C.J. Stroud

Texans Name C.J. Stroud Starting QB

The Texans have officially named C.J. Stroud their starting quarterback. Head coach DeMeco Ryans made the announcement following Houston’s preseason finale against the Saints last night.

The anointment of Stroud was largely a foregone conclusion ever since the Texans made him the No. 2 overall pick of this year’s draft. While the other two clubs that selected QBs in the first round of the draft, the Panthers and Colts, announced their rookie passers as their starting signal-callers some time ago, Ryans clearly wanted to wait until the end of the preseason slate and create some semblance of competition between Stroud and incumbent Davis Mills.

Mills, a 2021 third-rounder, showed some promise in his rookie season but regressed in a big way last year, posting a poor 78.8 quarterback rating and leading the league in interceptions (15). Although the Texans generally suffered from a lack of talent across the roster, it became increasingly clear that Mills was not going to be the team’s franchise QB.

As has been discussed a great deal, Mills threw a touchdown pass to Texans TE Jordan Akins on a fourth-and-20 play in the waning moments of the last game of the 2022 regular season. Mills then hit Akins for a two-point conversion, which gave Houston a 32-31 win over the Colts in what was a meaningless bout for both teams from a postseason perspective. However, the victory dropped the Texans from the No. 1 spot in the draft to No. 2, thereby taking them out of contention for Bryce Young, the quarterback that they reportedly preferred. Young was ultimately selected by the Panthers, who engineered a trade-up with the Bears to acquire him.

After Young came off the board, there was plenty of chatter that Houston would take the top defender in the draft with the No. 2 pick and wait until it was back on the clock with the No. 12 overall selection to take a quarterback, if it took one at all in the first round. By that time, Stroud likely would have been long gone.

As it turned out, of course, the Texans did take Stroud, and then they executed their own trade-up from the No. 12 spot to No. 3 to select Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. So they were able to land their preferred defender and their second-favorite quarterback, and we will soon begin to find out whether the dominos that began to fall with the fateful Mills-Akins touchdown connection will push Houston into a new era of competitiveness.

Stroud spent three years at Ohio State, serving as the starter for the past two seasons. He put together a highly productive campaign in 2021 with 4,435 passing yards and 44 touchdown throws coupled with a 72% completion percentage. After wideouts Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave departed for the NFL, Stroud’s 2022 stats regressed a bit, but he still performed well enough to become a Heisman finalist and cement his status as one of the top passers in the 2023 class.

In his first preseason game against the Patriots, Stroud struggled against New England’s pass rush. He completed two of four passes for 13 yards, threw an interception, and took a 15-yard sack. He showed some improvement in the second preseason contest against the Dolphins, completing seven of 12 passes for 60 yards, and in last night’s finale against New Orleans, he completed two of four throws, including the first TD pass of his career.

“I thought [Stroud] did a really good job tonight, and continued to progress,” Ryans said (h/t Grant Gordon of NFL.com). “Had a good week last week against Miami, and to come back out this week, the ball placement was very nice.”

As Stroud is known more for his pocket presence than his athletic abilities, the ball placement that Ryans referenced and general polish as a passer is what the young QB will need to be successful at the professional level.

“I’m still going to work like the way I’ve been working, even more now,” Stroud said. “I’m blessed to be a starter so young in this league, which isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I know my coaches have faith and trust in me, and I’ll go out there and try to do my best.”

Stroud’s regular season debut will come against the Ravens in Baltimore on September 10.

Seahawks Sign Round 1 CB Devon Witherspoon, Wrap Draft Class Deals

This rookie class did produce a negotiation that led to a high-profile draftee missing part of training camp, but the Seahawks are ending that brief chapter Friday. No. 5 overall pick Devon Witherspoon agreed to terms with the team on his four-year rookie deal, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

With Witherspoon under contract on a deal worth $31.86MM fully guaranteed and containing a fifth-year option, all 2023 draftees are now signed. The payment schedule of the cornerback’s $20.2MM signing bonus served as the final hurdle for the sides to clear, Brady Henderson of ESPN.com tweets.

