(SportsRadio 610) - Once new Texans coach DeMeco Ryans gets his first staff assembled, he can turn his attention to the roster and start working closely with general manager Nick Caserio, who’s entering his 23rd season in the NFL, including his third with the Texans.
With only six years as an assistant coach with the 49ers, including the last two as defensive coordinator, Ryans needs an experienced talent evaluator. Ryans has two in Caserio and James Liipfert, the assistant director of player personnel and college scouting director who’s going into his sixth season with the Texans.
Caserio and the personnel department have been working on free agency and the draft for months. This is a third consecutive season Caserio will be working with a new head coach. He’ll try to give Ryans everything he needs to improve the team, and Cal and Hannah McNair will provide the resources Caserio needs to sign free agents, draft choices and undrafted free agents.
This is the first time Caserio has entered an offseason without salary cap restrictions. He’s not flush with room under the cap, but he’ll have enough to spend big on a couple of free agents to fill need positions. Caserio has made sure the Texans have a surplus of draft capital with 11 selections this year, including two in the first round, and 10 next year, with another two in the first round.
As he approaches his first season as a head coach, Ryans has a lot of options to fill needs. He’ll rely heavily on Caserio and the scouts, but as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, he participated in draft meetings that helped him gain valuable experience in player evaluation and procurement.
To help the Texans improve their victory totals of four, four and three over the last three seasons that included the firings of coaches Bill O’Brien, David Culley and Lovie Smith, Ryans needs more talent on offense and defense. The Texans had the best special teams in the NFL last season, and that’s one reason it’s essential for Ryans to keep coordinator Frank Ross, who did an exceptional job.
When addressing the Texans’ needs, Ryans needs to look at his offense that finished 31st, including 31st in rushing and 25th in passing. No matter who the new coordinator is, he won’t expect to go into next season with Davis Mills as the starting quarterback. Mills is the only quarterback under contract, and he deserves to be on the team for a third season.
Fans will keep a close eye on what Caserio and Ryans want to do at quarterback. Do they try to sign a veteran they’re both familiar with like Jimmy Garoppolo and use the second overall pick on defensive end Will Anderson Jr. or defensive tackle Jalen Carter? Or do they use their first pick to select one of the top quarterback prospects – Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud?
Caserio must find a second running back the coaches can rely on. Rookie Dameon Pierce is the team’s best playmaker, but the running game took a nosedive when he missed the last four games with an ankle injury. It’s imperative that Caserio finds a back – probably in free agency – who can take some of the load off Pierce. The 49ers had five backs who rushed for more than 230 yards, so Ryans knows the importance of having quality depth at that position. Other than Pierce, the Texans didn’t have a runner with more than 123 yards rushing.
Other needs on offense are a wide receiver, tight end and center. Brandin Cooks has to go even though he has another year left on his contract. Caserio should trade Cooks for whatever he can get. That would leave Nico Collins, who’s missed too many games because of injuries during his first two seasons, as their best receiver. John Metchie III, a second-round pick last year, expects to return after missing his rookie season while undergoing treatment for Leukemia. Metchie’s best position should be in the slot.
Caserio still needs to find at least one more talented receiver to replace Cooks. He may sign a veteran free agent or use a high draft choice on a wide receiver. Or he could do both. It might work out better for Caserio to target a center and tight end in free agency.
With Ryans as the head coach, Caserio could use the 12th overall pick on a defensive player, specifically a lineman, if he takes a quarterback with his first selection. Ryans’ San Francisco defense that allowed the fewest yards and points had three first-round picks among the linemen. He could push for an end or tackle with the draft choice acquired in the trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Defensively, the Texans are desperate to improve their pass rush and their perennially pathetic performance against the run. It’s stupefying that a team can be so dreadful against the run under three different coordinators in three consecutive years. Ryans’ defense with the 49ers was second against the run. If he doesn’t accomplish anything else in his first season, he’ll find a way to improve the league’s worst run defense over the last three years.
As for other defensive needs, whether they’re addressed in free agency or the draft, they need another safety to play opposite Jalen Pitre and another linebacker to play with Christian Harris. And teams can never have too many cornerbacks even though the Texans have impressive depth at that position.
One area Ryans doesn’t need to touch? The kicking game with kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, punter Cam Johnston and snapper Jon Weeks. They were money under pressure.
What Caserio and Ryans do in the draft depends on what needs they fill in free agency. With so much time remaining in the evaluation process, there’s no way to accurately predict what the Texans are going to do, but it sure is going to be exciting to watch them try to get better in Ryans’ first season and the third year of their massive rebuild.
John McClain can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on SportsRadio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He writes three times a week and does two Houtopia Podcasts for SportsRadio610.com. He also can be read four times a week on GallerySports.com.