Unfortunately, the offseason has arrived for the Houston Texans.
The good news? The 2013 NFL draft is on the horizon. It's a perfect opportunity for the team to add a handful of impact talents who can push the team closer to the Lombardi Trophy in 2014.
With the Texans likely to remain relatively quiet in free agency, the draft will be the organization's best chance to upgrade the roster.
Even though Houston has posted back-to-back double-digit-win seasons, there are still glaring holes on its roster that need to be addressed. The key is to find good value in the draft while filling those need areas.
So continue reading on for a fresh look at whom the Texans could consider in each round of the draft in April.
Everyone and his dog have the Texans taking an inside linebacker in the first round. It's an obvious need area, and it's possible there could be a 'backer good enough to take at 27th overall.
However, there's no need to reach on a player just to fill the need. An elite athletic talent who could be available for the Texans when they're on the clock is SMU's Margus Hunt.
Hunt lined up all over SMU's defense, from the nose, to the outside shoulder of the tight end as a 7-technique (defensive end in a four-man front). He has strong, long arms and great size (6'7", 280 lbs). He also has outstanding quicks and can bend around the edge extremely well for a man his size.
The former Mustang could play a number of positions in Houston's 3-4 defense. His long-term home would likely be as a defensive end opposite of J.J. Watt (whom he looks a lot like on tape). He also has some similarities to Arizona Cardinals stud defensive end Calais Campbell. Come draft weekend, Hunt could easily be looked at as a top-20 talent.
General manager Rick Smith has been known to take the best player available. It wouldn't be surprising to hear Hunt's name called if he's on the board when the Texans pick.
Wide receiver has been a tough position to predict in past drafts. Last year, Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle seemed to be likely first-round picks, until each fell well into the second round come draft weekend.
For the Texans, they're hoping the league overlooks another quality wideout prospect. Projected by some to be a first-round pick, Robert Woods flashes all the ability to be a quality NFL "X" receiver. He can run every route and would fit seamlessly into Houston's West Coast offense.
Could he fall this far? It's possible.
Woods will need to shake the "possession receiver" label in order to get serious first-round consideration. Given the depth of this receiving class and the possibility of a run on other positions in the second round, Houston could very well have an opportunity to draft Woods.
This offense needs to continue to add weapons, despite an already fairly deep receiving corps.
Brian Cushing provides the thump in the middle of Houston's defense. The unit would benefit from putting a coverage inside linebacker next to him.
Kevin Reddick is another linebacker in a long line of quality run-and-hit 'backers from North Carolina. He's one of the best at his position at dropping into coverage in the entire draft. Lauded for his football instincts and intelligence, Reddick can be frequently seen on tape batting balls down in coverage for the Tar Heels.
At 6'3" and 240 pounds, he has the size needed to be a 3-4 inside linebacker. Reddick also possesses the range and burst to be an effective blitzer, something he'd be asked to be by Houston.
Inside linebacker is one of the most pressing needs on the Texans roster. The team should be expected to add one in the first three rounds, and Reddick should be one of the inside-linebacker prospects on the radar.
This year's running-back class has already gained a reputation for its depth and variety. Teams should be able to get good value in the middle rounds from this year's crop of ball-carriers.
Joseph Randle is one of a handful of backs the Texans should be looking at in the middle rounds. An exciting, productive tailback for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Randle brings a versatile skill set that would compliment Houston's already-talented backfield.
Known for his speed and elusiveness, the 6'1" 200-pounder also shows the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He could fit into a power- or zone-blocking scheme. His ability to cut and accelerate lends itself well towards Houston's zone-running tendencies. As one of the more complete backs in the class, he'll likely be on a number of teams' draft boards.
However, he does have some mileage on him and doesn't run with the power his size might suggest. Regardless, he'll run a tantalizing 40-time that'll have teams interested as soon as the third round.
Fans can't forget how vital Justin Forsett's role was this year as the third running back. If Houston chooses not to re-sign Forsett, there will be a significant opening in the backfield.
The Texans haven't shied away from drafting safeties who participated in the East-West Shrine Game (Shiloh Keo). This year, they could end up taking another impressive safety from the showcase.
Shamarko Thomas brings a better skill set to the table than Keo, though he could likely still be had in the middle rounds. He'll be a riser from here on out, but it's a relatively deep safety class, in which he could have a hard time distinguishing himself.
The Syracuse safety caught the eye of scouts all week in preparation for the Shrine game. Joe Everett of RookieDraft.com had this to say about Thomas:
I had to check and see if this guy had wings because he literally appears to fly around the field. He has legit 4.40 speed and is a natural leader on and off the field, as he’s been supporting his five younger siblings since the death of both of his parents. He reads and reacts to quarterbacks like a real pro and two instances today, arrived before the ball and was forced to pull up and NOT deliver the knockout blow. Thomas is going to thrive at the next level as an outside of the box safety that delivers punishing blows to ball carriers and excels in pass coverage.
This is the type of safety Houston should be targeting in the draft. The coverage from the Texans' safeties in the deep third of the field was suspect far too often for them in 2012. Adding an impact center-fielder type of safety would go a long way towards fixing the coverage woes.
Nickell Robey is an intriguing sleeper cornerback prospect who could pique the Texans' interest.
Though he only registered one interception in his final season with the Trojans, Robey was avoided by offenses in a passing conference. He was lauded for his ability to take his receiver out of the game and was USC's No. 1 corner all year.
Unfortunately, he'll have to defend his small stature (5'8", 165 pounds) throughout the evaluation process. He'll likely be labeled only a nickel corner by scouts, which will drag his stock down.
Rob Rang of NFLdraftscout.com said this of Robey's height:
Roby's height is an undeniable factor that will limit his draft grade, but he could see a boost over the coming months once he is able to show off his athleticism. An accomplished sprinter and long jumper on the USC track team, Roby could light up the Combine.
The former Trojan could see his stock rise some once he runs for scouts. Even if he blows up the stopwatches, he could be there for the taking in the late rounds.
Like running back, the tight-end class is deep and offers great value, even in the late rounds.
At 6'7" and 255 pounds, Zach Sudfeld would be the biggest tight end on Houston's roster. Though still very raw, he's a plus blocker and showcased it in the Shrine Game. He's not as stiff as you might expect a player of his size to be, and he flashes the ability to move well in tight space.
He'll need to improve his route running, but all young tight ends do. The former Nevada standout is much more than a big blocking tight end, as he has the ability to release off the line and catch the ball in space.
Like any prospect projected to go in the late rounds, there are some cons to Sudfeld that will make teams hesitate on draft weekend. He's 26 years old and only has one year of college production. Injuries also played a big part of his collegiate career.
In the seventh round, it's okay to live dangerously and roll the dice on a risky prospect. The upside of Sudfeld is well worth the pick.