This man could be a Houston Texan in April. - Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Battle Red Blog peruses the recent quotes of general manager Rick Smith and head coach Gary Kubiak to discern which position group has Houston's eyes in round one of April's NFL Draft.
A conspiracy theorist and skeptic would know better than to trust any words from any general manager and head coach at this time of year. The NFL Draft is a poker game played among the league's decision-makers in an effort to see who can be more generic and more misleading. For all I know, this post will play into the hands of Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak. However, that is the chance one must take.
The common thought regarding the draft is that Houston possesses three glaring holes: inside linebacker, right tackle, and wide receiver. Let's see what the braintrust has to say about those groups, shall we?
"Obviously I think we got some real benefit from last year with the young guys being able to play the way that they did. I think Derek Newton has all the ability in the world to be a good right tackle. With the two young guys at the guard position, I’m excited for Brandon Brooks, he’s an explosive, big, unique athlete in our system. I think he’s got all the athleticism to execute what we need him to do. It’ll be exciting to watch him, again very analogous to what we just talked about with Whitney. His jump from this year to next year is going to have to be significant and I think he’s capable of doing that and so I am excited about that for both of those guys and Ben (Jones) as well. - Rick Smith, February 21, 2013 at the NFL Combine
I think Newton has become a much better player, and he has played hurt, so he’s grown up from that standpoint; things that you have to do. Those guys are going to be much better players as they move forward because of all the tough football they've been in this year. - Gary Kubiak, January 2, 2013
Aside from the fact that Smith appears to be rooting for Brooks to grab the right guard spot, you have believers in Derek Newton. It's hard not to remember the loyalty shown to a young, and awful, Duane Brown and not think that could happen again with Newton, who is only entering his second-year as a starter.
With Rashad Butler coming off injured reserve and being a 30-year-old free agent, I could see the Texans drafting another mid-round developmental swing tackle, like David Bakhtiari, but I can't see them burning a first round pick on a starting right tackle when the strong belief in Newton appears to be there.
If I'm looking for a reason why we fell off a little bit, our inside linebacker situation got very thin when we lost Cush. - Gary Kubiak, February 21, 2013 at the NFL Combine
What I think is it [nickel defense] gives him [Wade Phillips] some options. If we have two inside backers who can stay on the field in passing situations and match-up better against [tight ends] I think that’s a positive. If he wants to employ a three-safety system in other situations whether it’s longer distances or a blitz package or whatever it is, if he wants to employ those, I think the more you have players who can stay on the field and impact the game I think that’s the option, that’s the ultimate for him because it gives him the flexibility that he likes. - Smith at the NFL Combine on the ILB and nickel defense
Of course, you also have articles like this hyping up the health of Darryl Sharpton months before the draft, as if to dissuade fans that there is no one else besides Brian Cushing at ILB, and articles talking about Brooks Reed moving to the middle, if Connor Barwin is re-signed, to get people to think this issue can be solved internally.
Maybe this is blowing smoke to keep teams like Baltimore from jumping ahead to nab a ILB, like scheme fit Arthur Brown, but the Texans aren't talking about other holes like this. They're doing their best to make it seem like a depth-only hole. I can see them waiting for a Kiko Alonso, A.J. Klein, Michael Mauti, or Gerald Hodges in the middle rounds.
I think that continues to be right now a big focus for us as an organization. - Kubiak on finding a second receiver at the NFL Combine
We’re going to hopefully draft an impact player in the first round, that’s always the goal...We’ve got a good core group of players and there are always areas of your team where you need to add playmakers and that’s what we’ll do. - Smith at the NFL Combine
Well, that’s a great question. Some players are fast, they’re football fast. If they run 4.5, they play at 4.5. Some guys might run 4.4 or 4.39 but they play at 4.6. So it’s got to translate onto the field. Everything that they do from an athletic standpoint in terms of trying to evaluate a player, it has to translate to the field. if they can’t do that, if a guy runs 4.2 but he can’t catch, it doesn’t matter as much as a guy running 4.5 but has great hands and range around his body. - Smith to Drew Dougherty about Combine Receivers
With Kevin Walter as a $2.5 million cap relief cut waiting to happen, DeVier Posey in rehabilitation, and Keshawn Martin and LeStar Jean not showing any reason to put faith in them as starters, this position seems to be the most obvious hole in need of immediate relief. It's the one that gets asked about and the one that would fit Smith's definition of impact playmaker.
If I had to put money on it, I would put money on receiver being the first round target. Guys like DeAndre Hopkins(!!!), Tavon Austin, Terrence Williams, and Robert Woods(!) have all been mocked to Houston on the Interwebs and it makes sense. Unlike right tackle or inside linebacker, there are no internal fallback options or reason to believe in potential growth. Aside from Andre Johnson, the Texans don't offer another outside threat, and that completely hinders the offense.
Of course, it could all be a smokescreen for something more but, reading between the lines, the Texans appear to have their targets set on a wide receiver early.