51 O'Clock Stock Watch: T-Minus 1 Week To The NFL Draft, RB/OL/DL

As with the first installment of this series, this is just one man's guess as far as where the players will actually end up going.  I don't claim to have any insider information, nor do I consider myself an avid mock draft reader.  

For this post, I'm going to change it up a little bit and go position-by-position: these are players I would consider worthwhile uses of the 51st pick in the draft considering the Texans' need areas and overall talent.  Instead of organizing them by where I think they may go, I'll organize things by position and add a projected slot to each players intro.

Today I'll cover running back, offensive line, and defensive line.  Thursday, linebackers and defensive backs.

RUNNING BACKS

1) Dexter McCluster, RB, Ole Miss (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: Sweet Spot

Mocks seem to either have McCluster going well before the Texans' first pick or well after it.  For the sake of argument, I think he goes before our pick.  Someone is going to fall in love with that playmaking ability and ignore his slight frame.  The reason I like him more than the rest of the backs here is that he has the chance to make Steve Slaton a pure backup because, in theory, he could do everything better than Slaton.  With most of these backs, I think they have an edge in rushing. Some also have an edge in blocking. However, McCluster is the only back in the class I think would be better in the passing game than Slaton.  Not that I'm necessarily saying a committee would be a bad thing, just that I'd like to spend a second round pick on someone who will be on the field the whole game rather than someone who will come out on third down.

2) Jahvid Best, RB, California (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 21) - Projection: So You're Saying There's A Chance?

In my mind, with the combination of age and talent, this is the best overall back in this year's NFL Draft.  Unfortunately, they play football games on fields from time to time, and Mr. Best wouldn't know that as he spent much of the last season not being anywhere near one.  Still, running backs do get dinged up from time to time, and while it's a worthwhile concern with the NFL's emphasis on concussions, odds are he finds his way onto an NFL field at some point.  I doubt he'll be there at 51 in the first place, but if he is, he's certainly a guy who is worth the risk.

3) Ben Tate, RB, Auburn (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: There If We Want Him

I'm drinking the Kool-Aid on Tate, who would be an excellent compliment to Slaton and seems to be well-suited to the I-Formation according to the scouting reports.  I see this as a very safe pick, by which I mean, I don't think Tate will ever rise up and become a top 5 fantasy pick.  But he's an exceptionally steady runner and has the push that our backfield is lacking.  In my mind, still too early for a running back who isn't a game-breaker, but I would not be disappointed if he was the pick at 51.

4) Montario Hardesty, RB, Tennessee (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: There If We Want Him

Hardesty vs. Tate is an interesting comparison of prospects.  Hardesty is a better fit for the zone-blocking system and a better pass catcher.  Tate is a year younger, and a better overall runner.  What ends up separating the two in my mind is worrying about Hardesty's lengthy histories of injury and underachieving.  If you look at the two last year, Hardesty is probably the pick.  However, in the full scope of things, I think Tate is a better bet.

5) Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: There If We Want Him

This has absolutely nothing to do with Gerhart's talent and everything to do with scheme and fit.  He's just not a match for the Texans.  He's a bruising between-the-tackles guy and we like our backs elusive and shifty.  I think he's got a load of talent and will probably end up being as successful as any of these five.  It just won't happen here.

I do think there is a pretty good chance one of these backs ends up being the pick at 51, if they haven't already taken one at 20.  Bob McNair has repeatedly emphasized wanting a better running back and there is a big talent/scheme gap between these top four and most of the rest of the backs, after which you might as well just wait until the later rounds.  I won't particularly be a fan if it comes to pass, but I also won't throw up my hands in exasperation.  I'd much rather have one of these guys in the third round.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

1) JD Walton, C, Baylor (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: There If We Want Him

Yes, I realize this would be a bit of a reach compared to where most mock drafts have Walton.  Let me lay out my convincing arguments for this pick:

- JD Walton is a center.  The Texans center, Chris Myers, is (unless you completely buy in to PFF) a sieve in the passing game and mediocre when not pulling in the run game.  

- There is a shortage of quality centers in this draft.  By that I mean, after Walton and perhaps Matt Tennant, the best available centers all have late round grades on them.

While I am not as willing to sacrifice a first round pick to an interior lineman, I have no qualms about using a second rounder on one.  Given the fact that there are worse starting centers than Myers out there, I find it extremely unlikely that Walton is on the board in round 3 for the Texans.  Throw in the fact that center is very shallow this year, and it only takes one team to essentially end the dream of upgrading there.  There are better value picks, but Walton is a perfect zone-blocking center prospect and aside from Pouncey is essentially one-of-a-kind in this draft.  I think he's a strong contender to go here and I wouldn't be shocked if he went before this.

2) Rodger Saffold, G/T, Indiana (CBS) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: So You're Saying There's A Chance?

