that Cleveland Browns in the wildcard round. He threw three touchdowns, setting a record for most touchdown passes by a rookie in a playoff game. He also passed for 274 yards and had no turnovers. Defensively, Anderson finished with a team-high one sack and seven pressures.

“Nobody said this, but we should have the offensive and defensive rookie of the year,” Ryans said. “Both guys have made great strides for us – CJ on offense and Will on defense.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Texans' 1,866 snaps by rookies were the sixth-most in the regular season. They had 688 snaps on offense (second most) and 1,178 (16th) on defense. The offensive shots were the most by a team in a postseason game since 2000.

CJ Stroud

Stroud became the first rookie to lead the NFL in touchdown-to-interception ratio (23:5), revitalizing an organization in need of a franchise-level quarterback.

“CJ is the reason we are in this position,” Ryans said Saturday. “He is a special young man and special player and always shines. No matter how big the moment, our entire team leans on him and he has the shoulders to carry the load.”

Stroud was the first quarterback taken in the top two of the draft since 1967 to start and win a playoff game in his rookie season, and was the youngest to win a playoff contest, passing Michael Vick.

He finished the regular season with 4,108 passing yards – the third-most for a rookie behind Andrew Luck (4,374 in 2012) and Justin Herbert (4,336 in 2020). Stroud's six 300-yard passing games were tied with Luck and two behind Herbert, the most by a rookie ever. His 470 passing yards in Week 9 vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers Most of them were also from a rookie.

“When all 11 of us are on the same page offensively, taking our place, doing our job, we feel like no one can play with us,” tight end said Brevin Jordan said. “Especially when you have No. 7 back there.”

Will Anderson Jr.

Ryans started in OTAs and knew what he had.

“Seeing will be relentless, [to the point] “We say, 'Hey, you need to slow down a little bit,'” Ryans said with a smile about the first few practices, “We knew we had the right guy.”

According to Next Gen Stats, Anderson set a franchise record for sacks by a rookie during the regular season (seven), accounted for the most quarterback hits (22) and led the team in pressures (64).

Anderson also ranked third behind in pass block win rate (25.8%) Dallas Cowboys' Micah Parsons and Brown's Myles Garrett. He ranked sixth among defensive ends in run-stop win rate (36%) with at least 400 snaps.

Sack production didn't come immediately, but he had six (tied for 19th) from Weeks 9 to 18 despite missing two games after suffering an ankle injury New York Jets in week 14.

“Game by game, we know he’s struggling with injury, but he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” Ryans said. “We have to drag him off the field. He won't come out. He continued to fight – was able to be productive and get balls – and that’s what we needed.”

From the moment Anderson entered the organization, his mindset was focused on transforming the franchise. And he wasn't the only newbie who thought that way.

“We had our first rookie meeting and I could just see how excited everyone was,” Anderson told ESPN. “They always say whether they are cops – boys, or whether they come for work and for business reasons. I felt like it wasn't like, 'He's just going to party, he's in the NFL now and he's gotten his money.' Everyone was here to work and change the culture.”

The rest of the class

Dell had 709 yards and ranked 22nd entering Week 13 before suffering one Season-ending leg injury against that Denver Broncos. He had that too winning touchdown catch with six seconds remaining in Week 9 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the Texans marched 75 yards in 40 seconds. Dell finished the game with six catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

Stroud and Dell's combined 709 yards was the most in the first 12 weeks of any rookie quarterback-receiver tandem.

The duo's seven touchdowns were the most by a rookie duo since 2012, when the Indianapolis Colts' Luck and TY Hilton had seven and are also tied for fourth among freshmen.

On the inside, the Texans' sixth-round pick, in the middle Jarrett Pattersonstarted the first seven games after their second-round pick, Juice Scruggssuffered a thigh injury in the last preseason game against them New Orleans Saints. That landed him on injured reserve and forced him to miss the first ten games.

Patterson replaced Scruggs until Week 8, when he suffered a season-ending leg injury Carolina Panthers. Offseason free agent Michael Deiter replaced him.

Once Scruggs was activated from injured reserve in Week 12 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he didn't start right away. But he was pressed into action after leaving the Guard Tytus Howard suffered a season-ending knee injury. He continued to start the rest of the season.

“Really proud of Juice,” Ryans said. “You're talking about a guy who was missing – he was missing most of the season – and for him to come back at the time he came back, we know it wasn't good for him to come back. We knew that back then.” There would be growing pains there. He played center for us throughout training camp, and in order for him to come back and fill in at the guard position, he had to get comfortable with that position.

“He has gotten better every week, which has helped our offense and its success.”

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