This is my revised draft board for the Texans a few days after the Combine concluded in Indianapolis. Throughout the process, especially following free agency, I'll revise, update, guess and project as best I can, putting on my Rick Smith/Gary Kub...okay let me stop with that line of thinking, so to speak. All 32 teams' boards will be posted over at Yahoo Sports on the NFL main page and I'll tweet them out when each is done. But, thought this would hold everyone over for now.
Most pressing offensive needs - Right Tackle, Consistent #2 WR, Guard
The future is pretty clear for the Texans. Well, 2013 is clear anyway. I've thought more about the quarterback position for a while, because, well it's what I do. Anyhow, there's no reason to think that the Texans will look at quarterback until late on day three. Three reasons.
It's Schaub's ball for 2013, but his stout 2014 cap number demands that he get it done this year. Or else…alright, don't make me get all cynical here now.
5th - Landry Jones, Oklahoma (6-4, 220)
6th - Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah (6-3, 227)
7th - Alex Carder, Western Michigan (6-2, 220), Sean Renfree, Duke (6-4, 220)
I've seen Jones way too often to think that he's worthy of going before the fourth round. But, if he's there by the fifth round, it would make sense for the Texans to investigate a strong armed, well put together and experienced quarterback.
Renfree injured his shoulder on the last play of the Belk Bowl, so it's complete and total speculation, but prior to the injury, he showed some promise. And, in Houston, for any of these prospects, it's all about promise, at least for this season.
The coaching staff hasn't been enamored with backup RB Ben Tate, but when healthy, he's more than capable of being exactly what the Texans want. But, he hasn't been and that's drawn the ire of Gary Kubiak, in particular. If the Texans find a one cut, downhill RB with value in the middle rounds, it'll make sense to send a message to Tate, who has missed nearly a year and half of game play time with injuries.
But, if the Texans make an even more gutsy move and look for takers in a trade for Tate, it'll be paramount that they find one in rounds three or four.
3rd - Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (5-10, 205), Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (5-9, 214), Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State (6-1, 230)
4th - Mike Gillislee, Florida (5-11, 208), Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (5-11, 221)
6th - Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (5-10, 214)
Franklin is a poor man's Cadillac Williams/Shady McCoy hybrid but he's got some juice, inside the tackles and outside them as well. Bell would be an intriguing prospect, especially if Tate is somehow moved in the off-season. He looks more like a power runner and ran in a power-based offense in college, but I'd love to see him in a zone blocking scheme with his one cut running ability.
In addition, he has great hands and to not lose that aspect of the offense when he would spell Arian Foster is huge. Gillislee and Burkhead are guys who run behind their pads, with patience, and will make one cut to get downhill and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Lattimore, who suffered a second ACL tear in as many years, might be an option in the 4th round or later, even he's not 100% healthy. He can come to Houston, continue to rehab with the Texans staff and be fully ready for 2014.
That option might be best of all worlds in that it would allow the Texans to keep Tate, to give him one more chance, to give Lattimore all the time he needs. He says he'll be ready, but whether he is or not, Tate will get the message.
Now, we're cooking with gas. Pro Bowl star Andre Johnson was as good as he's ever been in his tenth year but he needs some help. The Texans drafted Devier Posey (Ohio State) in the third round last year and Keshawn Martin (Michigan State) in the fourth. Neither had tremendous impact, but the staff liked the way Posey came along by the end of the season and Martin's burst, even though he doesn't have great hands.
Regardless, neither is truly ready to be a consistent #2 threat and as Posey was starting to make some headway, he tore his Achilles in the playoff loss at New England. It's time to find another threat for this offense out on the perimeter. Although there are a number of insider receiver/slot receiver threats in this draft class, that's not the type of player the Texans have ever considered in the draft for the most part. Think big, physical and field stretching.
1st - Keenan Allen, Cal (6-2, 206), DeAndre 'Nuk' Hopkins, Clemson (6-1, 214), Quinton Patton, La. Tech (6-0, 204), Terrance Williams, Baylor (6-2, 208)
2nd - Justin Hunter, Tennessee (6-4, 196), Robert Woods, USC (6-0, 201)
3rd - Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (6-2, 212), Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (6-0, 205)
4th - Chris Harper, Kansas State (6-1, 229)
6th - Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington (6-5, 216)
I'd love to see them add a whippet quick Tavon Austin in the slot or a versatile Denard Robinson somewhere on the roster. But, that's not in The Plan. Each receiver on the board, for the most part, has size, can win at the line of scrimmage and can catch the football consistently.
Cal's Keenan Allen is hyped as the best receiver in this class, but it's not a complete slam dunk that he is in my opinion. Receivers have typically moved on down the board throughout the last few drafts and Allen may do just that. If he's available at #27, he's going to be difficult for the Texans to turn down, though.
