Andre Johnson is one of the premier receivers in the NFL.
In a 10-year career, the Houston Texan has made six Pro Bowls and caught 818 passes for 11,254 yards and 56 touchdowns, but Johnson, who turns 32 in July, needs help. Badly.
And when a contending team like the Texans is perhaps a single addition away from making its first Super Bowl, grabbing that needed wide receiver shapes up as priority No. 1 in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday.
Houston should have a wide array at options at the position. West Virginia scooter Tavon Austin is the only wideout who surely will be off the board when the Texans’ turn comes up at No. 27.
Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins was the pick in the American-Statesman’s last mock draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Houston taking Robert Woods of Southern Cal. CBSSports.com’s mocks have the Texans taking either of Tennessee’s two receivers, Justin Hunter or Cordarrelle Patterson.
Here’s the catch: Texans general manager Rick Smith has been highly successful in making quality picks, and his philosophy is always to take the best player on the board, regardless of position.
“We won’t waver from that,” Smith said. “We look for quality and value.”
Houston’s past five No. 1 picks are productive starters, four on the defensive side.
“If you panic because you’ve got a need here or there, you may make a mistake,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “We’ve got certain spots we can improve upon very quickly, but you can’t push the envelope, so to speak.”
Still, Houston needs to draft a receiver with a prime pick. There’s no getting around that, but if the Texans don’t like the options available at No. 27, they might try to move back and pick up a wideout. Or select one with their second-round pick.
“We are always open to trades,” Smith said. “We’ve done that quite a bit.”
Eight times in six years, to be exact.
Woods is probably the most NFL-ready receiver outside of Austin. He had 252 catches for 2,930 yards and 32 touchdowns at USC.
Hopkins, who had 1,405 yards on 82 catches with 18 TDs last year, is more explosive than Woods. Patterson has the highest upside of the bunch (outside of Austin) but also is the rawest.
Smith mentioned tight end as a need, too, along with interior help on the offensive and defensive lines. Houston also could add an outside linebacker.
ESPN’s Todd McShay is one of the few not to have the Texans taking a wide receiver, instead going with Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson. Syracuse tackle Justin Pugh and Oregon guard Kyle Long also could be first-round possibilities for Houston.
TEXANS’ DRAFT NEEDS
1. Wide receiver: Nobody in the group of Lestar Jean, Keshawn Martin and Jeff Maehl is a No. 2 receiver. And DeVier Posey, a third-rounder from Ohio State last year, has a torn Achilles’ tendon. So this looks like a good place to start.
Possible picks: DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), Robert Woods (USC), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee), Keenan Allen (Cal)
2. Offensive line: The retooled group did well last year, but RT Derek Newton, a seventh-rounder in 2011, is a work in progress and right guard could be a bit of a concern.
Possible 2nd-round picks: Terron Armstead (Ark.-Pine Bluff T), Larry Warford (Kentucky G), Brian Winters (Kent State G)
3. Linebacker: ILB Brian Cushing’s ACL tear last season in Week 5 really hurt the defense. He’s back, but will he be 100 percent? Or the Texans might search for an upgrade for Darryl Sharpton or Brooks Reed.
Possible 3rd-round picks: Khaseem Greene (Rutgers), John Simon (Ohio State), Jon Bostic (Florida), A.J. Klein (Iowa State)
Texans’ draft picks
Round 1, pick 27
Round 2, pick 57
Round 3, pick 89
Round 3, pick 95
Round 4, pick 124
Round 5, pick 160
Round 6, pick 195
Round 6, pick 201
Round 7, pick 233