More Draft Speculation

From Tim: This FanPost demanded a promotion to the Front Page and the highlighting that goes with it. Good stuff, TransientTexan.

February 27th can’t come fast enough.  It sucks when the start of the playoffs marks the end of your season, but I have faith that our wait will soon be over.  Even though the start of free agency comes before the draft, I believe that teams form their draft strategy first and then use free agency to supplement that plan.  Obviously there are exceptions to this when a veteran too good to pass up comes along so you pull the trigger, but this rarely happens because most deals are done by February 27th, and that date becomes more an announcement date than a deadline.  The Senior Bowl and the Combine are the two biggest venues for offseason maneuvering.  Not only do draft prospects show their stuff in order to attain the highest draft position possible, but you would be naive to think that the presence of agents, coaches and G.M.s in one place doesn't lead to free agent discussions. 

My favorite of the two venues is going on right now, the Senior Bowl.  Even though the underclassman aren't invited, I think that the practices and the game itself are much better for judging football talent than the random drills at the Combine that judge physical talent.  Look at recent prospects that catapulted up the draft with impressive Combine performances, such as the Vernons (Gholston and Davis) that haven't been able to translate their amazing physical talents to the football field.  I'm not saying that they will be terrible their entire careers and therefore be labeled as busts in the end, but the common phrase I heard was that due to their physical talent that they displayed at the Combine, they would be immediate impact players.  Notable standouts in the Senior Bowl the last couple of years have included instant NFL contributors such as Patrick Willis, LeRon McCLain, Matt Forte, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Joe Flacco.

There are many different schools of thought amongst the Texans bloggers on several different team sites that I have seen.  Some prefer we concentrate on a specific position of need, of which the front runners seem to be Safety, Defensive End or Defensive Tackle.  Others believe that the Defense could stand to be upgraded no matter what the position.  The last strategy I've seen is to take the best talent available, even offensive players. I personally am for the middle theory, the best defensive player available.  I would love to get any of those three positions listed in the first approach, but if a stud LB like Maualaga was available I don't think that our LB corps is nearly complete enough to pass on him.  As far as the Offense, I'm not saying that it is absolutely perfect, but I can't think of a hole blatant enough to merit drafting a OL or a skill position player in the first round.  The only exception to this if for some reason Maclin or Crabtree was available, just because the prospect of pairing the best WR in football with either of them would be too good to pass up, but that will never happen so it doesn't matter.

There is still the question of whether we keep the 15th pick or try to trade down as we have done in the past and many people are speculating we might do again.  Before you can debate the merits of either one, you first have to determine if there will be any takers for a trade.  There are a couple of different scenarios floating around for a possible trade, but the one that seems the most likely to me is someone trading up for a RB.  Nothing entices teams to trade up like skill positions, especially RB.  I haven't seen a single prospect board or mock draft yet that has a RB in the top 32 other than Knowshon Moreno and Chris "Beanie" Wells, with Moreno being the clear favorite of the two.  There are at least three teams drafting after us that have a high reported interest in getting one of those two--San Diego, Arizona and Tampa Bay.  New England may even sneak into the mix, and before you scoff at the notion of Belichick drafting a RB in the first round, don't forget that Laurence Maroney was the 21st overall pick in 2006.  If any one of these teams decides they can't live without their chosen back, we might get a taker.  What might even cause the feeding frenzy to get worse is if Denver or Washington decides to take one, which is not a stretch given Denver's lack of a healthy premier RB last year; due to Shanahan's philosophy of plugging any back in the offense and Washington getting sick of the aging prima donna named Clinton Portis.

Assuming we get a taker and Smithiak is of the same mindset that I am (draft best defensive player) we won't know until draft day whether it is better to stay at 15 or trade down.  There are a few players to target at either 15 or the 19-23 which is the range I'm assuming we would move to in the event of a trade.  First group will be the players worth considering taking at 15 and foregoing the trade:

BJ Raji – DT – Boston College.  A week or two ago, Raji probably would have fallen into the category of players to consider if we trade down, but now I’m not sure he’s even going to be there at 15.  Raji has been impressing scouts at the Senior Bowl, and his size/speed combination is making teams contemplate picking him even if they don’t have a glaring whole at NT.  Given everything I’ve read about him I would hope the Texans would take him if he was there.  I know it’s not a popular guess, but I’m starting to think he might be drafted by Green Bay.  New defensive coordinator Dom Capers has already announced that they will be switching to a 3-4 defense, and the Packers don’t have the big talented NT to anchor that line.

