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Assessing Every Houston Texans UDFA's Chances of Making Final Roster

Jeffery RoyContributor IIIJanuary 7, 2017

Assessing Every Houston Texans UDFA's Chances of Making Final Roster

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Houston Texans conducted their first on-field activities of 2014 when they convened rookie minicamp May 16-17. The 10 players taken in the NFL draft were officially joined by 15 undrafted free agents (UDFAs) along with several invitees who were asked to try out for the team.

    The presence of the invitees was not publicly acknowledged by the Texans media staff but was mentioned on the State of the Texans website. Those invited included Cory Henry (Florida Atlantic), Kjelby Oiland (Montana), Ian Thompson (Louisiana-Lafayette), Nick Addison (Bethune-Cookman) and Leon Minto (Johnson C. Smith). Because these players are not listed on the roster at the Houston Texans website, we can safely assume none will be asked to participate in any upcoming offseason training activities.

    Three UDFAs have already been let go: defensive lineman Tyrone Ezell, wide receiver Nathan Slaughter and offensive tackle Chris Martin were released May 19. The swift departure of Slaughter was a surprise, given that his 4.37 40-yard time, 44.5” vertical jump and 16 reps in the bench press at his pro day, per NFL Draft Scout, would have all been top-10 figures at the combine.

    Those who remain face an uphill battle in making the club. That these individuals were not deemed worthy of draft picks could be a mistake or an accurate assessment of their value. The effort here will be to determine whether it was the former or the latter.

Offensive Line

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    Most Intriguing Prospect

    Bryan Witzmann, RT, South Dakota State (6’7", 311 pounds)

    A second-team FCS All-American, Witzmann fits the prototype of what most NFL coaches look for in a right tackle. The man at this position can afford to be a bit slower than the left tackle, who must consistently face the quickest and most relentless pass-rusher on the defense.

    The NFL and CBS Sports draft trackers did not have a profile on Witzmann, which was a measure of just how far he flew under the radar. Draft Insider did have an opinion, stating that he “sets with a wide base, bends his knees, and blocks with good pad level” but also happens to be “heavy footed, ineffective blocking in motion, and better in a small area.”

    The highlight video above shows how he used his size to overpower opponents, but he was not very fluid the further he got from the line of scrimmage. He does not have the agility to be in a zone-first blocking scheme but could handle the mix of zone, man-on-man and iso-blocking the Texans will use in Bill O’Brien’s system.

    Since 2001, the right tackles for the New England Patriots have had an average size of 6’6” and 321 pounds. Bill Belichick likes to go big at the position, and O’Brien knows it. Unless Brennan Williams undergoes a miraculous recovery from his microfracture surgery, this UDFA might be the answer.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 40 percent

     

    Sleeper Prospect

    Matt Feiler, OT, Bloomsburg (6’6”, 330 pounds)

    Feiler comes off as a slightly larger, much stronger and less mobile version of Witzmann. He tied Greg Robinson for the most bench-press reps at the combine (36). This kind of power, along with a year spent at the position in 2011, makes him a better backup at guard than the undersized Ben Jones.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 20 percent

     

    Training Camp Fodder (No chance)

    James Ferentz, C, Iowa: Ferentz is too small at 6’2” and 285 pounds to make it as an NFL center.

    Kevin Forsch, G, Houston: Forsch had to switch to guard in his senior season after being beaten out at center by sophomore Bryce Redman.

    Conor Boffeli, G/C, Iowa: This comes from his profile at NFL.com's draft website: “Bench-pressed 225 pounds only 21 times, the fewest of any guard at the combine.” He is all wrong for a team that is trying to project a more physical demeanor. 

    Anthony Dima, OT, Massachusetts: Unless David Quessenberry is another injury casualty like Brennan Williams, there is no room for a duplicate body type (6’6”, 290 pounds) like Dima.

Wide Receivers

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    Sleeper Prospect

    Lacoltan Bester, Oklahoma

    A junior college transfer, Bester played mostly on special teams as a junior and did not start a game until his senior year. His 27 receptions were third on a team with an offense that was more devoted to running the ball.

    His 2014 Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama caught everyone off-guard, especially the Crimson Tide. A career-high six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown against a defense that allowed the fewest completions of any BCS school propelled Oklahoma to a 45-31 upset win over the nation’s No. 3-ranked team.

    Bester’s biggest attribute is his size (6’0”, 205 pounds), which by today’s standards is not great but more than sufficient for a slot receiver. His willingness to go over the middle was not evident during his brief time with the Sooners since they ran him on fly patterns most of the time.

