Houston Texans Mock Draft: Predicting All 7 Rounds
As NFL free agency settles down a bit, the spotlight begins to shift back towards the upcoming NFL draft.
Though there could still be moves on the horizon, the lack of activity in free agency from the Houston Texans so far comes as no surprise. The organization prefers to build through the draft, and it's had considerable success with this philosophy over the years.
With pro days wrapping up and the draft creeping closer and closer, the real opportunity for the Texans to upgrade the roster is within reach.
In anticipation of the upcoming draft, here's a look at who the Texans could take in all seven rounds.
Round 1: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson Tigers
If there's an opportunity to draft a possible Day 1 starter at wide receiver in the first round, the Texans must pull the trigger.
DeAndre Hopkins is one of a few intriguing wideouts who grade out somewhere in the later part of the first round. There are some wide receiver-needy teams picking before the Texans, so they should feel fortunate if they have a shot at one of them.
The former Clemson Tiger's best trait is his ball skills. As you can see in the picture, he attacks the ball in the air with his 10" hands (above average for receiver) and uses his strength to fight off defensive backs. He was frequently seen doing this during his Clemson career. At 6'1" and 214 pounds, he has enough size to play on the edge in the NFL.
Hopkins helped solidify himself as a legitimate potential NFL difference-maker when he dominated the LSU Tigers in the Chic-fil-a Bowl. He hauled in 13 catches for 191 yards against one of the better defenses in college football.
Long speed and his ability to get off press coverage are two common concerns with Hopkins. Lowering his 40 time into the 4.4 range should damper some of those speed concerns.
There's no guarantee he'll be on the board at 27th overall. If so, he should be under heavy consideration.
Round 2: Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern State Lions
There will be nose tackle options on the board for the Texans as late as the end of the second round. Brandon Williams represents the best fit in that range for Wade Phillips' 3-4.
Williams was as impressive as any defensive tackle in Mobile, Ala. during Senior Bowl week. Coming from the small school of Missouri Southern State, it was important for him to show he could compete with the other top prospects in the All-Star game. Both in practices and the game, the small-school defensive tackle flashed an impressive combination of strength and quickness.
He went to the combine and posted 38 bench reps, the best at his position. It's promising to see him translate those 38 reps to playing strength. Those traits, to go along with his bowling ball frame at 6'1" and 335 pounds, are what make him one of the better nose tackle prospects in the draft.
In going through his NFL.com scouting report, a few key lines stood out:
"Uses his hands to swim or rip past blockers into the backfield. Also wins gaps by attacking a shoulder or out-quicking his man with a first step."
Wade Phillips seems to value these qualities in defensive linemen above all. Williams fits the one-gapping scheme, but also brings the square nose tackle frame scouts look for.
The Texans didn't address the position in free agency, so it needs to be a priority in the draft. If Houston waits any longer than the second round to take a nose tackle, it won't find much more than rotational guys to play behind Earl Mitchell.
The small-school nose guard could immediately compete with Mitchell and possibly be a Day 1 starter.
With inside linebacker also on the list of major team needs, a pick like Williams would be a good first step towards freeing up the linebackers behind him.
Round 3: Zaviar Gooden, OLB, Missouri Tigers
One of the fastest linebackers in the draft, Zaviar Gooden would be a significant speed upgrade at inside linebacker.
Finding ways to keep him clean of offensive linemen as much as possible will be a premium, but there are schematic ways around that. If Wade Phillips feels confident he can do that with Gooden, he could be a major hit in Houston's 3-4.
Running and hitting in space should be his specialty. His instincts in coverage have come into question, but he's also shown the athleticism to match up one-on-one with slot receivers.
Gooden isn't too small for the position at 6'1" and 234 pounds. Missouri Tigers are known for their prowess in the weight room, and Gooden supported that reputation with 27 reps at the combine, tops for linebackers.
His speed is well-documented. He posted the best times for linebackers in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle in Indy. He's drawn comparisons to NFL linebacker Zach Brown, who the Tennessee Titans took in the second round last year. Brown came into the NFL with a similar reputation to Gooden and proved he's a legit, every-down linebacker.
Gooden's journey will be a little different, as he'd be playing inside in Houston's 3-4. Though he's been pegged as a weak-side 4-3 linebacker, 3-4 inside linebackers share many of the same responsibilities. It isn't as drastic as an assignment difference as it may seem.
A major speed upgrade inside is necessary after seeing Houston's inside 'backers exploited in space repeatedly in 2012. If nose tackle is addressed properly, the Texans can afford to bring in a lighter, faster linebacker to play next to Brian Cushing, rather than a big thumper.
Round 4: Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse Orange
The loss of Glover Quin is tough, but it isn't the end of the world.
General manager Rick Smith found Quin in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Houston can find his eventual replacement as late as the fourth round this year.