The three quarterbacks drafted ahead of Witherspoon — Bryce Young (No. 1), C.J. Stroud (No. 2) and Anthony Richardson (No. 4) — received 100% of their bonuses paid up front, per Henderson, who adds Will Anderson Jr. received 85% of his bonus upfront (Twitter link). Last year’s Seahawks first-rounder — No. 9 overall pick Charles Cross — received 75% of his signing bonus paid in the first six weeks, Henderson tweets, providing a glimpse into how the Seahawks prefer to structure their first-rounders’ deals.

With this minor issue in the rearview mirror, the Seahawks can get to work on deploying their top pick. The team deviated from a long-running strategy of not using high draft choices on corners. Under the Pete CarrollJohn Schneider regime, Seattle had not used a first- or second-round pick on this position. Other than Richard Sherman‘s 2014 extension, the team had also generally avoided big payments here as well. Despite Carroll believed to be on board with a high-risk Jalen Carter bet, the Seahawks chose the Illinois corner, whom the Lions were eyeing at No. 6.

A four-year contributor for the Fighting Illini, Witherspoon showed off his defensive ability in 2021 when he finished with nine pass breakups. He replicated that success with 14 PBUs (in addition to three interceptions and 41 tackles) this past year. The 5-foot-11 corner parlayed that success into becoming this year’s first corner chosen. The Seahawks, who moved into the Witherspoon draft slot via their 2022 Russell Wilson trade with the Broncos, will pair the rookie with 2022 rookie standout Tariq Woolen.

Here is Seattle’s 2023 draft class:

Round 1, No. 5 (from Broncos): Devon Witherspoon, CB (Illinois) (signed)
Round 1, No. 20: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR (Ohio State) (signed)
Round 2, No. 37 (from Broncos): Derick Hall, DE (Auburn) (signed)
Round 2, No. 52: Zach Charbonnet, RB (UCLA) (signed)
Round 4, No. 108 (from Broncos): Anthony Bradford, G (LSU) (signed)
Round 4, No. 123: Cameron Young, DT (Mississippi State) (signed)
Round 5, No. 151 (from Steelers): Mike Morris, DE (Michigan) (signed)
Round 5, No. 154: Olusegun Oluwatimi, C (Michigan) (signed)
Round 6, No. 198: Jerrick Reed II, S (New Mexico) (signed)
Round 7, No. 237: Kenny McIntosh, RB (Georgia) (signed)

Texans Sign QB C.J. Stroud, Complete Draft Class Deals

The final Texans’ rookie to sign his initial NFL contract was the player the team selected before the rest of its class. Quarterback C.J. Stroud is now on the books, meaning all of Houston’s rookies have been signed in time for training camp.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that Stroud’s four-year, $36.3MM deal includes a signing bonus of $23.38MM. In addition to being fully guaranteed like all first-round contracts, the bonus will be paid in full right away, Rapoport adds. That marks a first in Texans history, as the franchise now has its presumed long-term signal-caller under contract through 2026 (or 2027, if the fifth-year option is picked up down the road).

Stroud entered the 2022 college season seen as a contender with Bryce Young to be deemed the top quarterback in the class and as such, to hear his name called first overall on draft day. The latter was ultimately selected with the No. 1 pick by the Panthers, leaving the Texans with the option of adding Stroud or moving in a different direction with the first of their two Day 1 picks.

Houston – one of the teams which explored a trade with the Bears for the No. 1 pick – was said to be high on edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. in the build-up to the draft. It appeared increasingly likely at one point that the Texans would forgo selecting a QB to instead add to their pass rush. In the end, though, the team did select Stroud at No. 2 before making a blockbuster trade up to the third slot to draft Anderson. Expectations will be high for both players now and in the future.

Stroud spent three years at Ohio State, serving as the starter for the past two seasons. He put together a highly productive campaign in 2021 with 4,435 yards and 44 touchdown passes coupled with a 72% completion percentage. After wideouts Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave departed for the NFL, Stroud’s 2022 stats took a slight step back, but they were still sufficient to make him a Heisman finalist and cement his status as one of the 2023 class’ top passers.

Known more for his pocket presence than his athletic abilities, the former Buckeye is expected to start from Day 1 on a Texans team which has a new coaching staff but a front office led by GM Nick Caserio who is facing increased pressure. Owner Cal McNair pushed back against the idea that he had an influence in the Stroud pick, but all parties involved will benefit from improvement during the 2023 season.