    If his pro-day 40-yard time of 4.66 is top-end for him, that is not going to command a lot of 7-9 routes at the next level. He will have to be satisfied to make a living on intermediate passes. The hope is he has an extra gear he can engage when catching passes leads to a paycheck.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 20 percent

     

    Training Camp Fodder (No Chance)

    Travis Labhart, Texas A&M: The fourth option for Johnny Manziel at A&M, Labhart still managed to rank second on the Aggies with eight touchdown receptions. His pro-day 40-yard time was no better than Bester's, which combined with his size (5’9”, 182 pounds) means he will be lucky to make it past the second cut.

    Anthony McClung, CincinnatiThis is a poor man’s T.Y. Hilton, a lean glider with sure hands who is hard to bring down after the catch. Unlike Hilton, McClung has no afterburner to get separation against NFL-quality cornerbacks.

Tight Ends

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    Sleeper Prospect

    Anthony Denham, Utah

    Although he's listed as a tight end, Denham plays in the slot at 6’4” and 235 pounds. He shows little interest in doing the dirty work associated with tight end or H-back, but he would be a matchup headache against any defensive back not named Kam Chancellor.

    Nolan Nawrocki, who profiles much of the lower-rung talent for the NFL’s draft website, lists some of his weaknesses as “disinterested, lackadaisical blocker...no special-teams value.” That comes close to questioning his manhood as a football player.

    His highlight video shows someone who knows how to hit the jets after he collects the ball, even though his 40-yard time at the combine was an unimpressive 4.77. His gait may make him faster than his stopwatch number, but Denham will have to be willing to put his shoulder into someone on running plays if he wants to play for Bill O’Brien.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 15 percent

     

    Training Camp Fodder (No Chance)

    Chris Coyle, Arizona State: The tight ends in the Pac-12 must not be much to talk about when Coyle ends up being named to the all-conference first team. His 29 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns were so low on the totem pole they do not even show up in the top-400 receivers of the FBS division of the NCAA.

    He might show some promise if he could run. A 40-yard time of 4.95 at his pro day shows he can’t even do that, though it would be a fine showing for an offensive tackle.

Defensive Line

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    Most Intriguing Prospect

    Austin Brown, NT, Miami (Ohio)

    This can’t be right.

    The highlight video for Brown must be a compilation from his entire career. A player this unstoppable would have been more celebrated that just being a two-time All-MAC selection.

    It would be enlightening to see if he is capable of maintaining this kind of intensity for an entire game. His first step is almost as quick as Aaron Donald’s, and he exhibits second and third effort when rushing the passer. He also draws more than his fair share of double-teams. His 27.5 tackles for loss over his career may not be in Khalil Mack territory but demonstrate a propensity for getting into the backfield even in two-gap situations.

    At 6’2” and 295 pounds, he might be able to carry another 20-30 pounds and not lose his quickness. Or maybe he could slide down the line and play at 5-technique defensive end, even though his height is better suited to the interior.

    Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has to find a place for this kind of player. There is so little depth on the D-line that Brown should be able to find a home here.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 40 percent

     

    Sleeper Prospect

    Sullivan Grosz, DE, Cal Poly

    Grosz will grab your attention in the same way Brown does. This highlight video from his junior year shows him displaying the same relentless attack mode of his fellow defensive tackle. The primary difference between them is Brown played in a 3-4 defense, while Grosz lined up in the 4-3.

    A first-team FCS All-American in 2013, he had 40.5 tackles for loss and 22 sacks in his four seasons. He carries his 295 pounds lightly, sort of along the same lines as J.J. Watt. 

    Blasphemy, you say! Grosz may not be as slippery as Watt or have the ability to counter a blocker’s first move with the same violence as the best defensive lineman in the NFL. But a Watt-and-a-half on the same line with Jadeveon Clowney would make for a potent rotation.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 30 percent


    Training Camp Fodder (No Chance)

    Julius Warmsley, DE, Tulane: There isn’t room for all three of these guys who have the same size, 40-yard time and sweet stat lines from their college days. Warmsley will have to work his way onto another NFL roster, while Brown and Grosz fight over what is probably a single roster spot open to them.

Linebackers

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    Most Intriguing Prospect

    Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State

    Here is one case where "most intriguing" does not translate into "most likely to succeed." This third-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten member seems to be custom-made for the Texans at first glance.

    His family tree includes a father (Shane) who also played at Michigan State and paternal grandfather (Hank) who parlayed his career at MSU into a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Colts and head coaching stint with the Buffalo Bills in 1985-86. The collegiate honors for Bullough go beyond the gridiron to include recognition as an Academic All-American.

