After re-watching the Texans-Bengals and Texans-Ravens playoff games on my DVR, I have firmly come to a conclusion that no doubt many in Texan nation also share - we need another true wideout. I'm not talking about a burner, a return man hybrid, or a 6"6' red zone monster who is only useful for catching jump balls. I'm talking about a straight up honest to goodness Andre incarnate that can help soften defenses and take over the receiving corps once 80 starts slowing down.
However, considering the majority of our free cap space this year will go to Arian, Mario, and which ever offensive lineman wants a gold-encrusted yacht, we probably won't be able to land anyone of significance in free agency. That leaves the draft. So, in the spirit of early 2012 season discussion I will be writing up a series of posts about different ways we can acquire certain WR talents that I have kept my eye on this year. Each of these posts will contain polls about which option/strategy/player is more favorable, and every week the winner of the previous poll will face two more receiving options available in this years draft. Sound good? good.
To kick things off, the first two prospects I have chosen to cover are Justin Blackmon and Alshon Jeffery.
Scenario 1: Trade two first round picks and a 4th and/or 5th this year to move up the draft and grab Justin Blackmon from Tampa's 5th spot.
Blackmon should still be on the board at number five because the Colts will in all likelihood take Luck, the Rams and the Vikings will grab the best tackles they can get, and Cleveland will (hopefully) take RG3 at the number four spot. Tampa could use an upgrade at receiver, but not so much that they are looking to take Blackmon in the top 5. The Buccs have much more pressing needs on defense, which leads me to believe they will take a DB. They will also place a lot of value in the wealth of picks we give up considering they basically need an entire re-build under their new coaching staff. I can see this deal getting done fairly easily if presented. We get Blackmon, they get a nice base of draft picks to build with. Everybody wins.
Why Justin Blackmon? He is the complete package. He's big and physical enough to compete for jump balls (and usually wins), he's fast enough to get behind a defense off a good sluggo, and he's studious enough to use a DB's tendencies against them on a regular basis. His hands are as reliable as anyone else in the NFL and he has no off the field issues to speak of. If there was ever a receiver I know would be successful in his first season coming out of this draft, it would be Justin Blackmon.
That being said, there is one advantage that Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter have over Blackmon, and that is blocking ability. The OSU system was an absolute aerial circus, and Blackmon rarely had run blocking duties. Do I think he could do it? Probably. Will he as effective at cracking a backside linebacker as K-Dubs? Not so sure. I don't think his unproven blocking capabilities will impact his usefulness to this team that much, but I could see a case being made against the pick if it turns out he can't stonewall DB's as well as Jones or Walter.
Scenario II: Trade Jacoby for a 4th or 5th round pick to free up a little cap space, and draft Alshon Jeffery with the 26th overall pick.
Unless Jeffery turns in an amazing combine he should be available by pick 26. QB's, DB's, pass rushers and offensive linemen will be the name of the game in the first round, so I doubt anyone takes a receiver besides Blackmon in the top 20.
Why Alshon Jeffery? He has great hands, size, and physicality. His run blocking is terrific because he has the strength to stand up almost anyone short of a defensive end, and he sustains his blocks well. I think he would fit well into this system as someone who can fight through press coverage on the outside against smaller corners, and especially be able to block those corners and safeties to allow Foster to get the edge.
Unfortunately, despite his great physicality he does have a couple of athletic drawbacks. Jeffery lacks that "extra gear", and he struggles to get open deep down field against any corner that is above average. He also apparently showed up to training camp last season a little fat and out of shape, which put a lot of question marks on his work ethic. His route running is between average and poor, and he fails to separate a lot of the time. Sometimes he can be seen jogging and trying to use his hands to create space rather than just turning on a burst to get behind someone. It's a bad habit he needs to break, and I think a little conditioning will go a long way in getting him to sustain speed through his routes rather than relying on strictly strength and his vertical.
I do think Jeffery can be a very good receiver in the NFL, but that entirely relies on the coaching and training staff preparing him to be a professional. He needs to lose a little weight to get sub 4.5 speed and work on separation technique. And by work on, I mean practice every day. If his route running does not improve he will be no better than what we have now. However, despite all of Alshon's faults he does have incredible upside considering his pure physical gifts. I'm sure my opinion on him will be updated when we get to see him at the combine, but for now I'm somewhere between optimistic and hesitant.
So BRB, there you have it. You have your choice between mortgaging half the draft and Jacoby Jones for Blackmon or trading Jacoby to save money and picking up Alshon Jeffery in the late first round. What would you want more? Stay tuned for future write ups including wide outs Michael Floyd, Nick Toon, Dwight Jones, and Ryan Broyles among others.