Here is a final look at the Texans’ 2023 draft class:

Round 1, No. 2: C.J. Stroud, QB (Ohio State) (signed)
Round 1, No. 3 (from Cardinals): Will Anderson Jr., LB (Alabama) (signed)
Round 2, No. 62: (from Eagles): Juice Scruggs, C (Penn State) (signed)
Round 3, No. 69 (from Rams): Nathaniel Dell, WR (Houston) (signed)
Round 4, No. 109 (from Raiders): Dylan Horton, DE (TCU) (signed)
Round 5, No. 167 (from Rams): Henry To’oTo’o, LB (Alabama) (signed)
Round 6, No. 201 (from Vikings): Jarrett Patterson, C (Notre Dame) (signed)
Round 6, No. 205 (from Bills): Xavier Hutchinson, WR (Iowa State) (signed)
Round 7, No. 248 (from Eagles): Brandon Hill, S (Pittsburgh) (signed)

AFC South Rumors: Titans, Anderson, Jags

While we are more than two months away from offensive linemen working in pads, the Titans are in the process of determining first-rounder Peter Skoronski‘s position. They are cross-training the No. 11 overall pick at tackle and guard. Skoronski only played tackle at Northwestern, but plenty of pre-draft buzz pointed to a future at guard in the NFL. Arm measurements affected Skoronski’s pre-draft perception, and the Tennesseean’s Nick Suss notes the Titans were alternating possessions of the rookie at tackle and guard during their rookie minicamp.

In Nicholas Petit-Frere and free agent signing Andre Dillard, the team looks to have its two starting tackles in place. The Titans gave the ex-Eagles first-rounder a three-year, $29MM deal, despite Dillard having never commandeered an Eagles starting job, that includes $10MM fully guaranteed. For 2023, at least, this setup points to Skoronski at guard alongside Daniel Brunskill and Aaron Brewer on a new-look Titans line.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • Veering back toward C.J. Stroud after weeks of pre-draft reports indicated they were drifting in another direction, the Texans ended up with their coveted edge rusher (Will Anderson Jr.) via a monster trade-up with the Cardinals as well. They became the first team to make two top-three picks in a draft since Washington in 2000. The Texans held pre-draft meetings about how to obtain a quarterback and a pass rusher with their Nos. 2 and 12 picks, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Texans ownership was believed to be more involved this year, though Cal McNair denied influencing GM Nick Caserio to select a quarterback. The trade cost Houston what may well be a top-five pick in 2024, giving Cardinals fans a reason to follow this Texans season, so the AFC South team will bank on Anderson having an All-Pro future.
  • Regarding Anderson, DeMeco Ryans said his top pass rusher will operate primarily out of a three-point stance on the edge. The Texans have used a 3-4 base defense for years, dating back to J.J. Watt‘s heyday, but Ryans played in a 4-3 look in Houston and used it as his base alignment in San Francisco. Anderson worked primarily as a linebacker at Alabama. “It’s not a huge position change for Will,” Ryans said, via HoustonTexans.com’s Deepi Sidhu. “Will will be an edge defender for us, and that’s what he did at Alabama. Mostly at Alabama he was standing up. We’ll have him down in a three-point stance.” As sub-packages now rule the NFL, the line between a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 defensive end has blurred over the past several years, making this a standard switch for the prized edge prospect.
  • Ryan Cowden finished last season as the Titans‘ interim general manager. The veteran executive is no longer listed on the team’s website as part of the front office (h/t Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky). This marks a quiet exit for Cowden, who worked alongside Mike Vrabel atop the Titans’ decision-making structure after GM Jon Robinson‘s firing. Ran Carthon has since taken over in Tennessee. Cowden had been with the Titans since Robinson’s 2016 hire. Prior to that, he spent 16 years in the Panthers’ scouting department. Having interviewed for several GM jobs over the past few years — including the Tennessee vacancy — Cowden should have an opportunity to catch on elsewhere soon.
  • The Texans have bumped Tom Hayden to their college scouting director post, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 notes. Previously the team’s college scouting coordinator, Hayden remains with the team despite arriving during the short-lived Brian Gaine GM tenure.
  • Jaguars cornerback Chris Claybrooks was hit with two misdemeanor charges — domestic assault with bodily injury and vandalism under $1,000 — last month stemming from an incident in Nashville. Authorities have dropped each charge due a settlement being reached, Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com notes. Claybrooks allegedly grabbed his ex-girlfriend’s arm and threw her cellphone to the ground.

