By KRISTIE RIEKEN AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans chose offensive tackle Tytus Howard of Alabama State with the 23rd overall pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, hoping he can help protect banged-up quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watson was sacked an NFL-leading 62 times as Houston won the AFC South but lost to the Colts in the wild-card round. Watson played every game in his second year after having season-ending knee surgery as a rookie, but was hurt for a chunk of the season while dealing with a partially collapsed lung and broken ribs from taking hit after hit.
General manager Brian Gaine said they became more impressed with Howard as the scouting process progressed.
“I felt like with each interval he was able to pass each segment with flying colors,” Gaine said. “He made a very favorable impression as far the intangible profile, the person, the character that matched with the physical ability and the physical traits. We felt like he checked all the boxes.”
It was the just the second time Houston had selected an offensive lineman in the first round. The last was left tackle Duane Brown with the 26th pick in 2008.
Howard was a quarterback in high school before growing into his 6-foot-5, 322-pound frame. He said working with the strength staff at Alabama State helped him transform his body, and he got a little help in that area from his fiancée’s cooking.
“My favorite would be her chicken spaghetti,” he said. “I used to eat that back to back nights. I’d eat the whole pan.”
He has the versatility the Texans were looking for after starting at both right and left tackle in college and Gaine said he could also play both guard positions. He was named to the SWAC All-Conference team last season after starting 10 games at right tackle.
“The way we look at Tytus is we see him as an offensive lineman … so he’s going to have a chance to compete for a starting role, I just don’t know what position it’s going to be,” Gaine said.
The Texans had three picks in the first two rounds. They come a year after they didn’t have any picks in the first or second rounds because they shipped their top two picks to get rid of Brock Osweiler and trade up to get Watson in 2017.
Howard can’t wait to begin working with Watson, who was the 12th pick in the 2017 draft.
“I feel like with my athleticism I’ll be able to protect him longer since he’s more mobile and moves around a lot more,” Howard said. “I feel like me and him are going to build a great relationship while I’m there and help win some games for the Houston Texans.”
Howard’s experience at quarterback in high school gives him a unique perspective when it comes to protecting quarterbacks in his current position.
“I know how being sacked feels, so I try my best not to give up any sacks and I try to play long as I can to keep the guy from hitting the quarterback,” he said.
The Texans believe Howard has a high upside since he’s only been an offensive lineman for a few years and are looking forward to seeing him develop in their system.
“He has the height, the length, the size, the strength, he lifted well, he ran well, he moved well,” Gaine said. “And then with our infrastructure here in terms of our strength and conditioning program, our sports science element, our player wellness, our training room, our nutrition program, he’s going to have all these great benefits to really maximize his potential.