Saffold has been mocked as high as the end of the first round, and never lower than the early 40s as far as I can tell.  He probably fits in better at guard than tackle, but he's very cerebral and would pick up zone blocking pretty quickly.  Probably won't be there, but is worth a mention in case he starts falling.

3) Vladimir Ducasse, G/T, Massachusetts (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: Sweet Spot

Ducasse fits the mauler mold more than he fits the zone-blocking mode.  Another guy who probably will have to kick in inside to guard, and he also has problems with pulling.  He's young and has a lot of upside, but there's also a lot of bust potential here and I really don't see the Texans going out of their way for that considering his lack of a fit here.  

4) Jared Veldheer, T, Hillsdale (CBS) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: Sweet Spot

If you were to build an offensive tackle in a factory, you might engineer someone with strikingly similar figures to Veldheer.  After Sebastian Volmer's coming out party for the Patriots last year, teams are willing to gamble on that winning frame with edge-protection speed again.  I don't buy the hype.  Maybe in the third or fourth, when you're not as committed to someone, but I'm not interested in projects in the second round.

Unless the Texans wind up with Walton out of need, which I don't personally believe they'll do because nothing they've done has shown me they value Myers as little as I do, I think this crop falls a little short and that there'll be better value for the Texans in the later rounds.  

DEFENSIVE LINE

1) Terrence Cody, DT, Alabama (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: So You're Saying There's A Chance?

My opinion is unchanged here.  I don't think the Texans will consider him, nor do I think he'll make it down here, but more than a few mocks have put him in the general vicinity of #51.  Cody is a freak of nature that is going to demand 2 blockers a snap whether he weighs 330 or 360.  

2) Brian Price, DT, UCLA (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 21) - Projection: So You're Saying There's A Chance?

Believe it or not, Price's stock has also taken some hits since the last one of these we did.  I've seen a few drafts that have him lasting to the end of the second round, and quite a few more have him in our target area.  Despite the dings, he's still only 21, and he still get terrific penetration.  While he's not a real nose tackle, he's a better run stuffer than most of the NTs here and he does fit the Texans' scheme pretty well.  

3) Cam Thomas, DT, North Carolina (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: Sweet Spot

Like Cody, Thomas' contributions to the pass rush would mostly be in a "occupying 2 defenders" sort of way.  He's somewhat of an underachiever statistically, but was a big factor in North Carolina's 10th-ranked rush defense last year.  The other thing I worry about is that he played next to Marvin Austin, who is a future first rounder in his own right.  As with the next guy on this list, that worries me a bit.

4) Linvall Joseph, DT, East Carolina (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 21) - Projection: Sweet Spot

On one hand, it's easy to see why people around here are infatuated with Joseph:  He's seen as having 4-3 nose size, with more pass-rushing ability than your average nose, and he's only 21.  But the closer you look at him, the more red flags you find.  He was in a rotation, the East Carolina rush defense wasn't all that great (27th nationally), and the fact that he played with another worthy draft pick in Jay Ross has me questioning if this was a John McCargo-esque effect for one of them.  If the Texans do their homework and like Joseph, I'm happy with it, but it's not too hard to poke holes in his case to be taken at 51.

5) Lamarr Houston, DT, Texas (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: There If We Want Him

I grow a little more on Houston every time I read about him, although I don't think he's as good as Alualu or Price as a pass rusher.  He's a little better in the run game, and that does still matter despite how good the Texans were after Week 4.  I know we try and temper our UT bias a little here, but I think Houston has a really good case to be the pick at 51.  

6) Tyson Alualu, DT, California (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 23) - Projection: Sweet Spot

If the Texans are committed to their willowy, short, easily pushed around tackles, they could do a lot worse than Alualu, who handles his low center of gravity really well and gets pass rush.  This guy has a non-stop motor and is the kind of high effort player that the Texans generally like to attach themselves to.  I would not at all be surprised to see him wind up in Steel Blue.

7) Torell Troup, DT, UCF (CBS) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: There If We Want Him

Another NT lost in the wave of a huge class, I think Troup fits better in round three but if there's a run he could be gone before the Texans get a chance at him there.  UCF had a good run defense and Troup is the lone NFL prospect on their line, which I think is a great sign for him.  Another non-factor against the pass aside from drawing 2 blockers, I just worry about the strength of competition and if the NFL game will be a little too fast for him.

8) Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia (CBS) (Mocking The Draft) (Draft Countdown) (Age at start of 2010 season: 22) - Projection: There If We Want Him

This guy is pure pass rush out of the three technique.  He's completely undersized and offers next to nothing in the run game, but he might be the kind of guy that is right up Bill Kollar's alley.  Me?  I stay away from him if that's all he's got.  And his up-and-down stats aren't exactly endearing either.  

I would be ecstatic to wind up with Cody, obviously.  2-6 aren't totally distinguishable to me and I'd be pretty happy if the Texans wound up with any of them at this pick.  Troup worries me a bit and Atkins worries me a lot...as second round picks.  I'd love either of them in the third or lower.

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