HOUSTON (AP) — Now that the Houston Texans believe they've finally found their franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson, they want to do everything they can to make things easier on him.
"As long as I'm here, I'm going to make every effort to put the pieces in place around him to help him, support him, and help him be successful on the field," general manager Brian Gaine said. "That might be on the perimeter. That might be on the offensive line. That might be in the backfield. That might even be on defense — a guy that can generate more turnovers that gets the ball back to him even more than that. He's certainly a centerpiece in terms of how we want to build our team and it's a focal point of how we want to build the roster."
Their first priority in this year's draft should be improving the offensive line after Watson was sacked an NFL-leading 62 times as Houston won the AFC South but lost to the Colts in the wild-card round. Watson played every game in his second year after having season-ending knee surgery as a rookie, but was banged-up for a chunk of the season while dealing with a partially collapsed lung and broken ribs from taking hits.
The Texans have three picks in the first two rounds, with their top selection coming at No. 23 a year after they didn't have any picks in the first or second rounds because they shipped their top two picks to get rid of Brock Osweiler and trade up to get Watson in 2017.
While Gaine naturally wouldn't say what direction they planned to go in the first round, he did say he's been impressed with the talent at offensive tackle in this draft. That includes Florida's Jawaan Taylor and Washington State's Andre Dillard.
"It's a good year in the draft at tackle for both the left and right side at various points in the draft, from starting-caliber players to backup players," he said.
Houston signed free agent left tackle Matt Kalil this offseason, but it's unclear how much he'll bolster the group after missing all of last season with a knee injury. The Texans started Julie'n Davenport at left tackle last season and Kendall Lamm played right after Seantrel Henderson had a season-ending ankle injury in Houston's opener. Gaine indicated they plan to stick with Davenport at left tackle, but need him to take a step forward in his third year. Lamm left in free agency, but Henderson is healthy and they expect his return will improve the protection for Watson.
If the Texans do draft an offensive tackle, Gaine would prefer that he's versatile.
"Nowadays you need a guy that can athletically block on the left, equally block on the right," Gaine said. "There's going to be a good pass rusher on the right side of the offense as much as there is on the left ... you want them to be fully dimensional, full skillset, and not just be a power guy or not just be an athlete that can handle power. Ideally, we want the full complementary skill set to play left and right tackle."
Some things to know about the Texans as the draft approaches:
The Texans lost veteran Kareem Jackson in free agency and cut 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson after four injury-filled and ineffective seasons. They signed free agents Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Bradley Roby and have veteran Johnathan Joseph but could use the draft to add more depth at the position with Joseph turning 35 this month.
QUESTIONS AT RUNNING BACK
Houston could look to add a running back in the later rounds with starter Lamar Miller entering the final year of his contract and D'Onta Foreman yet to show he can return to form after surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in 2017. The Doak Walker Award winner appeared in just one game last season after rushing for 327 yards in 10 games as a rookie in 2017.
Despite his struggling to get healthy and contribute last year, the Texans remain confident that he can help them in the future.
"From everything that we hear, he's really working hard and he's ready to go," Gaine said. "It's a big year for him."
VALUE IN LOWER ROUNDS
The Texans added some good players in last year's draft despite not picking in the first or second round. Safety Justin Reid, a third-round pick, made 12 starts and had three interceptions and 88 tackles. Fellow third-round pick tight end Jordan Akins made six starts and had 225 yards receiving. Houston also found value in the fourth round with receiver Keke Coutee, who had 287 yards receiving and a touchdown in six games despite being slowed by hamstring injuries.