LINCOLN NE - OCTOBER 30: Cornerback Prince Amukamara #21 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver T.J. Moe #28 of the Missouri Tigers during first half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 30 2010 in Lincoln Nebraska. Nebraska Defeated Missouri 31-17. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Draft speculation season is in full swing, which I thoroughly enjoy. If you like it as much as I do, you should know who Aaron Aloysius is. Aaron writes for a site called Draft Breakdown, and he also puts a lot of videos on Youtube of draft prospects that are the closest thing that we can get to coaches' tape to evaluate players. Aaron uses a lot of these videos to determine what he thinks of players rather than repeating what other draft analysts are saying about potential draftees. Aaron answered some questions that I had about the draft specifically for the Houston Texans which you can find after the jump.
Jake: Texans fans have wanted a nose tackle for years, and this is the year it looks like that might finally happen with the switch to the 3-4. Who are some of the prospects you like for that position this year? Keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the mold of Casey Hampton because Wade Phillips was able to use a Jay Ratliff in his one-gap version of the 3-4.
The fat man at the top of the list has to be Phil Taylor. The big man out of Baylor is an exceptional athlete for a 337-pound d-lineman, displaying the athleticism to move laterally and make plays, as well as the speed in the open field to track down slower ball-carriers. In addition to playing nose tackle, Taylor may be athletic enough to play some five-technique.
However, Taylor does come with some character baggage. He started out at Penn State but was dismissed from the program, and he's long battled weight issues, including in '09. Once described as a slug on the field, Taylor re-committed himself to football last summer and now looks like a promising NT prospect. He'll need a tough position coach on him to keep his weight down and his effort up, but he'd be worth taking somewhere in the top 50 picks.
Another physical freak who has some baggage is Hampton defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis. Unfortunately, Ellis also was kicked out of a major program, in his case South Carolina, and has had some trouble with the law. But when this guy's focused and something close to good shape, he can be a dominant player. That was seen in the Texas vs. The Nation game, where the guy was simply unstoppable. He outplayed Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe, another possible 3-4 nose prospect, proving that he's got early round talent; the question is whether those character concerns are disconcerting enough to knock him out of the first two days of the draft.
Some mid-round guys to look out for are Notre Dame's Ian Williams and Stanford's Sione Fua. Neither's as physically gifted as Taylor and Ellis, but they're solid technicians who could at least provide depth at that important spot.
Also, it's possible that Wade Phillips will develop a solid nose tackle out of a prospect no one's talking about. Last spring, the Cowboys took a flyer on Supplemental Draft prospect Josh Prent-Brice, who looked very impressive in the pre-season. Hopefully, Phillips will have be able to turn another late-rounder in a possible long-term solution.
Jake: People automatically think of outside linebacker for 3-4 teams because they get sacks, but inside linebackers are often looked over. How strong is this year’s crop of ILBs, and who are some that you think might fit well in a 3-4?
The switch to a 3-4 whittles down the Texans' options at inside linebacker: instead of rangy, uber-athletic guys, the team likely will focus on tough, physical 'backers who can take on blocks and pummel ball-carriers.
Fortunately, this draft features a couple guys who could fit in that role. Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson is a 6'4, 250-pound freak who's drawn comparisons to Karlos Dansby. Personally, I think Wilson is a bit more tight-hipped than the Dolphins LB, and he's not the most instinctive player. But a team will fall in love with his upside, most likely somewhere in the second round.
One of my personal favorites in the draft is LSU product Kelvin Sheppard. Sheppard's the kind of player who isn't elite in any area but should be a very good all-around pro. He's good at taking on blocks and is explosive playing downhill, especially as a blitzer. Also, Sheppard displays solid range in coverage, making him an every down player for whatever team picks him in the 2nd or 3rd round.
A more physical guy that may be a good pairing with DeMeco Ryans is Mississippi State linebacker KJ Wright. Because Wright played outside in college and has some experience rushing the passer, most draft analysts project Wright to 3-4 outside linebacker. That said, I think Wright would be a good fit inside, using his long 34 1/2" arms to keep blockers at bay and make play downhill. If not a permanent fixture inside, Wright could provide the inside-outside versatility that becomes so important when a 3-4 linebacker corps is depleted by injuries. As a result, he'd be a solid 3rd or 4th round pick for the Texans.
In addition to those early to mid-rounders, Marshall linebacker Mario Harvey could be a prospect who appeals to the Texans in the late-rounds. At 5'11", 250 lbs., Harvey is built like a truck and plays with a mean streak that's earned him the nickname "Thumper". Unfortunately, his height isn't ideal and he'll be a liability in coverage, but Harvey could be a quality reserve who makes plays on special teams. And like KJ Wright, Harvey has experience as a nickel rusher, which adds to his value and could him make the 53 man roster.
Jake: My contention is that Connor Barwin is a perfect fit for WOLB in the new scheme because of his athletic ability and the fact that he was being used in almost the same role when the Texans still ran a 4-3. What do you remember of Barwin from 2009 when he was drafted? Do you agree that he is just as good an option or better than a rookie, or should the Texans be looking to upgrade that position with the eleventh pick?
