Rick Smith and Bob McNair
It is the evening of April 25th, the opening night of the selection festivities. The time is around 9:30 Central and in sports bars around the city, everyone is debating their prediction for the first round. Could it be WR DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson, ILB Alec Ogletree from Georgia or Alabama DT Jesse Williams?
Roger Goodell steps up to the mike at Radio City Music Hall. All conversations are muffled as the anticipation peaks. The commissioner then announces, “The Houston Texans have traded the 27th pick to the Miami Dolphins.”
Crowds all over town rise to their feet and let out a collective “Whaaaat (expletive deleted)?” If this were a Frankenstein movie, the director would cue the villagers to reach for their torches and pitchforks, then proceed to storm the castle.
What possible method could there be to this madness? The offense needs more weapons, the linebacker corps was decimated last year, and the defense needs a monstrous nose tackle to replace Shaun Cody. Why isn’t the team going for the best player possible to fill of those holes?
There are two factors at work here: quantity and quantity. The first quantity is getting the most players possible in a draft that has a bell-curve. The top of the draft has a shortage of “can’t-miss” players, and the late rounds are always “hit-or-miss.”
The drop-off through the first round is steep, meaning the talent differential if choosing at 27, 37 or even 57 is not that great. The largest portion of the curve is stocked with a multitude of promising apprentices.
GM Rick Smith of the Texans has traded down in almost every draft since he came on board in 2006. His greatest triumph is the acquisition of All-Pro LT Duane Brown in 2008 with the 26th choice. Smith swapped out of the 18th position with Baltimore and added selections in the third- and sixth-round. For the 2013 draft, Smith will find a similar trade partner in the Dolphins.
This exchange would send the Texans’ first- and fourth-round picks to Miami for the No. 54 pick in the second and a third-rounder at No. 77. Houston could then make selections at 54 and 57 in the second, and would have three turns at acquiring some very capable players with picks at the 77, 89, and 95 spots in the third.
Why would the Dolphins want to deal when GM Jeff Ireland of the Dolphins has added a slew of talent via free agency? They picked up Brent Grimes to bolster their supply of cornerbacks, but the former Atlanta Falcon is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Desmond Trufant from Washington or Johnthan Banks from Mississippi State would be valuable insurance late in the first round.
The other quantity is cap space. In 2012, Kevin Zeitler went to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 27 and has a cap hit over his first two years of $3.1 million. Detroit’s Ryan Broyles (No. 54) and Denver's Brock Osweiler (No. 57) have a combined two-year hit of just under $3 million.
If Houston can negotiate this swap, that’s two players for the price of one. The next step is they have to get the correct personnel to make all this bartering worthwhile.
Everyone, from owner Bob McNair to the ticket-takers at Reliant Stadium, wants to see a speedy No. 2 receiver who can line up opposite Andre Johnson.
Cordarrelle Patterson has the most complete skill set but will be chosen in the first 10-15 picks. Tavon Austin can do a variety of things well, but will not grow the 4-6 inches needed to become a three-down player.
As regards the group of DeAndre Hopkins, Quinton Patton, Keenan Allen and Robert Woods, each has their pluses and minuses. Patton is the best all-around pass catcher of the bunch, but will be off the board by the time the Texans make their move.
Williams is plenty fast, a good route-runner and has a nose for the end zone. He was never asked to block in college and will be expected to make a concerted effort to support the running game.
Whether he has the toughness to take a hit over the middle, sell his routes to the defense when he is not the primary target or accept being the second option will play out as the season progresses. There is little doubt Williams is an upgrade over Keshawn Martin and Lestar Jean, his main competition for playing time.
When all the injuries to the inside linebackers are considered, why go for an outside backer so early? Because the depth at linebacker is thin, period.
The Texans’ defense had the same number of sacks (44) last season as they did in 2011. Almost half came from the NFL Defensive POY, J.J. Watt. While Watt was a revelation in his second year, his production slowed down late in 2012 and no one was there to pick up the slack.
The system run by Wade Phillips is most successful when the pressure comes from all directions. In that sense, this adage is true: you cannot have enough pass rushers.
In this draft, there is more potential on the edge than in the middle. Collins had a terrific combine and is not your typical converted college defensive end.
He handled the standup pass-rushing role in college, and had 10 sacks for a winless Southern Miss team in 2012. At 6’4” and 250 pounds, size is not a concern.
Pass coverage is a problem for most OLBs, and Collins is no different. He was the top performer in the 60-yard shuttle at the combine, so he does have the quickness and change-of-direction to at least be competent in that area.
When Ed Reed signed with the Texans, his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer was followed by a warning. “He’s not the same player any more. After all, he’ll be 35 when the season starts.”
Reed may be replacing the departed Glover Quin, but he is supposed to be the mentor for a long-term replacement at safety. Mr. Swearinger will have the best instructor he could have requested.
His tackling was more renowned at South Carolina than his cover skills. A bit shorter than the ideal NFL safety at 5’11”, that never mattered with Reed, who is just as tall. And Reed was never a sticky DB who blanketed receivers. He played the angles and used uncanny anticipation to rack up the most interceptions (61) in the last decade.
