In 2019, there are seemingly only three certainties in life – taxes, death, and the Houston Texans offensive line being amongst the worst in the National Football League. After the trade of Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown to the Seattle Seahawks in 2017, the narrative regarding the Texans O-line has been clear for any observer to see.
A Look At The Numbers
In the 2018 season, per Football Outsiders, the O-line placed 32nd in adjusted sack rate, 32nd in pressure rate, and 27th in adjusted line yards. In short, they were terrible. Amongst this chasm of ineptitude, however, the interior of the O-line was quietly successful. According to Pro Football Focus, guard Zach Fulton and center Nick Martin brought acceptable pass blocking to the trenches. Fulton earned a 79.1 pass-blocking grade on the season while Martin was at 80.9. The apparent problem, therefore, is that the tackle situation, after the departure of Duane Brown, is holding the entire offensive line back from protecting Deshaun Watson in passing situations.
Here is where the draft prospect of Andre Dillard, out of Washington State, comes into the picture. Dillard is the solution to the Texans tackle problem. He certainly should be the Texans number one draft target.
Even with the addition of a somewhat broken Matt Kalil, the Houston tackle room is bare and bereft of talent. Though the stereotypical view is different, the importance of each tackle is equal. There is no difference in significance between left and right tackle to the offensive line as a whole. Instead, the difference is that finding a starting, to Pro Bowl quality left tackle is far more difficult. This is where Dillard stakes his claim to be Houston’s number one target.
The Short on Dillard
Dillard was a four-year starter in the Washington State air raid system under Head Coach Mike Leach. There Dillard was expected to protect the quarterback at all costs and give them as much time as possible for the ball to be distributed around. Although, the Texans do not use a similar system, under Deshaun Watson the offense should transition over the next few years towards a pass-orientated system. In such a system, Watson’s outstanding arm talent and mobility can be best utilized. The lack of a run-heavy offense makes Dillard ideal in the transitioning Houston system. Also, his transfer to left tackle should be smooth.
Aside from the argument of how feasible it will be to get Dillard to Houston, perhaps his pass-blocking statistics will further accentuate that he is indeed the best fit for the Texans at pick twenty-three. According to Pro Football Focus, in 2018, on a total of 668 pass-blocking snaps, Dillard has allowed only 15 pressures and just one sack. That translates to him allowing a pressure on just 2.3 percent of his snaps in pass protection. His pass-blocking efficiency sat at 98.8. That value is by far the highest among any offensive linemen, regardless of position in the country.
The simple fact is that if you want to pick a lineman to protect your quarterback in the 2019 Draft, Andre Dillard is the first person on your board. Given the need in Houston, Dillard is, therefore, target number one for Brian Gaine as General Manager.
Facing Houston however, in picking Dillard is their position on the board. At twenty-three, they have various teams above them who are equally as needy at the O-line positions. Several can be ruled out based on their specific needs. This includes the Carolina Panthers or the Miami Dolphins, but the Minnesota Vikings cannot. Minnesota’s plan for the draft should be to pick the best offensive lineman available at eighteen. Without a doubt, this could be Andre Dillard.
So what can Houston do? They have the choice, they can trade up to somewhere Dillard can be guaranteed for them to pick. Otherwise, they must resign themselves in missing out on Dillard to preserve draft capital.
If the draft had taken place on April 1st, the choice would have been simple. Trade up and secure the starting left tackle for the future. Yet, in the wake of Andre Hal’s retirement, the needs elsewhere on the roster at cornerback and starting safety means that using potentially both of the Texans’ second-round picks in a trade up for Dillard cannot be justified. Unfortunately, they may have to miss out on guaranteeing the Dillard selection for the sake of the deeper roster.
For the Houston Texans, the 2019 NFL Draft has the potential to galvanize the franchise firmly into AFC Championship and Super Bowl contention – if their picks are used correctly. The glaring needs at tackle and now safety are the priorities for certain. As last season’s offensive line ineptitude showed through, another season of poor tackle play has the potential of damaging Deshaun Watson as a player as well as his relationship with the franchise as a whole, if his comments after the Wild Card loss are taken into consideration.
In football, any choice that has the ability to affect the franchise quarterback should be viewed with the utmost importance. Although trading the farm away to guarantee picking Andre Dillard and protecting Watson might not be the correct thing to do in the Texans case, every effort should be made to try and select the best pass-protector in the Draft.
If every effort isn’t made, then maintaining Watson’s health will not be the Texans’ only problem in 2019. Perhaps convincing him to stay will be. That is why Andre Dillard may be the Texans’ first-round pick at any cost.