14 NFL Combine Prospects the Houston Texans Must Closely Watch
The management and coaching staff of the Houston Texans will soon be heading off for the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins on Wednesday, February 20 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Like most people who go shopping, they will make up a list beforehand.
While your list might contain chips, dip and a 12-pack, theirs will contain a series of positions in some relative order. Ask any substantial group of Texans fans and they would say the list should include WR, NT, ILB, OT, QB, CB and so on.
But the price for a dozen bottles of Yuengling Lager is the same for every one in the store. What a quarterback will cost your organization is highly variable and a subject for intense analysis.
Hours of game-day video on the combine participants have already been digested. Now comes the job of comparing these prospects using the same set of routines.
Everyone has to run through six measurable drills: 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and shuttle run. For more information, Mike Mayock from NFL.com explains several of the position-specific drills pro personnel experts use to make draft-day decisions.
While Houston will be making selections in all seven rounds, this article will focus on those players that will likely be chosen by the fourth round. Anyone taken in the later rounds is a long shot to be of any value now or in the future.
The consensus seems to be that a wide receiver to pair with Andre Johnson is the Texans’ most crying need. There is little doubt a fairly high pick will be spent on a speedster who has the tools to turn a go-route into a touchdown.
One of the most trying drills for any position group at the combine is “The Gauntlet.” A receiver is thrown seven rapid-fire passes, catching one after the other while running sideline-to-sideline. Each reception is immediately dropped to prepare for the next throw.
The Gauntlet tests how the receiver adjusts to the ball in the air, whether his hands are soft and “sticky” enough, and if he can maintain visual contact with the ball as he secures the reception.
Cobi Hamilton has been described as preferring to gather the pass into his body, shortening his catch radius. He has the frame (6’3”) to both reach for the ball and run past defenders.
The combine will also demonstrate whether Hamilton can run the crisp patterns that warrant a second-round choice. His time on the three-cone drill, which requires a rapid change of direction, would also be a good test of his agility.
Robert Woods from USC is a more polished product, but has some of the same shortcomings as Hamilton.
The question is not whether he can get open, but whether Woods has the tenacity to get separation in the press coverages that NFL receivers see on most every play.
Bench-press reps are not usually they way most pass-catchers are judged. His total in that drill combined with his explosion in the broad jump could show he has the overall strength that would justify a jump into the first round.
Now that Matt Schaub has become the whipping boy for every failure of the Texans offense, a new quarterback with a rocket arm and grace under pressure would obviously be the cure.
The combine runs its passers through a wide variety of drills, checking out their footwork, arm strength and mechanics. To eliminate the threat of injury, they get to operate without any pass rush at all.
Wilson can deliver the ball to most spots in the route tree, but he takes too long to get rid of the ball. His dropback from center tends to be a little clumsy, which makes him a sitting duck on a three-step drop. He also carries the ball too low, making him a tempting target for ball strippers.
Wilson will need a good showing on agility drills like the shuttle run and smoother technique in the pocket to catch the attention of the Texans’ staff.
Glennon is a long, lean bomb-thrower (6’7”) with more velocity than Wilson but less accuracy. At his height, he can see over the onrushing linemen and find his targets on the run.
His pocket awareness is underdeveloped and he would rather head for the hills than stand his ground under pressure. Without anyone in his face in Indy, he could end up looking more impressive that his actual game efforts would indicate.
Tight ends will be put through the same tests as wide receivers. They not only run the Gauntlet, but also must show the capacity to put a sufficient block on a defensive player and still get into their pattern.
They are not expected to hold their pass blocks as long as an offensive tackle, since they are often taking a route downfield as a receiving option. They must also be able to help out on running plays around the end and over their side of the line.
Sims clearly has the size (6’5”, 285 lbs) to lay the wood in the two-tight end sets that Houston loves to run. He tends to be slow off the line and into his patterns. A good time in the 40-yard dash and nice numbers in the vertical and broad jumps would demonstrate the kind of quickness that could lift his stock.
Reed played a variety of positions in college, showing the kind of flexibility James Casey brought to bear. If Casey becomes a free-agency casualty, the former Gator would be a good fit as the third tight end.
To get noticed, Reed will have to run more disciplined patterns at the combine. He showed an inconsistent approach to getting open at Florida. The Gators passed so little in 2012 that he might have felt left out of the offense.
Mike Mayock described the “kick-slide” as one of the primary drills used to judge how well an offensive tackle engages a pass-rusher. The tackle has to kick to the outside and constantly slide his feet, keeping his balance as the oncoming rusher uses all his speed and strength to elude him.
The best at this technique are put at left tackle to protect the blindside of the quarterback. Those who grade out just below are delegated to right tackle.
