With their first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Texans watched as two teams maneuvered in front of them. The final one, Philadelphia, took the player the Texans coveted, Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard, with the 22nd overall pick. It was frankly incredible that the Texans got as close to nabbing Dillard as they did, as I think he probably deserved to go about nine picks earlier. I believe Texans fans will, long-term, have a reason to lament that non-move. At the cost of a couple of lower-round picks, the Texans could have secured an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often: a played they needed at a price that was lower than expected. It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that GM Brian Gaine no-commented on the trade-up situation.
With the 23rd overall pick, the Texans settled on Alabama State’s Tytus Howard, a small-school prospect who went to the Senior Bowl. I will be up front and tell you that this is a harder pick for someone like me to vet because Alabama State game film isn’t falling out of my ears.
Let’s start with the athletic profile. Howard went to the combine and ran a 5.05 40-yard-dash, which is in the 89th percentile among all NFL tackles at the event. However, his 8.49-second three-cone drill time was disastrous — in the sixth percentile of all NFL tackles. His arm length would not sway you to draft him if that was something you were focused on, and outside of the jump, the rest of his combine results were a little mediocre.
I think the athletic profile undersells his game speed. Howard has a real nice initial kick and set, and he can cover ground in a hurry with wide, sweeping strides. He’s got the body to be an NFL left tackle, though I don’t think he’s in Dillard’s class as an overall athlete and believe his athletic profile might falter against the true freaks of the NFL edge rusher corps.
Howard has shown the power to bury SEC linemen on running plays, and from what I saw has enough hustle to get to the second level on an NFL pull or combo block.
It is, as it is for Julien Davenport, an issue of technique. When Howard’s hands are right, he looks incredible:
When Howard’s hands are not good, he gets walked back pretty easily:
I don’t think that’s something extraordinary to point out — I just compare to Dillard who I thought had superhuman recovery ability. Howard really doesn’t have that. In fact, when Howard gets beat, he has a tendency to grab. What I watched of him against Auburn left me thinking he could have been flagged for holding or false starts another two or three times. Here’s the one he was actually called for:
Again, I’m not reinventing the wheel by pointing out that a HBCU tackle might need some work on his technique to become a good NFL player. Lance Zierlein said Howard reminded him of Duane Brown. I think Brown was a cut above Howard as an athlete, but there is definitely upside to grow into.
With Howard it’s going to be about wrangling all those parts to work together, something that was evident even on the small bits that I was able to watch. Even people who do have more reps than me would tell you that they don’t have much. Howard had just 115 college snaps before his senior season.
If the Duane Brown comp excited you, remember that Duane Brown was not good in his first season. In fact, he split time with Ephraim Salaam and often was overmatched.
Don’t necessarily use my skepticism of how the Texans played this draft as a crippling indicator that Howard, himself, is a bad player. I do think Howard is a solid left tackle prospect. But the problem is that the situation the Texans had screamed for them to move up and get the more elite prospect. They’re in a situation where the current linemen are so bad that anybody they picked was destined to see the field early. Dillard is more or less plug-and-play as a pass blocker. I am less sanguine that Howard will be that way. I am open to the idea — mostly because, again, I don’t have a lot of video of him to study. But what I do see leads me to believe he’s not going to come in and be great right away. I think the timeline on Howard being a good NFL player starts in 2020, not 2019.
If Howard is forced into action at left tackle this year, I think Texans fans will lament the situation. I don’t think he’s a finished product. If you want to be super cynical, you can look at the lack of development the Texans have had from their offensive linemen and wonder if this is the kind of player they should be taking a chance on. Nick Martin, Martinas Rankin to this point, Davenport, Xavier Su’a-Filo … it’s not been pretty.
Howard has a chance to be a starting NFL left tackle. My expectations for 2019 are low.