I'm not all that impressed. Yet.
I think there exists within Texans fans a natural need to believe in the betterment of our team. The soul-crushing losses of last season have driven away the bandwagoners, and those who are left have seen such dark times that to them, any ray of hope is to be embraced. To quote LoneSpot's signature, "Blind fandom is all I got left."
The hiring of Wade Phillips understandably has fans happy about the direction the defense is going. Probably because there seems to actually be a direction for the first time in the entire Kubiak era. I am not here to knock the draftees off their respective pedestals, and I am not here to tell you I hate any of our draft picks. In fact, I think J.J. Watt is going to be a really good NFL player. I dig Brandon Harris a lot and loved the move to trade up for him. I also realize that this paragraph will be entirely ignored, which is why I just went ahead and titled the piece how I did.
But I am still skeptical about the defense for a few reasons. Not skeptical enough to assume they are going to be as bad as they were last year, but skeptical about how far the improvement can go. If you've read me long enough, you probably already know where I'm heading with this.
1) Nose Tackle and Safety continue to be ignored by the front office in the draft.
For the entirety of the Kubiak era, nay, the entirety of franchise, the Texans have brought in solid or great players at many defensive positions to fortify the defense. Once place they haven't? Nose tackle or safety.
Given the choice between addressing these issues or drafting a defensive end, which happens to be the only position on the Texans defense that they have good players at, the Texans went with the Best Player Available. That's a terrific strategy at the top of the draft overall, and I applaud it. But if there was any year to dump that strategy, it would be one where we don't know the extent of free agency or the players that will be available in it.
Maybe Watt can play nose tackle. Maybe Wade Phillips can generate extra pressure with him in creative setups. I think we're tending to be a little lenient there in the belief that Phillips' mere presence is going to turn the defense into an extraordinary machine. He's had a hell of a coaching career and has a track record of turning defenses around. He also had the entire Dallas defense completely quit on him and his scheme last year, and he's not exactly innovating new things at this point in his coaching career. I'm going to go with the oft-quoted, "Let's not start sucking each others popsicles just yet."
2) Brooks Reed just doesn't inspire much hope from me as a dominant edge rusher.
I think the Texans are living a little too much by the Combine numbers if they think Reed is going to step in at outside linebacker right away and give them eight sacks. Reed has great timed speed for a man of his size, and I think he wraps and tackles well from the little tape I've been able to gather, but his college production doesn't inspire me.
17 sacks in four years, yet what is the average fan expecting right away? 6? 7? Oft-criticized Aldon Smith nearly got to 17 sacks in two seasons. My preference, Robert Quinn, had 13 in his first two seasons and flashed much more potential to be a physically dominant player. Oh, right, he had a tumor that hadn't been a problem since high school; I forgot. He probably shouldn't even be allowed to play in the NFL.
Do I think Reed will be a good linebacker? Yeah, probably. Do I think he'll be the kind of dominant edge rusher that Phillips' schemes call for? That I'm not so sure about. Connor Barwin may end up being that chess piece anyway, but if he is, 42nd overall is a pretty high pick for someone who essentially has little experience covering and isn't a top echelon pass rusher. Maybe he'll prove me wrong--I hope he does--but I'm not counting on it.
3) Moving Glover Quin to safety seems like a move that could backfire to me this year.
In any other season, I'd be thrilled with the idea of moving Quin to a position that I have been campaigning for him to play since his rookie year.
But with a new defensive coordinator, a new position, and possibly almost zero offseason to get acclimated to either of them? I'm not sure that plays out very well in my head. I grant that he should be as good as they think he will be there, but I might not want to risk it this year given the labor climate, especially since he's a decent cornerback in his own right.
It just seems like in this particular offseason, there would be a lot more value in maintaining stability than in any other. Thus, Quin to safety and the complete ignorance to Oshiomogho Atogwe's free agency leave me feeling empty.
4) The bottom line...
The Texans went into this draft with major needs at outside linebacker, defensive tackle (I don't care what they publicly say, it's there), safety, and cornerback. They addressed, in my eyes, maybe one and a half of those needs over the last three days.
Maybe Reed can overcome his poor Football Outsiders projection. Maybe Watt can play a key role in some unbalanced fronts that help create pressure and turnovers. Maybe Keo can become the real safety the Texans haven't been able to find yet. Maybe Quin can be a great free safety right off the bat. Maybe DeMeco Ryans and Barwin will be 100% on day one. And maybe the Texans really are fine with an Earl Mitchell / Shaun Cody nose tackle platoon. If those things happen, I'll be the first one in line to praise Phillips for it.
But right now, it still seems like a premise that's built on a whole lot of maybes to me. That's better than what the Texans had last season, probably, and they still might be able to fix the rest of their problems with free agency, but I'm not holding my breath that they'll start bringing in fixes left and right given their track record.