In Rick Smith's tenure in Houston as the General Manager, he's yet to take the Best Player Available in any of the drafts he's overseen, unless it fit a specific need for the Texans at the time. Having covered Smith's drafts from 2007 to the present, I can recall with accuracy the players that were discussed as the best available. For instance, I don't recall many people screaming for the Texans to draft Darelle Revis over Okoye in 2007, so don't expect to see that name. I'm going to avoid hindsight here.
The pick: DT Amobi Okoye, #10
Best Player Available: Okoye
Seemed like a good idea at the time. I was certainly on board. Okoye was very young and considered to be highly-intelligent, coachable, and on his way to big things in the NFL. Instead, we ended up with a guy who has done little to earn his draft slot, and who isn't likely to make the team in 2011.
Other BPA in the mix: LB Patrick Willis
The pick: LT Duane Brown, #26
Best Player Available: RB Rashard Mendenhall
The Texans were in need of a running back, and Mendenhall was there when Houston originally went on the clock at #18, but they traded down with Baltimore to drop to 26, picking up an extra third-rounder, which ended up being Steve Slaton. We can't complain about our running back situation much these days, but Mendenhall was thought to be a great fit for Houston's running scheme, run at the time by zone-blocking guru Alex Gibbs. Mendenhall got off to a rocky start in Pittsburgh but has since become their primary runner, and on the cusp of a franchise-level RB.
The Texans needed their franchise LT in 2008, and while Brown has been excellent as a run-blocker, his pass-blocking leaves much to be desired. Slaton of course had an incredible rookie campaign, but has since fallen back to Earth. Like Okoye, he will have a hard time making the team in 2011.
Other BPA in the mix: CB Antoine Cason
The pick: LB Brian Cushing, #15
Best Player Available: Cushing, or OT Michael Oher
There's no way the Texans were going to draft a franchise tackle with Eric Winston and Duane Brown in place, but Oher was thought at the time to be among the most talented left on the board when their pick came up. The Texans absolutely could have adjusted the line to accommodate Oher, but strongside LB was certainly a huge need for Houston at the time. There's really no basis to argue the Cushing pick without the benefit of hindsight (except that I preferred Clay Matthews, but at least he plays the same position). Cushing easily could be considered the second BPA selection for Rick Smith, but only because it also filled a dire need for the Texans at the time.
Other BPA in the mix: C Alex Mack
The pick: (gulp) CB Kareem Jackson, #20
Best Player Available: WR Dez Bryant
Of course, there was no chance the Texans were going to take Bryant, but he was by far the best player left on the board. The real problem here, is that the Texans simply didn't take the best available CORNERBACK. We've since been sickened by the repeated "Kareem was the most NFL-ready CB in the draft" hogwash. Kyle Wilson and Devin McCourty were thought to be more likely picks for Houston (especially Wilson) and of those two I was a big McCourty fan. He turned out to be one of the top corners in the AFC in 2010, on top of being the best rookie. McCourty ended up being a New England Patriot, so who knows how well he would have done in Houston under the instruction of former position coach David Gibbs, and former defensive coordinator Frank Bush.
The guy I really wanted in last year's draft was DT Dan Williams, but that was never going to happen.
Other BPA in the mix: TE Jermaine Gresham