Texans' rebuild started well before C.J. Stroud, DeMeco Ryans arrived in Houston

C.J. Stroud threw for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns in his playoff debut.
C.J. Stroud threw for 274 yards and 3 touchdowns in his playoff debut. / Tim Warner/GettyImages

The Texans are the hottest young team in the NFL right now. Fresh off a 45-14 victory in their first playoff game in three years, C.J. Stroud is a lock for Offensive Rookie of the Year, DeMeco Ryans is a leading candidate for Coach of the Year and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik is swimming in interview requests from teams that want to make him their next head coach. It is a good time to be Houston.

It is hard to imagine feeling that way just a year ago. At the end of the 2022 NFL regular season, Texans fans were mad at soon-to-be fired head coach Lovie Smith for winning a meaningless game to close the season, costing the Texans the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.

Houston appeared to be in a deep hole with no way out. It was the Texans' third straight season with four or fewer wins. They were about to fire their head coach for the third straight year as well. During the previous offseason, the team traded away disgruntled franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was in the midst of a sexual misconduct scandal. Even with all the additional draft capital, it seemed like the franchise was years away from being competitive.

As it turned out, the much-maligned front office had actually been laying the groundwork for a resurgence for the past few years. General Manager Nick Caserio took over in 2021 when Bill O'Brien was fired, he held that role in addition to the title of head coach. The Texans did not have a first or second-round pick in 2021 and only owned five picks total.

Caserio has been quietly nailing drafts for the past few years. He does not get credit for selecting Jonathan Greenard, who was a third-round pick in 2020, but Caserio landed important playmakers in Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan in his first draft, who each scored a touchdown against the Browns. Collins has become a force to be reckoned with. I don't think people realize just how impressive he was this season, posting nearly 1,300 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.

The following year, flush with draft capital from the Watson trade, Caserio restocked his roster at key positions, selecting Derek Stingley Jr., Kenyon Green, Jalen Pitre, John Metchie III and Christian Harris. Stingley has taken a Pro Bowl leap in his second year. Green and Pitre are quality starters. Metchie is still rounding into form after missing his rookie season due to cancer. Harris had a coming-out party with a pick-six against Cleveland, but his transformation under Ryans has been remarkable. Only two years in, the Texans are getting a good return on their investments.

Caserio capped off the three-year rebuild by swinging for the fences. Houston traded future assets to move up to No. 3, taking Will Anderson Jr. That was one spot after the Texans took Stroud. They weren't done though. Caserio added dynamo receiver Tank Dell in the third round and continued to build in the trenches with Juice Scruggs and Jarrett Patterson. Henry To'oTo'o has been a solid contributor as well at linebacker and on special teams. Xavier Hutchinson is starting to grow into a role on offense with injuries piling up at receiver.

Ryans and Stroud deserve tons of credit. They are the first rookie QB-Head Coach duo to win their division in NFL history. Both are up for major awards and look like superstar additions. Giving them all the credit would be overlooking the masterful job Caserio has done rebuilding this roster. This playoff run is far from over and the future looks incredibly bright for this franchise.