The Texans went into the first day of the draft hoping to get Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews and came out with Alabama cornerback Kareem Jackson.
The Texans solved one of their two most pressing needs with Jackson, and they’re expected to take care of the running back issue in the second round tonight.
San Diego pulled a fast one on the Texans and the Seattle Seahawks, who were hoping to get Mathews once Buffalo used the ninth pick on Clemson running back C.J. Spiller.
The Chargers, who entered the draft desperate for a running back, catapulted from 28 to 12 by working a trade with Miami to get Mathews.
General manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak then turned their attention to cornerback.
“When things started to shake out, some things happened that we didn’t foresee (the Chargers trading up for Mathews),” defensive coordinator Frank Bush said. “Then we had an opportunity to go back in and discuss the defensive players, and this was a guy we really wanted.
“We were looking at running back, but we also needed a corner, and we felt like (Jackson) was a player we had to get.”
When it came time to make the 20th pick in the first round, the Texans had their choice of Jackson, Devin McCourty (Rutgers) and Kyle Wilson (Boise State). They couldn’t trade down because they didn’t find anyone willing to make a deal, so they selected Jackson, who played for Nick Saban’s national championship team last season.
McCourty went to New England at No. 27, and Wilson was drafted by the New York Jets at No. 29.
“Both those kids are very talented players, and we really liked a lot of things that they did,” defensive coordinator Frank Bush said. “When you look at the total package and what Kareem brings to our team, you see a guy that’s tough, aggressive and very smart.
“He’s a junior coming out early, and so there’s a tremendous upside. We like the fact he played on a national championship team. We like winners in the building.”
Jackson, 5-11, 196, is expected to challenge for a starting job at right cornerback opposite Glover Quin. Brice McCain, Jacques Reeves, Fred Bennett and Antwaun Molden are other cornerbacks on the roster.
Since Kubiak became the coach in 2006, the first-round picks have started immediately: Mario Williams, Amobi Okoye, Duane Brown and Brian Cushing.
“He played in a complex system,” Bush said. “It’s up to us to coach him up, to teach him our system, and I don’t think it’ll be a difficult adjustment for him. We know he can handle whatever we throw at him.
“There aren’t a lot of holes in his game. The more you watch him, the more you like him. He’s got quick feet and tremendous ball skills. He showed some leadership. He plays with emotion and passion. He played for Saban, so you know he’s tough.”
Jackson, a Macon, Ga., native, was a quick learner at Alabama. He started 12 games as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore and 14 as a junior.
The Texans liked that Jackson started so many games against big-time competition in the Southeastern Conference.
“He had a lot of opportunities to match up with a lot of receivers that are going to play in the National Football League,” Bush said. “We think he’s probably the most complete, game-ready corner. Not that the other kids (McCourty and Wilson) can’t play, but this kid is ready to play in the NFL.
“We’re confident we got the right guy. We think he can handle the job, so there’s not a lot to worry about.”