Swearinger can play up in the box, the place where Quin earned his keep with the Texans. If the rookie free safety for Houston can just pick up the ball skills of his teacher, look out.
The situation at inside linebacker looks desperate.
Brian Cushing is still recovering and will miss OTAs. Tim Dobbins, Bradie James and Barrett Ruud are all UFAs and remain unsigned at this point. The plan to move Brooks Reed from the outside may not be optional anymore.
The need is so glaring many fans thought a first-round pick would be well spent on Kevin Minter from LSU. Others felt Minter was undersized and overrated and wanted to go for Alec Ogeltree, who is better suited for the outside.
Throw Kiko Alonso and Manti Te’o into the mix and it’s hard to tell one from another. That makes Johnson as good a choice as anyone out there.
The 3-4 that he played in at Alabama is a hybrid defense just like the Texans run. It morphs into a 4-3 or 5-2 on passing downs, but Johnson’s assignment was always to stop the run. This may turn him into a two-down linebacker in the NFL, but that job is still a vital one.
Williams was impressive enough at the Senior Bowl that a comparable showing at the combine would have vaulted him into the second round.
Unfortunately for Williams, his trip to Indianapolis from Southwest Missouri State was only noteworthy for his 38 reps of 225 pounds. He led the proceedings in that category, but failed to distinguish himself in other activities.
Fortunately for the Texans, he could still be on the board when they make their selection with the 95th pick. The 330 pounds he carries is perfect for those who are convinced the best defensive tackles are the biggest ones.
While Vince Wilfork comes out of this mold, Geno Atkins, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy do not. They all play in 4-3 defenses and get the chance to show off at times.
Nose tackles in the 3-4 are supposed to be two-gap wide-bodies whose only concern is tying up blockers and collapsing the pocket. Williams is qualified because he has the strength and is used to staying in the box to fulfill his assignment.
Wade Phillips likes a little more mobility out of his tackles, which is why they tend to max out at the 300-pound mark. There may be a lot of salads waiting for Brandon at the training table to get into fighting shape.
Now hold on, another fifth-round QB to tutor as Matt Schaub’s successor? Isn’t T.J. Yates proof enough that this position deserves a greater investment?
There is no denying Yates, who carried Houston in to and out of the 2011 playoffs, is not ready for prime time. And may never be based on his mechanics and inability to read defenses.
In general, the scouts like his arm, his size (6’3”, 230 pounds) and how he can move to extend the play if necessary. What they don’t like is his lack of experience under center and the level of competition he faced at Miami of Ohio. Even though he led the MAC in passing with 25 TDs to just 12 INTs.
If he falls this far, both parties could benefit from seeing what Dysert has to offer. This may be the least impressive quarterback class in recent memory. It would be worth waiting to see how next year’s prospects pan out before going all-in on a trainee for the Texans' field general.
The sixth round is the start of the “Take What You Can Get” lottery. All the planning that proceeds the draft means a lot of thought goes into making every selection. It’s just that results from this point on are dartboard quality.
What makes this Tar Heel worth an extra look is his pedigree. Brent Williams, his father, had an 11-year career in the league after being drafted in the seventh round.
Beyond what tips he might get from dad at making a big impression, he has enough strength and agility to go with his 6’6”, 318-pound frame. Zone blocking demands intricate footwork, which Williams had inadequate time to develop in his 22 career starts.
The practice squad could be his ultimate destination. RG Brandon Brooks used his time there to prepare for a likely starting role in 2013. Lighting could strike twice if RT Derek Newton does not continue to develop as planned.
Houston will not wait until the sixth round to replace James Casey. When you have such wide-ranging skills as Casey, he is basically irreplaceable.
Perhaps the Texans should take another approach. Rather than look for another pass-catching tight end, how about someone who has a knack for blocking?
Houston already has two fellows at the position who excel at receiving in Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. If the coaches are worried about who will replace Casey’s receptions, how about getting Arian Foster the ball out in space instead of those fruitless bubble screens?
Kasa is built like a modern-day TE at 6’6” and 270 pounds. He was an adept run blocker for the University of Colorado. However, it will take time to develop his receiving capabilities.
But when the Texans are down in the red-zone, how about an extra body on the line who can knock the snot out of somebody? Would that not be a welcome change-of-pace?
Who is going to be Mr. Irrelevant, Texans style, in 2013? Introducing Craig Roh, formerly of the Michigan Wolverines.
His greatest claim to fame in his college days was starting a record 51 games. He plays with great intensity but too often substitutes effort for solid playmaking. Add some weight to his 270-pound frame along with NFL-level coaching and Roh could become a fine 3-4 defensive end.
Linebacker was his original position in college, but he does not have enough straight-line speed for him to drop some weight and convert to OLB. Like Brennan Williams, his best hope is to make the practice squad.
Maybe Houston has to cut ties with Antonio Smith in 2014 to re-sign Watt, and maybe Jared Crick does not work out as the backup DE and maybe Tim Jamison never quite recovers from his torn Achilles tendon, then maybe Roh will make the active roster.
Then we can christen him Mr. Maybe.