With the 2011 NFL season officially in the books, and a team with a 9-7 record winning it all, it's time now for the calm before the storm.
The NFL Combine is in a couple of weeks. Free agency is about a month after that and then it's time for the big daddy—the 2012 NFL Draft.
With this in mind, I started thinking about the needs for the Texans going forward. Most of us are in agreement that the team is pretty deep and has no glaring holes, so this should be a draft about taking the best player available and going from there.
We know that Houston will have little to no money to spend in free agency, so the draft is the most likely of places to remedy their shopping list.
But if Mario Williams walks in free agency, suddenly the Texans are shoppers in the 2012 free agent class. So we'll take a look at five positions that the Texans will likely be looking to address before the 2012 season and discuss a key free agent they could consider as well as a realistic option for every round in the draft.
Here is the most obvious position that the Texans will look to upgrade. The biggest fear in Houston was always what would happen to the passing game if Andre Johnson went down for a prolonged period. The answer turned out to be the obvious—it struggled.
If this team does have a need, this is it. Jacoby Jones has shown little consistency as a pass-catcher and he may have worn out his welcome in Houston when he cost the team huge in the playoffs fielding punts. Kevin Walter is a great blocker but not a No. 2 option, and he is vastly overpaid. So look for both a legitimate second option type wide receiver as well as a slot guy who can also return punts. Here are a few options.
Robert Meachem (Saints) - Meachem is a good downfield threat who will likely bolt New Orleans for more opportunity. They're going to have to pay Marques Colston, so they'll likely let Meachem go. He's a strong red-zone threat and could help take the pressure off of Andre Johnson.
Round 1 - Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers
Round 2 - Nick Toon, Wisconsin
Round 3 - Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Round 4 - Brian Quick, Appalachian State
Round 5 - B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State
Round 6 - Marquis Maze, Alabama
Round 7 - Derek Moye, Penn State
Again with the nose tackle position, right? If you're a constant reader, I apologize for beating this dead horse, but this simply has to be the year the Texans can no longer ignore the need for a big boy anchoring the middle for them.
Shaun Cody performed admirably there in 2011, but to think he is the long-term solution is laughable. Earl Mitchell is likely to be moved to defensive end if you judge how Wade Phillips used him in the playoffs. Therefore, the team may finally look to address this issue. Here are some guys I'd like to see them go after.
Antonio Garay (Chargers) - Garay looked well on his way to becoming the Chargers' solution at the nose for the next six to eight years after his stellar 2010 season. But last year he regressed and the team has pretty much made it clear they have no desire to get into a bidding war for him. At 32 years old, he'll be looking for his last big payday.
Round 1 - Dontari Poe, Memphis
Round 2 - Alameda Ta'amu, Washington
Round 3 - Josh Chapman, Alabama
Round 4 - Nick Jean-Baptiste, Baylor
Round 5 - Delvin Johnson, Marshall
Round 6 - T.J. Barnes, Georgia Tech
Round 7 - Akiem Hicks, Regina
It's no secret that the Texans' strength is their stout offensive line. The same offensive line that has two current free agents on it and has little depth behind the starters.
Mike Brisiel is likely to come back for a minimal raise and Chris Myers knows that he's a fit for this scheme. But should either of them walk, the need for some additions will arise. The depth at tackle is relatively short-handed as well. So with that said, here are a few guys the team will probably take a peek at.
Ben Grubbs (Ravens) - If Brisiel walks, Grubbs could step in and immediately fill the void. He is an excellent run-blocker and is effective at moving runners off the line, which is a necessity for the running game in the zone-blocking scheme.
Round 1 - Peter Konz, Wisconsin
Round 2 - Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
Round 3 - Ryan Miller, Colorado
Round 4 - Nate Potter, Boise State
Round 5 - Brandon Washington, Miami
Round 6 - Will Blackwell, LSU
Round 7 - Art Frost, Rutgers
I realize that most Texans fans are content at this position and constantly meet this discussion with a "We don't need anymore linebackers" response. Well, let me introduce you to Wade Phillips. You can never have enough linebackers in a 3-4 and Wade will be the first to express that.
At the end of the season, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed were taking almost every snap due to the lack of depth at the position. DeMeco Ryans is already being whispered about as a possible cap casualty, and who knows how Darryl Sharpton will recover from his season-ending injury. Here are a few guys the team will likely give a call.
Anthony Spencer (Cowboys) - I will have to say that I am surprised that Wade Phillips didn't try to bring over more of "his guys" from Dallas when he was hired. But when Spencer hits the market, I could see Wade wanting to bring him in. He's stout against the run and can get after the quarterback more than a lot of players at his position.
Round 1 - Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
Round 2 - Vinny Curry, Marshall
Round 3 - Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Round 4 - Jerry Franklin, Arkansas
Round 5 - Carmen Messina, New Mexico
Round 6 - Tanner Brock, TCU
Round 7 - Chris Gallipo, USC
I really wanted to go cornerback here, but they showed such improvement last year. Plus, they have Roc Carmichael and Brandon Harris waiting in the wings. So I think they look to shore up some depth at safety instead.
Glover Quin played pretty well in his transition opposite Danieal Manning last season, but he is a free agent in 2013 and some tough decisions are about to be made. They could always use depth behind those two as well as possibly sliding Quin back to corner should a steal fall in their laps on draft day. Check a few of these out.
LaRon Landry (Redskins) - After a season-ending injury and a questionable decision not to opt for surgery, Landry has found himself without a contract and uncertainty about his current condition among possible suitors. This would be the ultimate low-risk, high-reward guy, as he has star potential when healthy and he won't be able to demand a big contract.
Round 1 - Mark Barron, Alabama
Round 2 - Robert Lester, Alabama
Round 3 - Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
Round 4 - Brandon Taylor, LSU
Round 5 - Delano Howell, Stanford
Round 6 - Blake Gideon, Texas
Round 7 - George Iloka, Iowa State