Houston Texans Draft Review
In the interest of curbing post-draft withdrawl, I plan on releasing a 32-part series of detailed reviews of each team's drafts. I look forward to hearing any and all feedback.
I'm starting with the Houston Texans this year, as determined by a random number generator. Next up, the Seattle Seahawks.
State of the Franchise Before the Draft
It was a watershed year for the Texans, as they finally won the AFC South for the first time in ten tries, securing with it, their first playoff bid in franchise history. They soundly beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, and came within a play or two from knocking off the Baltimore Ravens and earning a spot in the AFC Championship Game, all whilst playing with a rookie, fifth-round backup quarterback after a Week 12 injury to Matt Schaub.
The best part of all of this is the arrow is definitely pointed upwards for the Texans. After hiring 3-4 guru Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator and hitting grand slams in the draft and free agency during 2011’s bizarre offseason, adding players like JJ Watt, Brooks Reed, Jonathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, among others, Houston’s defense improved from one of the league’s worst to one of the league’s best. After their seamless transformation, the Texans put more pressure on the QB and leaked far less on the back end in 2011 than 2010.
While the historic improvement of the defense was the story in 2011, the offense maintained their status as one of the more balanced and potent attacks in the league. With one of the best receivers in the game, and a Pro Bowl-caliber QB, the Texans still had the strength to remain true to their run-first identity. With many expecting a sophomore sump, Arian Foster proved he is one of the best backs in the league going for over 1,200 yards, while No. 2 back Ben Tate averaged a gaudy 5.4 yards per carry and finished just shy of 1,000 yards himself.
The Texans might have the league’s biggest “What if?” teams, as Schaub’s injury seriously punctured any hopes of a Super Bowl, of which the team appeared perfectly capable. Yates performed valiantly, and delivered enough moments for Houston’s fans and coaching staff to feel comfortable with their backup QB situation for the time being, but he is not the guy to the Texans to the elite level of NFL franchises.
Houston has one of the league’s best, young talent bases and look to be the runaway favorites for the AFC South title in 2012, with the rest of the division deeply flawed and playing with either first or second-year quarterbacks. Going into the draft it was hard to pinpoint too many urgent needs. Most mock drafts had the Texans taking a wide receiver in round one, but Kevin Walter is an underrated No. 2 alongside superbeast Andre Johnson. Eric Winston signed with the Chiefs, so there might have been some need for a RT in their athleticism-oriented zone blocking scheme.
Round One, Pick 26: Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois
In what can be qualified as a mild surprise, the Texans took the 2011 NCAA sack champion to bolster what was already a strong pass rush. The Texans did let former No. 1 pick Mario Williams, who was always a poor fit in Phillips’ scheme, walk in free agency, but first-year starters Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed played well, and this didn’t appear to be a glaring need.
However, there are a few positions on the field where you can never have too much depth, and edge rusher is one of them.
The aptly-named Mercilus responded in his first year as a starter in Champaign by finishing with 16.5 sacks and a ridiculous nine forced fumbles. NINE!!! Some questioned why he only had one year of production, but the truth is he really only had one chance to make an impact, and he sure took advantage of it. He gives great effort play in and play out, possesses a wide array of pass rush moves and has terrific on-field instincts and awareness. That is how he was able to force so many fumbles.
When evaluating the top pass rushers in this class, he appeared to be one of the most natural fits for a transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. At 6’4”, 260 pounds, he was one the of the angular, lean-built rushers in the draft. He performed well in positional drills at the combine and at his pro day, demonstrating he was athletic and fluid enough to drop into coverage and play in space.
On the downside, Mercilus is not particularly explosive or powerful. He can be neutralized by offensive tackles adept at handling speed and counter moves. He also doesn’t always hold up well at the point of attack.
From day one, Mercilus will probably be counted on as a sub-package rush specialist, but don’t be surprised if he ends up pushing for one of the starting positions. At the very least, he gives the Texans a solid rotation off the edge.
Round Three, Pick 68: Devier Posey, WR, Ohio State
Posey is another pick that qualifies as a mild surprise, but more because of value than need.
After missing most of his senior season due to two separate suspensions for violating NCAA regulations, most in the draftnick community saw Posey as a day three sort of pick, but the Texans did need receiving depth in a bad way.
Posey was highly-acclaimed coming out of the Cincinnati prep ranks, earning several five-star ratings from national recruiting agencies. While he flashed moments of brilliance, he never quite lived up to the lofty expectations set for him in Columbus. He had near-constant battles with the dropsies, and often disappeared in their biggest moments.
