Monday, June 13, 2011
KD's NFL Draft Grades - Houston Texans
For several years now the Houston Texans have had a very potent offense formed from a solid, yet underrated offensive line, and two impressive trios. First it was Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Steve Slaton. Now, Slaton has fallen off the map and Arian Foster led the NFL in rushing after bursting onto the scene the final 3 weeks of the 2009 season. Former Texans GM Charlie Casserly has been vindicated for his choosing defensive end, and now outside linebacker, Mario Williams over Reggie Bush who I think we can now label as a rather large bust. The Texans had been on the cusp of the playoffs and had the league buzzing when they defeated arch-rival Indianapolis in week one this year. However, the secondary was absolutely torched, roasted, burned, and any other adjective you can think of that correlates them to the Maginot Line as they couldn't stop a nosebleed, let alone a pass. Former Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips has come in to run the defense, and he'll install his trademark 3-4, giving the AFC 9 teams (the entire AFC East, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Kansas City, and now the Texans) that will be running the odd front. Houston needed parts to install it, so let's check out what they did.
1st round, 11th overall) J.J. Watt - DE - Wisconsin
I was at the Ohio State vs. Wisconsin game this past season when J.J. Watt sacked Terrelle Pryor in the 4th quarter to essentially clinch the game for the Badgers. I told my friend, and faithful TGTS reader, JM that Watt would be a top 20 pick in the draft. Well, J.J. almost cracked the top 10. The former TE from Central Michigan became an absolute force in Wisconsin's defense the past two seasons. Watt has tremendous size at 6'5" 290lbs and his athleticism blows away just about every other 5 technique's in the Draft (Cal's Cameron Jordan might've had him here, but he went to the Saints who run a 4-3, so that question will go unanswered, but Watt is unquestionably more talented that Jared Odrick, the first 5-technique end drafted in 2010, who played 3 quarters for my Dolphins before breaking his foot and ending his season on IR, but I digress) and had Watt looking like he could fit in either defense.
How he fits in: It wasn't that much of a secret prior to the Draft, if you knew where to look, that Mario Williams was going to make the switch to 3-4 OLB, giving the Texans a pass-rusher who has double-digit sack capabilities. With what the Texans had on their roster, Watt will likely start opposite either Antonio Smith or Shaun Cody, with Watt manning the strongside. Mario Williams will move to the weakside spot opposite the winner of the Brooks Reed vs. Connor Barwin battle - more on that later. Watt's got a tremendous motor, and combined with his size and speed, he should excel at penetrating and stuffing the run much like Marcus Spears of the Cowboys, whom Phillips also coahced, did in his first two years.
Outlook: With Aldon Smith off the board, the Texans had to narrow down their choice to Watt, Prince Amukamara, and Robert Quinn, and with Quinn being suspended for the previous season, it was really a two-man battle. However, front seven players in the 3-4 are rare and hard to find, so I can't fault the Texans at all for pulling the trigger on a DE rather than a corner despite their depleted secondary, especially a prospect that's as good as J.J. Watt is. Watt's the type of guy who'll be a 10 year starter in the NFL and will be good every year, so I'd have to rate this as a fantastic pick for the Texans.
2nd round, 46th overall) Brooks Reed - OLB - Arizona
When Connor Barwin was lost for the season with this week one ankle injury (WARNING - don't click the link if you've got a weak stomach!) you really can't give someone a fair timeline. With Barwin's health in question, the Texans needed someone opposite Mario Williams as they plan to keep DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing in the middle, which quite frankly, makes their front 7 pretty scary. Brooks Reed fit the bill. A bigger prospect at 6'2" 263lbs and has drawn comparisons to Clay Matthews. I'm not sure I buy those comparisons, but Reed is a decent player in his own right. Much like Watt, he's got a relentless motor and is very physical. He needs to work on his pass-rush moves and struggles to disengage from blocks. He'll also have to drop into coverage in Phillips' scheme, which is something he's never done.
2nd round, 60th overall) Brandon Harris - CB - Miami
It seems like a long time since a Hurricanes DB has been drafted in the first round, and many thought Harris had an outside chance of being selected there this year. Harris, a smaller, but speedy corner checks in at 5'9" 191lbs. He profiles as more of a nickel guy, which the Texans need, but he should have every chance to earn a starting role in what should be an open competition with Glover Quinn, Kareem Jackson, Jason Allen, and fellow rookie Rashad Carmichael. Harris isn't good against the run, and is something of a gambler when he plays on the outside. He'll reward you with it, and he'll get burned by it, so he should fit into the Texans secondary very well. Sarcasm aside, Harris is the most athletically gifted corner Houstn has aside from Jason Allen, so he might break into the starting lineup earlier than most think. At the very least, I think he's a solid nickel or dime back who'll work his way up quickly.
