Another year, another wide receiver bonanza for the Houston Texans in seemingly every mock draft on the internet. Just as everyone was absolutely positively sure that Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, or Rueben Randle were going to be Texans in 2012, everyone absolutely positively sure that Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, and Robert Woods are all going to be dawning battle red in 2013. Every year Houston gets mocked a wideout, and every year Rick Smith does something else, gets scoffed at, and is ultimately proven right. Duane Brown, Brian Cushing, Kareem Jackson, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus are all about as far as you can get from the oft-desired "complementary receiver that can eventually replace the aging Andre Johnson", and yet all of them are huge contributors to a Houston Texans team that is now considered among the finest in all of professional football.
Wide receiver, as always, is a need going into the draft, and yet I have the sinking feeling that Rick Smith will yet again pick something else. It’s not like the Texans' front office has done anything in recent years to discourage that notion. So, if Houston does grab a future All-Pro that every Texans fan will pretend in three years that they liked as a first round pick at the time, who could it be? Who are these overlooked college stars that make more sense than arguably the most open and shut pick in the entire draft?
For reasons I don’t understand, Alex Okafor has not been put in the first round in very many mock drafts. That’s right, a 6’4", 265 pound tweener prospect with 34 inch arms, excellent strength, and a wicked set of hands on the edge is somehow not in the first round. Bollocks. I would go so far as to say that I highly doubt Okafor will even be on the board by the 27th pick, but if he does somehow manage to survive until the late first round, I would not be shocked at all to see him picked up as another piece to Wade Phillips’ defense. I have often said that Brooks Reed will never move inside next to Brian Cushing so long as there is nobody else is on the roster that has capability to two-gap on a right tackle and let J.J. Watt do his thing inside. Alex Okafor, however, can two-gap on a right tackle and is a better pass rusher than Reed. It makes perfect sense – pair the gifted University of Texas product with Watt in the trenches and let the versatile Brooks Reed demolish the run game inside with Cushing. We’ve seen what Reed can do as a pseudo inside linebacker in nickel packages before, and it was glorious. Now imagine that full time, with a better pass rusher on the edge, for a team that has a fan base that for the most part adores everyone associated with the UT football program other than Mack Brown. Yep, it sounds right to me too.
Similarly to Alex Okafor, I’ve seen a lot of mocks all steadily downgrade the talented A&M product from top 5 pick to not even being in the first round at all. That makes zero sense to me. How does a man that powerful, that explosive, and that good at playing football drop 30 spots simply because he ran a slow forty time and didn’t bench 30 reps? Did everyone miss the part where he vertical jumped over 35 inches and broad jumped over 10 feet? Those are wide receiver numbers in a 6’4", 250 pound death machine that has 35 inch arms. It shouldn’t even be possible, let alone ignored by everyone.
When you watch Moore on tape, that explosiveness flashes on almost every single play. His get-off from the snap is incredible, and even if he doesn’t have the sustained upper body strength to crank out a bunch of reps on the bench, his lower body explosiveness and authoritative punches are enough to overwhelm almost every offensive lineman he faces with quick bursts of sheer power. I see him more as a penetrator than Okafor; Moore probably would not be able to stack and shed against the run as well as his UT counterpart, but with Moore destroying one gap on the outside, Watt destroying another gap on the inside, and Brian Cushing/Brooks Reed cleaning up the mess behind them, I’m not really all that worried about the run defense. It would be just plain fun to watch. The Texans also love picking them some Aggies, so there’s that, too.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s two ways that the Texans can approach fixing their interior run defense in 2013: Big nose tackle/small linebacker, or small nose tackle/big linebacker. Either they grab a penetrator that gets up field with reckless abandon in the trenches and pair him with a linebacker that is big and strong enough to take on guards on the second level alone like the Jay Ratliff/Sean Lee combination in Dallas, or they grab a big nose tackle that draws the guard away from the linebacker and focus on speed and range on the second level. Earl Mitchell falls in to the category of an undersized penetrator, which tells me that they will try to find a bit bigger of a linebacker to pair with him inside as insurance against the run (Brooks Reed of course is an option there if they can find a replacement for him at OLB). That being said, Earl Mitchell is not that good at…you know…being a penetrator. If Wade Phillips wants to continue with the concept of an undersized nose tackle, he needs to find his Jay Ratliff. That player, to me at least, is Kawann Short.
Kawann Short has one of the best pairs of hands for an interior linemen in this entire draft. He has spotty (at best) timing of snap counts and fires out of his stance far too slow at times (or in the case of the Senior Bowl, at all times), but when he gets going he is tough to stop. Spins, clubs, rips, swims – he’s got them all. His ability to flash his hands into one half of a guard, bait them into a counter punch, and then counter their counter with a well timed club swim back the other direction is uncanny. He does have trouble with consistency at times, but considering that there was literally no one else on the Purdue defense to help him out, I’m not at all concerned with his disappearing acts. Short will be a fine player in the league and can anchor a Texans' three man front that would be nigh unblockable.
