Texans vs. Bears, best prospects
With just a week to go until the 2022 NFL season, two teams are still in contention for the #1 pick in the 2023 draft. Will it be the Houston Texans (2-13-1) or the Chicago Bears (3-13)? when the dust settles on Sunday? And which top prospect could each team take off the board as the first player?
After a poor year for quarterback prospects — only one was picked in the first two rounds last April — there are at least three who could be first off the board this year. And alongside the signal callers, there are several elite defenders who can lay claim to being the best prospects in class and potentially the first player to be taken.
We asked NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid, Texans reporter DJ Bien-Aime, Bears reporter Courtney Cronin and analysis writer Seth Walder 10 questions to find out how all of this could play out on April 27, inclusive of what you should know about the race for number 1 and which prospects could be the top picks. Be sure to check out Reid’s new Round 1 mock draft for his likely picks for both teams. Let’s dive in.
Will the Texans or the Bears claim the top pick?
Walder: The Texans. Houston with a slightly worse record going into last week is a big advantage, but the race is closer than you might think because it’s the Colts. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is more confident the Texans will win in Week 18 (66.7%) than they have been in any other Houston game this season. As a result, FPI makes it a narrow favorite — 55.7% versus Chicago’s 44.3% — to earn the top pick.
Houston can win with either a loss or a tie against Indianapolis or a Chicago win or a tie against Minnesota. Chicago, on the other hand, needs a loss and a win for the Texans to climb to the top. Houston has the tiebreaker on the off chance that both teams finish on the same winning percentage.
How did the Texans end up here? And are you sure Davis Mills isn’t your type at QB?
Bien-Aime: Houston has struggled across the board, posting 4.7 yards per game in bottom place in the league and 5.7 yards per game in 24th place. The nine-game losing streak midseason was the second-longest in franchise history, down from 14 games in 2013. And the team really struggled to finish games too. In five of the Texans’ 13 losses, they were either leading or tied after the third quarter. It doesn’t get done with that.
And yes, the quarterback game wasn’t where it needed to be to win, and it’s clear that Mills isn’t the Texans’ long-term answer — especially since they benched him for Kyle Allen at one point and focused more on it Jeff Driskel relied on a two-QB system down the line. The offense has averaged just 16.1 points (31st), and Mills has thrown 13 interceptions over 14 starts. His 32.9 QBR ranks 30th out of 31 qualified quarterbacks, ahead only of Baker Mayfield.
Mills is a solid NFL backup, but he’s not a long-term starter for the Texans to build on. You’ll have to look at other options this spring.
So it’s quarterback or bust for the Texans with their top pick?
Bien-Aime: Absolutely. That Texans don’t have an answer for position is a major reason they vote so highly, and this should be a strong class to find your man. Over the past two seasons, Houston has ranked 31st in QBR (33.7) and 32nd in yards per dropback (5.5), and this is an excellent opportunity to drastically improve the position’s prospects. Simply put, the Texans’ conversion cannot reach its ceiling if there is no stability at the position.
Something else to consider: Houston also needs some juice and energy. The stadium is half-empty during games, and the Texans need a player to revive the fan base. A future star quarterback could do that.
Who are the quarterbacks that could go for number 1?
Reid: There are three that really stand a chance, and each has their own unique abilities.
First up is Alabama’s Bryce Young, who declared for the draft after the Crimson Tide won their bowl game. Listed at 6 feet and 194 pounds, Young is shorter than the other two, but he has all the other ingredients necessary to become a high-end, next-level passer. One of the better parts of his game is his ability to diagnose weak spots in defense and attack with either his arm or legs. He has excellent balance and plays the game with the same heartbeat no matter the size of the situation.
Then there’s Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, a traditional pocket passer who can see it, read it, and take any throw. When he’s in rhythm, he’s a point guard who can distribute the ball in a timely and accurate manner. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Stroud shows clean footwork and good body mechanics, but he needs to show more as a creator when games fall off schedule.
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And finally, we have Kentucky passer Will Levis. At 6ft 3 and 232 pounds, he has the kind of frame NFL teams covet, and the Wildcats’ offense gave him plenty of experience with pro-style offensive concepts, including game action and experience from both under center and from the shotgun. The ball comes off his hand with a lot of speed too as Levis can get it where it needs to go even if his feet aren’t set up properly. But its sales problems are worrisome. He had at least one in all but three games this season and threw 10 interceptions.