I must say that I wasn't very high on Barwin. No one doubted that Barwin could provide speed off the edge, but I didn't see enough strength or polish as a pass rusher to warrant taking him in the top two rounds. Mike Mayock echoed those concerns, saying that Barwin would be able to contribute more out of the gate as a tight end, not a pass rusher.
That said, Barwin is in an ideal situation for his skill set. He possesses the athleticism to be effective in coverage, and his speed should enable him to notch more than the occasional sack. If Wade Phillips gets creative with his blitz schemes, allowing Barwin to loop inside behind Mario Williams, the Cincinnati product's speed could allow him to have even more of an impact.
At the very least, Barwin deserves a year to prove himself as an OLB. Hopefully, he'll impress there and become a big part of the new-look Texans defense.
Jake: Is there any chance that Prince Amukamara falls out of the top ten into the Texans' lap? If not, how big is the separation between him and the next few corner backs on your board?
There's increasing speculation that Amukamara could slip out of the top ten; some scouts compare his stock to Malcolm Jenkins', who went 14th overall in '09. As is often the case with possibly speed-deficient prospects, the Combine will determine whether teams drop him down their draft boards.
If Amukamara runs 4.5 or higher 40 time, I very easily could see him slipping out of the first ten picks, thereby making him an option for the Texans. I'm not sure that he'd be their best option at that point, but I do think he'll be a very good pro. Unlike Jenkins, who wasn't particularly fluid or fast, Amukamara has good closing speed and the hips of an NFL cornerback. He'll become a solid pro and, in my opinion, will player better early on than Kareem Jackson.
Obviously, speed is an important requirement for corners, but what shows up on tape matters more than the number that pop up on a stopwatch. Last year, Joe Haden looked awful at the Combine; according to the NFL's official electronic 40 time, he ran a 4.62 40. Despite the bad time, Haden played exceptionally well as a rookie and looked far better than many of the corners who ran faster 40s.
The same could be true with Amukamara this year. Though guys like Brandon Harris, Jimmy Smith, and Aaron Williams are good corners, I do have Amukamara rated higher and think he'll be a better player, especially early on in their rookie seasons.
Jake: This draft class seems to be extremely weak at the safety position. How will that lack of talent affect where they will be drafted? Will low supply cause teams with need to reach a little bit?
I agree that the safety class is extremely weak. As a result, the more talented safeties will have their stocks artificially inflated, leading to them coming off the board earlier than they probably should.
The biggest draw in this class is UCLA safety Rahim Moore. The ballhawk notched ten picks in '09 but only brought in one in 2010, in part because teams avoided him. The rangy safety should be very good in coverage, but he's an inconsistent tackler and could be a liability against the run. In a typical draft class, that would make Moore a 2nd or even 3rd round pick, but I expect a team to reach for him as high as the late 1st.
Other prospects like Oklahoma's Quinton Carter and Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel will be more effective in the box, but they lack Moore's range and may be limited to playing strong safety. Ahmad Black's an intriguing prospect who's played well against the run and the pass, but his extreme lack of size (5'9", 183 lbs.) may require him to make a move to cornerback at the next level.
Unfortunately for the Texas, the speed guys tend to get pushed up draft boards: guys like Torrey Smith and Titus Young will go in the top two rounds, as could Troy speedster Jerrel Jernigan. I could see the Texans picking a receiver higher than everyone expects if they fall in love with one of those guys.
One mid-round speedster who would make sense is Abilene Christian receiver Edmund Gates. Gates has adequate size and very good quickness. Unfortunately, an injury denied him the opportunity to participate in the Senior Bowl, which could damage his stock.
However, he's got plenty of speed: he claims he never lost a footrace to fellow Abilene Christian prospect John Knox, who blazed the turf in Indy. Hopefully, he'll be an equally productive pro.
Jake: All the positions we’ve covered so far are of need for the Texans. Who are some players at these positions that won’t get their names called until Day Four who might be better than advertised?
With late-rounders, you're looking for guys who can carve out niches that will earn them a roster spot on your squad. I think Auburn running back Mario Fannin is a perfect example of one of those Day Four guys who has a long NFL career. Fannin had a disappointing senior season, but he possesses good size (5'11", 225 lbs.) and is a very good receiver out of the backfield. I don't think he's a full-time fullback, but he could take some snaps there, adding to his versatility and value as a back of the roster guy.
Nevada tight end Virgil Green's another guy who'll stick on an NFL roster, perhaps even become a valued weapon in the passing game. Green isn't exceptionally explosive, but he's got good quicks and solid hands. He lacks the size and strength to be a good in-line blocker, but he's a willing blocker in space and could be a solid h-back/move tight end.
One prospect who could be of particular interest to the Texans is Rice pass rusher Cheta Ozougwu. Cheta wasn't very productive in college and has atypically short arms; as a result, he most likely won't get picked in April. However, he's got an above average first step and gives great effort as a pass rusher, which was evident at the Shrine Game practices.
After Tuesday's practice, a couple Texans scouts crowded around Ozougwu and had a long chat with him. It's possible that they like him as a developmental 3-4 outside linebacker. If Wade Phillips liked him enough in Orlando, the Texans could take a flyer on Cheta and see if he can make the squad as a special teamer with pass rush upside.
I can't thank Aaron enough for his valuable insight into the draft. I plan on having Aaron around as often as he'd like in preparation for the draft. In the meantime, make sure to check out his writing and his videos.