Rick Smith, the GM of the Texans, has always said his philosophy is to "build through the draft." This philosophy works when you make smart draft selections. And last year, with the undeniable help of Wade Phillips, Smith found three players (J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, & T.J. Yates) that were huge contributors to the Texan's first playoff win in franchise history. A playoff win (heck even a playoff appearance) is a huge monkey off the Houston Texan's back. But in the National Football League you don't play to get a pat on the back for winning one playoff game. You play to win the game! ...Sorry I couldn't resist... But you play to put your fingerprints and smudges all over the Lombardi Trophy after you win the Super Bowl!
The Texan's had some nice picks last year and really filled some big holes in ways that were very impressive, considering the defense was completely switching schemes from a 4-3 to a 3-4 (that's not an easy transition for any organization). Sure there were a couple of big free agent pick-ups that were also pretty impressive (Jonathan Joseph & Daniel Manning), but without the help from J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed, and T.J. Yates, I have no doubt we would be talking about another 8-8, 7-9 season and I would be writing about how THIS IS THE YEAR the Texans make it over the hump!! But lucky for us, we are now talking about a team that needs to make the jump to the next level to being a true Super Bowl contender. And in order to do so, there are a few positions that still need work done.
Let's take a look at what should be focused on in the draft after the jump.
First and foremost, the three biggest, most positive off-season moves that the team made were (these are NOT in order of importance) resigning center Chris Meyers, the foundation and leader for the offensive line. Resigning Arian Foster, the big bat - the homerun hitter on offense (for Astro's fans, like myself, in baseball this usually is a player who produces a lot of offense and hits a lot of homeruns. I know we haven't seen that in Houston for what seems like an eternity. Which is why I'm here to help remind you exactly what that is.). And retaining Wade Phillips, the mad scientist/defensive coordinator who created this head hunting (but definitely not bounty hunting) defensive monster. Those three moves are the three keys to the Texan's strengths as a team. But in order to be a Super Bowl Contender the team now needs to address other positions, which are WR2, OLB, NT, CB, OL, and possibly even S.
I think it's safe to say most everyone knows that an upgrade at WR2 is a must. Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones, Jeff Maehl, and Juaquin Iglesias aren't going scare any defenses nor are they suitable WR2's that will help ease the pressure away from Andre Johnson. I left Lester Jean off the previous list because I liked what I saw from last preseason. He made some great plays and seems to have a lot of potential. But then again it was preseason, and Jacoby Jones also had a lot of potential... Jean could blossom but there's no way he is the clear answer at that position right now. So the Texans will now need to find a serviceable receiver in the draft (unless Rick pulls a fast one on us and lands another impressive free agent acquisition this year with what little CAP room is available... But CAP room is a pain in the rear end right now for Houston so I doubt that happens.)
Defensive Tackle (specifically Nose Tackle) is another position that isn't scaring opposing teams. And for whatever reason it's been a spot where the front office and coaches can't seem to find a solid answer for. Cutting ties with former DT Amobi Akoye was a step in the right direction last off season (looking back at that draft makes me sick... the Texans had the 6th pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. The Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson 7th that year, and the Texans traded back to 10th to select Okoye... Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis, and Jon Beason are just a few players that were selected in the first round AFTER Akoye). Though the combination of Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody was serviceable last season, an impact player at Nose Tackle should be on the radar in the early rounds in order to keep fortifying that mean defensive front.
The three biggest offseason moves for the Texans so far that could hurt them the most are (once again, these are NOT in order of importance) losing Mario Williams, losing offensive linemen Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston, and not addressing the CB position opposite of Jonathan Joseph (cough, cough, KAREEM JACKSON, cough).
We all know Brooks Reed played well in substitution for Mario Williams, but let's be honest he is no Mario Williams nor Clay Matthews. He will be a solid player for the franchise but I'm not sold he can turn into a pro bowl type pass rusher (I'd love for him to prove me wrong though). Reed is a high motor player but a dominant player at the OLB position has more moves than what Reed currently has. Plus, I love the saying that you can never have enough guys on the team who can rush the passer (seemed to work out well for the Giants this year). With that said, don't be surprised if Wade Phillips finds an OLB he really likes in one of the first three rounds to compete with Reed for playing time.
I'll admit it, I'm a bit of an optimist. So when the Texans selected Kareem Jackson with their first pick of the 2010 draft I first tried to find the positives in Kareem to try to understand what the front office saw in him that made him first round worthy. Wellllll I am still looking for that answer... But I promise that right when I find it that you all will be the first to hear it! ... Kareem Jackson is not a starting caliber corner in the NFL, and never will be a starting corner in the NFL. I know he started for Nick Saban, who is one of the best college defensive back coaches. But things that work in college don't always work in the NFL. And it's an NFL scout's job, and that team's front office to determine who will and won't work in the NFL. And the Texans need to admit their mistake and move on. Although Peyton Manning is no longer in the AFC South, this entire league still has a large focus on the passing game and there were too many times last season when whoever was playing corner opposite of Jonathan Joseph got burned. I know that Brandon Harris and Rashad Carmichael were two CB's drafted by Houston last year, but unless one of them makes a big step in their growth, that CB position will be a weak link once again, and one that will most likely be targeted in the early rounds of this years draft.
The move that I don't think will really hurt the Texans is the loss of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. I'm not taking anything away from those two guys, as both were big time starters on the offensive line. But one of the road bumps a top team must be able to deal with is the loss of quality starters and then being able to fill in their spot with the solid depth that is hopefully behind them. And I think both Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Butler will do just fine, especially since center Chris Meyers is back to help lead the way (he really is an important aspect of this entire team, I can't stress that enough). But if either of the two new starters goes down with an injury then that's where the real problems begin. The current depth behind those two guys is very thin. So expect OG/OT to be selected in the mid-late rounds (unless, of course, there is a steal slapping Rick and Gary in the face. Then I would hope they would pick that guy, whoever he may be, in the early rounds).
Although the Texans do have the luxury of being able to focus much attention on value instead of need in this draft, the organization CANNOT whiff on these picks if they want to take the next step up to being a Super Bowl contender. There are still positions all across the roster than can continue to improve. I didn't even mention free safety, kick/punt returner, and inside linebacker depth (I sure hope DeMeco comes back strong this year). If the team can continue to "build through the draft" by acquiring solid depth and at least one or two starters in this year's draft then they will set themselves up nicely to continue to improve their chances in a division that is theirs to keep, and a super bowl that could be theirs to take.
*This is my first post in BRB so thanks for reading. I'll be posting over on "The Dream Shake" (The Rockets SB page) as well.