Breaking Down Houston Texans' Biggest Needs in 2014 NFL Draft
The Houston Texans’ plan for 2013 was to use the template from the 2012 season that had propelled them to a franchise-best 12-4 record. Only this time, they would just execute it a little better.
Like many battle plans, they fell apart after the first shot was fired. The opening pass in the opening game was picked off, and from that point on the coaches and players have been scrambling to improvise a coherent strategy.
They have had to cope with season-ending injuries to Arian Foster and Brian Cushing. A bum ankle on Matt Schaub opened the door for the brightest ray of light that has shown through the darkness of the club-record seven-game losing streak.
Mr. Sunshine, better known to the football public as Case Keenum, could be the solution at quarterback for years to come. Given enough time, however, he could be rendered ineffective once NFL defenses have enough time to dissect his tendencies. This could be the reason a single touchdown pass has been recorded in the second halves of his three starts as opposed to six in the first halves.
Even if Keenum represents “Case” solved (pun intended) at the most critical position in football, the disaster that has befallen the Texans has exposed a variety of weaknesses in their personnel. What follows is a breakdown of those areas that demand the most attention and some college players that could lend a hand.
Whether the current administration will be the ones pulling the strings on draft day 2014 is anyone’s guess. For now, let’s assume the same offensive and defensive systems will be in place when those decisions are made.
Unless otherwise noted, all player profiles courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com.
The cross-town hero from the University of Houston has already brought a new dimension to the Texans offense by taking Andre Johnson from zero to five receiving touchdowns in the last two games. Keenum has kept games close, losing his three starts by a total of seven points.
But he needs to improve his completion percentage of 55.9, stop throwing off his back foot and react more quickly to the blitz. Oh yeah, and win a couple of games along the way.
Even if that all comes to pass, the Texans may still might go after a quarterback in the draft. The 2014 class is deeper than even the Luck-RG3-Tannehill-Wilson quartet from 2012.
What Keenum has demonstrated is the necessity of the today’s passers to be able to make plays on the move. Defensive coordinators are cooking up blitz packages that could come from any direction; a quarterback better be able to buy time with his feet.
Each has the arm strength and mobility that are essential to prospering at the position. According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, the knock against Boyd is his barely 6’1” stature.
Carr’s primary liability is being the brother of the pitiable and pitiful David Carr, the very first draft pick of the franchise. Imagine the howls of the faithful if he is selected.
If Keenum looks like he is worth the wait, the second round could offer up Brett Hundley (UCLA). While not ready to step in as a starter, playing the backup role would give the redshirt sophomore time to mature.
If Brooks Reed had any pass-rushing skill it would have been evident by now. If he is going to remain a Texan, those plans to move him to inside linebacker should be enacted.
Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech) is a fierce competitor who played in the 3-4 at outside linebacker until his senior season. Georgia Tech switched over to a 4-3 in 2013 and put him at defensive end. He would undoubtedly be happy to return to the position where he had 10 sacks in 2012.
Should Reed stay at the “Sam” spot, Shayne Skov (Stanford) would be ideal to partner up with Brian Cushing. Pac-12 Defensive Player of The Week in Stanford’s upset of No. 2 Oregon on Nov. 11, he has a knack for shooting the gap and racking up tackles for loss. It took the fifth-year senior a couple of years to regain his quickness after an ACL tear in 2011, but it now looks like he has made it all the way back.
The rotation at right tackle has turned from revolving door to Russian roulette. Derek Newton just cannot get the hang of sticking with a pass-rusher beyond his first two steps. Ryan Harris is more competent but only has half as many snaps.
As much as any offensive lineman, Newton is the reason the Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals had Case Keenum running for his life. It has become serious enough that committing a first-round selection for a right tackle would be worth the price.
Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) “has at least as impressive a skill set as his former linemate D.J. Fluker” in the words of Rob Rang. Agility is the key to zone-blocking success and is one of his best assets. At 6’5” and 310 pounds, he has just the right frame to immediately step in as a rookie and stop the bleeding.
Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) is similarly sized but does not get the press of fellow tackle Jake Matthews. There is not much analysis of Ogbuehi right now, but that will change come combine time. Considering he plays on a line that has only given up 17 sacks in 10 games for an SEC team, he might work his way into the low first round by next May.
Ogbuehi stats courtesy of AggieAthletics.com.
The Texans reported that Arian Foster had surgery for a herniated disc yesterday, November 14. Will Carroll, our injury expert at Bleacher Report, stated “Foster should be able to come back from this. Microdiscectomies and similar procedures are relatively common in the NFL.”
The team will no longer have the luxury of turning to Ben Tate next season as they have in Foster’s absence this year. Tate is an unrestricted free agent and the amount of cap space available to general manager Rick Smith is quite restricted.
The third-round projection is where some of the better running backs are clustered in this class. Should the offense still rely on zone stretch plays when running the ball, they will probably go with the bigger prospects. Charles Sims (West Virginia) is listed at 6’0” and 213 pounds while Marion Grice (Arizona State) goes 6’0” and 207 pounds.
Sims is a transfer from the University of Houston and is the second leading rusher in the Big 12 with 847 yards. Grice is the nation’s leading scorer and one of the top red-zone threats in the NCAA in the opinion of NFLDraftScout.com guru Rob Rang. The Houston connection also extends to Grice, a graduate of Nimitz High School.
Big 12 stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
It’s obvious now that Ed Reed was a total mismatch from the get-go. His mouth may have briefly put him in the NFL unemployment line, but his playing style meant he would never conform to what Wade Phillips expects out of his safeties.
Reed prefers to play well behind the line of scrimmage, then find the best angle to disrupt the play. Phillips would rather his safeties not get too comfortable in any particular zone, and tighten up coverage if the play calls for it.
Ahmad Dixon (Baylor) is listed at strong safety, but Dane Bugler of NFLDraftScout.com praises him as an “excellent size/speed athlete with the fluidity and natural speed to cover the entire field.” Baylor has only allowed 174 passing yards per game in the high scoring Big-12, so there must be something to Bugler’s assessment.
Baylor stats courtesy of BaylorBears.com.
Case Keenum has not had Schaub’s binky of a tight end, Owen Daniels, for check-downs as his predecessor did. Frankly, he has not needed him.
Garrett Graham has done yeoman’s work while Daniels has been on the Reserve/Designated to Return list. He has averaged over 60 snaps per game by Pro Football Focus’ count (subscription required) while catching nine passes for 102 yards.
Daniels will return to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12, so he will have a few games to work with Keenum. Looking forward to next season, his release would free up $4.5 million in cap space while only costing his $750,000 prorated signing bonus.
The depth at tight end in this draft is shallow, and not many names jump out in the middle rounds. Marcel Jensen (Fresno State) is big enough at 6’5” and 258 pounds and averaged 17 yards per reception his junior year. He is averaging 14.4 yards in 2013 and would be right at home in those two tight-end sets the Texans love to run.
Salary stats courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Jensen stats courtesy of GoBulldogs.com.