Waaaay back in the infancy of me actually writing about the Texans instead of just watching them, I had some inspiration from one of John Sickels' pet projects: his shadow draft. Every year, he drafts along with the Minnesota Twins pick-for-pick in the MLB Draft. Seeing as how the NFL draft is both shorter and easier to scout, this seemed like a no-brainer idea for me. So I did one. And here we are a year later, with you indulging me by reviewing it and pretending I am not an idiot. Good times? Good times.
1) No trading down. If I was running the draft board, the Texans would trade down a LOT. But considering the amount of hypotheticals you create by opening the door to fake trades, there is just way too much guesswork involved. If the Texans do happen to pull off a trade, I have to adjust my board to that.
2) I can't assume anyone we've picked will last to our next pick. It's just common sense.
3) On the other hand, I will assume that we've gathered enough draft intelligence to know who will be coming off the board by the time our next pick happens. This is so I don't get stuck with overdrafts of guys that I like that came off the board later than I would have expected.
Enough rules, times for the actual analysis
Round 1, PIck 15
Texans selected: Brian Cushing, LB, USC
Shadow draft selected: Michael Oher, T, Ole Miss
I think it might be piling on at this point to say that we collectively underestimated Brian Cushing, who was a big score for Smithiak (and Bush if you give him that credit). However, considering how weak the offensive line has been, how poorly Duane Brown continues to be in pass protection, and Cushing's lengthy injury history, this is a closer debate then you might think going forward. Oher did struggle some as a left tackle, but I can't just discount all his pass blocking stats (+4.5 at PFF) because he didn't do as well as a LT. At worst, he would've been a massive improvement on Brown. For now though, the Texans found the defensive rookie of the year and one of the best linebackers in the league at the 15th overall pick. I'd say that's a good value.
Other picks that enjoyed some instant success between 1 and 2: Alex Mack, Clay Matthews, Jr. (do you want the tackler or the pass rusher?), Jairus Byrd, Hakeem Nicks, and Vontae Davis.
Round 2, Pick 46
Texans selected: Connor Barwin, DE/LB, Cincinnati
Shadow draft selected: Connor Barwin, DE/LB, Cincinnati
From my DL in review post:
Barwin's progression was pretty much what you'd expect for someone who'd played just one year of defensive end in college: downright ugly in the first couple of games, but he was a solid contributor from then on, albeit one who made some mental mistakes. I don't think he's average against the run yet, but he's already the second best pass rusher of this lot. Like most of the Texans rookies, expect Barwin to benefit from a full year of OTAs and training camp.
The long-term future is somewhat more up in the air. I'm not sure the coaches will let him overtake Smith, and I'm also not sure he'll be able to stick at linebacker for more than a few gimmick sets. He looked lost the few times I saw him have to play coverage. I'm hoping he gets more snaps this year, but there isn't a clear answer to where they come as long as Smith is on the team. Perhaps to run with my Okoye idea, the Texans can run some more sets with Smith kicked inside and Barwin at his end spot.
So, was he the best pick here? For the future, the answer very well may be yes, considering the impact pass rushers have on the game today. For last year, there are a handful of picks that were probably better. MDC mancrush Sean Smith did some great things in Miami, Sebastian Vollmer blossomed in New England, the Jaguars found a powerful nose in Terrance Knighton, and 2 stellar RB's left the board in Shonn Greene and LeSean McCoy. Of those picks, I think Vollmer and Smith probably were the best ones, in that order. Barwin was always going to be a long-term project, so I'm not willing to concede anything about this pick yet, but Smith sure would look nice right now given the cornerback bind we find ourselves in.
EDGE: Same pick.
Round 3, Pick 77
Texans selected: Antoine Caldwell, C, Alabama
Shadow draft selected: Rashad Johnson, FS, Alabama
Impossible to really compare these two in present value because Johnson didn't play much at all last season, although with Antrel Rolle leaving for New York, that could change this coming season. Perhaps it also says something that the Cardinals were willing to let him walk. Caldwell was probably the best interior offensive lineman the Texans had all year, which is damning with faint praise, but things probably would've looked even worse if he had washed out completely.
As far as best players to come off the board between this and the first fourth round pick, Jerraud Powers had a nice rookie season for the Colts, and Mike Wallace dodged many 60 Minutes jokes to become a solid third receiver for the Steelers much earlier than expected.. The best selection out of all of them was probably Baltimore's LaDarius Webb, who was a stud in limited time.