Cal McNair Denies Influencing Texans’ C.J. Stroud Pick

For weeks leading up to the draft, reports both connected the Texans to a pivot toward a pass rusher at No. 2 overall and having placed a value gap between Bryce Young and the field. The team then taking C.J. Stroud second overall but still trading back up from No. 12 to land Will Anderson Jr. has led to speculation regarding ownership’s role in this year’s draft.

Ahead of Nick Caserio‘s third draft as Houston’s GM, Texans ownership was believed to be more involved compared to the team’s first two Caserio-era drafts. Cal McNair did his best to shoot down rumors of his fingerprints being on the Stroud pick.

Hannah [McNair] and I don’t make the picks. We’ll make it clear there,” McNair said, via ESPN.com’s DJ Bien-Aime. “We have a great group of scouts led by Nick and [assistant player personnel director] James [Liipfert]. They did a lot of work on the draft board, and then they followed that on draft day, and they moved up when they saw the value was there and moved back.”

Value regarding the Anderson trade-up is not a consensus view, as the Texans gave up No. 33 and 2024 first- and third-round picks to climb up for a non-quarterback. Considering how valuable the Texans’ draft slot has been from 2021-23 (No. 3, No. 3, No. 2), the Cardinals obtaining that pick could be viewed as a coup by the rebuilding team. But the Texans — as they were linked to doing for weeks ahead of the draft — prioritized an edge rusher and now have their most significant investment at that position, should J.J. Watt be classified as an interior pass rusher, since selecting Mario Williams first overall in 2006.

Stroud always seemed like the conventional choice at No. 2. The Panthers were believed to have made their early trade-up maneuver with the thought of selecting either Young or Stroud at 1. Young emerged as the runaway leader to lead off the draft, but Stroud was also viewed as a safer pick compared to Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. The Texans punted on a major quarterback investment in 2021, when Deshaun Watson spent the year as a healthy scratch amid his off-field trouble, and 2022. The team chose Davis Mills in the 2021 third round and did not make a notable investment last year, pointing to a 2023 move.

McNair attempted to make clear he did not mandate a quarterback pick, and selecting a QB represented by Watson’s agent — David Mulugheta — lends more support to the owner’s claim. This comes a bit after Caserio denied rumors he would leave the Texans after the draft. But Caserio departure rumblings surfaced late last season as well. He remains in power despite making two HCs one-and-dones to start his GM tenure, and Stroud’s development will obviously be worth monitoring regarding the Texans’ big-picture status.

Latest On Cards’ Trades With Texans, Titans

A key party in a few teams’ early-round draft machinations, the Cardinals played a particularly important role in what could be long-term AFC South roster construction. They made deals with both the Texans and Titans, equipping each with potential 2020s pillars.

Both teams discussed prospective trades with the Cardinals before the draft. The Titans did not have to give up what it would have cost to move from No. 11 to No. 3 — a climb Tennessee was continually connected to attempting — but they had C.J. Stroud in mind. The new Texans quarterback was the Titans’ target at No. 3, with Albert Breer of SI.com confirming the team dropped out of trade talks after Houston took the Ohio State passer at 2.

The Titans were viewed as high on Stroud, and with the Texans believed to be planning to take a momentous risk — tabling their quarterback need yet again to select an edge rusher — it looked like Tennessee could have a clear path to trading up for its preferred passer. But Nick Caserio confirmed (via NBC Sports’ Peter King) his team had decided on Stroud at No. 2. That decision ran counter to just about every Texans-centric report leading up to the draft. Though, reports of Houston’s defensive end intent were not entirely inaccurate, given how the team proceeded at No. 3.

Although Caserio taking Stroud at No. 2 removed a buyer for 3 in the Titans, the Texans still traded a monster haul to land the Cardinals’ No. 3 choice. Houston gave up No. 33, along with first- and third-round picks in 2024. The Texans held two 2024 firsts, thanks to the historic Deshaun Watson package, and Houston’s first — not Cleveland’s — now belongs to Arizona. The Texans’ lengthy rebuild process has involved top-three draft real estate in each of the past three drafts, running a risk the team gave a prime draft asset for a non-quarterback in Will Anderson Jr. Two of the three Browns first-rounders acquired in the Watson trade ended up going toward Anderson.

