The day of reckoning has finally arrived. The opening of the 2013 NFL draft starts this evening, April 25, at 8 p.m. ET. It is being held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
There will be no more mock drafts, risers and fallers, or unsubstantiated rumors about some collegian’s peccadilloes after tonight. Each of the 32 teams in the NFL must come forward and stake their reputations on a bunch of kids who have yet to play a single professional football game.
What every coach, fan and scout understands is that most of these draftees will fail to pan out. But the handful that does succeed can change the course of the franchise and the people who select them.
These people have spent the last year trying to rank hundreds of eligible athletes by their relative abilities. The names and their placement have changed countless times, but have reached their final locations by now.
Those of us on the outside looking in can only guess what the war room of the Houston Texans looks like, including the “Big Board” where the future of this team may lie. What follows is just one guess as to how the prospects on this board might be arranged.
Overall Big Board
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WR Robert Woods, USC
Woods is not going to outrace anyone to the post. What he will do is run precise routes and use his change of direction to get open. Once he learns to secure the ball on every catch, his skill set will be complete.
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
If Hopkins ran in the 4.4 range, he would be the top receiver on any team’s board. Speed is not the essence of his game, but getting himself into the right spot to make the catch is. He is fast enough once the ball is in his hands.
WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Patton is the best blocker among the top wideouts, which is a real plus in the eyes of the Houston coaching staff. Great at following the ball into his hands, he also knows how to free himself from coverage with a variety of moves.
ILB Kevin Minter, LSU
An inside linebacker needs to read the play right the first time or he will be out of position to limit the gain. This capacity is where Minter is the best of the ILBs, compensating for his lack of coverage skill and the physicality to make the big hit.
SS Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
The difference between strong safety and free safety in today’s NFL is slim. That narrow distinction makes it hard to determine where a player fits in. Cyprien, however, is the strong type who plays the game in an all-out manner.
DT Jesse Williams, Alabama
Wade Phillips likes to flip his defensive ends from one side to the other, run stunts, and basically keep the offensive line sufficiently confused. Williams is versatile enough to play most of his snaps on the center’s shoulder, and then trade places with J.J. Watt or Antonio Smith at either end. Try keeping track of that trifecta!
OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Jones has problems with his neck, has just one year as a starter and did not dazzle any scouts at his pro day. But on film, this guy is always around the ball making things happen. Outside linebackers are the most coveted defensive position, and someone will gamble that his 4.91 40-yard time is not a true reflection of his ability to affect the game.
FS Eric Reid, LSU
Reid is the top-rated safety that will still be on the board when the 27th pick comes around. His style of play is more ballhawk than smash-mouth tackler, and the Texans are desperate for a safety that can create turnovers.
DE Margus Hunt, Southern Methodist
Long, fast and strong, this native of Estonia is still adapting to the American version of football. Even after five years on the SMU campus, he has yet to understand how to stay motivated on every play. When you are 6’8”, put up a 4.6 40-yard time and can pump 38 reps on the bench press, the number of coaches convinced they can make you an All-Pro are almost endless.
Top 5 Wide Receivers
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Keenan Allen, California
Ongoing concerns with his right ankle are still unresolved, which may drag him out of the first round. If healthy he has the tools to be a prototypical Texans receiver: great hands for possession catches and a willing blocker.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Being 6’4” means he has the height, but finds it hard to drop his hips to sharpen his cuts. Hunter will need time to make the most out of his physical traits.
Terrance Williams, Baylor
If a deep threat is what you seek, Williams is your guy. Whether he can do anything but run a fly pattern is the concern.
Aaron Dobson, Marshall
He knows how to get open and make the catch, but may not play as fast as his 40-yard time.
Ryan Swope, Texans A&M
Another player with stopwatch speed (4.34 at combine) that does not translate to elusiveness in the field. For a 6-foot player, he has smaller hands (8.5”) than the diminutive Tavon Austin (9.1”).
Top 5 Safeties
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D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
He is a Glover Quin type, a safety who likes to punish runners and receivers who get past second-level defenders. His 5’10” frame does not have enough height to keep up with the new generation of tight ends.
Phillip Thomas, Fresno St.
Thomas recovered from broken left leg and dislocated ankle in 2011 to become Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. There are no real holes in his game, just lingering concerns about his injury.
J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern
Switched over to defense after spending first three years as a slot receiver, Wilcox still has a lot to learn about the position. His athletic skills indicate he has the potential to develop into a viable strong safety.
Shawn Williams, Georgia
His approach is to focus on the run and then react to possible pass plays. Williams must upgrade his cover skills if he wants to be anything more than a fill-in on prevent defenses.
Earl Wolff, NC State
Wolff’s stock has been soaring due to some upper-echelon combine numbers and the endorsement of draft guru Mike Mayock. Whether this actually catapults him into the third-round as Mayock predicts will be discovered over the coming days.