Round 4, Pick 112
Texans selected: Glover Quin, CB, New Mexico
Shadow draft selected: Chip Vaughn, S, Wake Forest
Not that I had much choice here, with only 10 picks between this one and the next pick, but this turned out comically bad. Quin was one of the steals of the draft, and showed exactly how good the Texans scouting department is by becoming a solid starting corner right off the bat. Chip Vaughn went straight to IR in spring and never emerged. DJ Moore, another popular draftnik sleeper, didn't play a down of football for the Bears. Probably the best non-Quin pick in the 10 was Denver safety David Bruton, who barely played but looked like he belonged when he did.
Round 4, Pick 122
Texans selected: Anthony Hill, TE, North Carolina State
Shadow draft selected: Andre Brown, RB, North Carolna State
Anthony Hill showed flashes in training camp and briefly in games, but ultimately was a spectator for the majority of the season. Andre Brown immediately blew out his knee after getting drafted. Right now, I think I'd take Brown going forward, especially considering the Texans need for a RB and their relative depth at tight end. For the moment, however, they added about the same amount of nothing to their respective teams last year.
Better picks would've included: the wide receiver trio of Austin Collie (I guess, if you think he isn't a system guy), Johnny Knox, and Louis Murphy. Nobody else really stands out between here and the fifth round, although Jasper Brinkley held up pretty well for someone who was tossed into the fire.
Round 5, Pick 152
Texans selected: James Casey, TE, Rice
Shadow draft selected: James Casey, TE, Rice
Casey fits the Owen Daniels mold, although he's a bit more versatile. He's much better catching balls than he is blocking; in fact, I'm a bit puzzled as to why exactly he had such a rough time getting on the field in passing downs after Daniels went down. Casey's season in a microcosm came in a Week 15 play against the Rams. The Texans ran a play-action pass, Schaub came out on the bootleg, Andre Johnson was double or triple covered deep, Vonta Leach was one-on-one in the flat, and Casey was wide open about 10 yards downfield. Schaub throws to Leach, who catches it and goes nowhere, and Casey looks around after the play trying to figure out who was covering him, only to find no one near him.
You have to think Casey's role will grow next season, right? But I really can't see it happening. It's not that he's not talented, but he doesn't bring anything to the field right now that the Texans don't already have. If he's going to be split off the line, the Texans have better receivers and he's not as good as Daniels. If he's going to be on the line, he can't block, and Daniels is again better. If I were him, I'd spend the whole summer learning to block and show I can do that better than anyone else on the team during training camp, because right now, that is his ticket onto the field. Well, that or Daniels holding out or getting hurt again.
Were there better picks? Macho Harris would look nice in retrospect, given the Texans' newfound CB hole. Jamon Meredith played well in limited action for the Bills. The Jacksonville Zach Miller also played a credible tight end, and was much more involved than Casey was over the course of the season. Thomas Morstead provided the Saints with reliable punting. I'd say there were a few better players out there, but again, not many.
EDGE: Same pick.
Round 6, Pick 188
Texans selected: Brice McCain, CB, Utah
Shadow draft selected: AQ Shipley, C, Penn State
McCain was a fairly okay dime back for most of the season after turning heads in training camp, another great find by Smithiak in the sixth round. AQ Shipley hit the Steelers practice squad, was waived, and then was signed up by the Eagles practice squad. I still have a good feeling about him, but it sure didn't happen this year.
The Texans might have been better off selecting Devin McCourty's brother, Jason, who slipped into enemy hands and plays in Tennessee. Myron Pryor didn't look overmatched in his small sample sizes as a Patriots defensive tackle. Bernard Scott and James Davis were a pair of solid committee RBs while healthy.
Round 7, Pick 223
Texans selected: Troy Nolan, S, Arizona State
Shadow draft selected: Chris Baker, DT, Hampton
Finally I can claim semi-victory! Chris Baker went undrafted but spent almost all year on the Denver active roster. Nolan got hurt in training camp and spent the year on IR.
Julian Edelman would've been a better pick than either of them, as would LaRod Stevens-Howling and Rashad Jennings, who I only passed up on because I'd already picked a RB.
Welp, the Texans have cleaned my clock after year one. I guess that's the difference between being a professional organization that has tons of tape and a college student who mainly gets draft information on the internet. It'll be interesting to see how these guys continue to develop going forward, and who else emerges from the late round shuffle with a little time to grow. Anyone I missed? Thoughts? Regrets going forward with Barwin over Smith, MDC?