The Biggest Questions for the Houston Texans Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

Matt GoldsteinContributor IIMarch 31, 2013

The Biggest Questions for the Houston Texans Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

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    Ah, the draft is almost here. A time of questions, speculation, hope and change. A time where teams like the Houston Texans can build championship contenders. A time where lowly teams can start a revitalized comeback.

    For the Texans, there will be many needs to fill in the draft.

    An extreme lack of depth at wide receiver, nose tackle and inside linebacker will likely dictate the Texans' draft strategy.

    Normally it is best to draft the best player available, but due to the Texans' weaknesses on the depth chart, they will be forced to draft for need.

    Here are biggest questions plaguing the Texans about their draft strategy.

Is Wide Receiver a First-Round Priority?

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    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

    The Texans' lack of depth at the receiver position is so concerning that it completely overshadows all the other needs on both offense and defense.

    Currently, the only dependable receiver on the roster is Andre Johnson. A superstar, Johnson has been the Texans' go-to guy for over a decade.

    Last year, Johnson put up a career season in terms of yardage, totaling over 1,500 yards.

    Johnson, however, is nearing the end of his effective playing days. At the age of 31, Johnson can still put up several more extremely productive seasons, but he is certainly not youthful anymore. He will eventually retire, and the Texans must be prepared to move forward without him.

    Behind Johnson, the Texans' receivers consist of DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean—all of whom are very inexperienced and inconsistent. To make matters worse, the most promising of the three young receivers, Posey, will not be able to play until at least midseason due to an Achilles injury.

    The Texans need to draft a receiver that can contribute now, and as the No. 1 receiver when Johnson retires. The best place to find this type of receiver is in the first round.

    Expect the Texans' first-round draft selection to be a wide receiver.

How Big of a Need Is Inside Linebacker?

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    There are two schools of thought concerning how early the Texans need to draft an inside linebacker.

    One side argues that the major reason why the Texans struggle to defend against elite quarterbacks is because the defense was forced to play in nickel and dime formations. In these formations, the Texans have one less pass-rusher than in the base 3-4 defense.

    As the Texans did not have linebackers that could effectively cover tight ends and some slot receivers last season, many argue that Wade Phillips was forced to play nickel and dime defenses on a regular basis. A linebacker who could both cover and defend against the run, they argue, would allow Phillips to keep is defense in its base form more often.

    The other side argues that no matter how talented the linebacker behind Brian Cushing is, Phillips will still constantly go to nickel and dime defense. They argue that this is simply Phillips' defensive strategy, and nothing could possibly change it.

    The unfortunate thing is that there is no way to prove either side correct. Phillips has arguably not had an extremely talented linebacker behind Cushing, so there is no way to tell what Phillips would do with one.

    I, for one, believe that the Texans should address their inside linebacker need early, hopefully with one of their two third-round picks.  

    While Phillips may not completely change his defensive strategy, he would likely decide to play a great linebacker more often than he would play a subpar one.

    The Texans will still play nickel and dime defenses on a regular basis, but a solid linebacker behind Cushing should enable them to stay in the 3-4 more often.

With the Signing of Ed Reed, Must the Texans Still Draft a Safety?

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    With the signing of Ed Reed, the Texans safety concerns have been eased. For now.

    While there should be no reason to worry about the current group of starting safeties—which consists of Danieal Manning and Reed—the Texans must still address the safety position in this year's draft.

    The problem is that both Manning and Reed are old, older than most effective safeties. While they can both still play at a high level, they will not be able maintain that level for much longer.

    And the even worse part is that their backups are miserable. Shiloh Keo has struggled in every opportunity he's been given, and Eddie Pleasant is raw and unproven.

    Also, in their advanced age, it is quite likely that either Manning or Reed could succumb to injury at some point in the season. If that were to happen, the Texans would be left in a terrible situation with Keo as a starting safety.

    Therefore, to bolster the safety depth and to prepare for the future, the Texans should attempt to address safety early in the draft. There are multiple talented safeties who will likely be available in the mid-rounds, all of whom would provide valuable depth and starting potential for the future.

When Should the Texans Select an Outside Linebacker?

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    Like with the safety position, the Texans are safe with their starting outside linebackers.

    Whitney Mercilus, last year's first-round pick, will have one of the starting jobs. In limited playing time last season, he racked up six sacks and applied decent pressure on the quarterback. As the starter next season, he will be given an opportunity to rack up even bigger numbers.

    Brooks Reed, the other starting outside linebacker, had a stellar rookie season in 2011, but regressed slightly in the pass-rushing department last season. He will be an effective player who the Texans can depend on.

    Behind those two, however, the depth is shaky and unreliable. In fact, none of the backup linebackers have played more than a few snaps at the position. 

    Due to this, the Texans will absolutely select a capable backup outside backer in this draft. A dependable backup is valuable, as it is important to establish a three-man rotation at the position to keep all the outside linebackers rested. Also, a solid backup would be great insurance against an injury to either Reed or Mercilus.

    Expect the Texans to address outside linebacker early.

Should the Texans Take a Nose Tackle Early?

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    Nose tackle is an extreme position of need for the Texans. In fact, the only position that the Texans should value more than nose tackle is wide receiver.

    Shaun Cody, the Texans' starting nose tackle last season, is currently a free agent, and the Texans have made no attempt to re-sign him. That means, at this moment, the Texans' starting nose tackle is Earl Mitchell, with virtually no capable depth behind him.

    Mitchell is a decent player, but he is more fit for a backup role, and certainly not a starting one.

    Fortunately for the Texans, this year's draft is loaded with starting-caliber nose tackles. In any of the first three rounds, the Texans could draft one who can be the team's starter for many years.

    Expect the Texans to take a nose tackle off the board as early as possible.