Texans Draft Stock Watch: 8 Players Rising and Falling Down Houston's Board
Are the top three quarterbacks listed in order of preference, or are Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel simply lined up side-by-side? Does Jadeveon Clowney sit above all the others, indicative of his supposed stature as a once-in-a-generation talent? Or are those four names set off by themselves so that Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith can work out the right combination of other players that would make trading out of the top overall pick worthwhile?
The only certainty is that everyone is uncertain about what the Texans will do when the first round of the NFL draft commences on May 8. Manziel’s pro day took place on March 27, and will have considerable influence on his popularity among draft watchers. Of course, the whole shebang is little more than a popularity contest until Roger Goodell starts announcing the actual selections from the stage of Radio City Music Hall.
Truly determining which players are rising or falling amounts to separating the man-love, gossip and useless statistics of self-appointed draft experts from the relevant information and opinions of the people who will ultimately make the decisions. But coaches, general managers and scouts would lose their strategic advantage and their jobs if they told the public what was really on their minds.
So it all boils down to guessing whose gossip is most believable. This often comes down to a matter of taste, similar to how someone likes their steak cooked. This listing of prospects is not rare but is hopefully well-done, and should offer a taste of what may be on the Texans’ plate at this stage of the process.
Johnny Manziel: Rising
Any attempt to get a handle on the Manziel phenomenon is rising to the level of tackling the presidency of Abraham Lincoln or the Beatles first trip to the USA. The ripple effects from such figures and events are so vast it is difficult to decide which angle offers the best approach.
Manziel’s performance before former President George H.W. Bush and Texas governor Rick Perry came off like the pro-day equivalent of the Fab Four arriving at JFK Airport on Feb. 7, 1964. Texans beat writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, who has been reporting on the NFL since 1977, succinctly summed up the magnitude of the coverage:
I've covered a lot of pro days but I've never seen as much media as there is today. It's a cluster.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) March 27, 2014
When Johnny Football took the field to the cadence of Drake’s 5AM in Toronto, was he a gladiator in helmet and pads entering the arena or the heir apparent to the king of the Texas gridiron attending his coronation? With nationally known politicians in attendance, calling it an inauguration would be a more fitting description.
In addition to appearing in partial football regalia, Manziel gave his workout its own distinctive flair. It ran the gamut from taking every snap from under center to being chased around the pocket with a broom (below) to having his private quarterback coach George Whitfield throwing bean bags at him.
Johnny Manziel at his Pro Day in camo shorts, helmet & pads, doing his workouts to Drake, getting chased by a broom: pic.twitter.com/Ccp6dhGppz— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) March 27, 2014
The effortless way Manziel went 61 of 64 in a highly orchestrated exhibition of passing prowess changed some minds but failed to sway others. Former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski of ESPN weighed in after the combine by saying:
I wouldn’t take him in the first three rounds. That’s my opinion. It’s incomplete right now. But he has not done a whole lot to me.
“Jaws” reversed course after observing the array of throws on display at Texas A&M:
George Whitfield has done a terrific job of coaching him (Manziel) up…Throwing the football with velocity and accuracy. I saw a couple of throws that hung just a little bit...But when you watched his improved mechanics today it was pretty impressive.
Conversely, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer characterized the circus atmosphere to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a “sideshow.” Zimmer relayed to Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle the whole thing felt “choreographed.”Two unnamed coaches told Ed Werder of ESPN teams “need to be aware of the environment his presence creates.”
Pete Prisco of CBS Sports published his Mock Draft 6.0 on March 26 and headlined it as the first “Where Johnny Manziel isn't a first-rounder.” Prisco is not about to change his view just because the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner wowed the crowd under controlled conditions:
OK, so now Manziel is it. If he wasn't it before today, he isn't it after it. And he wasn't it before today.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) March 27, 2014
A literal Google search of Johnny Manziel and "most polarizing" yields over 7,500 results. A check of the first 50 showed only two false returns. A dazzling pro day will bridge the divide for some, but Prisco, Zimmer and many others will continue to be unconvinced.
For the purpose of this article, only the judgments of Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien matter. John McClain quoted each falling back on the old “He made every throw” expression. No one is tipping his hand this long before draft day, least of all the holders of the biggest brass ring of them all.
Those members of Texans management in attendance were scheduled to have dinner with Manziel the evening after his workout. The organization has a reputation for preferring solid citizens over eccentric extroverts. If Johnny’s table manners turn out to be as impeccable as his aerial exploits, he will be one step closer to being the first name called in the 2014 NFL draft.
Blake Bortles: Falling
Any attempt to guess at what is on the minds of the Texans draft committee will have a measure of “What have you done lately?” to it.
The competition for the top spot on the board is comparable to a concert lineup. The big name headliner will always take the stage last, but runs the risk of being outdone by the opening act. The obvious difference is this arrangement is done by design, while the timing of pro days at various colleges is not a coordinated effort.
But the potential effect is the same. Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater knew they ran the risk of being outdone in the minds of the pundits and the public. Johnny Manziel and his brain trust took advantage of appearing late in the pro day schedule by turning everything up to eleven.