Swope is the one many people will say doesn't fit the profile given his stereotypical comparison to Wes Welker, but let me tell you, he isn't Welker. He has great run after the catch abilities (he was a RB in high school) but he doesn't have to live in the slot but he's best served playing there.
The Texans have a ton of current and/or former tight ends on the roster and GM Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak have often targeted this position to complement this offense. With James Casey a free agent, the Texans may look for a "move" TE who can fill Casey's spot if he departs. The Texans have Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham under contract, but could the Texans look at one of these tight ends as a hybrid pass catching option? Perhaps.
3rd - Vance McDonald, Rice (6-4, 267)
4th - Gavin Escobar, San Diego State (6-5, 254), Matt Furstenburg, Maryland (6-3, 242)
7th - Michael Wiliams, Alabama (6-5, 269), Philip Lutzenkirchen (6-3. 258)
I'll admit, I missed on McDonald in my first assessment. He's a great athlete, to a point where Rice used him on jet sweeps as a running back and it's going to be a minor miracle if he's there near the end of the third round.
But, if Escobar is there in the fourth round, I'd be ecstatic for the Texans. He's a big, versatile target who could rise up the boards in days leading to the draft, given his athleticism at what is now a key position for many teams in the NFL. He's not a physical blocker and more of a H-Back/"Move" tight end, but he will catch 50+ passes a year very soon.
That said, the Texans missed Joel Dreesen's ability to pin the edge in the zone game and Williams was a major cog with his blocking for the vaunted Alabama running game. If Casey departs, Escobar makes a ton of sense. If Casey re-signs, then targeting a run blocking TE like Williams or a project in the 7th is plausible.
What was a strength in 2010 and 2011 was nearly a liability in 2012, in large part due to the departures of Mike Brisiel (Oakland Raiders) and Eric Winston (Kansas City Chiefs). The left side has two Pro Bowlers (T Duane Brown and G Wade Smith) and one at center (Chris Myers).
The right side has been shaky…and that's being nice. G Antoine Caldwell missed the last half of the season with an injury, but he wasn't having a great year before going down. G Ben Jones and G Brandon Brooks were rookies thrown into the mix, probably a year before they were clearly ready. T Derek Newton made minimal progress. So minimal that the Texans obtained T Ryan Harris off the trash heap and played him there when Newton struggled.
That all being said, the Texans should look long and hard at tackle options and if a guard fits the need on day three, they should investigate.
1st - RT Kyle Long, Oregon (6-6, 313), G/RT D.J Fluker, Alabama (6-5, 339)
3rd - RT Menelik Watson, Florida State (6-5, 310)
4th - RT/G Brian Winters, Kent State (6-4, 320)
5th - G/T J.C Tretter, Cornell (6-4, 307)
6th - RT Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6-6, 308), RT Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas (6-5, 298)
7th - G Braden Brown, BYU (6-5, 310)
The Texans right tackle spot demands a tackle with athleticism on the backside, in particular, of the zone blocking scheme and these candidates fit the bill, in particular Kyle Long from Oregon. I've watched more and more film on him and he would be the prototype right tackle in this offense.
On the backside of runs, he'll shine as he's got the quickness to get up to the second level or cut the backside 3-technique. He's had off the field issues, which typically takes a guy off the Texans board, but he's turned it around and the fact that he's Howie's son/Chris' brother could help the Texans' staff look past, well, his past.
Watson may not make it to the third round, but if he's there and the Texans haven't addressed that need, he's a great fit. The Texans' need at guard isn't as much of a priority and they already have two 2nd years guys fighting for time at guard. Tretter is much more athletic than you'd expect an Ivy Leaguer to be, but we need more Ivy League presence in this town.
Most pressing defensive needs - Inside linebacker, nose tackle and dynamic play maker in the secondary
DE JJ Watt has been simply superb, even better than the Texans imagined when they drafted him with the 11th pick in 2011. But, the remaining defensive line roster is nothing more than ordinary.
DE Antonio Smith has one year left on his contract but he should remain opposite Watt. NTs Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell have made little to no impact in the middle, although Mitchell finished the year with some momentum after a solid showing down the stretch. If the team does something with Smith, this could change as far as priority goes, but the Texans need someone to impact the middle of the defense.
1st - NT Jesse Williams, Alabama (6-3, 323), NT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State (6-3, 320)
2nd - NT Kawann Short, Purdue (6-3, 299)
4th - DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina (6-3, 313)
7th - NT William Campbell, Michigan (6-5, 318)
Williams is one of the strongest and most technically sound defensive linemen in this draft. He's great with his hands and has a knack for dropping his knee, getting "skinny", turning his shoulders and splitting double teams. He's not a prototypical 2 gap NT, but neither of the Texans current NT are either.
