Every year during the months directly following the NFL season, draft speculation begins.
Speculation usually centers on the first round and the first round only. Everyone wants to see who the next face of the franchise will be for their respective teams. Often, teams’ entire drafts are judged by the casual fan on this pick alone.
This viewpoint does the entire draft process an injustice. While the first pick sets the stage for the rest of the draft, teams often acquire the most value in the subsequent picks.
This year, it is especially important for the Houston Texans to select well in their picks after the first round. Their defense was near the bottom of the league last year, and Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator to change that.
Normally, free agency would be used to fill glaring needs and the draft would be used to add talent where possible. While Rick Smith claims that the philosophy remains in effect for this offseason’s talent acquisition, the fact that free agency will not come until after the draft further emphasizes the importance of the Texan's later draft selections.
The Texans have a lot of holes to fill on defense, but the impending turnover to the 3-4 defense creates even more slots to fill.
The current coaching staff doesn’t have the luxury of getting production out of the new defense over a couple of seasons either. If the Texans miss the playoffs this year, Gary Kubiak will likely lose his job and possibly Rick Smith as well.
So, this draft might be the most important in the short history of the team. For now, let’s suppose the Texans choose wisely in round one and look at some possible complimentary players that can be had in round two.
Moore is the beneficiary of a weak safety class, as he is almost unanimously the top-rated safety according to draft analysts. Moore entered the draft after his junior season, but had three years as a starter since he was a true freshman.
Moore showed tremendous ball skills by tallying 10 interceptions in 2009 — by far the most in FBS that season. Unfortunately, his stats took a hit in 2010 when he only grabbed one interception. Some think this is due to UCLA’s coaching staff using him to defend against the run more, but the stat is still alarming.
Moore is essentially a ball hawk free safety. He excels in the deep half of the field due to his instincts for the position and ability to read quarterbacks. However, his substandard tackling is the reason he will probably be available in the second round.
Bruce Carter – LB/UNC:
Carter is one of my favorite prospects in this year’s draft. Originally slated as a first round talent at the beginning of 2010, Carter has been dropped to the second to third round range because of a torn ACL.
Carter possesses rare athletic ability and a wide range of skills for the outside linebacker position. At North Carolina he showed the ability to rush the passer, cover short and intermediate pass routes, and stoutly defend against the run.
Even before Carter’s late season knee injury, he did not perform as well as he did during his junior or sophomore seasons. This is likely due to lack of a supporting cast that was suspended for the season.
Carter is an elite talent. the only questions are whether or not his knee will fully recover and if so, when?
Wilson is another impressive athletic specimen at the linebacker position. While Wilson played his collegiate career at ILB, many notable draft analysts think he is best suited on the outside of a 3-4 defense.
Wilson has been slowed by a couple of injuries. He suffered a herniated disk in his neck and then he was stabbed while defending a teammate in a fight. While the injuries could be categorized as fluky, Wilson needs to prove that he can stay healthy at the next level.
Wilson’s raw athletic ability — demonstrated by his position-best 4.42 40-yard dash at the NFL combine — makes him an enticing prospect. Added to that is his versatility: He might be able to play both inside and out in a 3-4 defense.
Aaron Williams – CB or FS/TEX:
Williams excelled during his career at the University of Texas, where he began playing as a true freshman. His straight line speed, while adequate for college, may not be enough to play on the outside in the NFL.
Williams is the poster child for the cornerback-to-safety transition that players such as Malcolm Jenkins and Antrel Rolle underwent in the NFL. His size is well suited for the position, as is his experience in playing both man and zone coverage well.
Williams has been known to make the easy interception but not necessarily the difficult one — something that you would like to see out of a free safety prospect. His experience, however, means that he can play either safety or slot corner, giving the coaching staff more options in nickel situations.
Clayborn had a great career playing for a solid defense in Iowa. His senior season was somewhat of a regression though, as teams found it easier to block the player that was close to unblockable his junior season.
Clayborn is thought to be a good candidate to play as a five-technique or defensive end in a three-man front in the NFL because of his size at 6’3", 280 lbs.
Clayborn suffers from Erb’s Palsy, a condition stemming from birth that can cause momentary paralysis of the upper arm. This may be why Clayborn only managed to lift 225 pounds in the bench press 17 times, a number uncharacteristically low for a player his size.
Clayborn is not necessarily as strong as you’d like a five-technique to be, but his size and explosiveness make him an intriguing prospect. He might be better suited for left end in a four-man front, but if he still isn't drafted by the second round, the Texans would probably consider him.
Stephen Paea—DT/OR ST:
Paea is about as strong as possible given his size. Not only did he set a Combine record with 49 reps of 225 pounds, but that strength actually shows itself on game tape.
The Tongan-born former rugby player does not possess the ideal size to play nose tackle in a three-man front in the NFL, but his ability to take on double teams might make him a candidate for a Wade Phillips’ defense in which a huge defensive tackle is not absolutely required.
Paea could ideally have more burst, but he is adept at splitting gaps when necessary in order to collapse the pocket. Paea was voted the best defensive lineman in the Pac-10 by the conference’s offensive linemen. He was my pick for the Texans in my full seven-round Mock Draft, and one of my favorite picks for the second round if he’s there.
Dowling has had a disappointing road of late to the NFL. After a stellar playing career at Virginia, he suffered several injuries in during his senior season and in pre-draft evaluations, the latest of which was a tweaked hamstring at the Combine.
Dowling has rare talent to play corner though. Even at the Combine, he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash despite the previously mentioned hammy issue. A 6’1” corner in the NFL with that kind of speed is a rare commodity, especially one with Dowling’s collegiate résumé.
Dowling is a high character guy who played all four years, both of which are attributes which the Texans love. Dowling has a very high risk factor because of all of the injuries, but if he manages to stay healthy he could be a steal after round one.
Jernigan is the lone offensive prospect I have slated for the Texans in round two. Jernigan is in my opinion a first-round talent that won’t be drafted that high because he played at a smaller school.
The Texans desperately need a deep threat to make teams pay for constantly double teaming All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson. Jernigan could give the team the deep threat they need. His ability to run after the catch is ideal for the West Coast Offense.
Jernigan is the all-time leader for receptions and receiving yards in both his school’s and the Sun Belt conference’s histories. It is unlikely that the Texans will stray from picking defensive players this early, but Jernigan very well may be the best player available and difficult to pass up in the second round.