Bortles could not do anything about the fact that Manziel was acquainting an ex-President, who decided to show up at the Texas A&M McFerrin Athletic Center, any more than he could control the date of his performance for NFL scouts.
Those very same scouts were going to go over the video with their coaches of what Bortles did in actual games regardless of how the other top quarterbacks graded out. That always carries more weight than how they look in shorts with handpicked receivers and no pass rush.
So the guy with the ideal NFL quarterback physique will have a chance to rise again. The opening night of the 2014 draft is still a long way off.
Yawin Smallwood: Falling
Even before Matt Schaub was traded to the Oakland Raiders, quarterback was the position of greatest need for the Texans. But the most desperate unit on the entire team is the linebacker corps.
Interior stalwart Brian Cushing is the only member with a resume worth boasting about. Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus are serviceable on the outside, but Cushing lost his primary partner on the inside, Joe Mays, to the Kansas City Chiefs via free agency.
If the season started today, linebackers coach Mike Vrabel would have to choose among Mike Mohamed, Jeff Tarpinian or Justin Tuggle to pair with Cushing. That’s just “uggle-y.” You can feel free to groan now, but a bad pun cannot make this personnel nightmare any worse.
Since a free agent has not been recruited to fill the void, the draft seems to be the answer. C.J. Mosley from Alabama is the top inside linebacker (ILB) and will be off the board by the time Texans open the second round.
Smith and O’Brien would probably favor stalling until the third or fourth round to get their man. Smallwood, a good player on a bad University of Connecticut team (3-9 in 2013), should still be available then. He is rated as a better athlete than Chris Borland or Shayne Skov, according to NFLDraftScout.com, but is not the prototypical run-stuffer for a 3-4 defense.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is in the market for a two-down player with the kind of thick lower body that can stand up to centers and guards working up to the second level. If Crennel was looking to copy the Pete Carroll philosophy of inside linebackers with above-average cover skills, Smallwood would be ideal.
The left ILB of the Texans will be off the field on passing downs, watching Cushing use his size and athleticism to shadow receivers or penetrate the pocket. Smallwood projects better to the outside in a 4-3, a position where some mock drafts have him placed.
Carl Bradford: Rising
Bradford is an unpolished gem of a linebacker. He was clocked at 4.76 in the 40, had a 37.5" vertical jump and the best broad jump (122 inches) in his position group at the combine.
Measuring 6’1” and 250 pounds, outside linebacker would be his probable destination in the pros, where most college defensive ends his size end up. His combine diary, which was published in USA Today, described teams interviewing him for every possible linebacker position, including middle.
A player with his leaping ability has the kind of explosiveness to produce violent tackles and shoot the gap into the backfield. He recorded 19.5 tackles for loss to go with 8.5 sacks in his final season at Arizona State. Romeo Crennel could look at Bradford and see a bit of Tedy Bruschi, another collegiate defensive end from the state of Arizona who was a do-it-all linebacker for the New England Patriots' Super Bowl teams in the early 2000s.
The Texans are so deprived of talent at this vital area that a draft choice who can fill more than one role would be guaranteed plenty of playing time. The trend towards more versatile linebackers would be better filled by Bradford than Smallwood, especially in a 3-4 base defense.
Terrence Brooks: Falling
Once upon a time, the Texans were in the market for a safety. Danieal Manning was a potential cap casualty in the eyes of many, among them Will Grubb of Sports Radio 610 in Houston.
Brooks would have been a great Day Two pickup in the draft, a compact (5’11”, 198 lbs) hitter with exceptional speed. He had the best 40-yard time for his position at the combine (4.42) and “displayed really good ball awareness” at his pro day according to Gil Brandt of ESPN.com.
Manning, who missed the last 10 games on 2013 while on the injured reserve list, was No. 8 on the Texans cap list before Owen Daniels was released and Matt Schaub was traded. Now Spotrac.com has him on the charts at No. 6, evidently with a bullet.
Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com initially reported on March 28 that Manning had agreed to restructure his contract. Ganguli tweeted a correction later that day:
Have to apologize for a mistake. Manning has not yet agreed to the pay cut, but the #Texans are working on it. Misunderstood my source.— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) March 28, 2014
General manager Rick Smith was confident he could put the screws to Manning due to the signings of free-agent free safeties Kendrick Lewis and Chris Clemons. Lewis had his best season as a pro in 2011 when Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Newly hired director of pro personnel Brian Gaine was familiar with Clemons from his days as assistant GM of the Miami Dolphins.
Now Houston has seven safeties under contract, including Shiloh Keo, D.J. Swearinger, Eddie Pleasant and Jawanza Starling. They carried five on the active roster in 2013, meaning Pleasant and Starling are the likeliest candidates for dismissal. And selecting one in the draft is off the table pending future developments.
Stephon Tuitt: Falling
The Texans made their first move in free agency to fill the vacuum at defensive tackle created by the loss of unrestricted free agents (UFA) Earl Mitchell and Terrell McClain. The signing of Jerrell Powe, a backup nose man with the Kansas City Chiefs last season, was just someone to stop the bleeding in the defensive line.
