Houston Texans Day 3 2014 NFL Draft Primer
The Houston Texans added three more players to their roster on Day 2 and have started to develop a pattern with their draft strategy. Going back to first-round pick Jadeveon Clowney, all four of the players the team added are big, physical players who will make their impact near the line of scrimmage.
The Texans also added Xavier Su'a Filo, who was the second-rated offensive guard on most boards; Louis Nix, who many boards had rated as a first-round talent at nose tackle; and C.J. Fiedorowicz, who projects as mostly a blocking tight end in what was a bit of a surprise.
Of the three picks on Day 2, I really liked two of them—Nix and Su'a Filo. I think Fiedorowicz is a solid player who will fill a role as a blocking tight end in multiple-tight end formations, but in my opinion, it was a bad value pick as a need that could have been addressed later in the draft.
Going into Day 3, the Texans still have many needs to fill, which I will go into over the next few slides. But they will have fewer picks to address them after trading up for Louis Nix.
Day 2 Recap and Analysis
I think the Texans got two Pro Bowl-caliber players with their first and last picks of the night. Xavier Su'a Filo and Louis Nix III both have the potential to be impact players at what were need positions for the Texans.
Su'a Filo will step in and start at left guard from day one. The Texans let their left guard from the last four years—Wade Smith—go after the season, so the position was one they had to fill in the draft. Both Rob Rang and Dane Brugler from CBS Sports had Su'a Filo going in the first round of their mock drafts and think he has the potential to be an impact player in the running game at the pro level.
Strong upper body with a well-proportioned frame. Nimble enough to get to the second level and looks natural pulling. Smooth body control and flexible hips to seal. Natural bend, balance and base with a strong anchor to generate power in the run game, can squat an elephant. Good anticipation and engages well at the point of attack.
Smart, savvy blocker with natural blocking instincts.
Nix will also fill a big need position for the team. The Texans signed Jerrell Powe this offseason, but I found it hard to believe that he would be their starter after reading the scouting breakdown of Powe from Patrick Starr of State of the Texans.
Nix is a massive run-stuffing nose tackle who will be a much better fit at the position in Romeo Crennel's traditional 3-4 defensive scheme than anyone the team has on the roster. The 3-4 scheme the Texans used under Wade Phillips gave their defensive linemen more freedom to one-gap and get up field as compared to Crennel's system, which will ask the defensive linemen to occupy multiple blockers and keep the linemen off their linebackers.
Nix is capable of splitting blockers and getting up field, but his best fit is as a nose tackle, as he can use his massive size to his advantage, according to Rang and Brugler:
Built like a full-grown man with a large frame and strong muscle definition throughout his body. Nimble feet with the lateral quickness to explode in any direction and chase down the action in pursuit. Carries his weight so natural for a 340+ pounder, shifting his weight well with the agile footwork to quickly change directions.
Plays hard with a feisty motor. Applies quick pressure by splitting gaps, using a quick arm-over swim move and bull-rushing his opponent deep into the pocket. Has the hand strength and initial get-off momentum to bully blockers on their heels, showing leverage and active limbs. Keeps his eyes on the ball and shows the awareness to anticipate and track plays.
Regarding the trade that gave the Texans the chance to take Nix, the picks they gave up were valuable but ones they could afford to lose because of the other picks they received through trades and as compensation. You have to give up something good to get something good, and I think the picks given up were well worth it to fill such a big hole on the roster.
The Texans still have a compensatory pick in the fourth round and three picks in the sixth round to address other needs:
Then there was the pick of C.J. Fiedorowicz. My basic feeling is that he's a solid player in his role, but picking a player who will be the team's third tight end and isn't much of a receiver is a bad idea. He's a solid player but awful value for where the team took him.
Fiedorowicz may have undiscovered talent as a pass-catcher, but if so, it sure went unused at Iowa. His best season total in receiving yards came in 2012 when he had just 433 yards. Overall, Fiedorowicz totaled just 899 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns over his three years as a contributing player.
Brugler points out a few of his shortcomings as a receiver:
Not a quick-twitch athlete but has good enough second-level acceleration. Doesn't separate easily out of breaks and gets open more with guile and understanding of defenses. Limited after the catch. Inconsistent pass catcher who drops the easy one too often. Didn't work back to the football on scramble plays. Doesn't square targets as a blocker.
I don't have an issue with the Texans selecting a run-blocking tight end during the draft; my issue is that they took him in the third round over positions that were much bigger needs.