Houston has the biggest issue on its offensive line at this spot. A somewhat lesser talent may end up here, but that does little to diminish its importance.
Ricky Wagner played the left side at Wisconsin to great effect for much of Russell Wilson’s college career. His play was more than adequate when dealing with defensive ends and linebackers at that level.
He does not possess the kind of footwork to fend off NFL-quality players intent on adding to their sack numbers. Better suited to the strong side of the line, his sturdy upper body and solid base will serve him well as a right tackle.
Oday Aboushi may be the same height as Wagner (6’6”), but he is still growing into his frame. His lateral quickness in the kick-slide might project him to the left side with some added weight.
Can he carry the 20 extra pounds it would take to stand up to the premier defensive ends of the league? The safe bet would be the right side until the limits of his physical potential are reached.
While the six standard drills can reveal something about speed and the ability to change direction, the defensive tackles can only show their stuff against tackling dummies. They punch and slip-slide these big stuffed cones, but all that can be ascertained is their form.
The rip and swim moves the defensive ends get to show off are all fine and good for this group, but sacks are hard to come by for nose tackles.
These tackles, particularly anyone playing a 1- or 3-technique, have to be concerned about maintaining their base and center of gravity. To demand a double-team or generate any push into the backfield, they must have their bodies aligned the same way as an offensive lineman.
Their pads should be level with their shoulders and in line with their hips, knees slightly flexed. The chief task is to keep the blockers guessing as to which direction their next step will take.
Sylvester Williams from North Carolina fulfills all the standard requirements for the position. He has the wide body, great strength and powerful hands, along with the flexibility to alter his angle of attack without losing any forward momentum.
His stamina late in games can be a problem, something that can be solved with NFL-style conditioning. Another knock on him is the swiftness to chase down the play, which most players at his size also lack.
Kawann Short of Purdue shares many of the same qualities as Williams. His form is not as consistent, which might be due to the distribution of his weight. A pear-shaped frame makes it difficult for him to keep his hips and knees flexed.
Given their size, both will want to get their 40-yard times as close to 5.0 as possible. How fast they get up and down in the usual agility drills, including the criss-cross for D-linemen, could also move them up and down the board.
This is the deepest class in the entire draft, and being able to stand out from the crowd could decide whether you get picked on the Thursday or Friday of the actual draft.
No single position group in football has more responsibilities than linebackers. The best of them can do it all: defend the run, rush the passer when needed and provide pass coverage on players who probably outmatch them in size (tight ends) or speed (running backs).
When it comes to the toughest job, pass coverage, the last thing a prospect wants to be labeled is “stiff.” This means you cannot bend your knees or open your hips enough to stay with the intended receiver.
Kevin Minter of LSU is one of the most highly rated ILBs around, except when it comes to this one crucial area. His reaction to the pass tends to be a step too late and, like most linebackers, he does not have makeup speed.
Every other phase of Minter’s play is top-notch, so the combine is his chance to show the world he can backpedal with the best.
Nico Johnson from Alabama is better in coverage than Minter, but the rest of his game is not up to par. Johnson is the kind of linebacker with good lane discipline when it comes to stuffing the run.
When the play is away from his area, he struggles to get sort out the trash to make the tackle. This is not the sort of limitation that will show up at the combine, so he may be able to shore up a spot in the third round.
Cornerbacks are in a similar situation to the linebackers in that they have to be good at several skills. The difference is they have to bring them together on every passing down.
Again, Mike Mayock does a superb job detailing all the techniques a cornerback will utilize on a pass play with the "speed-turn drill."
First, he has to backpedal while tracking the receiver. Then there is the change in direction after the receiver makes his move, followed by closing on the receiver, often with his back to the line of scrimmage and the ball out of his range of vision.
Finally, he must turn to face the ball and try to make a play on it without interfering with the receiver’s ability to do the same. This is what the coaches refer to as “ball skills.”
The Texans are faced with a choice between retaining SS Glover Quin or CB Brice McCain, both of them unrestricted free agents. Quin is too versatile and too integral to the Texans defense to let go, meaning McCain is likely to end up on another team.
Coincidentally, Matt Miller’s analysis of Blidi Wreh-Wilson from Connecticut directly compares him to McCain in coverage style. Wreh-Wilson is listed as 6’2”, a bonus considering how many wide receivers are that tall and more.
If Wreh-Wilson is cut out to replace a nifty nickelback like McCain, then he will have to show more capability in changing direction after the receiver makes his move. The drill Mayock described will be very revealing in this case.
Darius Slay from Mississippi State is another long corner (6’1”) with good ball skills. His biggest drawback is staying with the receiver as the play progresses downfield, just like Wreh-Wilson.
Slay’s feet can betray him as he tries to maintain contact with his man. Once the ball gets there, he knows how to make the play.