Defensive end Antonio Smith was another UFA who was deemed too expensive to re-sign. That left Houston with just three linemen with NFL experience: Tim Jamison, Jared Crick and J.J. Watt.
It was understood the draft was expected to provide some relief. The only problem is every defense in the NFL that plays a three-man front is anxious to locate that immovable object who can anchor the center of the line.
No matter how many times Mike Mayock says the 2014 class is “the deepest draft in the last 10 years,” there are not enough true 3-4 nose tackles to go around. That means 5-technique defensive ends like Tuitt sometimes end up in the defensive tackle rankings.
At his height (6’6”), Tuitt could conceivably add enough weight to his current 312 pounds to occupy two gaps. The risk for any team drafting him is whether he wants to fill that thankless and unglamorous role.
On top of that, he could not participate in any pro day activities. The walking boot of his left foot was there to help heal a stress fracture that had been operated on the previous week, according to Andrew Owens of Blue & Gold Illustrated:
Stephon Tuitt is here and has a walking boot on. Underwent a procedure to correct the stress fracture in his left foot last week.— Andrew Owens (@BGI_AndrewOwens) March 20, 2014
The Texans do need help at defensive end, and Tuitt is cut out of the Richard Seymour mold for the position. Seymour (6’6”, 310 lbs) was a three-time All Pro for the New England Patriots from 2003-05 when Romeo Crennel was their D-coordinator.
The player overview from NFLDraftScout.com noted that Tuitt “he showed up to fall (2013) practice with additional weight and struggled to make the same impact (as 2012) early in the season.” His play improved enough during his junior season that he decided to declare for the draft, even though NFL Advisory Committee gave him a second-round grade.
No pro day, nothing more than a bench press count from his combine appearance and a failure to prepare for what turned out to be his final year at Notre Dame are all red flags that make this questionable prospect a second day selection at best.
Lache Seastrunk: Rising
New Houston coach Bill O’Brien is going do a lot of things the same way Bill Belichick does them. Each aspect of the New England Patriots is specifically designed to adhere to certain specifications.
The running game is no exception.
One back will get the majority of the carries, the second will be brought in specifically to spell the featured back and the third will be a change-of-pace type of player. In 2011, O’Brien’s last year with the Patriots, those roles were filled by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, respectively.
Arian Foster will obviously be No. 1 in terms of rushing attempts, but the other two backs are a mystery right now. The No. 2 back is preferably a banger, someone who can handle short-yardage situations. The third ball-carrier, that “something different” player, will often be smaller and offer a contrast to the other two runners.
In the case of the 5’9” Woodhead, that difference would be equal facility in running and receiving. Over his career he has 371 carries and 176 receptions and had 76 catches in 2013, the most in his five years as an NFL player.
As far as the Texans are concerned, a Woodhead clone would be perfect, but they are not easy to come by. The prospect does not have to be a carbon copy, but he does needs to bring something unique to the offense.
Seastrunk would supply speed and explosiveness, qualities that are usually seen only in wide receivers these days. He had the top broad jump and vertical jump for running backs at the combine and improved his 40 time to 4.46 at his pro day. His average yards per carry with Baylor in 2013 was 7.4, but the yardage was often the result of a pass-happy spread offense that created extra-wide running lanes.
That does not mean his skills would not translate to the NFL. Seastrunk would be best utilized in a limited but specialized way, probably in conjunction with another back. Where he really falls short is in the receiving area, given that he did not catch a single pass last year.
The offense head coach Art Briles ran at Baylor only completed a total of five passes to all their running backs in 2013. They simply were not targeted very often.
I'm not suggesting Seastrunk has “Darren Sproles” qualities just waiting for the right offense to bring them to the fore. But he does have the ability to hit the hole quickly and get downfield in a hurry. With a head coach who doubles as his own offensive coordinator, O’Brien must have the confidence to get the most out the weapons at his command.
Seastrunk can be one of those weapons.
Ka'Deem Carey: Falling
Carey ranked third in rushing for NCAA Division 1-A players in 2013 with ,885 yards. For a player who weighs only 196 pounds, he had 349 carries on the season. He led the nation with 1,929 yards on 303 carries in 2012, so last season was a bit of a comedown.
When it comes to the draft, college rushing statistics are just numbers. Of the top 20 NFL rushers in 2013, only eight were on teams that made the playoffs. Being able to run the ball is not irrelevant, it is just not as important as being able to throw it.
For such an accomplished collegian, Carey is unsuited to success in the pros. His 40-yard time at the combine was a pedestrian 4.70. When Gil Brandt covered the University of Arizona pro day, the running back “worked out with the wide receivers rather than doing running back drills, so his workout was good but scouts couldn’t see him work out of the backfield.”
Apparently Carey sees his professional future lies at another position.
Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com said Carey did improve his 40-yard-dash time at his pro day but did not improve his draft stock. Rang predicted his “poor showing in workouts could push him into the third round or even later.”
That puts Lache Seastrunk and Carey at basically the same level as far as their draft projections go. At least the Baylor alum has his quickness to tantalize coaches and general managers, while all Carey has is a first name that is easier to pronounce. If you don’t get hung up on the apostrophe, that is.