Which of them is the best match for Houston?
Reid: Young. He’s been my QB1 since the summer and I don’t see any change. Houston is still rebuilding that roster with young talent, but general manager Nick Caserio has some young building blocks and two first-round picks in each of the next two drafts.
The Texans clearly lack an identity, and this face-of-the-franchise-type player still hasn’t surfaced. Young would immediately change everything and give the team an instant boost of excitement. He can make all throws and succeed regardless of the supporting cast. He also knows one of their young players, having met 96 times with John Metchie III in Alabama last season. Metchie, Houston’s second-round pick last April, missed the season while being treated for leukemia, but he’s expected to be ready to play in 2023.
The Texans also have a second pick for Round 1, courtesy of the Browns. What is your biggest need outside of QB?
Bien-Aime: There are many weaknesses here – after all, Houston only has two wins – but the inside offensive line is probably their greatest necessity. Their combination of right guard AJ Cann, center Scott Quessenberry and left guard Kenyon Green has given up 22 sacks.
But that’s not a position you’ll see this early in the draft (currently likely No. 12, according to ESPN’s FPI), so I’d expect Houston to add a difference maker in a premium offensive position. Receiver Brandin Cooks leads the team with 593 receiving yards, and nobody has more TD catches than three tight end Jordan Akins. The Texans need to help their new QB!
OK, and what about the bears? How did they end up here despite Justin Fields’ outburst?
Cronin: Yes, they were better, but the talent around Fields was Chicago’s trap. The Bears have the worst passing offense in the league and don’t have a single player with at least 500 receiving yards. Defensively, they rank 29th in running defense (5.0 yards allowed per rush), and no team gives up more points than their average of 27.1 per game. Their Week 17 loss was their ninth consecutive loss, the longest losing streak in franchise history.
This team wasn’t geared up for winning streaks in 2022, and general manager Ryan Poles began a mid-season roster cut by selling linebacker Roquan Smith to Baltimore. However, the Bears are now able to add aggressively through free agency — they have more than $110 million in salary caps in 2023 — and the draft, and they’ve already ticked their biggest and most important box by finding out Fields is the quarterback to build around.
Chances of being number 1
Unlike Houston, Chicago would not be looking at QB with this pick. What is the Bears’ top priority in the draft?
Cronin: Building around fields on offense is key, but the Bears can’t really do that at #1 or #2 based on position value. Georgia’s defensive tackle Jalen Carter could be an option instead as 3 technique is the most important position in Matt Eberflus’ defense. The Bears haven’t demonstrated an ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks (22% of opposing dropbacks, ranked 31st in the NFL) or to stop the run. Designing someone like Carter begins to solve both of those problems.
Offensive line and wide receiver are also among the biggest needs of this team. Aside from wideouts Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and rookie Velus Jones Jr., who can say for sure that the Bears have that position on their roster next year?
Who are the non-QB prospects that could go for No. 1 if the Bears pick there?
Reid: How about Will Anderson Jr., the edge rusher from Alabama? The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder has 27.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss and 129 pressures over the past two seasons. Just keep in mind that the Bears’ leader this season is safety man Jaquan Brisker (four) and it’s obvious this team needs help in that area. Anderson would give the team a reliable edge threat that could develop into a potential centerpiece for the franchise. His combination of pass rush cleverness, hard hands and explosiveness really stands out on tape.
Courtney also mentioned Carter, and Eberflus says in his defense that the 3 technique is the “engine that makes everything work”. At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Carter’s explosiveness and penetrating ability would be a welcome addition.
Teams will try to move up the board for a QB. Would a trade down for Chicago be involved?
Cronin: Absolutely. Chicago has no need for quarterbacks, so it would be in the best position to take the best trade package available and come back from #1 (or #2) while still being able to draft a top defensive player. The bears might not want to go too far down as Carter and Anderson won’t be available for long, but there should be options there.
If Houston falls to No. 2 and wants to call up a certain passer, it may be willing to pay a heavy price to move to No. 1 to ensure that happens and block another team. Teams like Seattle, Indianapolis, Detroit, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Carolina could also all be in the mix to offer a big package to get their man.