4th round, 127th overall) Rashad Carmichael - CB - Virginia Tech
Another small corner was added to the Texans abysmal secondary with the selection of VPI's (Hokie fans will get that) "Rock" Carmichael. Carmichael's not as athletic as Harris and will be limited to playing the boundary corner (the short side of the field and/or covering a teams #2 receiver - traditionally the teams right cornerback). He's a lot tougher against the run than Harris is and he was a special teams standout at Virginia Tech. I think he's got a good shot at being the dime cornerback and and playing on special teams right away. He'll have to really improve his football IQ to ever crack the starting lineup though as he, again like Harris, is a gambler who gets burned.
5th round, 155th overall) Shiloh Keo - S - Idaho
The Texans really needed some safety help as they ended the year with just three guys on the gameday roster. Bernard Pollard, their SS (the same Bernard Pollard that wrecked Tom Brady's knee in 2008) is a liability in coverage but is very good against the run. Quentin Demps has been a career backup, and Troy Nolan is a relative unknown at FS. So, the Texans added Keo, another slow, unathletic SS type, which was really a head-scratching move to me. Keo's draft stock went up early in the process as he was ultra-productive for the Vandals notching 170 tackles, 10 pass breakups and 6 INTs the past two seasons, letting everyone know he'd regained his form from 2006-07 (a shoulder injury in 2008 forced him to have surgery after just 5 games). He was invited to the Combine and was not impressive and showed up looking more like a barroom brawler than a strong safety. If he impresses on special teams, he could stick and phase out Quentin Demps, but the Texans really needed a centerfielder type, and Keo is not that by any means.
5th round, 152nd overall) T.J. Yates - QB - North Carolina
Matt Leinart and Dan Orlovsky aren't great options as a backup quarterback, so the Texans felt they needed to add depth behind Matt Schaub. And man, they landed a potential diamond in the rough in T.J. (Taylor) Yates. Yates was one of the sleeper QB prospects in this year's class that has a legitimate shot to earn a starter's role down the road. Much like the man ahead of him, Matt Schaub, who bided his time as a 3rd round pick sitting behind Michael Vick in Atlanta, Yates may go the same route. He's athletic, has a better deep ball than any of the big-name quarterbacks not named Ryan Mallett (Yes, it's better than Newton, Gabbert, and Locker's. Fact.) and is already a master of the play-action game, which is rare for college guys these days. The Texans use it a lot, and they use it well, so he'll be ahead of the curve somewhat in that regard. He comes from a pro-style offense, but it remains to be seen how good he really is as he had the benefit of playing with guys like Hakeem Nicks, Robert Tate, Brooks Foster, Richard Quinn, Greg Little, and Johnny White at Chapel Hill, all of whom are in the NFL now.
7th round, 214th overall) Derek Newton - T/G - Arkansas State
The Texans got another steal here in Derek Newton. Newton carried a 5th round grade by many, so the Texans get a nice value pick here. They're set at the tackle spots with Duane Brown and Eric Winston, but at left guard, they could face a hole in a season or two. Former starter Mike Brisiel is a free agent, and his fill-in from last year Wade Smith, is a career journeyman, though he looked the part in 2010. Either way, Newton's a good insurance policy, and at 6'4" 311lbs is pretty athletic, which the Texans require in their zone-blocking scheme. Once he adjusts to the level of competition in a season or two, he should be able to compete for a starting job at one of the guard spots.
7th round, 254th overall) Cheta Ozougwu - LB - Rice
With the Mr. Irrelevant pick, the Texans stayed right in their own back yard taking Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu, not cheddar as the old guy on stage prouncounced it. An undersized guy at 6'1" 247lbs, he may be more a candidate to backup Ryans and Cushing in the middle, as Phillips has always liked to have an ILB who can rush the passer. As a former DE, Ozougwu qualifies, and brings a little more size to the party than Xavier Adibi, Zach Diles, and Kevin Bently do. If they stick him on the outside, a more natural transition, he, Mark Anderson, Tim Jamison, and Stanford Keglar will compete for the backup roles, along with the loser of the Reed vs. Barwin battle. He's a longshot to stick on the roster, but he's got a sweet name and he's Mr. Irrelevant. I think he's a practice squad candidate.
Overall Grade: B+
If you're starting to wonder if any teams got an "A" grade, yes they did. And I would have given the Texans one had they addressed the free safety position. Were guys like Jeron Johnson, DeAndre McDaniel, Joe Lefeged, and Eugene Clifford not even on the board at the Mr. Irrelevant pick? If they weren't, then shame on the Texans if they don't improve their pass defense this year. Yeah, all four went undrafted for one reason or another, but all four have a better chance to make the Texans roster than Shiloh Keo and Cheta Ozougwu. The FS position aside, I thought the Watt and Reed picks were fantastic choices. Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael bring some nice things to the table, but you've got to hope former 1st-rounder Kareem Jackson can beat out one of those two for a starting role. T.J. Yates was a boon, and he might net them some higher draft choices in the future. While he's not quite a Kevin Kolb type of commodity, he's certainly approaching the ballpark of Matt Flynn right off the bat. Derek Newton could also be a nice steal and an eventual starter, but when you have such glaring needs on one particular unit and you don't address it with a stud player, you're in trouble. Now, if they Texans go out and land Nnamdi Asomugha and Quentin Mikell in free agency, I'll bump this grade up to an A, but for now, it stands as a B+.