It's February, so naturally love is in the air. For draftniks, there is nothing more sacred than the love they have for their draft crushes and mock drafts. Even though the process is often described as "fluid," a lot of draftniks will latch onto certain picks and tout certain prospects throughout the entire process. It takes the bigger events (All-Star games, Combine, Pro Days, and free agency) to really force any change in the mock system.
With the bowl games done and the Combine next week, this seems like a good time to take the Draft pulse and see where we are in the evaluation game. I'll attempt to put on my general manager hat and channel the brainwaves of Rick Smith for a full Houston Texans mock draft below.
Before we jump into it, I'll briefly touch upon the process I used here. I tried to be realistic in the 1st round and pick a name that's been available in at least half the mock drafts I've seen. I'm an avid reader, so that's a pretty robust list of sites and varying opinion. With the 2nd through 7th rounders, I tried to stick to ranked average. As an example, if someone's being pegged as a 5th through 7th rounder on sites, I assumed he'd be more of a 5/6 than a 7. If someone is being touted as a 3rd rounder, they're only viewed at as a 3rd rounder in this practice, and so on and so forth.
I did include compensatory picks for a little bit more fun. Everyone assumes that Mario Williams' mega-deal will land Houston pick 97, so I stuck with that. Houston also lost Jason Allen, Mike Brisiel, and Joel Dreessen to multi-year deals while plucking only Bradie James and Donnie Jones on minimal one-year deals. Between play-time and deals, I added three 6th round picks, as some in the comment section have said they've seen projected by AdamJT13. It's not exactly scientific, but it'll have to do for now.
1st Round: Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins
You're surprised, aren't you? Hopkins is a name that has not been linked to Houston, nor is he an inside linebacker. At this point, given who should be available and needs, I really like Hopkins outside with Andre Johnson. After watching tons on him, I've decided that Hopkins reminds me a lot of Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne. They're not the biggest or fastest, but they have similar builds and use their bodies and routes very well to get separation.
Hopkins does a nice job of attacking the ball with his hands and, as we saw with Anquan Boldin, that's a desired attribute. Hopkins is further along as a route-runner than most and runs his routes, especially the stick and slant, hard. I think that'll garner him points with the braintrust. He's also got return experience, so there's an additional plus. When viewing him, you'll see a physical difference in 2011 and 2012, as Hopkins looks much stronger and more physical, showing off a great offseason workout regimen. He had been productive before, but the hard work paid off with a monster year of 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns. All in all, he looks able to step into the offense from day one.
2nd Round: Oregon OT Kyle Long
I imagine, as Mr. Kollmann has said, that Long, the son of Howie and brother of Chris, will be a fringe 1st rounder when it's all said and done. As of now, Long's not, so I'm taking him here. Long's got great size and athleticism, but his kick-slide, for someone so often described as raw and still in transition to offense, is immaculate. He played guard at Oregon, but I think he's a dominant right tackle waiting to happen.
3rd Round: Penn State LB Gerald Hodges
I first noticed Hodges after a string of strong reports from the East-West Shrine Game. Digging into him, I think the man from Linebacker U would be a good running mate for Brian Cushing. As much as we'd all like a first round linebacker, the Rick Smith thought in my head is that a second linebacker doesn't get as many snaps.
Hodges is a physical safety turned linebacker. He delivers quite a bit of pop and finishes plays consistently, but he doesn't quite have that linebacker bulk. The lack of strength makes shedding blocks a chore, but he's got sideline-to-sideline range and is good in coverage due to his safety background. As a compliment to Cushing and insurance for Darryl Sharpton, I think Hodges is a nice value fit for the role. Plus, the Penn State 'backer would allow Smith to get his Big Ten fix.
3rd Round (presumed compensatory for Mario Williams): South Carolina S D.J. Swearinger
It's not a secret that many fans aren't fans of Shiloh Keo or Quintin Demps. Swearinger makes both obsolete. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips loves his safeties to be versatile, and Swearinger has that in spades. He started games at both strong and free safety last year and even dipped into some cornerback and man coverage against pass-happy Clemson and Arkansas. A sure tackler, Swearinger would be a nice fit in Houston and eventual replacement for Danieal Manning. If Glover Quin somehow doesn't return, Swearinger could be drafted earlier to replace him.
