The offseason is in full swing and the Houston Texans are eying the 20th spot in the draft. The team is coming off their best record in franchise history (9-7) and a pivotal loss of their leader in the defensive backfield—Dunta Robinson.
This year's draft pool is deep with plenty of talent to go around. Houston's first round pick will be significant, yes, but look for them to address issues on both sides of the ball throughout draft day. There is speculation that running back Steve Slaton's inconsistent play creates a hole in the offensive backfield, but that would be a mistake.
With Robinson gone and expiring contracts on the defensive side of the ball, the Texans would be wise to consider bolstering up their defensive backfield with a little youthful athleticism. Here are a few players the front office may be considering, but would be better off without.
RB C.J. Spiller
The former Clemson star is an electric player who can contribute to any NFL team's roster. He has great lateral speed, good vision for his age, and has some of the best hands in his class. Paired with Clemson receiver Jacoby Ford, the duo racked up the most all-purpose yards in NCAA history.
However, the Texans already have a Spiller-profile type of player. Slaton came into the league two years ago; he had a breakout rookie season before falling to a sophomore slump in 2009. Houston fans may be calling for retribution on draft day this April, but if the team does decide to pursue a complementary back, they would do well to seek out a larger body type of back to fill in the holes Slaton's player type presents.
With the kind of talent in this year's class of backs, the team could find their perfect bruiser back in rounds two or three. Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer or LSU's Charles Scott may be the answer the running game is looking for. The tandem back system in the NFL has become the norm recently but it's important to preserve balance in the backfield.
Two speedy backs would be a blessing, but not without another runner who can punch it in in the endzone. The Texans' interior offensive line struggled last year, but with another training camp to solidify their chemistry and a bulldog in the backfield, the team has a chance to take advantage of the AFC South's occasional poor run defense.
G/T Mike Iupati
Iupati may very well be the only guard to come off the board on day one of the draft. He has quick feet, NFL size, and a mature head on his shoulders. The former Idaho lineman has versatility as he dominates on the offensive side of the ball but loves to play defense. Whichever team grabs him will definitely see a dramatic improvement in the performance of their offensive line right off the bat.
The Texans, though, have too many needs on the defensive side of the ball to pursue Iupati in the first round. As I said before, Houston's offensive interior struggled with creating holes in the run game and protecting the quarterback, but there are other solid guards that will be available in later rounds.
While there are, arguably, no other interior linemen in the draft with the kind of NFL-readiness and ball skills of Iupati, John Jerry of Ole Miss or Alabama's Mike Johnson will likely still be around in the mid to late rounds for the Texans to pick up.
OLB Sean Weatherspoon
The former Missouri defensive captain entered the offseason as just another name in a pool of early to mid round outside linebackers. Now, after a great senior week and an illuminating combine, Weatherspoon may now be the best available outside linebacker in his class.
He doesn't have experience playing off the line with his hand in the dirt, but he has the quick burst of speed off the snap to be effective in that capacity. He wasn't the best in coverage at Missouri, but he has the physical tangibles to succeed and he has the attitude that makes it easy for him to be coached up.
Houston found a defensive gem in Brian Cushing last year and, with middle linebacker Demeco Ryans still fulfilling the role as a defensive captain, it's doubtful the team has a substantial need at the linebacker spot. Besides, there's too much money invested in Mario Williams, Ryans, and Cushing to fork over first round money to a position that doesn't affect the most change.
CB Joe Haden
With Dunta Robinson in Atlanta next year, the Texans have glaring holes in their defensive backfield. Despite Joe Haden's disappointing performance at the combine, he remains, in most people's eyes, the top corner in the draft. He comes from a Florida defense that dominated the SEC for the better part of his career and, with two collegiate national championships under his belt, the former Gator has big-game experience.
The Texans, however, have needs across the backfield. They don't have a shutdown corner or a safety that knows how to defend the pass. Haden is overrated due to the talent that surrounded him in Florida and he is more of a physical defender than he is a pass disruptor. If he is still on the board when Houston's turn is up, the front office will be very tempted to make a pass at him, but there are other corners/safeties in this year's class that can have a more immediate impact.
Boise State's Kyle Wilson and Texas' Earl Thomas are both likely to be available at the 20th spot and both are pass coverage phenoms. Wilson has the edge due to his physicality and the versatility he brings to any defense but either player could do wonders in improving Houston's chances in a division where success only comes with the ability to stop Peyton Manning.
S Taylor Mays
With the Texans looking to the draft to bolster up their defensive backfield, Taylor Mays will be on the mind of the front office executives come draft day. Mays is coming off a fairly productive senior year; he has great natural athleticism and decent speed to boot. USC's defense did well against the pass in 2009 and Mays was a big part of that.
However, Mays is not the fit Houston is looking for. The defense finished 12th against the run in '09 and Mays' primary contributions are in run support. He isn't the ballhawk the defense needs right now. The former Trojan is a prototypical "eight-in-the-box" kind of player.
Houston has greater needs in pass support and it would be a mistake to draft a player that can't immediately contribute to that dynamic. May's athleticism will be tempting in April, but the Texans would do well to look elsewhere.