Since the Texans season ended, many of us have been speculating about the next big venture for our team, the 2009 NFL Draft. I have been knee deep in mock drafts, scouting reports, declaring underclassmen announcements and Senior Bowl activities trying to figure out what the best course of action would be for our team. It dawned on me the other day though that I was not taking the most important information into account: What we’ve done in drafts past.
Gary Kubiak has been at the reigns now for three seasons, this upcoming draft being his fourth. While Charlie Casserly was officially the G.M. until shortly after the 2006 draft when he was fired and Rick Smith was hired, it is no secret that Kubiak was making the selections given that they were the foundation for his new coaching tenure. Experts say that it takes three years for the average player to show if he is going to be a steal, a bust or somewhere in the middle. This theory is backed up by what is not necessarily the most accurate but the easiest statistic for judging players performances, the Pro Bowl. There are a total of 16 players that have been selected to at least one Pro Bowl that were drafted in 2006, as opposed to 7 in 2007 and 3 in 2008. If the three-year theory is true, it is now feasible to critique Kubiak’s first draft.
Kubiak’s first draft in 2006 cannot be touched. Out of the sixteen Pro Bowlers that were noted above, three of them were drafted by the Texans. But let me take a step back. I just said that the number of Pro Bowl selectees is not the most accurate stat, but that inaccuracy makes the Texans’ case more impressive. Everyone knows that the fan vote often turns the Pro Bowl into a popularity contest where high profile players automatically garner votes whether they deserve it or not. Case in point, Vince Young has been to a Pro Bowl. But as I noted before, there is nothing high profile about the Texans players. Hell, Andre Johnson had to lead the league in both receptions and receiving yards in the same year to get just a little recognition. That means that any Texans players that went to the Pro Bowl were voted in by fellow players and coaches in the NFL, which is the true test as to whether you deserve it.
Sorry for the tangent...let’s get back to the draft. 21 players have been drafted by the Texans in the past three years. Below are descriptions of each of their professional careers and future expectations. They’re organized in chronological order. It’s important to remember the talent expectation level for each round. It’s a sliding scale between anticipating a first round pick to not only start his first season but often make immediate impact, to the reasonable presumption that a seventh round pick is going to have to fight like hell just to make the team.
Mario Williams – DE – NC State - 1. Obviously the most controversial pick in that year’s draft, the Texans shocked everyone by passing on Reggie Bush and Vince Young. I’m not going to throw in reasons why this pick was better than VY or Reggie because I would just be plagiarizing some of the good arguments that can be found around Texans blogs, but I will say it’s safe to say we made the right choice. After recording only 4.5 sacks his rookie year, people were quick to call Mario a bust, but you don’t hear that very often anymore after he recorded 14 sacks in 2007 and 12 sacks in 2008, which was good for 3rd and 7th place in the league respectively. Mario not only silenced his critics with his play, but he also did not lower himself by getting snippy with the media. He just suited up for every game and took his aggression out on opposing QBs.
DeMeco Ryans – ILB – Alabama - 33. DeMeco is my favorite Texan, with maybe the exception of Vonta Leach. There’s nothing super flashy about him, he just gets it done. After receiving the rookie of the year award in 2006, he looked to be the anchor of the defense for years to come. I’m not doubting that’s true, but his statistical performance has decreased each season since his first. This can be attributed to a couple of things. One is Richard Smith. DeMeco has been pretty vocal since Smith’s firing, and while his comments haven’t necessarily been aimed directly at his ex-DC, it’s obvious by what he is saying that he wasn’t happy with the scheme. Another reason was identified by DieHard Chris--he is a little undersized to play in the middle. His frame might be better suited to play on the outside like he did in college. Either way, he was a steal in the second round and will continue to be one of the players the defense is built around.
Charles Spencer – OT – Pitt - 65. Spencer looked extremely promising when he was drafted, and even more so when he won the starting LT position as a rookie. He looked to be the answer the team had been looking for since fielding a terrible offensive line every year since the franchise’s inception. Then, in week three of the season against the Colts, he broke his leg. He missed his entire 2007 season recovering, and apparently he was incapable of getting back to where he needed to be because the Texans waived him in July of 2008. He was signed by the Jaguars and was obviously not up to muster because he got very little playing time on a team that was desperate for offensive lineman due to injuries that crippled them. Either he was good but the injury ruined him, or he would have eventually shown that he couldn’t hack it. We might never know.
Eric Winston – OT – Miami - 66. OL is the hardest position to evaluate because there are no real statistics to measure a player. The most compelling stat in Winston’s favor is that he began starting in week 10 of his rookie season and has started every game since. While he wasn’t tailor-made to play LT, he has excelled on the right side, especially last year. With Gibbs staying at least another year, Winston has the opportunity to keep progressing and help solidify our line from the much underrated RT position.
Owen Daniels – TE – Wisconsin - 98. A 6’3” man who weighs 247 lbs. should not be able to do the things that Owen Daniels does. Even after going to the Pro Bowl this year, he’ll probably still won’t be known as one of the league’s best TEs as he should. Daniels has increased receptions and receiving yards each year, while inexplicably his TD’s have decreased. As well as the Offense performed this year, we finished 26th in scoring TDs in the red zone. If we want that statistic to improve, the Schaub will have to learn to target Daniels in the end zone more. Just as impressive as Daniels' play is how little he cost us. When we selected Daniels, eight other TEs had been taken, including Vernon Davis at 6 and Marcedes Lewis at 28, which both came with the price tags associated with first round picks. By the way, none of the other TEs taken in the 2006 draft have been selected for the Pro Bowl.
Wali Lundy – RB – Virginia - 170. Lundy was active for 14 games and started 8 after Domanick Davis’ lingering knee injury kept him on the sideline. Lundy appeared to provide a spark for the first few games he started, but slowed down and was only able to tally 3.8 yards per carry for the rest of the season. At 5’10” 200 pounds, Lundy was deemed to be too small and let go. It’s up to debate whether the limited production we got from him was worth a sixth round pick. One thing to keep in mind is that the offense, specifically the running game, wasn’t great back then. Who knows what Lundy could have done in Gibbs’ system? Obviously it’s a moot point given that we got a certain small, fast RB a couple of years later who seems to be working out well.
David Anderson – WR – Colorado State - 251. Anderson has played a small role in the Texans’ offense in his three years, but at least we know he’s a good dancer. We cut him in 2007 and re-signed about a month later. He played 15 games this year, and he serves his purpose. I think he has marginal talent and could be replaced, but it’s still impressive to see what Kubiak could get out of a seventh round pick.
Overall, I think it’s plain to see that the 2006 draft played out well for us. If I asked any football fan to name five Texans players, three of them would likely be players from the 2006 draft--DeMeco, Mario and Owen. The other four candidates would probably be Dunta Robinson, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton. Forgive the long windedness, but there was a point. Out of those seven players I just named, five have been drafted since Kubiak took over.
All of this shows that the team heading in the right direction is not just wishful thinking. Hopefully in next year’s offseason, I’ll be posting a similar article talking about how smart Kubiak and Rick Smith were for drafting Amobi and some of the others from his draft class. Also, I guess since I’m touting their drafting ability, I can probably stop obsessing over the Texans’ draft. If I did that though, I would have to actually work during the day.