Sure, there were holes to fill. Mario Williams took the money and ran to Buffalo, the right side of the offensive line had to be replaced, and an aging corps of receivers desperately needed an infusion of new blood.
The reward for success is your team’s brain trust has to make the most of the leftovers of each round. Particularly in the first, when after the 20th pick or so, the relative value of each player becomes less apparent.
The Texans' needs going into the draft were OLB, WR, OL and CB depth, more or less in that order. So how to judge the decisions coming out of the Texans’ war room?
Since they’ve yet to play a down, the players chosen by Kubiak, Smith, et al. can best be judged in comparison to each other. In other words, was each pick "better than who’s left" (BTWL) on the board? A simple Yes, No or Maybe will be the measure. For consistency's sake, player profiles from NFL.com will be used unless otherwise noted.
Strengths: Speed (4.68 at combine). “He excels in pursuit down the line of scrimmage and is a high motor player.”
Weaknesses: “His feet are slowed by his instincts as he oftentimes gets caught looking into the backfield and hesitates when diagnosing the run.”
Strengths: “Zeitler displays very quick movement off the line and gets into his blocks quickly.”
Weaknesses: “Zeitler is a big man with heavy legs who at times labors to get moving when he needs to get out of his set and pull.”
Strengths: Speed (4.64 at combine). “He has a good burst off the ball and a natural feel for disrupting plays.”
Weaknesses: “Perry can get tied up on double teams often and have trouble when working against lineman in a tight area.”
Strengths: “He consistently runs past corners on deep routes and is impressive at the point of the catch, as he is able to lay out for the ball or rise above his defender.”
Weaknesses: “Outside of catching jump balls, he struggles to read coverages and understand how to find holes in a zone.”
Mercilus BTWL: Yes. Besides being the unanimous winner of Best Name in this year’s draft, he continues the Texans' emphasis on bolstering the defense as the key to contending. If the mantra of every defensive coordinator in the league is "You can't have enough pass rushers," Wade Phillips is chanting right along.
Given the Texans traded their second-round pick for Tampa Bay’s third- and fourth-round picks, clearly the WR and OL possibilities in later rounds fit GM Rick Smith’s history of always trading down and never up.
Strengths: “He can burst and stick his foot in the ground at the top of routes to gain separation. He is effective after the catch and is very polished.”
Weaknesses: “Posey will get caught peeking at incoming safeties when going across the middle. He shows toughness when blocking, but not here.”
Bills third round, 69th pick: T.J. Graham, WR
Strengths: “He can beat corners in man coverage and use his hands to stack on top of them and continue to gain separation.”
Weaknesses: “He is undersized and not very strong, and it shows across the middle and when he tries to block.”
Bengals third round, 83rd pick: Mohamed Sanu, WR
Strengths: “Sanu is a throwback receiver who sees the ball when going across the middle. He is fearless in all aspects.”
Weaknesses: “He is slow off the line and doesn’t have the speed to get behind NFL corners.”
Posey BTWL: Yes. If Kubiak is auditioning for Andre Johnson’s successor, Posey was the best combo of speed and size still around.
There is a core of Texans fans who’ve grown tired of team management insisting on only bringing in prospects with “character.” Posey’s spotty resume, with two five-game suspensions his senior year, will warm their hearts.
Strengths: “Brooks possesses a massive wide body…Is more agile than expected, and is effective staying engaged down the line on moving pockets or zone runs.”
Weaknesses: “Brooks has only adequate quickness out of his stance…NFL defensive linemen might be able to jump gaps or do a swim move by him.”
Who’s left: No one near Brooks' caliber
Brooks BTWL: Yes. No other linemen were taken in the third until Lamar Holmes at 91. Not a combine invite, Brooks nevertheless graded out at 82.5, while Holmes’ was 50.5, so there’s virtually no comparison.
Zone blocking scheme does not favor a 350-pounder, so he might have to go low-carb at the training table to contribute.
Strengths: “Jones is very good at staying with his blocks and sealing off defenders in the run game…is efficient in how he mirrors and can seal at the last second to create a hole.
Weaknesses: “Jones has trouble with his footwork in many aspects of the game… a very non-explosive blocker who relies on his ability to mirror and his overall strength.
Strengths: “Blake is large and fits well on his blocks…is quick when pulling, and will stay in front and mirror defenders in his pass set.
Weaknesses: “Blake is still a developing talent with average athletic ability and skills…will need time to become an NFL-caliber starter.”
Jones BTWL: Yes. With Antoine Caldwell projected to take over at RG, he cannot also be expected to double as Chris Myers' backup at center. Ranked as second-best C to Pete Konz, Jones is the definition of value this late in the draft. He may be versatile enough to slide over to G if necessary.
Strengths: “He can make ridiculous moves with his feet while still running full speed…is explosive when moving off the ball and gets to top speed very quickly.”
Weaknesses: “Martin is uninspired when it comes to blocking…(and) same can be said when going across the middle.”
