Navel Gazing: One Blogger's Draft Utopia

With few exceptions, it seems like most pundits, bloggers, and blog commenters discuss draft choices in a vacuum.  Rarely -- only TexansDC comes to mind among BRB Nation -- do you see someone proffer a complete draft that accounts for value v. need, relative scarcity, importance of a position in general, etc. 

This is due in part to the fact that you don't "know" who is going to be available when your team picks, especially in later rounds.  Still, I think you can gather enough information so that you have a general idea of where a player might be taken.  For example, I can say with pretty fair confidence that Tony Pike will not go before the very, very late second round and could fall as far as the mid-fourth round.  So, if I wanted to do a complete draft, I should probably consider Pike a third-round option if my team was picking at, say, 20.

With that in mind, I have compiled my "perfect" draft.  (I use the quotation marks ironically both because of the uncertainty of the draft in general and of draftees actually being good NFL players in particular.)

Before we get to the picks, a caveat:  My draft is perfect only in the sense that it best matches the Texans' needs as well as satisfying the various rules, assumptions, and guesses I am operating under.  These include:

  • Corner is no more of an issue now that Dunta was gone than it was last year with Dunta here.  Which is to say that all of the McShays and Kipers who crow about how the Texans "have" to fill the void left by Dunta and adjusted their boards accordingly are fools.
  • Corner still needs to be addressed, but not because Dunta is gone.  In terms of success on the field, the Big 4 positions in the modern NFL are QB, OT, DE (in the 4-3), and CB.  Of those, only CB is considered an issue for us right now.
  • Duane Brown is not great, he could be upgraded, but the front office is absolutely not going to do it right now.  So I am not drafting an OT in this draft.
  • The importance of running back depends on if you think Slaton is healthy and what weight you give Foster's late-season performance.  Unlike Kerns, I don't think Slaton is done, and I liked what I saw from the resident pterodactyl, so I'm not taking a running back on Thursday or Friday.
  • Nose tackle.  Still an issue.
  • Zac Diles might be the most cost-effective member of The Greatest Defense In Texans History, but that doesn't mean he's good.  It does mean he's good enough to wait until Saturday to address the issue.
  • Frank Bush enjoys ineffective zone coverage like Aggies enjoy animal husbandry.  We should probably draft guys who can fit that scheme over guys whose talents would be wasted in the same.
  • It is never "reaching" for a player if, in your informed opinion, he won't be on the board when you get to choose again.
  • The biggest holes do not have to be addressed first.  Stated differently--don't sacrifice value just for the sake of filling a need.  This is kind of the counter-point to the last rule.  It might not be a reach to take Reshad Jones at 51, but that doesn't mean that you are getting good value for your pick there.
  • When in doubt, opt for flexibility.  All things being equal, take the guy who could contribute in more than one way over the guy who can't.
  • Similarly, when in doubt, take the mutant.  Just my own personal bias in favor of players with better measurables when comparing similar bodies of work.
  • Consider weightspeed.  A no-brainer, really.
  • No assuming that a guy is going to fall past where he projects in most mock drafts.  If a guy projects as a second-round pick, I have to take him in the second or not take him at all. 

The Picks

Rd. 1 (20): Earl Thomas, CB/FS, Univ. of Texas.  I know, following Thomas's 40 time at UT's pro day, a LOT of BRBers now assume that Thomas won't be around when we draft, but I disagree.  For one thing, apparently every player who ran at that pro day was 0.1 second faster (or more) than at the Combine, thus giving a little perspective to Earl's improvement.  Second, most teams have him slotted as a safety, and only eight safeties since 2000 have been taken prior to pick #20 (14 first-round safeties overall in that time period, with six seasons where one or fewer were taken in that round).  Even for teams that have him slotted as a cornerback, Haden looks like he will slide to San Francisco at 13, and the Thomas-Kyle Wilson-Devin McCourty grouping is similar enough that any of them could go as the second CB (possibly to Pittsburgh).  Third, Taylor Mays apparently looked good at USC's pro day and San Fran (who also picks at 17) is kind of high on him, so that could bump Thomas down to us as well.  Point being, I think there's a decent shot (say 60-40 in favor) that he will be there when we draft. 

Why Thomas?  I actually prefer the idea of Earl as a corner, at least while Eugene Wilson is healthy, simply because of his fantastic ball skills being an asset in the Bush Zone.  That said, the fact that he could also be a very good free safety ties into the flexibility idea I mentioned.  Finally, it's about value.  There is no chance Dan Williams falls to 20 (I can't see a realistic scenario where Miami doesn't take him), and only a very small chance that Mike Iupati could fall.  Even if Iupati did, I would still prefer Thomas, as this is a fairly deep draft for offensive guards and I see no reason to pay first-round money for one.

Also Considered:  Sean Weatherspoon, Devin McCourty

Rd. 2 (51): Akwasi Owusuh-Ansah, CB, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania.  Huh?  Another CB?  Yep.  I was tempted to go DT here with Cam Thomas or Terrence Cody, but I see good value at that position in rounds 3 or 4.  I don't consider RB such a need that we should spend our second round pick on one, and Jon Asomoah's injury concerns me enough to scratch him off the list. 

Why Owusuh-Ansah?  Because it's very fun to say "Owusuh-Ansah," and because the kid has great measurables (6-0/207, 4.32, 21 reps).  He is also a very talented return man, which would be nice if Jakespeare is going to have a bigger role in the passing game this year.  Also, if Earl winds up playing CB, O-A seems to have the ability to transition to free safety.  So we are back to the idea of important position, filling a need value, and flexibility.