Caserio and former Patriots coworker Monti Ossenfort had engaged in pre-draft talks about a trade involving the Nos. 3 and 12 picks, Breer adds, and King confirms the Cards and Texans agreed to the swap with “close to a minute left” on the clock.

It helped that I had a personal relationship with Nick Caserio in Houston,” Ossenfort said during an appearance on the Dave Pasch Podcast (via AZCardinals.com). “… There was some back and forth there and the clock’s going, the clock’s going, and I think it was around two-and-a-half minutes where we have a couple of [different] deals up written up on the board [with] a couple of teams and it’s ‘OK, Nick, I think we’re at a spot where we are close here. It’s this and this for this, this and this. Are you in?’ ‘Yeah, I’m in.’ And it’s ‘OK, great, call it in.'”

Ossenfort had planned on trading back up and called multiple teams in order to secure Paris Johnson draft real estate. After talks with fellow former coworker Dave Ziegler did not produce a deal with the Raiders, Ossenfort found a taker in the Lions, allowing them to avoid taking Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 6.

The Cardinals and Titans revisited their talks Friday, and GM Ran Carthon pivoted to the freefalling Will Levis. The Titans had discussed a deal to move back into Round 1, with Levis as the target, with Breer adding they discussed the move with the Bills — at No. 27 — late Thursday night. The Titans were one of many teams trying to move back into the first round, and teams also made offers to the Steelers for 32. The Titans may well have been one of those to send the Steelers a proposal for 32, but they ended up trading 2023 and 2024 third-rounders to climb eight spots to 33 for the Kentucky QB.

This draft brought some notable what-ifs regarding the non-Jaguars wing of the AFC South, seeing as the Colts were tied to Levis for weeks only to have been preparing an Anthony Richardson pick for a while. Should Stroud, Richardson and Levis become surefire starters, this will certainly go down as one of the most pivotal drafts in the AFC South’s 22-year history.

Texans Acquire No. 3 From Cardinals, Select LB Will Anderson Jr.

After selecting C.J. Stroud with the second overall pick, the Texans are also moving up to No. 3. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter), Houston has acquired the third overall pick from the Cardinals. The Texans will use that selection on Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter passes along the terms of the trade (via Twitter). The Texans have acquired picks No. 3 and No. 105 while sending Arizona picks No. 12, No. 33, a 2024 first-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick.

This move comes as little surprise given previous reporting on the Texans’ desire to add Anderson, seen by some as the top defender in the class (and, more generally, their intention of trading up from No. 12). Many felt he could be the second overall pick, but Houston has been aggressive in ensuring it acquired Anderson while also adding a franchise QB.

While the team got there in a roundabout way — one that cost considerable draft capital — it landed its quarterback and prized edge defender. The team was believed to be deciding between Anderson and Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, who ended up going to the Raiders at No. 7. Houston’s trade-up certainly showed what the franchise thinks of the ex-Crimson Tide star. Anderson is likely to take on a large role in the team’s defense right away, given his track record from college.

The junior won the Bronko Nagurski award in each of the past two years as the top defender in the country. Anderson had massive production in 2021 with 17.5 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. Those figures took a dip this past season, though, to 10 and 17 respectively. Still, Anderson racked up a number of individual accolades and projects as the safest option in a deep edge-rushing group this year. He should be a mainstay early on in his career with the Texans, a team which already looks much different than it did at the start of the day.

For the Cardinals, it comes as no surprise that they have moved down the board. Arizona is likely headed for a rebuild, so adding capital both this year and next outweighs the benefit which Anderson (or another high-end defender) would present. They will wait to see what options take shape at No. 12, though an impact rookie will surely be available regardless of how the board shakes out.

Texans Select QB C.J. Stroud With At No. 2

The Texans sent out some smokescreens in recent weeks regarding their No. 2 selection, but the organization ultimately landed on the expected pick. With the second overall pick, Houston has selected Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud.