Updated Needs for Houston Texans
I'm surprised the Texans haven't addressed the need at this position yet. I believe they would have selected Teddy Bridgewater at pick No. 33 or Jimmy Garoppolo with the first pick of the third round, but they were beat to the punch both times. After those two guys came off the board, they didn't have any incentive to reach, with no remaining prospect who stood out in my opinion.
At this point, I think the team will take a quarterback with pick No. 135 (compensatory fourth) if there is a guy there that the Texans like. But I wouldn't be surprised if a run at the position took all those options off the table. It's getting close to the point where I'd rather see them wait to take a quarterback in the sixth round and pick up a developmental project.
Houston still has many other big needs besides quarterback, so why reach for a player in the fourth round who will be a long shot to ever start? Next year's quarterback class could include both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, so the best strategy might be to wait until next year to get the team's future signal-caller.
The Texans still need to add a young running back to complement Arian Foster, who had his season ended by back surgery last year and will be 28 years old when this season starts. On top of the concerns surrounding Foster, the team lost its backup from the last several seasons when Ben Tate signed with the Cleveland Browns.
The Texans used a zone scheme nearly 100 percent of the time under former head coach Gary Kubiak. Coach Bill O'Brien has used zone schemes in the running game in the past but mixes in the power game and other variations.
Oliver Connolly from The Football Educator broke down what O'Brien is likely to use in the run game:
At Penn State they built of a power-run zone scheme that included one tight-end and one H-back.
The system allowed O’Brien to build a complex bunch of formations and premeditated changes based on the defenses alignment, an offense that was extremely demanding on the quarterback’s football IQ as well as O’Brien himself who would make pre-snap reads from the sidelines.
I think Arian Foster will be a great fit in the new offense under Coach O'Brien, but the team can't count on Foster being available for all 16 games with his injury issues the last couple seasons. If Foster is healthy, he should preform well in the new system, but Houston needs some young legs to take some of the workload off its veteran.
The Texans' running game has fallen off a bit over the last couple seasons after they were forced to part ways with Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston after the 2011 season. Foster averaged a career-worst 4.1 yards per carry in 2012 after the losses along the offensive line.
The Texans added two players at tackle in last year's draft, but both players got injured during training camp and missed the season, which kept former seventh-round pick Derek Newton in the starting role for another year. Pro Football Focus (h/t Dave Zangaro of CSN Houston) gave Newton a negative grade for his performance last season.
Coach O'Brien has said publicly that the slot receiver position is an important one for his offense. Currently, the Texans don't have a quality option to fill that role on their roster. The previous coach thought Keshawn Martin could have been that player, but after two no-show seasons, I think it's obvious that isn't the case.
The Texans lost two of their three starters along the defensive line this offseason during the early part of free agency. They have a few players like Jared Crick and Tim Jamison that will provide depth, but I don't think either player is capable of becoming a starter.
Both players were a better fit under Wade Philips' 3-4 defense, which allowed more freedom to pass rush compared to Crennel's system, which wants a more traditional two-gap, run-stuffing player on the defensive line. They'll need to add a player who better fits that role during the final day of the draft.
Like what happened with the defensive line, the Texans lost two key players at inside linebacker during the early part of free agency. Neither Joe Mays nor Darryl Sharpton is irreplaceable, but the players' departure created another hole on the roster.
The Texans have to at least replace Mays, who was a starter, but with Brian Cushing coming off a season-ending knee injury for the second straight year, they should consider taking two players during this draft. When Cushing is healthy, I believe he's one of the top three inside linebackers in the entire league. But his health is not something I would take for granted as this point.
It's amazing how many positions I can talk about with a need for multiple new players considering that this team is just one season removed from winning 12 regular-season games and advancing in the playoffs. With the league going more and more toward a pass-first league each year, I believe that a team can never have too many quality cornerbacks.
The Texans have a big need at the position after not selecting a corner during the 2013 NFL draft and cutting Brice McCain during this offseason. On top of that, their Pro Bowl veteran, Johnathan Joseph, has reached the age of 30, and former first-round pick Kareem Jackson is going into the final year of his rookie contract.
Top Day 3 Targets
Zach Mettenberger—QB LSU
Mettenberger is a high-upside prospect with great size and arm strength. He showed that he was capable of improving during his one season with former NFL coach Cam Cameron as his offensive coordinator. He has second-round talent and upside, but the red flags surrounding him are concerning.