Also Considered: Cam Thomas, Terrence Cody, Jon Asomoah, Ben Tate, Montarrio Hardesty

Rd. 3 (81): Mitch Petrus, OG, Univ. of Arkansas.  The interior offensive line is a concern of everyone here, and rightfully so.  Cam Thomas would be a possibility here if he were to fall (I've seen him in mocks everywhere from mid-second to late fourth), but I am going to assume he doesn't.  I think Petrus is the better choice anyway.

Why Petrus?  Of all the players outside the first round of this draft, Petrus might be the one I am highest on.  He is a very, very athletic guard (converted from a fullback/tight-end to guard) who has ridiculous strength (45 reps).  His 6-3/310 frame gives him nice leverage against taller defensive tackles, too.  I watched him play more times than I cared to (due to Razorback games being foisted upon me quite frequently) and was always impressed with what I saw.  OG is still fairly deep into the fourth round of this draft, but I see that round as the last shot to get the nose tackle we need, so I am pulling the trigger on Petrus here rather than trying to snag Marshall Newhouse a little later.

Also Considered:  Joe McKnight, Novorro Bowman

Rd. 4 (118): Linval Joseph, NT, East Carolina.  After Joseph, the next big-bodied nose tackle is Travis Ivey, but Ivey is 341 and almost certainly bound to play in a 3-4.  He's also not near as good as Joseph.  Running back is an option here, with someone like James Starks, as is linebacker Dekoda Watson.  Unfortunately, taking either of those guys would mean another year without a true 1-technique tackle.

Why Joseph?  Because we've never had a real NT, despite the obvious fact that having one would make Mario and Amobi better, which in turn would make the secondary better.  It would also keep blockers from reaching the second level as easily, freeing up DeMeco or Cushing even more.  I like Joseph quite a bit -- he has good speed (relatively speaking), very good strength, and a nose for disrupting plays in the backfield (29.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks in 41 career games).

Also Considered:  James Starks, Dekoda Watson, Anthony Dixon

Rd. 5 (150): Kavell Conner, WLB, Clemson.  My distaste for the Zac Diles-flavored Kool-aid is well documented around here.  I won't rehash it except to say that it makes no sense not to upgrade the position when you can do so in a cost-effective manner, such as with a fifth-round pick.

Why Conner?  While Conner's teammate Ricky Sapp gets more publicity among the Tigers' linebackers, Conner actually led the team in tackles (111).  He is a sure tackler with a good nose for the ball, is a fantastic run defender, and he has good speed for a WLB (4.5).  He struggles a bit in pass coverage, mainly when forced to turn his hips and run with a TE, but that is less of an issue with Ryans/Cushing as the nickel package LBs for the foreseeable future.  Conner is an explosive hitter, but is smart enough about it that he did not miss a single game in his college career.

Also Considered: Ted Larsen, Lonyae Miller, Earl Mitchell

Rd. 6 (187): Chris Brown, RB, Univ. of Oklahoma.  A Landthief AND a Chris Brown?  The irony of picking him is too good to be for real.

Why Brown?  If you get past the name and the alma mater, Brown is quietly a very good running back.  He averaged 5.7/carry on 214 carries and scored 20 TDs (3rd best single-season TD total for OU RBs) last season, and he has the vision and cutting ability that make him a good fit for Houston's scheme.  He's not much of a pass blocker, but he has good hands out of the backfield and he has the speed and quickness to make people miss in space.  At 5-11/210, he's not huge, but he is comparable in size to Ben Tate at a fraction of the cost. (Yes, I realize that Tate is faster.)

Also Considered:  Robert Johnson, James Ruffin, Joe Hawley

Rd. 6 (197): Kevin Matthews, C, Texas A&M.  Every time someone suggest Maurkice Pouncey in the first, I die a little inside.  This is because I almost always hate the idea of drafting a center any earlier than you absolutely have to, unless he is literally the only piece you were missing, as centers are simply not that valuable/important.  They get help on almost every play, are asked to pull the least, and face the least athletic defensive linemen. They also are the least likely to have to go to the second level and block a LB/S because they are generally covered (i.e., someone lined up head up).  At the same time, I think we can all agree that Chris Myers isn't exactly our first choice to be snapping the ball.  Taking Matthews here seems to strike a good balance between finding someone new and not overpaying for the position.

Why Matthews?  A two-year starter in College Station, Matthews is a solid player with good strength/quickness for his position.  More importantly, to get a player with Matthews' upside in the sixth is a great bargain even for a position like center; Matthews is the son of Bruce, nephew of Clay Sr., and cousin of Clay, Jr.  I'd say the bloodlines are strong.  Plus, he's an Aggie, which will make Kubiak and beefy happy.

Also Considered: Brandon Carter, Donovan Warren, Danario Alexander

Rd. 7 (227): Nick Howell, OG, Univ. of Southern California.  Rather than take another Kubiak pet project QB with our Mr. Irrelevant pick, I opted to go with another bite at the "improving the interior O-line" apple. 

Why Howell?  Teammate Alex Parsons is rated slightly higher and would probably be available here, but I prefer Howell because he's a little lighter than Parsons and has better speed/quickness.  He also showed better in the 225 reps than Parsons (38 to 25), the vertical jump, the broad jump, the 3-cone drill, and the shuttle drill.  The two players 20- and 10-yard times were nearly identical.  So, at this point, I am going with the better measurables to choose between two guys who would both be good fits in our scheme.

Also Considered: Adam Ulatoski, Nate Byham, Javarris James

****************

So, there you have it.  We wind up with two CBs (or one and a FS), a new WLB, a NT, two OGs, a RB, and a C, and we get all of them at good value.  In case you are wondering how this would change if Thomas is not available, I would actually go with McCourty at 20 and Morgan Burnett at 51.

Feel free to post your own in the comments or merely to make derisive comments about mine.

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