Expectations had grown recently that Houston — thought to be much higher on Bryce Young than any other passer — was considering the option of selecting a defender rather than Stroud. The fact that the Texans also own pick No. 12 could have given them the opportunity to address the QB spot later on, but they have taken no chances and added one of the safest prospects in the class. They have also proven a willingness to add a passer represented by David Mulugheta, the agent who also has Deshaun Watson as a client.

Stroud started for two years, leading the Buckeyes to considerable success in the process. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2021 and 2022, totaling 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns. His lack of rushing prowess has been named as a critique, but the 6-3, 214-pounder is generally thought to be the best pure passer in the crop of 2023 signal-callers.

That will position him to start from Day 1 for the Texans, an organization which has cycled through three head coached in the past three years. Stability on the field and under center represents a major priority, and the hire of DeMeco Ryans should provide the former. Stroud gives Houston a strong chance in the latter department, as the Texans look to take a needed step forward on offense in 2023.

Houston ranked 25th in the league in passing yards last season, with an average of 197 passing yards per game. The addition of Stroud should produce an improvement in efficiency and production through the air, while they look for a franchise signal-caller to establish a long-term presence. How this move affects the rest of the QB board will be a key storyline as the rest of the first round unfolds.

Texans Likely To Draft DE At No. 2 Overall; Latest On C.J. Stroud

The Davis Mills-to-Jordan Akins fourth-and-20 touchdown connection may go down as one of the more impactful plays in Texans history. That Week 18 sequence, which led to the Texans falling out of the No. 1 draft slot, ended up allowing the Panthers access to Bryce Young, a player by most accounts Houston would have taken if given the opportunity.

While the Texans attempted to trade up to No. 1 with the Bears, the team settling on a second-best quarterback option continues to look unlikely at No. 2. Houston going with either Will Anderson Jr. or Tyree Wilson is the more likely scenario compared to the team selecting C.J. Stroud at that spot, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 notes.

[RELATED: Who Will Texans Take At No. 2 Overall?]

The team brought Stroud in for a pre-draft visit, attended the Ohio State prospect’s pro day, interviewed him at the Combine and, per Wilson, has spent time considering how it would obtain a quarterback after passing on one at No. 2. But the Texans drafting Stroud would be a “major surprise” at this point, according to Wilson.

Momentum has headed in this direction for weeks, with Stroud falling from potential Panthers pick at No. 1 to a player with an uncertain destination. The Texans obviously have a quarterback need, and while Wilson adds the team’s past with David Mulugheta — Deshaun Watson‘s agent and Stroud’s representative — will not determine the team’s stance on Stroud, the ex-Buckeyes starter appears likely to remain on the board at No. 3 overall. As should be expected, GM Nick Caserio (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter) doubled down on Stroud’s agent not being part of the team’s decision-making.

Regarding Stroud’s potential landing spot, Wilson adds the Titans — via a trade-up with the Cardinals at No. 3 — are rumored to be exploring a move up to select him. Peter Schrager’s NFL.com mock draft projects the Titans to make that move as well.

The Titans have been viewed as Stroud fans for a bit now, and Schrager cites Mike Vrabel‘s relationship with Ohio State HC Ryan Day as one that helps Justin Fields‘ Buckeyes successor here. Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds is also believed to back Stroud, which could well lead to the Cardinals having a taker for a trade-up, as Indianapolis holds the No. 4 overall pick tonight. The Titans were mentioned weeks ago as having explored a trade into the No. 3 position; this appears to be a realistic scenario. Though, it probably will not take place until the Texans make their choice at 2.

The Texans are not expected to select Will Levis or Anthony Richardson at 2; the Texans did not host the Florida prospect on a visit. The team does have high opinion of Hendon Hooker, per Wilson, but the Tennessee prospect does not appear to be in the team’s first-round plans at either No. 2 or No. 12. The Vikings, who hold the No. 23 overall pick, have been mentioned as a potential Hooker destination. The two-year Volunteers starter, who suffered an ACL tear in November, expects to be cleared by Week 1.

