Already loaded with a deep roster, the Houston Texans will import yet another class of rookies in 2013.
Houston has been successful at adding rookies who are ready to contribute right away—just look at how much the team has relied upon its 2012 draft class this season.
Whitney Mercilus, DeVier Posey, Brandon Brooks, Ben Jones, Keshawn Martin and Jared Crick are all playing a part in helping Houston win games this year. Their roles will only increase in importance with each game now going forward.
The Texans will end up with one of the last picks in each round as a result of having one of the best records in the league. Regardless, the Texans will have opportunities to add impact rookies in each round.
Here's a look at who the Texans could consider come draft time in April.
Could the Texans choose not to re-sign starting outside linebacker Connor Barwin? That remains to be seen. If Houston decides to let him walk in free agency (like Mario Williams), there would be a spot open to add a pass-rusher.
Enter Corey Lemonier. The 6'4" 246-pound defensive end from Auburn has the motor, burst and strength to be a legitimate edge-rusher in the NFL. He's played a ton of snaps in the SEC, and he's clashed against some of the best offensive lines in the conference.
He'd likely play right outside linebacker in Houston's 3-4 defense and rotate at defensive end on third downs. The Texans have a track record of adding front-seven players early in the draft, and Lemonier would fit right in with the other high-effort young players on the defense.
The pass rush from the Texans hasn't been good enough outside of J.J. Watt, and the team needs to be proactive about fixing the problem.
If the Texans want to add an impact offensive tackle, they're going to have to do it through the draft. The team could stand to upgrade from starting right tackle Derek Newton, and the 2013 offensive tackle class has a lot to offer.
Justin Pugh (6'6", 292 pounds) is the type of big, athletic offensive lineman that the Texans look for. His stock will likely rise the closer it gets to the draft because of how well he'll interview with teams.
Known for his intelligence, leadership and being highly-coachable, Pugh compares similarly to the Cleveland Browns' second-round rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Pugh would give the Texans more upside at the position than Newton.
Draft analyst Dane Brugler has followed Pugh since he was a freshman and had this to say about him (via The Sports Xchange):
Pugh is an effortless mover for a 290-pound tackle with good body control and coordination to take on blocks and mirror rushers in space. Pugh needs to continue to fill out his frame and spend more time in the weight room, but the sky is the limit for the rising junior.
Syracuse used Pugh in many of the same ways Houston uses its tackles—on the move and in space. As the starting left tackle for the Orange for three years, Pugh has more experience than most tackles in this draft.
Expect Pugh to be one of the many tackles on Houston's radar in 2013.
Nose tackle Shaun Cody has done an admirable job as a situational run defender for the Texans during the last two years, and he's been a solid contributor in the middle of Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. If Houston fails to re-sign him in the offseason, there will be a glaring need at nose tackle.
Akeem Spence isn't a monster in terms of size (6'1", 305 pounds), but he has the nose tackle frame that scouts look for. He's a tough-to-move run defender who could fit in at nose guard or defensive end in Houston's 3-4 defense.
Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting offers up this scouting report on Spence:
Built well in his lower half, stout at the point of attack well initially, and has natural strength in his hands and as a tackler, he has the tools to be a solid nose tackle at the next level.
Spence was one of the few bright spots on an Illini team that struggled mightily in 2012. His play throughout the year on a struggling team speaks to his football character.
Cody and Antonio Smith will be in their 30's next year, so it wouldn't hurt to add some youth to this group.
Texans fans would have some fun with this pick.
Listed at 6'8" and 360 pounds, McCullers is a mammoth of a man. This space-eater would give the Texans the size at nose tackle that no other team in the NFL would have. Though he'll likely be unable to play many snaps per game at the next level, he could still have a major impact.
McCullers' playing time as a Tennessee Volunteer was sometimes spotty. He would look dominant at times, then find himself benched for long stretches. As they usually do with the bigger defensive lineman, NFL coaches will find better ways to utilize McCullers than the way he was used at Tennessee.
It might seem like a luxury to be able to spend a fourth-round pick on a player who may never play more than 15 snaps in a game, but this is a unique circumstance. Players of McCullers' size are such rare commodities that exceptions can be made.
If the Texans were willing to roll the dice on a fifth-round kicker in 2012, they can afford to take a chance on this physical specimen.
After passing on drafting a cornerback in last year's draft, the Texans will likely take a flier on one at some point in 2013. It isn't the most pressing need on the team, but it never hurts to add competition to the group.
Struggling incumbents Brandon Harris, Brice McCain and Roc Carmichael still have much to prove and could just as easily be replaced if they don't show significant improvement. A rookie like Rod Sweeting would add a healthy level of competition to the group.
Sweeting (6'0", 187 pounds) has good size for the position. He'll be able to play on the edge, which is a great asset for a cornerback prospect. This class of corners is filled with small slot of prospects who can't play outside. Sweeting is one of the few who can play with the big X-receivers in the NFL.
The Texans have a history of drafting defensive backs in these middle rounds. Sweeting should be one of the prospects on their radar.
Devastating injuries have John Boyett's stock down in the dumps right now. His play on the field is closer to that of a second or third-round pick, but an unfortunate health history will hurt his draft stock.
Boyett opted for surgery (reported by Adam Sparks, via Yahoo! Sports) on both of his knees in September of this year, ending his season and (likely) his career at Oregon.
Known for his great instincts and hard hits, Boyett was expected to have a huge senior year. He chose to have the surgery in September in order to be ready for the Scouting Combine in February.
The Texans have used as many as four safeties in their gameday rotation. They should be looking to upgrade from Quintin Demps and Shiloh Keo, neither of which has proven to be a quality contributor in the safety rotation.
If Boyett returns to form like he expects, Houston should be one of the teams interested in him.
Like John Boyett, injuries have pushed Chris Thompson's stock down. He's had season-ending surgeries in back-to-back seasons.
Thompson was a highlight-reel waiting to happen in his career at Florida State, ripping off big plays on the ground in bunches.
He doesn't have great size (5'8", 187 pounds), which will limit his role in the NFL. He's likely a third-down, change-of-pace back at the next level.
Thompson could compliment an NFL running back rotation that needs big-play ability. Any team drafting Thompson should have a good plan for getting him the ball in space, as he isn't a bruising-type of runner.
Thompson's injury history will hurt him in April, which is unfortunate for a player with such big-play potential, but the Texans should be one of the teams willing to give him a chance. He could be one of the hidden gems of this draft class.