The 2011 NFL Draft is less than five days away. This draft may be the most important for the Houston Texans since its inaugural draft in 2002 when David Carr was selected first overall. Let’s hope this one goes a lot better.
The reason for the increased importance of this draft is the combination of so much emphasis being placed on making the playoffs along with the switching to a 3-4 defense which creates even more holes than the team already had.
To compound matters, there will be no free agency period before the draft which means teams like the Texans have to fill more needs through the draft.
If Houston failed to draft an outside linebacker, for example, the team would likely overpay for a player in free agency because of desperation.
Given the importance of selecting players who fill the 3-4 defense, I thought it might be beneficial to go through each position group and rank the top five players specifically for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comments or on twitter (@JakeBRB).
Nose tackle is the anchor of the defensive line in a three-man front, and an effective 3-4 cannot be run without one. Phillips and the Texans have really been pushing the notion that Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody are adequate for the position in 2011.
While I think that Phillips likes Mitchell, I believe he knows he still needs another NT.
1. Marcell Dareus
Most don’t consider Dareus a NT. They see him rather as a three-technique or a five-technique. Dareus could wreak havoc in Phillips’ defense, though, which allows for smaller players at the position that can penetrate but still anchor. Dareus can do both.
2. Phil Taylor
Taylor’s stock has been dropping because of rumors of non-operable foot issues. I place this firmly in the “misinformation” category that is robust during this time before the draft. I would still take Taylor in a heartbeat, as I believe he has proven in the last year or so what type of work ethic he can have.
3. Kenrick Ellis
Ellis might be more physically gifted than Taylor and better equipped to play the nose, but he will be drafted much later. That is because Ellis was suspended by South Carolina and eventually dismissed, which is also why he is almost certainly not on the Texans’ draft board.
4. Stephen Paea
Paea is considered to be a run stuffing three-technique for a 4-3 and incapable of playing the nose in a 3-4.
While I think that is true for almost every 3-4 defense, I believe Wade’s is the one exception. Paea has enough strength to anchor despite his size, and can collapse the pocket with regularity.
5. Marvin Austin
Austin is in the same boat as Paea. He has the strength to anchor but the quickness to shoot the gap as Phillips’ defense often requires.
The problem with Paea and Austin, however, is that both are more valuable as three-technique and therefore likely not cost-effective for the Texans to outbid 4-3 teams.
Five-technique is an integral position in a 3-4, especially in Wade’s defense. Luckily, this is the one position that the Texans have somewhat taken care of with Mario Williams and Antonio Smith on the roster.
Both are coming up on the end of their contracts soon, however, and both have also voiced uncertainty in playing in a 3-4.
1. Cameron Jordan
Phillips has made several comparisons of Mario Williams to Bruce Smith, but I think Jordan would have a better chance of emulating the Hall of Famer who played for Wade in Buffalo.
Jordan has production in college, athleticism, work ethic character and football IQ. Everything you could want.
2. JJ Watt
Almost universally among draft analysts, Watt and Jordan are considered the best five-techniques in the draft. I tend to favor Jordan slightly, but I still love Watt.
He has everything that Jordan does, except Jordan’s athleticism and elite use of hands. He just doesn’t have Jordan’s natural pass-rush ability.
3. Cameron Heyward
Heyward has flown under the radar for the entire draft season, but he is very respected among NFL front office personnel.
He is incredibly strong at the point of attack, and can do everything you need a five-technique to do. He is also the kind of man you don’t worry about after he receives his first million.
4. Adrian Clayborn
Clayborn is everything that Heyward is with a tad more athleticism, but there are several red flags present as well.
He has a potential long-lasting medical condition in his arm stemming from Erb’s Palsy, and there are character concerns as well. Probably will be valued greater by 4-3 teams.
5. Corey Liuget
Liuget is a highly rated three-technique, but he has the strength and athleticism combination to play on Wade’s penetrating three-man front.
Liuget’s most underappreciated quality is definitely his ability to hold the point of attack, which is essential for five-techniques.
When people think of the 3-4, they initially think of the rush linebacker. It’s the sexiest position as it gets most of the stats in the way of sacks, but players at this position must be able to drop into coverage and play the run.
One of Wade’s OLBs is usually a dedicated blitzer, while the other covers and blitzes.
1. Von Miller
Hands down the top player on my board for the Texans. No college prospect is refined as a blitzer on the NFL level, but Miller’s incredible speed and ability to bend will make him immediately effective in the NFL. The only player I would be okay with the Texans trading up for.
2. Robert Quinn
I have read several reports that Quinn will not succeed as an OLB because of his inability to drop, but that wouldn’t matter for Wade’s D, in which one OLB is essentially a weak-side defensive end who rushes standing up.
Quinn has the body control that comes from being a four-time state champion wrestler.
3. Martez Wilson
I don’t know anyone who is this high on Wilson, but I don’t care. He has scary athleticism and a proven track record of success on a bad defense.
Wilson may lack a little in instincts, but that won’t matter as much when he’ll spend 80 percent of his time chasing the quarterback.
4. Aldon Smith
Smith is another prospect who is killed for his lack of ability to play OLB, and he is criticized for his production in college primarily coming from the inside.
Smith has the athleticism necessary to bend around the edge, he just needs to learn how to not play as high.
5. Akeem Ayers
Ayers might be slow running 40 yards in underwear, but he flashes on the football field.
I don’t like that he has the occasional habit of taking a play or two off, but he is one of the few prospects that I believe could handle the entire linebacker responsibilities while still getting after the quarterback.