Still, Posey does have talent worthy of being selected in the third round. He runs clean, crisp routes and has the ability to separate. He has a good size-speed combination and had a propensity to make big plays down the field at Ohio State.
Posey was at the center of the ugly Tattoo scandal that ended up destroying the Jim Tressel era in Columbus, but in spite of that, there are few concerns about his character. He is generally regarded as a hard worker and a leader, and his troubles of the past 16 months are not expected to follow him into the NFL.
I’m not sure if Posey projects as an ideal slot receiver, but he will provide quality depth. Coming from a program where star players play on special teams will certainly help, because he does have experience covering kicks.
Round Three, Pick 76: Brandon Brooks, OG, Miami University
It might seem strange bringing a 353-pound guard into a scheme usually known for smaller, quicker linemen, but Brooks is a whole different animal.
After getting the most unwarranted combine snub this year, Brooks lit up his pro day as badly as he lit up MAC competition the past couple seasons, running under 5.00 in the forty.
Houston’s offensive line is generally regarded as one of the best in the league, but they lack some strength and can struggle in short yardage situations. Brooks should help address some of those issues. Whether or not he can beat out Wade Smith or Antoine Caldwell for a starting job remains to be seen, but at the very least, he provides depth and a big body for heavy formations.
Round Four, Pick 99: Ben Jones, C, Georgia
To show you just ho highly thought of Jones was by Bulldog teammates, this past season they named him a captain for the second time and their most valuable player. As a CENTER!
Jones is a smart, hard-working and physically limited prospect, who is a good fit for the Texans’ scheme. He made all the line calls for the Bulldogs, and rarely, if ever missed an assignment. He plays with wrestler’s leverage and postioning but rarely gets a great push. In their bowl game against Michigan State, he seemed overwhelmed the more physically imposing defensive linemen lined up across from him, including Packers second round pick Jerel Worthy.
The pick of Jones is somewhat curious given that Houston just re-signed Chris Myers, but Jones can provide competition, and may be with a year’s apprenticeship, Jones will be able to take over the starting postion.
Round Four, Pick 121: Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State
With their second pick used on a wide receiver out of the Big Ten, the Texans take a jack-of-all-trades player in Martin, a four-year producer who helped contribute to the winningest senior class in Spartan history.
For his first three seasons in East Lansing, Martin lacked a defined offensive role but contributed as a receiver, dynamic punt returner, runner of jet sweeps and reverses and even Wildcat QB. As a senior, Martin’s offensive production soared after graduation losses opened up a spot for him as a featured slot receiver.
Look for Martin to compete with Jacoby Jones on offense and on special teams. While he might not have Jones’ top end speed, he does have great elusiveness in the open field and is able to get up to top speed in a hiccup.
Round Four, Pick 126: Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska
One of the steals of the draft if healthy.
Crick posted 19 sacks during his sophomore and junior years, playing mostly inside. He has quick, ferocious hands and plays with one of the best motors in the draft.
A torn pectoral muscle ended Crick’s senior campaign very early, and there have been questions as to how quickly he will be able to fully recover. He is also a true tweener, weighing in at only around 275 pounds, he does not have ideal size for any position in a standard 3-4.
However, in Phillips one-gap dominant system, Crick can be a player. He doesn’t have JJ Watt’s athleticism, but he is clearly a capable pass rusher, who will fit in on third downs and nickel situations.
Round Five, Pick 161: Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M
At least they’re not taking a punter in the third round.
In all seriousness, Bullock is coming off a great season where he kicked 29-33 field goals with a long of 52. His numbers before this year were only average though. I can’t pretend to know a ton about Bullock, but the Texans had no kickers on their roster, so this move makes sense.
Round Six, Pick 195: Nick Mondek, OG, Purdue
Three-year starter in a spread offense (a very bad spread offense). Because of ineffective QB play, the Boilers ran the ball quite a bit, which suited Mondek’s abilities a little more. He can be a nice reserve guard but will have to fight and claw to make the roster. I call for Mondek to spend next season on the practice squad.
There’s not much to complain about with this draft. They got players I like with every pick and developed solid depth at critical positions.
Mercilus should make big plays. Posey and Martin are viable secondary receiving options. Brooks and Jones can be stalwarts for a long time. And they addressed their only critical need (kicker) with the reigining Lou Groza Award winner.
This class might not have the immediate impact last year’s class did, but it won’t need to. What the Texans did was reinforce their offense, defense and special teams with high character guys with good upside. Drafts like this will help the Texans reach that elite status they are hoping for.
Way too early draft grade: B+
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