4th Round: University of Tennessee-Martin NT Montori Hughes
I'm influenced by my plan of a veteran nose tackle and a rookie, but the Texans, strapped for cash, could just rely on Earl Mitchell plus said rookie. In either case, I think you'll see Houston target a nose tackle and Hughes, a #Texans Twitter darling among some of the draft Illuminati like BigRon, is that target.
Hughes shows a competitive, nasty streak on the field. Despite being 328 pounds, there's a burst and level of activity we haven't seen from big men. Hughes had some off-the-field issues and did play at FCS-level UT-Martin. I also think he could really utilize leverage better, but he has the physical tools to be a starting nose tackle in the NFL.
5th Round: LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu
I have said I expect Mathieu to move up the boards when he runs at the Combine and/or Pro Day, but he's still a fifth rounder right now. I think Mathieu's talented and sincerely trying to put it together. Even if he's a risk, it's a fifth round mock risk and the reward easily outweighs the risk. I can see Mathieu being a dynamite special teams player and even a valuable nickel/dime defensive back when he puts in some tape study to go with his incredible instincts.
6th Round: LSU P Brad Wing
Rivers is somewhere muttering that you don't draft kickers or punters. I know it. I'm wondering what I'm doing myself, but the Texans have a vacant spot and a multitude of picks PLUS THIS IS A PUNTER WHO SURVIVED THE RIGORS OF THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE! THAT'S A MAN'S CONFERENCE! ERGO, WING IS A MAN'S PUNTER! Really though, it's not like I'm drafting a punter in the 3rd round or something.
Anywho, Wing's got a leg that can consistently hit 60-70 yards if instructed to. That's the kind of power that'll make you forget about Chad What's-His-Name and Old Man Turk. It's also the kind of leg to dig the offense out of any holes they may trap themselves in.
6th Round (presumed compensatory for Jason Allen): Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers
When you have a stacked roster and a ton of draft picks, you can take shots on talent. Is Rodgers, younger brother of Aaron, getting more notice due to his famous last name? Yes. Is he worthy of a shot himself? Yes.
I like Jordan's feet, both in dropping back and moving around. Jordan, like Aaron, also shows an ability to take a shot as he throws a pass. Rodgers is still working to build up arm strength following a 2011 surgery on his shoulder, but he could do that as a developmental prospect. With an entrenched starter, there's time to let Rodgers develop, and the roster's strong enough to take a shot on him.
6th Round (presumed compensatory for Joel Dreessen): Eastern Washington WR Jordan Kaufman
You can't teach speed or size. Kaufman has that in spades at 6'4'' and 215 pounds. I could go on about his reliable hands, his deceptive burst, or how consistent he's been, but the knock is and always will be that he played at Eastern Washington, which means he'll be questioned about how he'll fare against significantly better talent. Still, the receiving corps could use some competition this offseason, and Kaufman looks like he could push fellow big receiver LeStar Jean for a roster spot.
6th Round (presumed compensatory for Mike Brisiel): Rutgers LB Steve Beauharnais
I firmly believe that Houston will draft two inside linebackers, especially if they walk away with this projected compensatory bounty. It's slim pickings in the latter rounds, but Beauharnais seems to have the speed and burst I want added to the LB Corps. He'll need to bulk up and learn to shed blockers better, but Beauharnais is quick enough to have earned snaps as an outside pass rusher in Rutgers, so it's worth a gamble here.
7th Round: Utah DE Joe Kruger
Brother of Paul, Kruger's knocked down because he lacks the size to fit into a traditional defense and played next to Star Lotulelei. Kruger had a productive junior year and has ideal Wade DE size at 6'7'' and 280 pounds. With eight tackles for a loss and six sacks, Kruger's shown the ability to get up the field and finish, so I think there's something Phillips can work with here. Apparently, I also love NFL bloodlines, but there are worse drafting traits out there.
On the whole, I'm taking more chances late in the draft, but that's the best kind of late-round pick, in my opinion. Late rounders struggle to crack a good roster, so taking a chance or two on talent is a way to benefit from what could be another Nick Mondek pick. Up top, I tried to think like Smithiak does when it comes to finding starters, rotational guys, and then moving into projects who can contribute to special teams. The Texans' front office really does try to find guys who will contribute and be on the roster in three years.
Overall, I'm happy with the mock, but I know it'll be rendered useless next week. Let the comments bear witness to your mocking of the mock draft.