5 Creative Moves the Houston Texans Can Pull on Draft Day
The Houston Texans hold the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, a position which in many years would allow them to control the board on draft day. This pre-eminence would have typically given the team the means to leverage the pick in a variety of beneficial packages. However, this year is unlike most others from the recent past.
The 2014 draft class is a jumble of very talented players with a defensive end in Jadeveon Clowney as the apparent front-runner. From 2009 to 2012, there was a standout quarterback who made the No. 1 selection a more straightforward decision. At least there is more star power in this group than in 2013, when the dilemma was which offensive tackle would be taken first.
According to Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Easter Bunny forced the league to move the draft from its usual late April start to May 8. A scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes' “Spring Spectacular” show was supposedly the reason. That strangely coincided with a one-year experiment to start the league calendar a couple of weeks later than normal.
Will the extra time give general manager Rick Smith the chance to maximize the potential of his draft position? What follows are some creative scenarios that might yield more value than just standing pat with the 11 picks that Houston currently holds.
NFL Draft Value Chart
The origins of the chart (partial image above) are sketchy, but its present composition is said to be the handiwork of Jimmy Johnson. He formalized it during his early days as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
It is said to still be in wide use, but many teams such as the San Francisco 49ers have developed their own methods of quantifying the value of every pick. One look at the chart shows why it needs revising.
The fact that the 20th pick is worth less than one-third of the first is just one reason to question the method used to create it. Kevin Meers of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective was perfectly blunt about its merit, saying, “These values are completely arbitrary: there is no statistical evidence to back up the relative values of these draft picks.”
The best way to devise such a chart would be to look at how well a draftee performed after he was selected. That would require historical analysis of each draft slot. This is exactly how Chase Stuart of Football Perspective went about constructing his draft value chart.
Using the Approximate Value (AV) metric created by Pro Football Reference founder Doug Drinen, Stuart took all the players who were drafted from 1980 to 2007 and compiled the AV for their first five years in the league. The results have a more measured transition from value to value and will be used to calculate the transactions proposed in the following slides.
Stuart's chart only covers 224 selections of a standard seven-round draft for 32 teams and does not include values for compensatory picks. The 2014 draft has a total of 256 selections, which effectively creates an eighth round. All the possible transactions proposed will involve Round 5 and above, so the lack of values for the compensatory picks will not impact our calculations.
The Texans need players, and lots of them. The list includes quarterback, running back, tight end, right offensive tackle, nose tackle, defensive end, inside and outside linebacker, cornerback and safety.
The Texans have 11 draft picks:
There is a total value of 70.6 in those 11 picks, but 60.1 of that value is in the first four rounds. That is where most of the action will be in negotiations between clubs on draft day. Movement in the lower rounds is only worthwhile in this discussion to balance out the value equation.
First-round prospects of interest to the Texans who might slip into trade country are quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, nose tackle Louis Nix III, quarterback Johnny Manziel, outside linebackers Anthony Barr and Kony Ealy, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Calvin Pryor.
There are too many moving parts to say who might be second-round attractions. The only players who might be out of the question are outside linebackers and defensive linemen who are better-adapted to a 4-3 defense. Linebackers such as Ryan Shazier, Kyle Van Noy and Telvin Smith along with D-linemen Timmy Jernigan, Scott Crichton and Dee Ford lack the bulk and power at their positions to fit the Texans scheme.
Arizona Cardinals at No. 20
The Houston Texans send second-round (No. 33: value 12.3), third-round (No. 65: value 8) and sixth-round picks (No. 181: value 1.5) to the Arizona Cardinals for first-round (No. 20: value 15.5) and third-round picks (No. 84: value 6.4). Texans value differential: plus-0.1
Chris Burke of SI.com put this trade in his mock draft 7.0, but he has Houston overpay by giving up a 2015 third-rounder in addition to three other picks in order to select Blake Bortles. It is hard to see Bortles lasting that long, but Teddy Bridgewater falling that far is not out of the question.
People forget that Aaron Rodgers started off the 2004 college football season as the top NFL quarterback prospect only to fall behind Alex Smith by draft day. Gil Brandt, who served as the Dallas Cowboys chief talent scout for 29 years, recounted to a group of reporters at Super Bowl XLV what happened during his evaluation of the two players: "I watched the two quarterbacks work out. One worked out on Wednesday and one worked out on Thursday. Smith worked out first, Rodgers second, and in that workout if you asked who was the best to come in and play right now, Smith was more ready to play right now."
Brandt said he and other scouts underestimated Rodgers' athleticism. Could today's scouts be doing the same regarding Bridgewater's skill at putting the ball in just the right spot?
Josh Weinfuss, who covers the Cardinals for ESPN.com, note that none of the last seven quarterbacks who were drafted by the Cardinals in the first round panned out, the most recent being Matt Leinart.