That said, he could, at least, give his linebackers some freedom to run to the ball unabated. Hankins, on the other hand, could be a true 2 gap NT if necessary and he can run. The Texans NT consistently get knocked off the ball, but big Hank won't. The Texans haven't made "fat" a priority but the depth at defensive line could force a change in thinking with either or both on the board at #27. Okay, so "fat" isn't the right word, how about "big boned"?
When the Texans lost Pro Bowl ILB Brian Cushing after a nasty block against the New York Jets, the defense lost its leader and perhaps a more valuable piece than anyone ever considered. The remaining inside linebackers proved that the Texans MUST look for a young running mate alongside Cushing in 2013.
ILB aren't plentiful, but it's imperative that the Texans find value on the inside. Given the fact that the Texans drafted Whitney Mercilus in the 2012 Draft, the outside linebacker position is in decent shape for now. If the team doesn't re-sign Connor Barwin, the draft priority shifts a bit. Something tells me that the team will still try to move Brooks Reed inside, but that determination may not be made until after the draft.
1st - ILB Kevin Minter, LSU (6-1, 245)
2nd - ILB Arthur Brown, Kansas State (6-0, 241)
3rd - ILB Kiko Alonso, Oregon (6-3, 238), ILB/OLB Sio Moore, U Conn (6-1, 240), OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6-1, 229)
4th - ILB Jon Bostic, Florida (6-1, 245), ILB A.J Klein, Iowa State (6-1, 250), ILB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina (6-1, 243), ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama (6-2, 248)
5th - ILB Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech (6-1, 237)
Minter is the guy I've targeted for the Texans for a while. He explodes through ball carriers, reads extremely well and even if he's only a two down player, he'd make an instant impact in Houston. That said, the more that Minter proves he could be a three down linebacker, the less the Texans have to play six defensive backs and the more disguised the defense can be.
But, considering how much trouble the Texans had matching up to the Patriots, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Texans react (or overreact) and look long at Brown, who could match up with RB and TE in the passing game perhaps better than anyone on the board. Brown is an explosive player who reminds me of former Miami Hurricane star Sean Spence. But, Brown didn't endear himself to any teams at the Combine for choosing not to workout after gaining 12 pounds in the off-season.
Consequently, Alonso is a stretch given his off the field problems. However, the Texans are at that point where it's time to take the next step, even if it means thinking outside the traditional Texans' box. The game is getting faster, not slower, and the Texans have to adjust.
GM Rick Smith has always said he'll draft a cornerback in a draft, although he didn't do that in 2012. He didn't, in large part, because in 2011 he signed one in FA (Johnathan Joseph) and drafted two (Roc Carmichael and Brandon Harris). Unfortunately, the two draftees have had very little impact on this organization and it became more evident when slot corner Brice McCain was lost for the year with an injury.
With Kareem Jackson having his best year, Joseph back in the Pro Bowl, McCain back after an injury and one of either Harris/Carmichael finally doing something, the corner position shouldn't be a priority until later rounds. The starters at safety are solid, although neither played exceptionally well in the last four or five games of the season.
However, the depth at safety is nearly non-existent and it gets real thin if Glover Quin doesn't re-sign. Quin and Danieal Manning aren't the league's best duo, but fit well into Wade Phillips system. But, behind them? Shudder at the thought. That said, think corner late in the draft, if at all and start considering safeties starting in the third round.
3rd - S Jonathan Cyprien, FIU (6-0, 217)
4th - S Duke Williams, Nevada (5-11, 203), CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (5-9, 186)
5th - S Zeke Motta, Notre Dame (6-2, 213)
6th - CB Johnny Adams, Michigan State (5-10, 185), S J.J Wilcox, Georgia Southern (6-0, 213)
7th - CB Terrence Brown, Stanford (6-0, 182), S Cody Davis, Texas Tech (6-2, 204)
Mathieu is the most intriguing name on the board. The Texans have a long standing history of avoiding players with character issues, but there might be a way that it makes some sense. Mathieu spent a month during the fall in Houston with John Lucas, the former Houston Rocket, dealing with his drug background. If he's here in Houston, at a minimum, Mathieu has that support system within a 15 minute commute. Not to mention, Mathieu would be a great fit at the slot corner position, where he completely changed the game for LSU in 2010 and 2011.
He's NOT a pure cover corner who can play out on the perimeter in man coverage all day long, like Wade Phillips expects and desires. But, Phillips could have a field day with Mathieu's variety of skills when playing in the slot, in addition to what he could add in terms of the return game. At safety, Cyprien can run, hit and plays 100% non-stop all of the time.
The Texans have targeted "effort" guys in past drafts (Watt, Reed, Cushing, etc…) and Cyprien would fit that mold in the third round, if the Texans have filled other holes earlier in the draft or in free agency.