The last time Houston went offense in the first round, left tackle Duane Brown got the call...in 2008. - Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Battle Red Blog takes a look at the skew in early round talent on the Houston Texans' roster and how it may be time to correct the defensive trend.
Proper draft theory advises that you should not lock into a position or need beforehand. You begin reaching when you don't adapt to the board, don't think big picture, and play the game in real-time. That said, there is a strong trend in the draft history of the Houston Texans that should cause them to think about the offense early when the 2013 NFL Draft arrives.
Despite digging into Houston's draft trends, I really never thought twice about their defensive tendency until I saw this great mock from Field Gulls. After thinking about it, I decided to comb the draft history to see if "Defense" really did suffice for a mock Houston mock draft.
Only three times, in 2002, 2003, and 2008, did Houston select an offensive player in the NFL Draft's first round. You have to go back three years, to 2010, to find a second round offensive pick, and then another seven, back to 2003 and 2002, for the other two times the Texans invested in offense during the second round.
That's six out of a possible 22 times that the Texans' front office invested a high draft pick (defined for the purpose of this analysis as a first or second round selection) in the offense, excluding the trade of two second round picks, plus a swap of first rounders, for quarterback Matt Schaub. That means only twice in the 14 opportunities under head coach Gary Kubiak have we seen Houston go offense in one of the first two rounds. The third round has fared significantly better in that regard, with eight years of offensive selections in 11 NFL Drafts, but none of that talent, with the exception of Eric Winston, has developed into a consistent NFL starter.
Aside from the expansion years, I get that the defense has had a few things in its favor come draft time. There was: the defensive-minded Dom Capers as head coach, the older talent from the Expansion Draft that had to be replaced, the transition from Capers' 3-4 to a traditional 4-3, a defense that always lagged behind Gary Kubiak's offense, and Wade Phillips' overhaul and transition from historically bad 4-3 defense to one-gap 3-4 defense. The defense has always been a perfect storm of transition and bad play that required the investment. Still, the Texans have also developed some issues on the offensive side of the ball.
This lack of investment is why the Texans have never truly found a running mate for wide receiver Andre Johnson and keep seeing mocks where receiver is mocked to them. It's how third round stalwart Eric Winston's replacement was seventh rounder Derek Newton. The Texans were burned on a first-round quarterback once and have never taken another one prior to pick 88 since, eschewing the notion of drafting a possible talented commodity, as Andy Reid tends to do, for defensive need.
I'm not trying to say that the offense is talent-deficient. Kubiak has done a great job of building an efficient offense by identifying talent which best works in his scheme, but there's a significant gap in talent levels. Baltimore, San Francisco, and Atlanta, three of the four finalists from this past season, each had an offense with seven starters selected from the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Before you ask if the defenses suffered, each team had four to six top-round starters on defense. Houston came in with two such starters on offense and eight on defense.
This talent skew is why the Houston defense can more easily handle injury losses. Former first and second round picks like Whitney Mercilus, Brandon Harris, and Stanford Routt were all reserves last year. Offensively, in the past, losing Johnson has destroyed the offense and replacing Brown for any stretch of time been difficult. Based on 2012's depth chart, 11 of 23 offensive players were fifth round picks or later while, once again, only three came from the top two rounds.
Again, I would never advise locking into a position or name before the Draft plays out but, barring safety Glover Quin not returning in 2013, it's hard to see a scenario where defense should be the focus. The Texans will presumably have two third round picks, plus a fourth, to add a third outside linebacker, second inside linebacker, third safety, and/or nose tackle. Meanwhile, there are holes at receiver and right tackle to address. Given the offense's collapse down the stretch and number of snaps tied into full-time offensive starters, it just may be time for Rick Smith to balance the scales and give back to the Texans' offense.