An Anderson-or-Wilson decision looks to be where Houston’s process concludes. Mentioned as being open to trading down, the Texans are not expected to do so, Aaron Wilson adds. Questions about Anderson’s ceiling remain a factor here, per Aaron Wilson, who lends more credence to Tyree Wilson as being a higher-ceiling player (and a prospect who, at 271 pounds, would better fit DeMeco Ryans‘ 4-3 scheme compared to Anderson, at 253). The Texans are believed to have cleared the Texas Tech prospect, who suffered a Lisfranc fracture late in the Red Raiders’ season. Schrager mocks Anderson, whom a GM calls the “safest pick in the draft,” to Houston.

AFC South Notes: Colts, QBs, Texans, Titans

While the Texans may be torn on a quarterback pick, the Colts are a near-lock to select a passer with their first choice. It is now possible every passer but Bryce Young will be available for Indianapolis at No. 4, which would put the retooling team to a decision. The Colts-Will Levis connection may be this draft’s second-strongest tie — after the Panthers-Young match — but Albert Breer of SI.com notes assistant GM Ed Dodds is high on C.J. Stroud. Dodds has been with Indy since 2017, becoming Chris Ballard‘s top lieutenant soon after the GM’s arrival.

Ballard, whom Breer adds was high on Levis beginning back in the fall, also is believed to place value on the increasingly popular S2 cognition test; Stroud’s low score has been leaked. Another team moving into the Texans or Cardinals’ spots could end up making the decision for the Colts, but if no trades emerge, Indy might have a fascinating Stroud-or-Levis decision on its hands. The two seem to be trending in opposite directions, but the Ohio State prospect has received higher grades — by scouting outlets and anonymous evaluators — as a prospect.

Here is the latest from the AFC South:

  • With the Texans set for a complex call at No. 2 overall, not much has emerged regarding their No. 12 choice. But Houston, in the wake of the latest Brandin Cooks trade, may be targeting receiving help. Of the receivers, the Texans prefer Jaxon Smith-Njigba, per the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora. Despite missing almost all of his junior season, Smith-Njigba has regained momentum and has the best chance to be the top wideout of the board. With the Packers (No. 13) and Jets (No. 15) connected to the one-year Buckeyes wonder, the Texans could outflank their potential competition. John Metchie is back at work for the Texans, after missing 2022 following a leukemia diagnosis, but the team dealt Cooks to the Cowboys and did not do too much — the Robert Woods pickup notwithstanding — to replace him. The Texans are also considering moving down from No. 12, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who adds teams are not too interested in moving to 2.
  • One of the teams lurking as a trade-up candidate to outflank the Colts, the Titans are now being linked to trading back and accumulating picks. Both La Canfora and ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler indicate buzz has emerged tying Tennessee to a trade-down effort from No. 11. Yes, with a few exceptions, most teams are willing to move up or down in each draft. But the Titans do have a decision to make regarding their QB future. The team toured prospects’ pro days but did not exhaust “30” visit resources at the position. Stroud is believed to be the Titans’ preference — assuming Young is out of the equation — and La Canfora views Titans trade-down talk as a smokescreen effort. Tennessee is believed to have dangled Ryan Tannehill in trades.
  • Although Jeffery Simmons staged a minicamp hold-in effort last year and lobbied for a new deal, Breer writes the Titans did not consider trading the standout defensive lineman. Ownership also assured Simmons, who since-fired GM Jon Robinson drafted in the 2019 first round, he was a long-term priority despite Robinson’s ouster, TitanInsider.com’s Terry McCormick tweets. The Titans made Simmons the NFL’s second-highest-paid defensive tackle, at $23.5MM per year, and gave him the highest D-tackle guarantee. Simmons is also coming off ankle surgery; the fifth-year standout said he underwent a cleanup procedure this offseason.
  • Jimmie Ward‘s issues with a return to cornerback last season became well known, but the longtime 49ers defender — after being moved to nickel corner again in-season — said he told DeMeco Ryans he expected last season to his his San Francisco finale. But Ward said (via KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson) Ryans communicated to him he would be interested in bringing the veteran defender to his HC destination. Ryans followed through on that, with the Texans signing Ward to a two-year, $13MM deal. Ward is back at safety.
  • Jaguars fourth-year cornerback Chris Claybrooks faces misdemeanor charges of domestic assault with bodily injury and vandalism under $1,000 stemming from an arrest earlier this month in Nashville, Jacksonville.com’s Gerry Smits reports. Claybrooks allegedly grabbed his ex-girlfriend’s arm and threw her cellphone to the ground.