Sylvester Williams is a bit bigger than Short at 6’3", 313 lbs., and he can probably stand to get close to 320 without losing much explosiveness. Williams would be a more traditional nose tackle in the sense that his primary job would be annihilating pocket integrity against the pass and standing his ground against the run. His penetrating ability comes more from speed and power than Short’s crafty hand usage, but he can penetrate well nonetheless.
What I really like about Williams is that despite getting double, or even triple-teamed on every snap, he rarely lost ground. His ability to anchor is impressive, and combined with his quickness off the snap and sneaky swim move, it is almost impossible to contain him with just one blocker. Williams would be the big run stopping force on the line that allows Wade Phillips to employ a bit smaller, faster, more coverage based linebacker on the second level that can handle tight ends and slot backs while Brian Cushing and Danieal Manning blitz and fill extra gaps.
The fact that Rick Smith refuses to extend Antonio Smith despite desperately needing the cap relief tells me with 99% certainty that the Ninja won’t be a Texan in 2014. Considering that I believe that in the interest of not "wasting" J.J. Watt against the left tackles of the league, Smith will be the 5-technique this season; that would naturally leave a giant hole at defensive end a year from now. Datone Jones went from being a mid round project to possibly the best pass rusher in this entire class all in a span of a few months. His hands, power, and overall polish were average at best during the 2012 season, but there was certainly potential there for improvement. I don’t think anyone was prepared for what we saw during Senior Bowl week. He was simply phenomenal, and left a wake of devastation and despair across every offensive linemen he faced. Even Eric Fisher, a top five prospect in this class, had trouble containing Jones.
As far as five techs go, nobody even comes close to Jones in this class. His Senior Bowl tape looked on par with J.J. Watt’s Wisconsin days, and Watt’s tape is considered some of the best ever for a college 3-4 end. His hand usage was perfect, his speed as deadly as ever, and his ability to get into the backfield unmatched. I do not say this lightly – Datone Jones can be just as good as J.J. Watt. I repeat, this guy is a freaking monster. He’s a killer of dreams. A destroyer of worlds. A man that has no business falling out of the top 15 picks in this draft, but due to positional value and the general lack of need for one-gap five tech ends, has a shot at being there at 27. He shouldn’t be, but he might be. If selected, Watt and Jones very well may be the most dominating defensive end duo in the league for quite some time, and just the thought of having even a slim chance of Jones wearing battle red next season makes me all warm and fuzzy.
2014: Reed, Watt, Jones, Mercilus. Drink it in, everyone. Drink it in…
Cornerback, as it stands, might be one of the best starting position groups on the team, but Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph’s contracts both loom large over the coming years. Jackson, if he continues playing like he did in 2012, could get as much as $50 million from a team looking for a young corner that can play man-to-man against the likes of Calvin Johnson without getting destroyed. Rick Smith’s current freeze on spending suggests that he wants to set as much cash as humanly possible aside to pay Action Jackson in a couple years, but it’s very tough to bank on the Texans' ability to keep him while Brian Cushing and J.J. Watt are also on deck to make ridiculous amounts of money. If nobody else is on the board that the Texans really want in the first round, it might make sense to start hedging against the loss of Jackson and ensure the secondary remains one of the strong points of the team for years to come.
D.J. Hayden has been under the radar for months, and even I admit to not watching him until a couple weeks ago. After putting the tape on, it’s easy to see why some scouting circles are excited about the University of Houston product as a possible first rounder. His pedal was fluid, his feet abnormally quick, and his speed…my god, his speed. When at full strength, Hayden very well might be the fastest player in this draft class, and it definitely looks that way on tape. His ability to play off, stop and start on a dime, and then close instantly on underneath routes is unreal. His ball skills were very well developed, and he showed a keen awareness and sense of timing when turning his head. I believe Hayden could step in day 1 as a slot corner in the Texans' defense while he is groomed to handle outside duties in the NFL as a potential replacement for either Jackson or Joseph. He certainly has the physical tools and skill sets to make it work.
At his Pro Day in March, Hayden ran a 4.33 forty and broad jumped over 10 feet just months after tearing his inferior vena cava, one of the main veins responsible for bringing blood to the heart, which should have killed him. If he had not sustained this life threatening injury during practice his senior year, his buzz would most assuredly be higher. As a local kid out of Missouri City, Hayden has grown up watching his hometown team and maybe, just maybe, will get a chance to sport the colors this coming season.