David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Left Outside Linebacker: Draft choice
Hello, Khalil Mack. If Rick Smith prefers Mack over Jadeveon Clowney, this is the place to play him.
This would free up Brooks Reed to move inside, where his tackling skill and ability to shed blockers would be better utilized. It would also keep Whitney Mercilus on the open side of most formations, the best spot to maximize his speed.
The book on Mack says he can play either side of the formation, and the strong side is tougher to handle. The Sam linebacker has to cover the tight end, pass rush against what is usually the biggest offensive tackle and sort his way through more traffic.
If the Texans go defense with the first pick, Mack is the safer selection. Clowney may have more potential, but it will take longer for him to blend into a 3-4 defense. This team does not have that kind of time.
Left Inside Linebacker: Brooks Reed
Most revealing statistic: 35 quarterback hurries, more than Brian Orakpo, Clay Matthews or Trent Cole.
Can anyone recall when Peter King predicted Reed would be the Defensive Player of the Year in 2012? King got the right team but the wrong player.
Reed is plenty quick for his size but a bit too stiff to be a hotshot pass-rusher. You have to be able to get low, open your hips and instantaneously transfer speed to power. The QB hurries stat demonstrates Reed's ability to penetrate, however, he has yet to learn how to consistently slip past blockers and get to the quarterback.
He will be better working with Brian Cushing in the read-and-react style that is the foundation of Romeo Crennel’s defense. It may not rival the pairing of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis with the San Francisco 49ers, but it has a chance to be in the discussion.
Right Inside Linebacker: Brian Cushing
Most revealing statistic: Defense allowed 254.3 yards per game before 2013 injury, 338.7 in final 12 games per PFR.
For two seasons in a row, Cushing goes out with an injury and the defense goes down. Can one player be that critical, or is it merely a coincidence? He is not the best linebacker in any single aspect, but he nonetheless is a terrific all-around player.
What the Texans miss with Cushing gone is a LB with the mobility and hostility to go sideline to sideline and administer teeth-rattling hits and someone who on pass defense combines coverage with solid pass-rushing skills.
Most of all, his consistency is invaluable to the comfort level of other Texan defenders. You can play with a little more recklessness when you know Cush is patrolling the middle of the field.
Right Outside Linebacker: Whitney Mercilus
Most revealing statistic: Ranked seventh in quarterback pressures among 3-4 outside linebackers per PFF.
This would be the destination for Clowney if he ends up with the Texans. Keeping Mercilus in the same position as last season means the team will go in a different direction with their choice at No. 1 overall.
Will a new coordinator and a new system turn this former first-round pick into an edge-rushing demon? Mercilus has been adequate in that department, but has yet to record double-digit sacks in either of his first two seasons.
Linebackers coach Mike Vrabel was renowned for getting the most out of his ability, and not just on the defensive side of the ball. He had 10 receptions for 10 touchdowns on offense, a ratio unmatched in the 94-year history of the league.
That does not seem relevant except in this one regard: what seemed very difficult to do one time was, in fact, repeatable. If Vrabel can get Mercilus to apply that lesson to his play on the field, he will become the Vince Lombardi of position coaches.