This past weekend I was privileged to represent your Houston Texans as the fake GM in Reddit’s annual R/NFL Mock Draft. For those who are unfamiliar with Reddit, R/NFL is one of the largest football forums in the world, boasting over a quarter million members. The annual R/NFL Mock is a two day, five round event where 32 general managers representing 32 teams trade and pick their way through the first 176 selections of the draft. I kicked off the action on Friday with the first overall pick, and it was not who most Redditors expected.
Pick #1 – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
While I would certainly love to see Teddy Bridgewater in Battle Red, I am getting strong vibes from the Texans' front office that they do not intend to take a quarterback first overall. Waiting until after tape evaluation, after the combine, and after pro days to release Matt Schaub and bring in Ryan Fitzpatrick gives me the impression that they do not like any of these quarterbacks enough to hand them the reigns immediately. With that information in hand, which admittedly could be wrong, I drafted with the assumption that Bill O’Brien would prefer to use his considerable aptitude for "coaching up" quarterbacks and draft a Day Two signal caller rather than spend the first overall pick on that position.
When looking at Khalil Mack versus Jadeveon Clowney, my pick came exclusively down to scheme fit. I have not seen any evidence that Clowney can be a stand-up linebacker, nor have I ever seen him display the "dip n’ rip" necessary to be a successful speed rusher off the edge. My interest in Clowney several months ago was actually as a five technique defensive end, provided he added ten pounds rather than lost ten pounds, which he did before the combine. Clowney's strongest assets are his strength, closing speed, and a nifty lateral jab step that he uses to trip up offensive tackles in pass protection. He is not "bendy" like Robert Quinn or a master of technique like J.J. Watt. He is a raw physical freak who mysteriously cannot speed rush, and the only way I see him fitting in a 3-4 defense is by playing a position that he clearly does not want to play if his combine weight loss is anything to go by. If the Texans ran a 4-3, Clowney would be my guy for sure; he is the ideal left end in a 4-3 as a five or six technique where he can stonewall traditionally more powerful right tackles in run defense and use his insane jab-swim combo move to get pressure on pass downs. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, however, I just do not see it...yet.
Khalil Mack, on the other hand, is the ideal 3-4 outside linebacker. He has demonstrated remarkable versatility as a run defender on the edge. He is a reliable zone or man coverage defender in space, and of course he is a deadly pass rusher on passing downs. Athletically, you could even make the case that Mack’s combine was more impressive than the highly touted Clowney; Mack posted a 4.65 forty yard dash, 4.18 shuttle, 40" vertical, and 10’8" broad jump. Mack’s sheer explosiveness is almost overwhelming, and he packages those physical gifts with record-setting production and excellent technical development in everything he does. With Whitney Mercilus already on the roster as the likely Will linebacker, it would almost be insane not to take Khalil Mack as the Sam linebacker of the future. Can you imagine J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, and Whitney Mercilus in a scheme that actually emphasizes outside linebacker pressure, rather than relegating them to containment duty while Watt and Antonio Smith do all the work?
Be still my beating heart…
Pick #61 – DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
I traded pick #33 to the 49ers GM, who was targeting Bradley Roby, for picks 61 (2nd), 77 (3rd), and 129 (4th). Pick 61 was between DaQuan Jones, who filled a need, and Andre Hal, who was the best player left on my board. In the end, I chose Jones purely for the fact that Houston needs a defensive end/defensive tackle hybrid a hell of a lot more than they need a corner. In particular, they need someone who can stop the run on early downs and push the pocket on passing downs. Jones, a captain on Bill O’Brien’s former Penn State team, possesses very strong hands and showed a knack for being able to disengage from blocks and stop the run any time he was not double teamed. At 6’4" 322" pounds, Jones has ideal size to be my jack of all trades defensive lineman who can slide around the front and do one thing – never, ever get blown off the ball. With his run stopping ability commanding double teams as a five technique, three technique, or even as a one technique nose tackle in nickel packages, Whitney Mercilus and Khalil Mack can feel free to fly off the edge and make plays in the back field while J.J. Watt embarrasses offensive linemen inside. Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed having that much less to worry about on the second level is certainly a nice perk as well. Holy front seven, Batman!
In short, Mack, Mercilus, and Watt are going to be our quarterback hit squad, but it is DaQuan Jones who will give that hit squad opportunities to do the damage.
Pick #65 – Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Before you ask….yes, Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, David Fales, and Jimmy Garoppotamus were all on the board when I made this pick. Logan Thomas was still the choice. I will not sugar coat this; Logan Thomas looked flat out terrible on tape at times. Hell, you could even argue that he looked bad on tape most of the time, but every once in a while he would always do something absolutely f***ing insane…in a good way. I’m talking drink spitting material – the kind of stuff that makes you jump out of your chair in an empty room at two in the morning and audibly gasp. Logan Thomas, whether he looks like it or not, has the potential to be special.
Mechanically, Thomas has no major issues to speak of, outside of trying to aim his release with his wrist rather than his shoulder. Part of what makes quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Tom Brady so accurate is that their release is always the same on every throw, whether short, intermediate, or deep. The ball is always released at the same point; they use the angle of their shoulders to set the arc for the appropriate distance. Thomas, however, tries to aim the arc of the ball with his arm rather than his shoulders, so his muscle memory cannot remember when to release the ball, and he either sails it or dirts it far too often. An inconsistent release point should be a fixable issue, and I am sure that Thomas’ work with George Whitfield this offseason has at least partially addressed that.