Logan Thomas—QB Virginia Tech
Thomas is an intriguing size/arm strength prospect with big upside. There are plenty of things to like about him, but I'm a little skeptical after he failed to post big numbers during his time at Virginia Tech.
Thomas is a project quarterback in my opinion, but Greg Cosell of Yahoo! Sports thinks he is more "pro-ready" now than Cam Newton was when he was drafted first overall in 2011. The Texans had Thomas in for a visit last month, so clearly the team's coaches are among those interested in him.
Brett Smith—QB Wyoming
Brett Smith is another intriguing athlete at the quarterback position. Every quarterback likely to be available in the sixth round or later has at least a few flaws, but I could argue that the quarterbacks at the top of board do as well.
Smith has an odd throwing motion and takes too many chances, but his athleticism and ability to make quick reads make him a prospect worth taking a chance on, according to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.
Smith doesn't have elite physical tools, but he's an athletic, confident and decisive passer who set numerous school and conference records in college. He needs to develop his decision-making, but is tough, gutsy and plays with a chip on his shoulder.
Christian Jones—LB Florida State
Jones is a great athlete and a versatile linebacker who I think can play both inside and outside in a 3-4 scheme. Lance Zierlein of The Sideline View calls him the best tackler in the draft and thinks he would make the biggest impact as a 3-4 inside linebacker, where he can chase, cover and make plays in space.
Shayne Skov—ILB Stanford
CBS Sports has Skov ranked as the third-best inside linebacker in this year's draft, but injury concerns have pushed him down the board a little bit. Rob Rang of CBS Sports says that he possesses the ideal style of play for an inside linebacker. He's a playmaker who reminds me a lot of Cushing every time I watch him play.
Terrance Mitchell—CB Oregon
Scouts like Rang like his fluid hips, change-of-direction ability and acceleration, which should mean he'd be a nice fit as a slot corner, where the Texans have a big need.
E.J. Gaines—CB Missouri
Gaines is a speedy corner with long arms who is probably best as an outside corner. He possesses fluid hips and an ability to turn and run with receivers, according to Rang, which makes him an option as a slot corner as well. The Texans need corners badly, regardless of if they play outside or in the slot.
Storm Johnson—RB UCF
Rang likes his burst and vision as a runner, which should make him a good fit in the Texans' zone scheme. One other thing I like about Johnson is that he was lightly used in college, with only one 200-plus-carry season, meaning he should still have plenty of tread left on the tire.
Jalen Saunders—WR Oklahoma
The super-quick Saunders ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Playing primarily in the slot last year at Oklahoma, he led the Sooners in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. I think Saunders would be a perfect fit as the Texans' slot receiver.
Michael Campanaro—WR Wake Forest
Michael Campanaro has a solid frame—unlike Jalen Saunders—despite not being very tall. Like Saunders, he is a super-quick prospect who ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com says he has natural hands and would be a great fit as a slot receiver.
Also like Saunders, Campanaro led his team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns during his senior season.
Trey Millard—FB Oklahoma
Millard is another versatile prospect who is a solid blocker but also can contribute as a ball-carrier and pass-catcher. Dane Brugler of CBS Sports called him a "Swiss army knife" for the multiple ways he can impact a football team:
Millard is a Swiss army knife on the roster with the ability to impact the offense in a number of ways, also making plays on special teams coverage. He is a gritty football player and open-minded to play wherever teams want, serving as a versatile threat whenever he's on the field. Millard is the type who can be the unsung hero of a team and carve out a niche as a 10-year NFL pro, doing his best work as a pass-catcher.
Every team needs players who can play multiple positions and help on special teams on top of their offensive or defensive duties with just a 46-player game day roster. Millard will be a very valuable player for whichever team drafts him.
Antonio Richardson—OT Tennessee
Antonio Richardson is a massive tackle that Rob Rang and Derek Stephens of CBS Sports compared to former Dallas Cowboy Erik Williams. Meanwhile, Nawrocki had a late-second/early third-round grade on him and thinks he can make a big impact in the running game:
Looks the part with long arms and outstanding overall size and mass to cover up defenders in the run game and generate a push. Good strength to anchor vs. power and possesses enough brute strength to hold his ground even when he locks his legs. Is not easily moved and can position-sustain.
Shamar Stephen—DT Connecticut
Stephen is listed as a defensive tackle, but I think his height and strength would make him a good fit as a 5-technique in the Texans' 3-4 defensive scheme. Defensive ends in a traditional 3-4 scheme need size and strength to be able to control their lane and also need the arm length and skill with their hands to be able to shed blockers and bring down the ball-carrier. That's exactly how Rang describes Stephen's strengths.
