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    Grading the Will Anderson Jr. Trade: Houston Texans Move Back Up For Draft’s Best Defensive Player

    The Houston Texans traded up with the Arizona Cardinals for the best defensive player in the 2023 NFL Draft, Will Anderson Jr.

    The pre-draft smoke coming from the Houston Texans was at least partially right. Although the Texans didn’t eschew a quarterback at No. 2 in favor of an edge rusher (as rumors suggested that they might), Houston did move up to No. 3 (the Arizona Cardinals’ original pick) to land Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson Jr., arguably the best defensive prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft.

    Texans Acquire Pick No. 3 From Cardinals, Draft Will Anderson Jr.

    After landing Ohio State signal-caller C.J. Stroud with the second overall pick, the Houston Texans didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to land a top-end defensive player for first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans. As the 49ers’ defensive coordinator for the past two seasons, Ryans saw the advantages of deploying dominant edge rusher Nick Bosa, who won Defensive Player of the Year honors under Ryans in 2022.

    Houston is now slowly emerging from a years-long dormant period, and the pick they acquired in last year’s Deshaun Watson trade gave general manager Nick Caserio enough draft capital to move up.

    But there’s little doubt that the Texans paid dearly to trade up with the Arizona Cardinals. Houston is sending pick No. 12, No. 33, a 2024 first-rounder, and a 2024 third-rounder to the Cardinals in exchange for pick Nos. 3 and 105.

    MORE: Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

    It’s a gargantuan package normally reserved for quarterback trade-ups, and the Texans are taking on risk by sacrificing their first-round choice in next year’s draft. While Houston has made improvements this offseason, they still project to have a bottom-10 NFL roster, so that first-rounder could end up being a relatively early pick in next year’s draft.

    Still, Caserio and Ryans won’t regret this deal if Anderson becomes the player most analysts believe he can be. The No. 1 overall prospect on both PFN’s internal big board and the Industry Consensus Board, Anderson posted 27.5 sacks over his final two collegiate seasons, winning unanimous All-American honors and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in both years.

    If Anderson becomes a perennial All-Pro and – along with recent draft picks Derek Stingley Jr., Jalen Pitre, and Christian Harris – helps the Texans become a top-10 defense, the Texans won’t think twice about the cost of making this trade. But if Anderson simply emerges as a moderately above-average player, Houston could end up regretting the deal.

    Grade: C-

    Cardinals Make Lemons Out of Lemonade

    The Cardinals and first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort have reportedly been trying to trade the third overall pick for weeks. Given that Arizona doesn’t need a quarterback, dropping down the board and acquiring more assets always made the most sense.

    While the Cards could have stayed put and drafted Anderson themselves (or edge rusher Tyree Wilson or left tackle Paris Johnson Jr.), they received an absolute haul by moving to No. 12. Teams often discount future selections like Arizona acquired in this trade with Houston, but given the state of the Cardinals’ roster, 2024 picks might be even more valuable than 2023 assets.

    Arizona can use those future selections as a hedge against Kyler Murray. The Cardinals’ current regime didn’t draft Murray, and if they decide to trade him after next season, they could use their newly acquired draft capital to ensure they’re in a position to draft either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye in 2024.

    But the Cardinals weren’t done after trading the third pick. Arizona sent its newly acquired No. 12 selection, plus pick Nos. 34 and 168, to the Detroit Lions for Nos. 6 and 81. The Cardinals then used the sixth overall pick on Ohio State left tackle Paris Johnson Jr.

    Ossenfort and Co. likely felt that they needed to jump the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 7 and the Chicago Bears at No. 9 in order to land Johnson, widely viewed as the best offensive tackle prospect among this year’s crop.

    Arizona already has D.J. Humphries at left tackle, but he’s nearing his 30th birthday. Johnson should immediately usurp veteran Kelvin Beachum on the right side before eventually taking over for Humphries on the blindside.

    All told, the Cardinals turned the No. 3, No. 34, and No. 105 picks into Johnson, the No. 33 pick, and first- and third-round choices in 2024. Given that Arizona reportedly would have considered Johnson had they stuck at No. 3, this is an excellent trade to begin Ossenfort’s career in the desert.

    Grade: A

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