The 2011 NFL draft is in the books. By now, you’ve probably seen numerous grades on the 32 respective teams’ efforts in the draft, as that is always a fan favorite. When it comes to the Houston Texans though, I prefer to do my draft review every year a little later.
First of all, to append a letter grade to individual picks or the team’s entire haul is oversimplifying a very complicated process a bit. I still do because it is a simple and effective way to convey your feelings to fans who may not be familiar with the individual players, please keep in mind that no one has a clue how they will perform in the NFL despite high or low expectations.
I also prefer not to review the Texans draft immediately after its completion. After three days of watching the exciting yet agonizingly slow proceedings, I usually need a day or two to really determine how I feel about the players that will soon call Houston home.
For this reason, I am doing my draft review today. This year, I have also taken one further step in my effort to provide a thorough draft breakdown; I have enlisted the help of Matt Miller of New Era Scouting, who is also Bleacher Report’s most popular draft writer.
I will analyze each pick with a Texans specific focus, and then Matt will give his feelings about the player given his more in depth knowledge about the draft. This will hopefully give you a good feeling about how players fit in with the Texans on a need standpoint as well as their overall talent. This should also mitigate any positive or negative bias I might have toward certain picks as a fan of the team.
So, let’s break down the Houston Texans’ 2011 NFL draft class. Remember that if you have any thoughts or opinions you’d like to share, I’d love to see them in the comments or feel free to direct them toward me on Twitter (@JakeBRB) or toward Matt (@nfldraftscout).
J.J. Watt/DE/Wisconsin – 11th Overall
Jake: There is nothing incredibly sexy about this pick, but the Texans didn’t need sexy. They need the defense to be at least average next year to allow the established offense to win games. The Texans did not have the luxury of taking a high-risk, high-reward player because they need their first rounder to be productive this year.
Take Robert Quinn for example; who I thought was going to be the pick. He might have been able to translate his incredible athleticism and pass-rushing ability at defensive end to outside linebacker, or maybe he would have struggled rushing standing up. His brain tumor is also a concern.
I initially would have preferred Quinn, but I can see now why they passed. I am actually happy that they passed on Prince Amukamara as well, given how the rest of their draft went and because I agree with their prioritization of improving the front seven. Wade Phillips has to be able to produce consistent pressure next season.
Watt will help make the front seven better. While five-technique wasn’t a huge need for the Texans because of the presence of Mario Williams and Antonio Smith on the roster, having a rotation at the position will be a huge value to the defense. Also, the Texans are approaching contract decisions with both Williams and Smith, and if one of them is not retained, his replacement is on the roster.
Watt is a high-motor, high-character guy which the Texans have always loved. I personally thought Cameron Jordan was a slightly better prospect at the position, but many draft analysts thought Watt was the best five-technique in the draft, and I can see their argument.
Overall, I am aware that this pick will not make or break the defense, but it is a solid foundation for the rest of the defensive oriented draft class:
Matt: Much like Jake, I too would have preferred an outside linebacker here, namely Robert Quinn. When looking at the Texans defense before the 2011 draft, the identifiable needs were at outside linebacker, cornerback, nose tackle and both safety spots. Their two strengths were at defensive end, where Antonio Smith and Mario Williams provide a solid duo and at inside linebacker with DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing.
I did have defensive end as a top three need for Houston, but as a third or fourth-round option for a rotation in their three-man front.
With top outside linebacker Robert Quinn and ace cornerback Prince Amukamara both on the board, Houston made a bad selection.
Brooks Reed/OLB/Arizona – 42nd Overall
Jake: I was not crazy about the Reed pick at the time the selection was made, but I feel a little better about it now. Reed rode a wave of positive momentum he created for himself at the Senior Bowl and the combine to a high draft pick, and I was initially concerned that the Texans overpaid for the linebacker conversion prospect.
Reed is incredibly quick and fast for his size, but he has inherent stiffness that might make standing up in a 3-4 difficult. Reed flashed potential on the field at Arizona, but 17 sacks in a four-year career isn’t the kind of consistent production I’d like to see in a pass-rush specialist.
Looking at the other candidates for SOLB opposite of Connor Barwin though, Reed was clearly the best on the board IMO. So while they may have not bought into Reeds’ workout hype, they may have felt they had to get an OLB of starter quality in year one, and Reed was the only one left.
