Mock drafts are a silly thing we subject ourselves to. They’re next to impossible to get even somewhat accurate until right before the draft, and yet they start popping up weekly as soon as the regular season ends. Most fans read them, because they’re a harmless, guilty pleasure that’s good for tiding you over until the actual draft in the end of April.
This offseason will be especially fun for Texans fans to let their imaginations run wild for the draft because there is the added element of the unknown. Gary Kubiak has already intimated that he will lean heavily on Wade Phillips for evaluating defensive personnel, something neither Gary nor Rick Smith probably have a choice in anyway, as I believe hiring Wade was Bob McNair’s decision from the get-go. While in previous seasons Texans fans were just torturing themselves by analyzing nose tackles and safeties in the first few rounds, Wade just might be the catalyst to change the trends established in the past.
Getting back to the subject of the mocks, there is one name that gets floated out quite a bit for the Texans 11th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft: OLB Von Miller. At first glance. the move seems to make sense. The first position people think of when switching to a 3-4 is WOLB, as that player is responsible for rushing the quarterback more often than any other position. Miller has recorded an impressive 28 sacks while doing just that in the last two seasons for the Kubiak’s alma mater, Texas A&M. I personally hate the idea of taking Miller in the first round for a multitude of reasons. All of these reasons you can read, absorb, and refute if you are so inclined on the other side of the jump.
I feel the need to start out with a disclaimer--I am a Longhorn fan. That is not, however, one of the reasons I would not like to see Miller selected first. I have no problem with A&M, especially since the rivalry hardly exists anymore because the two teams can’t seem to be good in the same season (Thanks, Garrett Gilbert). Also, I hate the University of Oklahoma more than any other NCAA football program, and I would gladly take a Sooner for the Texans as long as he was the best player. No, my problems with drafting Miller have nothing to do with silly college biases.
Wade takes over a defense with serious holes. There isn’t a position on that side of the ball that couldn’t be upgraded through the draft either with a player who would immediately compete for a starting job or who would just provide depth. Having said that, if you were to rank the defensive positions in terms of need, OLB would probably be last. I have said before that I think Connor Barwin is ideal for WOLB in Wade’s defense; Brian Cushing showed more than enough versatility in 2009 to play opposite of Barwin; and Mario Williams can play some standing up off the line as well. While drafting another premier pass rusher for the outside wouldn’t be terrible, it would mean using the 11th pick on a player who would improve a position that's at worst mediocre, rather than filling a gaping hole devoid of talent like nose tackle or free safety.
Many draft analysts consider this year’s class entering the NFL to be an average to poor group. There may not be a quarterback or offensive tackle taken in the top five for the first time since the 2000 draft. One of the few positions you can almost always find depth at, however, is OLB for the 3-4. There is an abundance of collegiate defensive ends who are too small to play with their hands in the dirt at the next level. If you feel that one of the aforementioned players or a combination of the three can play WOLB, but you still desire an upgrade for SOLB, one can easily be found in the 3rd or even 4th round.
These reasons not enough and you still want to get a pass-rushing OLB? I still wouldn’t want Miller. Miller is undersized for the role at 6’3"/243 lbs. He has relied on blazing speed to blow by the primarily spread offenses of the Big 12. You can’t expect to have success with that tactic on Sundays; just ask Vernon Gholston and Aaron Maybin. Also, google a Miller highlight reel. You will see a ton of his sacks and tackles for loss are arm tackles where he employs whirling throws rather than wrapping up and driving through the ball carrier. That won’t work on Maurice Jones-Drew, or even David Garrard, for that matter. If you try to fix part of the problem by adding too much weight to his frame in order to shoe-horn him into the position, you lose some of the speed that made him great in the first place (again, see Maybin).
I don’t think Miller is a bad player; he might very well be great in the NFL. I personally don’t think he will be, but if he is, I especially don’t think his success will come in the 3-4 WOLB role he is projected to fill now. The Texans have bigger fish to fry, and even if they decided to take an OLB with the eleventh overall pick, I would much prefer Akeem Ayers or Ryan Kerrigan in that spot. Let me be the first to ask you this offseason...who would you like to see the Texans take with the 11th pick in April?