The Houston Texans started off the history of their franchise with the fantasy tandem of David Carr, Jonathan Wells, Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney all the way to a 4-12 record, a record typically expected of an expansion franchise in its first season. However, the potential was there for a competitive first season and this proves it possible without including the free agents of that off season.
Sure its possible to rewrite every draft so that your team ends up with players such as Tom Brady and Anquan Boldin but in this case, the picks were entirely based upon a reworked expansion draft that let guys like Tony Boselli go and brought in guys like Willie McGinest and Reuben Droughns (Remember this was 2002 not today's semi-washed up versions).
Charley Casserly at the time of the expansion draft claimed to not target any player over 30 for hopes of keeping the teams salary cap intact and building for the future. However we see in 2008 that maybe he should have simply taken the best players available.
Here's what I came up with, not perfect, probably could be better, might not have made the playoffs, I'm not even a Texans fan, but hey what the heck.
Sure Charlie Batch isn't exactly the ideal mentor for your young quarterback but he's a definite improvement over the Texans selection of Danny Wuerffel. Batch has posted a 88.5 rating during his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers and David Garrard's numbers speak for themselves. Even in years of quarterback controversy with Byron Leftwich has posted a 87.7 career quarterback rating and actually led the Detroit Lions to a winning season. David Carr is an enticing first pick but then again look at Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith, the first pick is not always guaranteed.
Reuben Droughns was a season away from posting a 1,200+ yard season while Clinton Portis has put together a stellar career despite injuries. It just seems ridiculous that 4th Round Pick Jonathan Wells was the team's leading rusher.
FB- Kyle Johnson- 5th Round Pick
Kyle Johnson isn't the greatest fullback in the world but was an important part of the Denver Broncos running game for just over three seasons especially during the 2005 season. Sure there were better players on the draft board but in all fairness to this experiment, there was not a legitimate full back available in the expansion draft, and typically full backs begin being targeted in the 5th round of the draft.
I had to refrain from simply picking the best receivers available but at this time Keenan McCardell still had a 2003 Pro Bowl campaign on the way and Troy Edwards went on to post just over 1,000 yards the next two seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's definently improvement over Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney (Tom Brady-less Jabar Gaffney).
TE- Jeb Puzier- 6th Round Pick
Jeb Putzier did eventually end up playing for the Houston Texans but posted solid numbers during his years with the Denver Broncos. I could have swiped Jeremy Shockey early on but this seemed like a safer pick at not necessarily an essential position for a building team and an improvement over Jabari Holloway.
Roman Oben and Ryan Tucker are not elite tackles by any sense but were at least qualified NFL starters unlike some of the members of the lines that probably resulted in David Carr's future brain failure ( or current for any Panthers fans). Roman Oben blocked for LaDainian Tomlinson during a successful 2002 rushing season while Ryan Tucker is an odd character who tested positive for steroids and had a strange undisclosed brain ailment but despite all that he helped hold down (or at least be a member of) Cleveland Browns' offensive line for multiple seasons.
Justin Hartwig has been a solid contributer to the offensive lines in Tennessee and Carolin a since 2002. Zach Wiegert did eventually join the Houston Texans and has played multiple spots along the offensive line for them.
C- Audre Gurode- 2nd Round Pick
Audre Gurode has played in multiple spots along the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line but his play at center has earned him Pro Bowl and All Pro recognition.
This is the one position that seems almost super-human like many re-written draft boards. However in all fairness, the best two defensive ends available in the Expansion Draft were Juqua Thomas and Rob Burnett. I think Mario Williams have helped to prove that there's nothing wrong with drafting a defensive end number one and Julius Peppers' numbers are significantly better than David Carr's production no matter how you look at it
DT- Gary Walker- Expansion Draft, Seth Payne- Expansion Draft
Texans took both in Expansion draft, I couldn't find a better alternative.
LB- Willie McGinest- Expansion Draft, Mark Fields- Expansion Draft, Jamie Sharper- Expansion Draft
Willie McGinest still had a 2003 Pro Bowl campaign on the way and Jamie Sharper continued to put up good numbers after 2002. Mark Fields was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease before the 2003 season but his 7.5 sacks in 2002 and Pro Bowl trip in 2004 warrants the pick in my consideration, and come on is there a better guy in the locker room?
There were better guys available in the draft but the expansion draft supplied solid cornerbacks for 2002. Aaron Glenn received All Pro recognition that season and Marcus Coleman picked off 7 passes the next season.
I'm guessing the Texans would address this position more if this was their situation in free agency. Chris Hope has put up solid numbers but Bobby Gray never started a full season during his career.
This doesn't amount to an undefeated season but at the time would have presented a better start than 4-12 and more overall talent on the roster. There are decisions that could be analyzed on a deeper level but the fact that I skipped the free agency stage for a team in its first season means it probably would be improved on anyway if in fact the Texans had made each of these decisions, and yeah, I know I have the gift of being able to look back here giving me an unfair advantage, but what's sports without "what ifs".