Thomas has no issues handling pressure, and I really liked how willing he was to step up away from the edge rush and take a hit while delivering a throw. The former Hokie also has a knack for using his off-the-charts athleticism to break the pocket when he needs to and pick up first downs with his legs. Truth be told, I often found myself hoping he would take off just to see what unsuspecting linebacker he could flatten on his way to the sticks. Not only does Thomas bring unbelievable power to the position as a quarterback, but he has speed to burn as well. I am not one to advocate putting my quarterback in position to get creamed by running an option offense, but it sure would be nice to have someone under center who I know can make something out of nothing if he has to.
All of that being said, however, playing quarterback is all about one’s ability to pass the ball effectively, which was Thomas’ major weakness during his time down at VT. His accuracy issues were touched on earlier in this write-up, but Thomas’ decision-making was the most egregious issue I observed in the games that I have seen. In particular, Thomas still has a long, long way to go in understanding how to read safeties and how to manipulate zone coverage. I attribute a lot of this underdevelopment in the mental game to the fact that Thomas literally had never used any pro concepts whatsoever until this past season when Scot Loeffler took over as the offensive coordinator. If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Loeffler was the quarterbacks coach for the 2008 Detroit Lions, who went 0-16, the 2012 Auburn Tigers who went 3-9, and the 2009 Florida Gators who were led by none other than Tim Tebow. That’s quite a resume you’ve got there, Scot. I am not saying that any of Thomas’ obvious struggles were directly Loeffler’s fault, but this was the first year in Thomas’ entire life that he had any involvement in calling protections or making checks at the line of scrimmage, and he was doing it under a coordinator whose claims to fame are one of the biggest first round busts in recent memory, one of the worst NFL teams of all time, and an Auburn Tigers squad that went to the freakin’ National Championship as soon as he left campus. Call me crazy, but I trust Bill O’Brien more than I trust Scot Loeffler.
Logan Thomas has a sparkling record off the field, is a vocal team leader, and displayed great durability in 40 straight starts of major college football. There are few quarterbacks who can compare physically with Thomas, and spending a third round pick on a project of this scale is me putting absolute faith in Bill O’Brien to do what he has always done – get the best out of his players when they are given time to develop. If Thomas’ flashes on tape are anything to go by, his best is pretty damn good. I am willing to take that risk because I believe in Billy O’, and deep down inside I think that Rick Smith does too.
2014 NFL Mock Draft: Clowney to Rams?
In our collaborative mock draft, the top two pass rushers and quarterbacks come off the board in the first five picks.
Pick #77 – Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
The trade in the second round continues to pay off, and I snag a first round quality corner in the middle of the third round. Hal has good (bot not special) athleticism, and possesses only average size, but you will not find a more technically refined or versatile corner in this class. Darqueze Dennard is the master of playing press, and Justin Gilbert is the master of turning defense into instant offense, but Andre Hal is the master of being a chameleon. Need him to press at the line of scrimmage? He can do that. Want him to play off man in a 7X1 alignment? He can do that too. Zone? Sure. Blitz? You go it. There is no scheme that Hal does not fit, which is what makes him so attractive to me.
If I had to do a player comp, I suppose it would be our very own Johnathan Joseph. Hal is not a big hitter, nor is he even good against the run. However, as a pure cover man who can line up seven yards off and stop the best receivers in the game with footwork, eye discipline, and hand placement, there is nobody better in college football. It is a miracle that Hal fell this far, and I am thankful for it.
Pick #101 – De'Anthony Thomas , OW, Oregon
By the time I get to the fourth round, I am no longer looking for starters. I want role players, and I want depth. The speedster from Oregon is arguably the best role player in this entire class, and that role is simple – break defenses. Whether as a slot receiver, running back, or somewhere in between, I have faith that someone as creative as Bill O’Brien can find a way to use Thomas’ fantastic speed and unfair quickness to his advantage. Between Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, DeVier Posey, Arian Foster, Garrett Graham, and De’Anthony Thomas, Houston would boast one of the most dangerous collections of weapons in the entire league.
Pick #129 – Trai Turner, OG, LSU
More of a mauler than a finesse player, Turner is a natural right guard in my opinion. His selection would give some much needed depth at the position and would possibly allow Brandon Brooks to slide over to left guard, which I think he is athletically capable of handling. At the end of the fourth round, pickings start to get a little bit slim, so I am content to reinforce depth at weaker position groups.
Pick #135 – Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
Jalen Saunders is your prototypical undersized slot receiver and return specialist. At this point in the draft, I think he is worth a pick. Reliable hands, tough over the middle, and dangerously quick, Saunders is worth investing in as a potential slot receiver of the future as long as Keshawn Martin continues to disappoint. At the very least, Saunders could compete for the fifth receiver spot and allow the team to finally move on from Lestar Jean. Considering how much Bill O’Brien loves using quicker-than-fast players to generate constant chain movement at breakneck speeds, Saunders would fit this offense perfectly.
Pick #141 – Avery Williamson, ILB, Kentucky
Avery Williamson is coming off a productive season on a bad (again) Kentucky football team. Williamson flashed a nice ability to work through traffic and some decent zone coverage skills. After an unexpectedly great combine, where he ran a 4.66 and did a 4.07 shuttle (besting Khalil Mack by over a tenth of a second), I am more than willing to bring in the former Wildcat as a special teams player and depth option at inside linebacker. Being known as an exceptionally hard worker both on and off the field does not hurt either.
What do you think, BRB? Have I given you the draft of a lifetime, or am I an incompetent buffoon who should never GM a team if he knows what’s good for him?