Missing Pieces the Houston Texans Could Still Land
They got their man in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the second receiver taken overall, with the 27th pick. This was a draft class where much of the talent in the first round was not significantly greater than that in the second.
It was thought GM Rick Smith, who likes to trade down, might wait until later to grab a receiver. Instead, their first pick was retained, and the second used to snatch safety D.J. Swearinger at No. 57 as the heir apparent to Glover Quin.
In the defensive collapse over the last six games of 2012, the pass rush was J.J. Watt plus zip from just about everyone else. Outside linebackers are supposed to be the sack makers in Wade Phillips' defensive philosophy. This accounts for Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams coming on board in the third and fourth rounds.
With Derek Newton still in recovery from his torn patellar tendon, Smith threw two draft choices at the right tackle problem with Brent Williams and David Quessenberry. Tight end and nose tackle were neglected until the final two choices in the sixth round.
What remains is a variety of unaddressed needs. The paper-thin depth at inside linebacker and running back were ignored. The draft could not add experience where it is needed most: at wide receiver and nose tackle.
Kicker Shayne Graham was released with the understanding the job was going to 2012 draft choice Randy Bullock. But someone has to compete with him in training camp just in case the former Texas Aggie flops.
There are unsigned free agents from the last year’s squad that could be brought back if no one can be found on the open market. The following are some possibilities that could help close the gaps. Unless noted, all players are unrestricted free agents with their previous team listed.
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Barrett Ruud (Houston)
Ruud filled in admirably when the cupboard was made bare due to injuries. With Darryl Sharpton and Tim Dobbins both sidelined, he performed better in his short stint than starter Bradie James.
Takeo Spikes (San Diego)
Spikes may be going into his 16th year in the league, but was in the starting lineup for the entire 2012 season. His production fell off significantly over last six games according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). With a $3.7 million cap hit last season, he would have to take a big pay cut to sign with Houston.
Gary Guyton (San Diego)
He has been nothing more than a backup his entire career, and Week 15 was his only appearance in 2012. He could be had for the minimum for a seventh-year player ($840,000).
Brandon Siler (Kansas City Chiefs)
After recovering from an ACL tear that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season, Siler finally made it on the field for Week 14 last year. If Siler can handle 10-15 snaps per game, he could help lessen the load for starters Brian Cushing and Sharpton.
The undrafted free agent (UDFA) with the most intriguing story is Kansas State linebacker Justin Tuggle. The son of tackling machine and five-time Pro Bowler Jesse Tuggle, he has just one full season at ILB after switching from quarterback. He is an atypical combination of size (6’3”, 240 pounds) and overall athleticism for the position.
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Mewelde Moore (Indianapolis)
At 30 years old, his career carries number is just over 500. He still may have something left, and behind a good offensive line like the Texans, could generate some yards as their No. 3 back.
Javon Ringer (Tennessee)
Whatever promise Ringer brought into the league has been curtailed by injury. The only season he played a full schedule was 2010, missing 27 other games in four seasons. If the ACL that limited his 2012 participation to two games has mended, a roster spot as an insurance back might be in the cards.
Kevin Smith (Detroit)
Smith was pushed right off the depth chart as Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell were given most of the handoffs in 2012. This five-year veteran is more of a power back and not a cut-and-go runner. The Texans had enough problems in the red zone that someone like Smith might come in handy.
Peyton Hillis (Kansas City)
Hillis comes with enough baggage to disqualify him from joining the squeaky clean Boy Scout image preferred by Bob McNair. If he could reclaim some of the grit from his breakout season in 2010, Houston would have a real banger as a change-of-pace back instead of the shifty prototype normally associated with the term.
If it comes down to a UDFA, the likeliest candidates are Ray Graham from Pittsburgh or Arkansas’ Dennis Johnson. Graham is not a speedy back, but knows how to hit the hole and make tacklers miss. Johnson had over 1,300 all-purpose yards for the Razorbacks as a senior and scored on three runs, two receptions and a kick return.
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Shaun Cody (Houston)
Former starter Cody has been in limbo as an unsigned UFA. The back problem that caused him to miss three games in 2012 was surgically repaired in the offseason. Earl Mitchell has been appointed the starter, but Cody is likely more than willing to be the backup this go-round.
Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh)
A Galveston native, Hampton went from the University of Texas to a career as one of the best nose tackles of the last decade. He may be 36 by the beginning of the season, but started all 16 games in 2012. His tank may have a couple of laps left in it.
Corvey Irvin (Tampa Bay)
Irvin is a career backup, who would be brought in strictly to deepen the roster. The Buccaneers drafted heavily on the defensive line, which led to Irvin’s release.
Maake Kemoeatu (Baltimore)
Another graybeard at the position, Kemoeatu was the starter for Baltimore through most of their championship season. His play fell off enough by season’s end that they drafted rookie Brandon Williams to swap snaps with Haloti Ngata.
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Laurent Robinson (Jacksonville)
The four concussions he suffered in 2012 turned his big free-agent contract into the reason the Jaguars decided to eat $9 million in dead money. The league might clear him to play, but with his seven-figure signing bonus already banked he may not have the motivation.
Chaz Schilens (New York Jets)
Brandon Stokley (Denver)
We may be talking about the oldest receiver still out there, but his 45 receptions for five touchdowns in 2012 speak for themselves. If experienced depth is lacking at the position, why not go for the most available?
The UDFA with the best numbers is Alec Lemon from Syracuse. The All-Big East first-team selection with 4.55 speed set a school record with 72 catches for 1,070 yards and seven scores.
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Chris Cooley (Washington)
When former Texans’ TE James Casey was compared to other players, Cooley’s name came up first. Both were asked to line up in the backfield, block like a fullback and still catch passes. Cooley says he’s only interested in playing for the Redskins, but the almost $1 million league-minimum salary might persuade him otherwise.
Dante Rosario (San Diego)
Rosario maybe a JAG (Just Another Guy), but he has carved out a creditable career as a second or third tight end for five seasons. If sixth-round TE Ryan Griffin is more suited for the practice squad, the Texans could do a lot worse.
David Thomas (New Orleans)
This ex-Saint is the Crescent City version of Rosario. Thomas was great in the red zone last season with four TDs, where Gary Kubiak prefers to target tight ends. New Orleans loss could be Houston’s gain.
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Billy Cundiff (Washington)
When you go from All-Pro in 2010, to being released for losing the AFC Championship Game in 2011, redemption is hopefully your next stop in the life of this kicker. The missed kick that sent New England to Super Bowl XLVI may still be in his head. Beating out a kicker that cost the Texans a draft choice could help turn around his career.
Olindo Mare (Chicago)
The 40-year-old Mare finished out the season for the Bears when Robbie Gould injured his calf. If Morten Andersen could keep making field goals until he was 47, this wily vet could at least show Bullock how to prepare for life in the NFL pressure cooker.
Lawrence Tynes (New York Giants)
One year removed from helping the Giants win a Super Bowl and Tynes is looking for work. While many consider kicking in the NFL more like “Money for Nothing” and not real work, Tynes could show the Texans’ untested kicker how to deal with the fleeting fortunes of his job.