Top 5 Inside Linebackers
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Kiko Alonso, Oregon
His past body of work projects Alonso as strictly a run-stuffer. Throw in a suspension in 2010 and arrest in 2011 and he does not fit the Texans’ usual character profile.
Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
Another LB who is good at plugging the gap but has trouble in pursuit when the play is not within reach. He has been accused of not giving his best effort on every play.
Nico Johnson, Alabama
Johnson loves to lay the wood to ball carriers and has the range to chase the play in any direction. When making contact, he does not always have the impact his size would suggest.
Jon Bostic, Florida
When Bostic correctly sniffs out the play, he will bring the runner down. The quickness needed to recover if he guesses wrong is not part of his repertoire.
Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
When having to shed a blocker and still bring down the back, Beauharnais can do both. His overall talent may be mid-level, but his effort as a stopper up the middle is above-average.
Top 5 Nose Tackles
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Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Williams combines the size and strength to clog up the middle, and even make the occasional tackle outside the box. He could become the big-body linemen the Texans have lacked if he exerts himself on every snap.
John Jenkins, Georgia
If he can maintain his weight, Jenkins is huge gap-eater that is impossible for one blocker to control. At his size, do not expect much push into the backfield or making many plays up and down the line.
Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Unlike Jenkins, Hankins has a better combination of thickness in the upper body and quickness with his feet. A little slow off the snap, he is still able to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State
Large and nimble enough to play both the three- and five-technique in addition to the nose, he keeps his girth low to present a small blocking target to offensive linemen. His legs do not match his immense upper body, which limits his ability to keep working through the initial block.
Kawann Short, Purdue
Kawaan is a little short when he steps on the scale, barely topping 300 pounds. His long arms and good hands can keep blockers at bay, but needs to stop taking plays off to succeed at the next level.
Top 5 Outside Linebackers
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Alec Ogletree, Georgia
Ogletree is intriguing given his knack for playing linebacker like the safety he used to be. His frame has yet to completely fill out, and does not seem determined enough to get past the blockers between him and his prey.
Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi
When he plays to his overall ability, Collins looks like the next DeMarcus Ware. Unfortunately, too often his lack of intensity makes him looks like DeMarcus Where?
Sio Moore, Connecticut
A tweener OLB that played bigger than his size (6’1”, 240 pounds) by compiling numerous sacks and TFLs against mediocre Big East teams. Many wonder if he is ready to step up to the next level.
Chase Thomas, Stanford
Scouting reports paint Thomas as a workman-like fellow who plays hard with excellent technique. His physical tools may not be NFL-caliber, but teams like to take pluggers in the later rounds.
Cornelius Washington, Georgia
This speed demon is more like a stand-up defensive end than your usual OLB. It takes him a few steps to get going, and in the NFL all that does is give the offensive tackle more time to direct you away from the QB.
Top 5 Offensive Tackles
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Menelik Watson, Florida State
From a physical standpoint, Watson has everything you look for at his position. Only two years of collegiate experience at OT means he will have to work overtime to maximize his potential.
Justin Pugh, Syracuse
Zone blocking requires agility and a willingness to keep blocking until your man is out of the play. Pugh has those qualities and just needs to build enough upper-body strength to sustain his blocks.
David Quessenberry, San Jose State
Quessenberry is a slightly taller version of Pugh with similar pros and cons. He will need to add more heft to his frame in addition to strength.
Brennan Williams, North Carolina
Another work in progress whose father, Brent, had an 11-year career as a defensive end. Most of his shortcomings are in the technique area, which can be corrected with enough coaching and sweat.
Oday Aboushi, Virginia
Since the Texans are looking for a right tackle, the candidates are not required to have the deft footwork demanded of the left side. This describes Aboushi, who does know how to deliver a proper block at the point of contact.
Top 5 Miscellaneous Positions
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TE Vance McDonald, Rice
McDonald also hails from Rice like the departed James Casey. Casey has the better hands, but this tight end brings a bit more size and refined blocking skills.
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut
Another NFL trend beside read-option quarterbacks are taller cornerbacks. The 6’1” Wreh-Wilson will need to learn when to use his height and how to break down and be more fluid when the situation calls for it.
RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M
All the Texans ask of their running back is to make one cut and go. Michael is not a shifty, open-field running back, but knows how to hit the hole and head for daylight.
QB Matt Scott, Arizona
For all those Schaub-aphoibcs, the mobile and strong-armed Scott might be the answer to their dreams. He tops out at 6’2”, which may not be the ideal height. That never seemed to be a problem for the identically sized Aaron Rodgers.
DE Devin Taylor, South Carolina
Most 3-4 defensive ends are wide-bodies, unlike the 6’7”, 275-pound Taylor. His body is adequate for the one-gap system favored by Wade Phillips. He might be just a pass-rush specialist, but when does a team have too many of those?