The narrative on Rick Smith has changed drastically since Bill O’Brien was hired by the Houston Texans.
Texans’ general manager Rick smith has always done two things abundantly well: hit on his first round picks, and find great late round prospects. The only first round miss would be defensive tackle Amobi Akoye, who just never put it all together and had issues staying healthy.
Late round gems often carve out a career no one thought they would. Of these are the likes of cornerback A.J. Bouye, running back Arian Foster, right tackle Derek Newton, safety Andre Hal, and offensive guard Kasey Studdard.
Smith has always been an ultra conservative general manager– that was until head coach Bill O’Brien came to Houston.
It has become apparent in the last three drafts that Smith is not the man he was four years ago during the Gary Kubiak era. Back then, the team rarely traded up and it was not often that you heard about the franchise ‘falling in love’ with a prospect.
Flip to today.
Since then, the Texans have traded up at least once in one of the first three rounds in every draft since 2014, which was O’Brien’s first draft.
This draft-day change is a testament to Smith’s ability to draft for whoever his head coach is; molding his draft after the desires of the current Texans’ head coach.
It appears, from the outside looking in, that O’Brien and Kubiak had very different draft day strategies.
Kubiak and his staff believed wholeheartedly in their system, and I think most would agree with that statement. This led to a bevy of groups of players who fit into the types of players Kubiak wanted, but never a must-have player.
To Kubiak, the system was greater than the player. He would look at a group of players who he felt fit his system. If they fell to the Texans in the draft, they would have a chance to be selected by the team.
The Texans’ front office actually traded down quite a bit during the Kubiak era after trading back in the first round of the 2007 and 2008 drafts. The only times they traded up in the first three rounds were when they went up to grab Ben Tate and Brandon Harris. Unfortunately neither made it past their rookie contracts in Houston.
At the same time, the bond between a coach and a player goes a long way. When O’Brien falls in love with a player, he will beg Smith to do whatever it takes to obtain that player. He sees a player that fits what he wants and if he thinks he is special, he lets Smith know,
The Texans have traded up for Benardrick McKinney, Jaelen Strong, Louis Nix, Will Fuller, Nick Martin, and Deshaun Watson in the Smith/O’Brien era. That represents the tactical shift from Kubiak to O’Brien.
For Smith however, it represents the shift from a conservative drafter to the aggressive pick swinging arms dealer of today.
The biggest trade in Texans history occurred this year after trading up to select Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Which took two first-round picks, a second round pick, and a sixth round pick in order to move up and select him.
Houston also shipped quarterback Brock Osweiler away in that double-down deal.
That trade does not happen without the collaboration of O’Brien’s aggressive nature rubbing off and onto Smith.
Plenty of rumors have come out over the last calendar year that O’Brien and Smith do not get along. That is hard to believe after seeing the way they’ve handled recent drafts.
Take away the Osweiler ordeal-it is unlikely there was a lot of collaboration that occurred there- and this is blossoming into a top ten general manager/head coach tandem in the NFL.
Smith is one of the rare general managers to be with a franchise through a dumpster fire and head coaching change. A big part of that is due to his adaptability of his head coach’s demeanor.
But the biggest reason is his newly acquired taste for the aggressive do-whatever-it-takes-to-win approach.
Watch out Houston, it looks like you have a new Rick Smith.