Jimmy Garoppolo, A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger will still be around at No. 33 if Arizona still wants to go the QB route. The Cardinals got close enough to the playoffs in 2013 with Carson Palmer, so bringing in a first-rounder just to warm the bench seems like a waste of the pick.
Cleveland Browns at No. 26
The Texans trade up for the Cleveland Browns' first-round pick (No. 26: value 13.9) by exchanging Houston's second-round (No. 33: value 12.3) and fifth-round picks (No. 141: value 3.1). Texans value differential: minus-1.5
This move gives the Browns two second-round selections within two spots of each other. They can still snag one of the second-tier quarterbacks or wide receivers if they do not address that need with the No. 4 pick.
The Texans might have to sweeten the pot with their fourth-rounder at No. 101 instead of the fifth-round pick, but it could be worth it for Ra’Shede Hageman.
Hageman (6’6”, 310 pounds) is built like Richard Seymour, who played both defensive end and tackle at an All-Pro level for Romeo Crennel in New England. His player profile at NFL.com says he is in need of mentoring, and he should get plenty of it in Houston from Crennel and J.J. Watt.
The key for Hageman is developing into a complete three-down player—someone who can switch from a 5-technique defensive end into a 3-technique inside rusher on passing downs. Apart from Aaron Donald and Stephon Tuitt, he is the best bet for that role in the first round.
Swap First-Round Picks with San Francisco 49ers
The Houston Texans swap first-round picks (No. 1: value 34.6) with San Francisco 49ers (No. 30: value 12.9) and get the 49ers’ second-round pick (No. 61: value 8.4), the second-round pick via Kansas City Chiefs from the Alex Smith trade (No. 56: value 9) and their third-round pick (No. 77: value 6.9) via Tennessee from a trade down in 2013 draft. Texans value differential: plus-2.6
You want an infusion of youth, Texans fans? Well, here it comes. Now, your team has three second-round picks and two third-round picks in addition to holding onto a first-rounder.
Outside of quarterback, the biggest problem on offense in 2013 was right tackle. Cyrus Kouandjio is the best right tackle prospect outside of Jake Matthews. A giant at 6’7” and 322 pounds, he has the girth to handle the strong side of the formation. That third-round pick at No. 77 could come in handy if trading up from No. 30 is necessary to acquire him.
Any concerns that scouts had about Kouandjio’s balky knee seemed to be answered when he held an extended pro-day workout at Alabama. The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers are rumored to be targeting him in the first round.
The 49ers.com website had six draft experts weigh in for their Mock Draft Tracker 4.0. Pete Prisco, Rob Rang, Matt Miller and Dana Brugler have San Francisco going wide receiver. Instead of messing around with their suggestions of Marquise Lee, Davante Adams and Brandin Cooks, general manager Trent Baalke would be certain to corral Sammy Watkins.
Trade out of First Round with Oakland Raiders
The Texans trade their top pick (No. 1: value 34.6) to Oakland for second-round (No. 36: value 11.8) and third-round picks (No. 67: value 7.8) along with their first- and second-round picks in 2015. A top-10 pick in those rounds would yield, on average, a combined draft value of 35.6. Texans trade differential: plus-21.6
NFL general managers have been used to bilking the Raiders for so long, most wonder if the team will ever wise up. When it was announced that the Texans had traded Matt Schaub for a sixth-round draft choice, how many fans guessed the suckers must have been the Silver and Black?
Why not go to the well one more time? If Rick Smith can lure in Reggie McKenzie with the notion that he can have the first and fifth picks, is there any way that McKenzie can resist?
An offense with Johnny Manziel throwing to Sammy Watkins or a defense featuring both Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack would make the Raiders relevant again.
Except the chances that a revitalized Raiders team will manage a much better record than the 4-12 mark of 2013 are about nil—not with a roster manned by senior citizens like Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, Kevin Burnett, Charles Woodson, Antonio Smith and Justin Tuck.
It’s a gamble without a doubt, but one worth considering.
Swap First-Round Picks with Atlanta Falcons
The Houston Texans trade their first- and third-round picks in 2015 for the Atlanta Falcons' first-round pick (No. 6: value 23.2). Texans trade differential using top-10 average of 35.6: minus-12.4
This is the biggest reach of any of these suggestions, but it solves the pesky right offensive tackle problem once and for all.
While Cyrus Kouandjio is a terrific prospect, Jake Matthews is the most pro-ready offensive lineman in this draft. The potential of Greg Robinson may be greater, but his relative lack of pass-blocking experience in college translates to a greater learning curve at the next level.
Matthews played both the left and right sides in a pass-happy offense at Texas A&M. He was considered a better prospect than teammate Luke Joeckel last season, who was taken with the second overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If Matthews is gone by the sixth pick, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr or even Justin Gilbert would be a sufficient substitute. To be sure, finally fulfilling the quest for a right tackle would be a much sweeter deal.