Shamarko Thomas is one of many safeties who should be on Houston's radar. The Texans will be looking at safeties capable of covering deep, and Thomas profiles as capable of handling coverage duties on all levels of the defense. He has all the top-end speed needed for the position, as exhibited by his 4.42 speed at the combine. He's a sneaky hard-hitter, playing much bigger than his 5'9" height might suggest.
Thomas played on all levels of Syracuse's defense throughout his collegiate career. Wade Phillips used Quin all over the defense since taking over as the defensive coordinator, and Thomas is one of a few prospects in the draft capable of filling that role.
The former Orangemen's height will keep him off of some teams' draft boards. He's a much better talent than the fourth round, but concerns over his ability to cover some of the taller monster tight ends and receivers are real.
There may be a calling to address safety earlier in the draft, but this class is deep enough to find capable future starters, even in this range.
Round 5: Tommy Bohanon, FB, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Tommy Bohanon projects as one of the best, if not the top run-blocking fullback in the draft. He isn't nearly the player Casey is as a receiver out of the backfield, but offers more upside as a blocker.
The former Demon Deacon is more of a traditional fullback in the mold of Vonta Leach. He isn't as big as Leach is now, but at 6'1" and 246 pounds, he's no slouch and could put more on his frame.
He's gained quite a reputation for his prowess in the weight room. Kim Berard of the IMG Academy Blog had this to say about Bohanon:
The Wake Forest fullback has long-been known for his weightlifting abilities. In his sophomore year in college, Bohanon made a series of videos showing his prowess that went viral on YouTube. At IMG Academy, in preparation for the NFL Combine, however, Bohanon turned his attention towards getting faster. That didn't stop him from besting the competition in the bench at this year's NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Bohanon put up 36 reps to land atop a contingent of linemen.
After seeing him excel at creating rush lanes in the Senior Bowl, his potential as a starting NFL fullback was evident. He also showed upside as a pass-blocker in practice during the week. After the buzz he created at the Senior Bowl, Houston might not be able to wait until late in the fifth round to secure him.
Fullbacks do fall in the draft, but the Texans can't be too patient. Landing Bohanon in the fifth round would be an ideal scenario.
Round 6: Onterio McCalebb, RB, Auburn Tigers
The Texans need significantly better production on kick and punt returns. Drafting an all-purpose returner with sub-4.3 speed could help.
Onterio McCalebb will take time to find a spot on an NFL offense, but he can immediately upgrade a return unit from Day 1. His lack of size at 5'10" and 168 pounds will limit him, but he'd be drafted by Houston for big returns on special teams.
The former Auburn Tiger continues to run unofficial 40-yard dash times under 4.3. Andrew Yawn of The Auburn Plainsman spoke about his pro day via NFLdraftscout.com:
McCalebb might have benefited the most from the extra publicity provided by Pro Day. He continued to run blistering - if unofficial - 40 yard dashes with his fastest being unofficially clocked at 4.29 seconds. Scouts who buy into game film more than drills can see his productivity if plugged into the right system. For those looking for workout warriors, McCalebb did not disappoint. While the main knock on McCalebb is his seemingly frail 168-pound frame, he completed 10 reps in the bench press - seven more than 313-pound guard John Sullen - showing that he has the upper body strength to take a hit.
With more upside as an offensive player than former Texans return specialist Trindon Holliday, there could be ways to get McCalebb the ball in space. Speed is a lacking element on Houston's offense, so feeding McCalebb the ball on screens and reverses could bring a new element to the unit.
There are a few burners in this draft who could seriously upgrade Houston's special teams in the return game. McCalebb is on that list.
Round 7: Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina Gamecocks
The seventh round is the ultimate NFL draft crapshoot, where teams can take risks on players who they might not normally pick in the earlier rounds.
Devin Taylor fits that bill.
Taylor would project as a base 3-4 defensive end in Houston's defense. His size is one of his best traits at 6'7" and 266 pounds. With 36" arms, he should be able to keep offensive linemen away from his body, keeping himself free to pursue.
Playing opposite of one of the most disruptive forces in college football, Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor had a surprising dip in production (three sacks) in his senior season as a South Carolina Gamecock. That was his lowest total by far in all of his years at South Carolina.
The biggest issue with Taylor is his stiffness. He's not going to have the range to move down the line or chase down plays in the NFL. Teams with fleet-footed quarterbacks in their division will be turned off by a player like Taylor because of his stiffness and inability to contain speed in space. He'll need to be kept in the phone booth one-on-one with tackles or guards to have success.
As a situational run-down defensive end, Taylor could contribute to an NFL defense. Outside of J.J. Watt, the Texans' lack height and length on the defensive line like Taylor has.
There will likely be a handful of low-risk, high-reward projects on the board in the seventh round and Taylor could be one of those available.