Everette Brown – DE – Florida State.  I know it’s a little stubborn to completely steer clear of drafting players from a specific college program, but I’m nervous about taking anyone from Florida State after Travis Johnson.  Brown, however, might be the best pure pass rusher in the draft.  He won’t step in and be a franchise DE due to his lack of strength and size, but we don’t need him to be opposite Mario and he has the frame to add more weight.  The only way that he is still there at 15 is if someone takes Maybin who fits the same 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB mold that Brown does.  Maybin has a higher floor and ceiling though, so I would be surprised if a team takes Brown instead because he is the surer bet.

Malcom Jenkins – CB/FS – Ohio State.  I probably just lost credibility with many of you by insinuating that he might fall to 15 but stranger things have happened.  Almost every credible draft site that has posted a mock draft has speculated that there will be no less than four OT, two QB, and two WR taken before we pick.  That’s eight offensive players selected with the distinctive possibility of another one sneaking in there.  That means that only six defensive players could be chosen before we make our choice.  Curry, Orakpo, Maualuga and either Maybin or Brown will be gone.  For us to get Jenkins, all four would need to be taken and another Offensive guy to be taken, but I really don’t think it’s that farfetched even if this is an exercise in wishful thinking.  I think that Jenkins is the best Safety prospect in the draft.  Probably won’t happen though.

Rey Maualuga – MLB – USC.  As I stated above, he will probably be gone as well.  I put him here because he rounds out the pool of players I would consider must takes at 15.  I have been reading and watching a lot of footage about him since DiehardChris ( brought up an argument for drafting him, and I think he will be a star in the NFL.  He has also been impressing at the draft, not only for his run stopping ability which was on display during his time at USC, but his pass rushing ability which seems to be a revelation during the Senior Bowl.  Apparently Cincinnati is eying him with the sixth overall pick, which would not be good because they are one of the teams that the expert have as a “lock” to take an OT.  We’ll see.

If none of these players are there, I would hope we took a trade down deal if it was on the table.  Where we would end up would obviously depend on who offered the deal, but I would assume it would be in the low 20’s.  If that was the case, there are a few players I would be happy to see the Texans target.

Michael Johnson – DE – GT.  I know a lot of people are down on Johnson because of his perceived lack of dedication, and I have to admit that he pissed me off by not playing in the Senior Bowl, but I’m enamored by his physical talents.  He’s 6’7”, 260 lbs. and runs a 4.6 40.  He’s got the frame to add more weight and strength since he’s so tall.  I know I sound hypocritical touting his physical talents after dissing the Combine for that very reason, but DE is the one position where I feel we can take that kind of risk.  As long as whoever we put at LE can get to the QB occasionally, it will be an immediate improvement over what we’ve had and therefore help Mario.  With this immediate improvement we could wait for Johnson to continue his physical development.  As for the motivational issues, this is why we have re-sign guys like Dunta, because of their locker room leadership presence.

Brian Cushing – OLB – USC.  Let me start by saying that I am more hesitant about Cushing than any other player I have listed.  Lingering injuries and rumors about steroids use make me cringe.  The only reason I have included him is because apparently he’s wowed everyone at the Senior Bowl practices.  There’s even talk that he could slip into the top 15, which would actually be outstanding considering that would push somebody else down to us.  He is surprisingly quick on his feet for how big he is and he plays with a level of physicality not often seen.  I really dig the fact that he didn’t need to go to the Senior Bowl to ensure that he would be a first round pick but went anyway; that shows a lot of confidence.  In summation, I think his detractors are too many to feel comfortable about him but considering how many heads he’s turning it was worth mentioning.

Peria Jerry – DT – Mississippi.  Jerry is another prospect that has been impressing at the Senior Bowl.  His quick hands and footwork have been allowing him to dominate interior lineman at Senior Bowl drills, some say even more than Raji has.  The problem with him is that he does not have the size to be a true NT.  If we take a DT, he has to replace TJ and play alongside Amobi who isn’t a NT either.  At 6’1” 290, he has to put on weight just to be UT.  I don’t think he’s the answer, but a lot of people are speculating that he might be.

You might be asking why I didn’t include any safeties, which I already stated is a huge need for our Defensive squad.  I think that there isn’t a S in the draft (except Jenkins) worth taking in first round for a couple of reasons.  There isn’t a Reed/Polamalu type talent in the pool of true S, but there are several that are right around the same talent level.  At least three out of the five serviceable safeties (Rashad Johnson, William Moore, Patrick Chung, Sean Smith and Louis Delmas) will be there at our second round pick so why reach in the first?

In the end, as much as I like the idea of getting another 2nd/3rd round pick, I don’t like what we’d be left with for our first round selection.  Either we would take one of the players I noted above, or we would reach for someone that we could have possibly gotten with our second pick.  Okay, Texans fans.  Tell me why I’m wrong.