Reed will have to develop skills necessary to rush on the outside in the NFL, but in the meantime, I think Wade will get creative in order to maximize the speed and athleticism that Reed already has. For instance, I could see a lot of blitzes with Reed rushing up the A gap.
I am not happy about Reed as an early second-round prospect, but sometimes, you need to fill a need:
Matt: The Texans redeem themselves by drafting a defensive end in Round 2 who I believe can convert to become a very good pass-rushing outside linebacker. Reed played end in Arizona's defense, and while not overly productive, he has all the tools to make the move to outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme.
The selection of Reed does double duty of filling a need and providing excellent value, as we had Reed ranked as a late first-round prospect.
Brandon Harris/CB/Miami – 60th Overall
Jake: This was by far, my favorite Texans pick of the draft. I believe that there was a huge drop off in talent after Harris, and the Texans must have thought so as well because they traded up from their third-round pick to nab him. What’s even better is that the deal only cost the team a fifth rounder, which they would eventually get back anyway.
Harris is in my opinion a rarity as a draft prospect. I believe that he has a high floor as well as a high ceiling in the NFL. He is a prototypical slot corner, a position that is becoming very valuable in the NFL, but he has shown he can play on the outside as well.
At 5’9”, Harris will never be matched up with the Calvin Johnson’s of the world, but he showed in college that he can match up on the outside and compete, just as he did against Demaryius Thomas in 2009 against Georgia Tech when he timed a jump ball perfectly and knocked it away from the much bigger receiver.
I believe at the very worst Harris will be a competent slot corner, but best case he can be competent starter on the outside as a CB2:
Matt: Now here is a pick I really like.
Harris may have been a Round 2 pick, but he has the talent to start as a rookie. He provides good cover skills, excellent athleticism and the experience to step in as the complement to 2010 first-rounder Kareem Jackson.
Houston may have started the draft with a reach, but they have rebounded nicely in Round 2.
Rashad Carmichael/CB/Virginia Tech – 127th Overall
Jake: The Carmichael pick came a little later than expected as the Texans traded down with the Washington Redskins and gave up their sixth-round pick for two fifth-round picks. The fact that they were able to re-acquire a fifth which they lost earlier for Harris makes that pick, and this one that much sweeter. Kudos Rick Smith.
Carmichael is an interesting player. On one hand, he is a ball hawk who is very good at turning and looking for the ball in coverage and making a play on it. For this reason and the fact that they went to the same school, Carmichael often draws comparisons to Brandon Flowers of Kansas City.
My problem with Carmichael and the reason I believe he lasted until the late fourth round is because he isn’t physical enough. He doesn’t jam at the line well, and he doesn’t push receivers down the sideline effectively.
Overall though, I think this was a good value pick. At least he and Harris joining the roster means an end to both Brice McCain and Antwaun Molden:
Matt: Carmichael is a bit of a sleeper. He's physical enough to handle outside receivers but may lack the speed to keep up with the fastest receiver. He would provide a great matchup with a third wide receiver. Carmichael also does a nice job in run support, something the Texans will require from their inside corners.
Carmichael, like Harris, has the experience to see major playing time as a rookie.
Jake: Both Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak identified Keo as the draftee on Day 3 of the proceedings to watch. Wade Phillips apparently became enamored with the playmaking safety from the Big Sky Conference while coaching at the East-West Shrine Game. The Texans really like Keo.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and Deion Sanders also gushed about Keo during the DB drills at the combine. I want to buy into the hype especially because I mocked Keo to the Texans at one point, but I am leery about a safety with 4.74 40 speed. At some point in the NFL, you have to be able run fast.
I am going to give the Texans the benefit of the doubt on this one given all the praise surrounding him, but I wish that one year we could draft a safety before the fifth round:
Matt: Like Jake said, there is a ton of praise surrounding Keo, but why did they wait until Round 5 to pull the trigger on a safety?
Keo has the tools to start on a bad team as a strong safety, but his speed is going to be a major hindrance in deep coverage. He may be an in-the-box guy only. The Texans defense was terrible in pass coverage last year, they needed someone to cover the deep third. Keo isn't that guy.
