Head coach Gary Kubiak is preparing for the most vital football season of his career. He has one more chance to turn things around and achieve his 2006 goal of making the playoffs.
In the midst of a labor strife and the uncertainty of a 2011 season, the Houston Texans are days away from selecting a new generation of Texans in the NFL Draft. The labor dispute has put free agency on hold, and the results have been complicated for the Texans.
The Texans enter 2011 with a new defensive coordinator in Wade Phillips. Not only does Phillips bring an impressive resume and a heavy heart for Houston, he also brings new ideas. Some key defenders from last season—most notably Bernard Pollard and Amobi Okoye—have been ruled unfit for Phillips' new 3-4 defensive scheme. Most of the holes in the defense, and the offense too for that matter, have not been filled prior to the draft as they typically would through free agency.
The club will have to draft without the knowledge of which free agents they will sign. The good news is that every other club is in the same position. Regardless, a great draft is absolutely essential for the Texans' success.
Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have been hit or miss with draft picks in the past. In 2006, Kubiak's first year as head coach, he and the Texans selected All-Pros Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. The Texans also turned a fourth-round pick into a Pro Bowl tight end in Owen Daniels.
Recent drafts certainly haven't been as fruitful. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye was Houston's first selection in 2007—Smith's first year as general manager. Although he is still only 24, Okoye is flirting with the title of "bust."
Most recently, cornerback Kareem Jackson has proven to disappoint as a first-round draft pick. Fortunately, last year will be unlikely to define Jackson as a player.
There is no more room for error. The time has come to lay out the cards and get this team over the hump. Taking massive risks and drafting unproven talents is not the recipe for success. So with the 11th pick, can the Texans draft a significant talent who will make an immediate impact?
Two players come to mind: Von Miller, outside linebacker out of Texas A&M, and Patrick Peterson, a gifted cornerback talent out of LSU. Both these players are unlikely to fall past the seventh pick, and Miller will likely go in the top three. If the Texans want them, they will have to trade up.
Typically, players are not traded for draft picks. If a team wishes to move up, they most often give away later picks to compensate. For instance, trading this year's third and fifth-round picks, as well as a 2012 first-round pick, could see the Texans move up.
But is it really worth it?
This year's draft class, especially on the defensive side, is deep and bountiful. There will likely be future pro-bowlers selected in the later parts of the first round. After all, Brian Cushing was taken 15th by the Texans in 2009. He went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
If the price is right, then make the move. That is, keeping the second-round pick and certainly next year's first-round pick. It is much too risky to commit two first-round draft selections to one player. If that is what it will take, the Texans should be content at No. 11. Supreme talents like Prince Amukamara and Aldon Smith will most likely still be available.
Many fans believe it is time to roll the dice, and I can't lobby against them. The last two Super Bowl champions were products of quick turnarounds, and the Texans could follow suit. With jobs on the line, maybe it will finally be time for Smith and Kubiak to take a gamble; maybe this year they are all in.
However the draft plays out, the Texans' front-office must constantly consider their fans. The fans are fed up with disappointment. The time to win is now.
Here are the top five candidates for the Texans:
1.) Von Miller
Miller will likely go to the Buffalo Bills with the third pick. The asking price to trade for that pick will likely be extremely high and unrealistic. However, stranger things have happened.
2.) Patrick Peterson
Peterson is also out of range for the Texans. He is likely to go to the 49ers at No. 7, but could easily fall into the Top Five. The asking price for Peterson could be much more reasonable for Houston, as the 49ers seem to be equally in love with Prince Amukamara.
Some more viable options:
3.) Prince Amukamara
Although Texans fans are skeptical about drafting another top cornerback prospect, Amukamara is hard to overlook. This guy is as good as shut-down corners get in the draft. He has the ability to lock down the field and create havoc for quarterbacks. He doesn't possess the huge play-making ability of Peterson, but he is likely to have an immediate impact.
4.) Aldon Smith
Smith has been widely overlooked in the weeks leading up to the draft. With immense talent and play-making ability, Smith could be Wade Phillips' new best friend. Mario Williams, Antonio Smith and Aldon Smith could really make for an intimidating platoon of defensive ends. Smith is also capable of being a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
5.) Robert Quinn
Quinn missed every game last season at North Carolina due to a suspension. He is still high on draft boards, and is likely to go in the Top 10. If he falls to No. 11, the Texans have to take him. This is a must-draft prospect if he is available. Not only does he possess all the qualities Phillips loves in a pass-rusher, he is also capable of being the most effective player in this draft.
The Texans would instantly improve their defense with any of these five players, but they aren't the only options. The fact remains that this is the deepest defensive draft in years.
It is in the Texans' hands to make the right decision.
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