Strengths: “…he (is) an excellent mid-range receiver. He is willing and definitely strong enough to be involved as a blocker in the run game.”
Weaknesses: “Toon is not the fastest receiver prospect…He has a tough time separating at his size…”
Martin BTWL: Maybe. Martin may not be the ideal fit for an offense that prizes bigger receivers who can block.
But with Jacoby Jones and his punt-return abilities now the property of the Ravens, Martin was picked for his versatility as a PR and not strictly for his prowess as a pass catcher. But if Posey fails to establish himself as an effective No.3 wideout, the pressure on Martin will just intensify.
Strengths: “…he still could emerge as one of the premier defensive lineman in the draft…Crick shows value not only in his ability to play inside effectively but also as a potential defensive end, particularly in a 3-4 scheme.”
Weaknesses: “There were worries that Crick would struggle against double teams after (Ndamukong) Suh left Nebraska, and those concerns proved to be true.”
Packers fourth round, 132nd pick: Mike Daniels, DT
Strengths: “Daniels is quick off the ball and uses his small frame to work between blockers. He is flexible and an overall active interior player.”
Weaknesses: “Daniels is undersized and gets engulfed by bigger blockers and double teams.”
Crick BTWL: Yes, yes and yes. Wade Phillips’ talent as a coach is putting his charges in the proper position and scheme to succeed with their given talents, which are considerable in Crick’s case. DE is the most likely destination for this 2010 All-American, but when the Texans go to a 4-2-5 in passing situations he could end up anywhere on the line.
Given that spending a draft choice on a kicker is anything but standard procedure in today’s NFL, I am abandoning format in assessing this selection. From CBSSports.com:
“Average accuracy on deep field goals (3-for-6 on attempts of 50+ yards). A bit unproven in late game situations.”
This means he’s just another kicker despite his Lou Groza Award as the best in college football. And he's not worth the cost, even at this lowly point.
So what if Neil Rackers got a better deal from the Redskins. Do what everyone else does in this copycat league: sign a bunch of free agents, and go with the best performer from preseason.
He’s only 5’9”, and I don’t like kickers under six feet because they typically lack range—which makes his BTWL an emphatic NO!
A CB, any CB—a position the Texans did not address at all in the draft or ulitmately in free agency—would have made more sense. This was a momentary lapse of sanity given the overall insightful judgement of the Texans.
Pro Football Weekly: Big-framed, well-proportioned, converted defensive tackle and terrific foot athlete. Explosive pulling and leading through the hole…is draftable late based on size and workout numbers and has clear developmental value.
Who’s left: Not the issue at his position
Mondek BTWL: Maybe. The Texans appear comfortable, perhaps even complacent about depth in the secondary. Not so in the OL, and Mondek is proof.
With the release of Jason Allen, CBs Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph have no experienced backups. Too late to effectively address this deficiency, and Big Nick is just another project like Derek Newton, a seventh-round RT from 2011.
Deciding to go with defense in the first round illustrates how the identity of this team is shifting away from the Johnson-Schaub-Foster crew to the Cushing-Joseph-Watt posse. Stocking up on another athletic blitzer with your most valuable selection makes perfect sense.
Even two blown Andre Johnson hamstrings in 2011 and the impending release of Jacoby Jones were not reason enough to grab a receiver before the third round. With all the depth at this position going into the draft, even the highest ranked candidates had holes in their skill sets.
So trading down may have meant gambling on the potential of Posey and Martin, but it allowed them to acquire Brooks and Jones as reinforcements for the OL.
Add Sports Illustrated cover boy Jared Crick on top of all this, and you have a class that rivals any team relegated to the lower echelons of the draft order.
Even squandering a pick on a kicker can’t ruin this party. Bullock will likely get the job coming out of preseason, but every free-agent kicker available will have a speed dial icon on Rick Smith’s smartphone.
But did the Texans get enough value to upgrade the team?
Brandon Brooks could supplant the brittle Antoine Caldwell at RG, Posey is penciled in as the No. 3 receiver, and the PR job is Martin’s to lose. And Whitney The Merciless may be just a situational sub on passing downs, but his performance will be critical in keeping the Texans’ defense ranked second in opposing QB rating.
In the end, this determination will come down largely to injuries. In 2011, “Next Man Up” was the call when Matt Schaub, Mario Williams, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson were lost. T.J. Yates, Brooks Reed and Ben Tate, all essentially rookies, filled in respectively and in admirable fashion.
But there was not an effective replacement for Johnson, and the departure of Jacoby Jones was confirmation of this shortcoming. If Johnson goes down again for an extended period, the new blood has to come through to keep the WR position off life support.
So my answer to the upgrade question is, “Yes, for now.”
These are rookies after all. The game at this level is faster, more complex, with every aspect more demanding. When the season goes live, and my “for now” qualifier is removed, let’s hope Texans fans will reply, “Without a doubt.”