T.J. Yates/QB/North Carolina
Jake: I’ve heard all of the positives for this pick. Yates has great intangibles as a four-year starter in a major college program. He is very familiar with the Texans’ brand of the West Coast Offense and routinely studied Matt Schaub while in college. He has very similar attributes to the aforementioned starter.
My problem with this pick is that if the Texans were going to take a break from drafting defense, wide receiver was a much bigger need than quarterback. While Yates seems ok, a personal favorite of mine, Jeremy Kerley, was drafted a pick later. Hard for me to rationalizes Yates being higher on their board.
On a positive note, Yates is probably smart enough to know where his helmet is on the sidelines and therefore will be an instant update over Dan Orlovsky:
Matt: I like this pick as a late-round developmental quarterback to eventually be tradeable or perhaps as a replacement for Matt Schaub in the coming years. We like Yates as a guy who can sit back and learn behind a veteran, and with a smart quarterback coach like Gary Kubiak on the staff, Yates is in a great situation.
Derek Newton/OT/Arkansas St – 214th Overall
Jake: Newton fills a position of need at swing tackle if Rashad Butler is going to leave via free agency this year. Newton apparently is athletically gifted enough to develop into a good right tackle, but he needs to get a lot stronger in order to stand up to NFL front seven players.
Newton seems like he fits the mold of a zone-blocking lineman. He is athletic and moves well in space which is good for the Texans’ blocking scheme, but it will take a long time before Newton is developed into the type of player that can make the roster.
I believe Newton is an early candidate for the practice squad, but in the seventh round, I am OK with that:
Matt: Another great developmental player to take a risk on. If Newton hits his potential as a left tackle is worthwhile. The worst case scenario is that Newton becomes a quality backup once he gets in to an NFL system and can hit the weights and improve his understanding of angles and leverage. I see a lot of J'Marcus Webb in Derek Newton.
Cheta Ozougwu/OLB/Rice – 254th Overall
Jake: Ozougwu, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant, seems like an OK pick, but I would like to have seen a few other players in this slot. Even though it was the very last pick in the draft, this season, there are no undrafted free-agent signings until the labor situation is fixed, so this was more of an important pick than normal.
Ozougwu is another player that Wade Phillips coached at the East-West Game, and apparently, the Texans showed interest in the hometown player there along with the Patriots. From everything I’ve read about him though, his overall lack of athleticism shouldn’t make anyone think he will make the transition well to standing up.
I would have liked to see this pick on a player with more upside. Keith Darbut was a small school player from Baldwin-Wallace who ran his 40-yard dash at least a full .4 faster than Ozougwu. Also, why not put your money on Mark Herzlich. It’s hard to believe that he won’t will his way back into being an NFL-caliber player.
I know it’s kind of silly to whine about Mr. Irrelevant, but if you are essentially taking a flier, why not make it on a player with a much higher ceiling:
Matt: Mr. Irrelevant. A fitting name title for Ozougwu. The Texans took a flier on a player they believe could someday convert to an outside pass-rusher after playing defensive end at Rice. He has the right body type and speed to stick at the position. Like Jake mentioned, why not take a chance on a guy with proven college productivity here?
Jake: For the most part, it is very hard to complain about this draft as a Texans fan, especially when compared to past drafts. Obviously, we have no way of knowing exactly how these players will perform, but I did not have any serious head scratching moments this year which is a rarity.
You can argue the merits of individual picks, but I think it is hard for anyone with knowledge of the team to say that the defensive roster isn’t exponentially better than it was a week ago. There is a healthy rotation on the D Line. There are four competent starters at linebacker. Enough corners were taken to move Glover Quin to safety.
Don’t get me wrong, this defense still has a LONG way to go. The team needs to spend during free agency, primarily on a starting corner in order to move Kareem Jackson to the second spot, and another OLB wouldn’t hurt at all.
Overall though, it is obvious that Wade Phillips vastly improved the defensive scouting and had his fingerprints all over this draft:
Matt: Houston did a good job filling their major needs (outside linebacker and cornerback), if only a round too late. If I were running the Texans draft room, the picks would have gone Prince Amukamara, Brooks Reed and then a safety or nose tackle. Instead, Houston may need to look for a nose tackle, another outside 'backer and two safeties in free agency. There's also a chance they may try to land a marquee free agent at cornerback. All-in-all, it's too early to judge this draft, but early indications are good.