    Unfortunately, his genes may have taken him as far as he can go in the football arena.

    NFL draft expert Nolan Nawrocki bluntly expresses Bullough’s limitations in his draft profile: "Tight hips (exposed in space). Limited foot speed, lateral agility and range. Non-explosive athlete: His 31-inch vertical and 9-foot, 3-inch broad jump were among the worst posted by linebackers at the combine."

    Bullough may have recorded 30 reps on the bench press and an acceptable 4.78 40-yard time at the combine, but his middling straight-line speed is further decreased on the field by his short stride. He simply does not cover enough ground to make up for any errors in diagnosing a play.

    The unexplained suspension from this year’s Rose Bowl game was not the only reason his name was not called at Radio City Music Hall. Two-down run-stoppers are an endangered species, and this fact reduces his chances at making it through the final cut. However, his football IQ may be prodigious enough to offset his physical shortcomings.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 30 percent

     

    Sleeper Prospect

    Chris Young, ILB, Arizona State

    Another Sun Devil like Chris Coyle, Young had a 2013 season that should have garnered him greater honors than second-team All-Pac-12. A team-high 112 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks leave first-round pick C.J. Mosley of Alabama (108 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, no sacks) in the dust.

    Young loses out to Mosley in his 40-yard time (4.84 to 4.63), height (6’0” to 6’2”) and general notoriety. When compared to Bullough, Young looks faster closing in on the play and more flexible shifting into coverage.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 30 percent

     

    Training Camp Fodder (No Chance)

    Terrance Lloyd, OLB, Baylor: To combat the proliferation of spread offenses, Baylor switched to a 4-2-5 where Lloyd played stand-up defensive end. His college position is closer to what an outside linebacker plays in the NFL, but he does not bring enough speed (4.70) or size (6’3”, 245 pounds) to the position.

    Jason Ankrah, OLB, Nebraska: Ankrah is a true, hand-in-the-dirt defensive end who is making the switch to outside linebacker. Big enough at 6’4” and 265 pounds, he may not get the kind of coaching that will aid him in the transition.

    Chris McAllister, OLB, Baylor: The bookend to Lloyd at Baylor, McAllister made the All-Big 12 first team with 12 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. The Bears defense profited from an offense that led the nation in points per game. This permitted the pass rush to go after the quarterback with little regard for the consequences. Will Lloyd and McAllister be able to adapt to the read-and-react scheme of Romeo Crennel? 

Cornerback

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    Marcus Williams, CB, North Dakota State

    Williams was named to the first-team FCS All-America team after North Dakota State won its third consecutive national championship. He set a school record with 21 career interceptions and an FCS record with seven interceptions returned for a touchdown.

    A 40-yard time of 4.57 at his pro day is closer to adequate speed for a safety as opposed to a cornerback. Intercepting that many passes shows a knack for anticipating the throw and taking the right angle to the ball. Couple that with his above-average tackling and he will be in the running for a spot on the practice squad or potentially the fourth safety on the 53-man roster.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 30 percent

Placekicker

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    Chris Boswell, Rice

    “Are kickers really football players?” is asked just about as often as “Are golfers truly athletes?” When it comes to Randy Bullock, the kicker debate starts all over again. His body type is closer to pizza delivery man than full-fledged member of the NFL. 

    Only one part of the anatomy matters for kickers, and as long as their leg of choice works, the rest of their body is irrelevant. One look at Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders demonstrates how true this is.

    Janikowski’s left leg is strong and reasonably accurate, particularly from long range. That this leg is attached to a 6’2” frame may provide some advantage. In the case of Bullock, his right leg is neither strong nor accurate, which draws further attention to his 5’9” stature.

    The fact that Boswell is 6’2” could tip the balance in the competition for the placekicking job in his favor. In the history of the NFL, 77 kickers have made more than 100 field goals at a rate of 70 percent or higher. Only eight have been 5’9” or shorter.

    That may be the result of more 5’10” or taller players signing up to become kickers or the anatomical benefits of having a longer leg.

    Bullock actually made a higher percentage of his field goals in 2013 than Boswell: 74.3 percent to 66.7 percent. But Boswell makes more field goals from 50 or more yards. In 2013, he made his 13th career kick from more than 50 yards, while no other kicker active in the NCAA had made more than five.

    The now-veteran Bullock may have the edge even if Boswell has the “leg-up” in terms of height.

    Chance of Making Final Roster: 50 percent

     

    Note: Combines results courtesy of NFL.com. Pro-day results courtesy of NFL Draft Scout.

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