What Are the Experts Saying?
From WalterFootball.com: Bruce Ellington, WR South Carolina
The Texans could use a better slot receiver option, and I'm sure they're very familiar with Bruce Ellington, given all of the work they've done with Jadeveon Clowney.
From Drafttek.com: Tom Savage, QB Pittsburgh
From Peter Schrager of Fox Sports: Jeremy Deering, Safety Rutgers
From Matt Miller of Bleacher Report: Brandon Coleman, WR Rutgers
From WalterFootball.com: Jordan Zumwalt, LB UCLA
The Texans have to find some help at inside linebacker, given that they don't have much outside of Brian Cushing.
From Drafttek.com: Deandre Coleman, DT California
From Peter Schrager of Fox Sports: Robert Nelson, Safety Arizona State
From Matt Miller of Bleacher Report: Jemea Thomas, FS Georgia Tech
From WalterFootball.com: Isaiah Crowell, RB Alabama State
Houston's top two running backs are injury-prone, so this is for insurance and depth.
From Drafttek.com: Devekeyan Lattimore, ILB South Florida
From Peter Schrager of Fox Sports: Bryan Stork, Center Florida State
From Matt Miller of Bleacher Report: Donald Hawkins, OG Texas
Houston Texans Predictions for Day 3
The Texans will select two quarterbacks
Per the team's Twitter account (h/t Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk), Coach O'Brien told reporters back in March that the team was evaluating 10 to 12 quarterbacks and might select two during the draft.
O'Brien says he brought Fitzpatrick in to compete with Keenum and Yates, and will "draft a QB, maybe two." #Texans— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) March 31, 2014
This quarterback class has more quantity than top quality in my opinion, so it makes sense to draft multiple players if you have most of them rated closely.
Since the team decided to pass on a quarterback through the first three rounds, I don't think it will be as tied to the quarterback it takes first as it would if he was selected during the first two days. The Texans don't have their quarterback of the future, so they would be wise to throw multiple darts at the board.
The Texans will select a slot receiver
From blog State of the Texans, Bill O'Brien said at the team's town hall meeting that he wasn't sure they had a quality slot receiver on their roster and that the position was important to the offense.
The receiver class is very deep, in my opinion, with several quality options available late in the draft. CBS Sports has players like Saunders and Campanaro ranked as fifth- or sixth-round picks. Both would be a good fit as a slot receiver.
The Texans will make multiple trades
With three compensatory picks over the last four rounds, the Texans will have the ammo they need to move up if they find a player they have to have. To be clear, teams aren't allowed to trade their compensatory picks, but having those picks will make the team more willing to move its other picks, in my opinion.
The Texans have many big needs left to address, so I expect them to trade down in spots to pick up extra picks and then also trade back up when they see a guy that they must have. Rick Smith has a history of being active in the middle and late rounds, and I don't expect that to change this year.
Updated Houston Texans Mock Draft
Round 4, 135th overall (Compensatory)—Terrance Mitchell, CB Oregon
Rang likes his fluid hips and change-of-direction ability. I think Mitchell will be a good fit as a slot receiver, where the Texans have a big need after cutting Brice McCain.
Round 6, 177th overall—Logan Thomas, QB Virginia Tech
The Texans finally take a quarterback! Thomas is a raw prospect, but someone will fall in love with his upside, plus arm and great size for the position. The Texans hosted Thomas in a pre-draft visit last month, so they may be that team.
Round 6, 181st overall (From Oakland)—Trey Millard, FB Oklahoma
Millard is a versatile player who is a good receiver and runner as a fullback on top of being a solid blocker. Having a Swiss army knife like him on the team is a huge bonus to save a spot on the game-day roster since he can play multiple positions depending on the formation (fullback, H-Back, tight end) and contribute on special teams.
Round 6, 211th overall (Compensatory)—Jalen Saunders, WR Oklahoma
Saunders is a great fit as a slot receiver, which is a big need for the Texans. He led Oklahoma last season in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns while playing primarily in the slot.
Round 7, 216th overall—David Fluellen, RB Toledo
Round 7, 256th overall (Compensatory)—Brett Smith, QB Wyoming
Smith is a long shot because of his awkward delivery and the level of competition he faced, but his athleticism makes him a prospect worth taking a risk on. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com thinks he's skilled and competitive enough to develop as a project.