If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a shadow draft, John Sickels popularized it at Minor League Ball. You pick at exactly the spots your team picks in the draft, and you aren't able to move down or up on your own. In my version, due to your (assumed) general familiarity with the draft grades of other teams, you are aware of what players are going to be off the board by your next pick. Thus, you don't get stuck picking someone rounds too early. All other players signed or traded for by the team are at your disposal, and you can't keep players that leave.
I don't aim to use this as a tool to show how smart I am, or how savvy of a general manager I'd be. I don't think I could do a better job than any general manager given all the things that I don't know about. I think of this more as a check for what a theoretical "replacement-level" of knowledge about the draft would get you. Stuff you can read for a small price, or just general ideas that the Football Internet was aware of at the time.
PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN THIS SERIES:
1-1: Texans select edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina.
Shadow Texans also select edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina.
I hate this pick in real life. Well, no, that’s not true. I hate that it limited Houston’s options. My belief is that if you don’t have an answer at quarterback, you need to address that before you can create a roster that has a real chance at winning anything. In this case, my belief is that getting started is more important than the player in question. Football scouting is an inexact science, and scouting quarterbacks is an art form. The Texans didn’t feel that there was a potential franchise quarterback in this draft — if they did, they would have found a way to pick him here. That may or may not be the truth. (I don’t think it is.) But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Having a potential solution is still a much better situation than having no solution.
If I were just starting this Texans Shadow Draft today, I would take Teddy Bridgewater with the No. 1 pick. I believe that the NFL scouting system has blind spots for quarterbacks that don’t match the physical stature of the past. I also believe that the idea that Bridgewater is not a potential "face of the franchise" is overblown. I think he’s got the best shot at being the best player at the position the Texans need to fix before they can go anywhere. That’s the reason he is my No. 1. Bill O’Brien can go on about the need to go get Andrew Luck and the importance of setting a tough tone until he’s blue in the face. That won’t change the fact that the real Texans, as constructed today, have no chance to win the Super Bowl.
But, since the Shadow Texans were smooth enough to pick up Russell Wilson in the third round a few years ago, they don’t need a quarterback. At that point, the next-most important thing on a football field is disrupting your opponent’s passing game. I don’t think Clowney is as polished as Khalil Mack is today. What is interesting about Clowney, to me, is that I see scouts and draftniks downplaying his physical gifts on a regular basis. As if they are going to get him nowhere in the NFL. Just because Clowney will be playing a different level of competition doesn’t mean he’s going to become a "normal" pass rusher. He needs technical improvement. He needs to integrate his techniques to become the best player he can be. But those physical gifts give him such a head start that it puts him over the top. Having a great quarterback puts your team in the driver’s seat to being a good team. Being a tremendous physical specimen puts you in the driver’s seat to being a great pass rusher.
I have never contemplated the fit of a shadow player in a defense before. I’ve never had to. The Texans have been under Gary Kubiak’s reign for eight seasons. The only switch in coordinators that occurred since I’ve started drafting was moving from Frank Bush to Wade Phillips on defense. Sure, that was a move from 4-3 to 5-2, but it was more like "no scheme" to "some scheme." At any rate, I’m not concerned about Clowney fitting in as an edge rusher. Houston will play in nickel more often than they will in any other set. I don’t have J.J. Watt to sit next to Clowney, but I do have Robert Quinn. That’s pretty frightening in its own right.
Especially because it’s paired with a franchise quarterback.
2-33: Texans select guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA.
Shadow Texans select tight end Jace Amaro, Texas Tech.
This pick isn’t a commentary on the players so much as a commentary on the needs. The Shadow Texans have been building an offensive line surplus for their entire history. What they haven’t done, up until the last few years, is add early-round tight ends who can contribute in the passing attack.
The Shadow Texans passed on Garrett Graham and watched Owen Daniels walk in free agency. They had only Jordan Reed and Ryan Griffin coming into this draft. I love Reed, and have no regrets about picking him where I did. Still, I admit that I’m worried about his concussion issues in 2013. Were those to re-emerge in the 2014 season, it would limit the offense I’ve designed.
The best-case scenario is that I can run both Amaro and Reed onto the field. Amaro has demonstrated problems with contested catches. I still believe he’s a physical mismatch who can create problems for defenses underneath and up the seam. This would let the Shadow Texans run 12-personnel sets that could still stretch the field to great effect. (Granted, they would be mediocre at blocking out of those sets. But still.) If Reed’s concussion problems are unshakeable, at least I’ve got a promising player in his stead.
I’m a big believer in drafting to fill a specific blueprint of players that my team needs to be successful. It’s my belief that if an offense doesn’t have at least two receivers that force defenses to make tough choices, they’re not as effective as they should be. The more I am able to duplicate that strength, the better.
3-65: Texans select tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa.
Shadow Texans select defensive end Scott Crichton, Oregon State.
This is a little bit of a projection, but I think Crichton can hold his own as a 3-4 defensive end that slides inside on passing downs. He was a heavy producer at Oregon State, and I think he can anchor well enough against double teams to be a plus player at 3-4 end. The worst-case scenario for this pick is that he winds up being a third banana pass rusher that plays in the nickel.
I wouldn’t have selected Fiedorowicz anyway, because I don't think he's more than a fourth receiver in the pecking order. But selecting Amaro ahead of him made this pick completely expendable in my eyes.
It doesn’t hurt that Jared Crick has been somewhere between mediocre and acceptable at this point, either. Crichton can improve an area of adequate strength.
3-83: Texans select nose tackle Louis Nix, Notre Dame.
Shadow Texans select offensive lineman Brandon Thomas, Clemson.
It’s another tackle! Well, Thomas projects to guard in the eyes of some scouts. Either way, I think he’s got starting tackle mobility and in the middle of the third round that’s nothing to scoff at. My operating philosophy with offensive linemen is to only spend picks in the first three rounds on them if, in my mind, they can play tackle for sure. Thomas fits the bill. This has left the Shadow Texans bereft of guards, which we will be remedying within a pick or two. What that means is that someone like Michael Oher or Bobby Massie would play inside. In theory, anyway.
Thomas tore his ACL during pre-draft workouts, and will be PUP’ed for sure. That’s the only reason he’s still available at this stage of the draft, and I think I’m getting a bargain.
I did like the Nix pick for the real life Texans. I just already drafted Dan Williams in the first round a few years ago to play nose tackle. I’m settled with him.
4-135: Texans select quarterback Tom Savage, Pittsburgh.
Shadow Texans select guard Cyril Richardson, Baylor.
There were two guards that saw late first-round buzz in the draftnik industry and wound up being late-round picks. David Yankey is one, and Richardson is the other. Richardson struggled at the Senior Bowl practices and spent a lot of the 2013 season battling weight problems. But, this is why he is available at the end of the fourth round. The bright side is that he’s a punishing guard who could be a load to handle in the NFL run game.
I would not have drafted Tom Savage if the draft was 10 rounds long.
6-177: Texans select defensive end Geoffrey Pagan, Alabama.
Shadow Texans select quarterback David Fales, San Jose State.
I don’t think Fales is a potential superstar. I do believe that velocity is the most overrated quarterback trait in the toolkit. Coaches can tinker with that a bit. I like the way Fales goes through his progressions and pre-snap reads. It emboldens me further that Marc Trestman, the quarterback whisperer himself, agrees. If he can help out Josh McCown, he can also help out Rivers McCown.
Geoffrey Pagan was not on my radar at all. He did play for Alabama, which is good news. But the idea of spending a draft pick on a two-sack college player that doesn’t play nose tackle is a bit much for me.
6-180: Texans select running back Alfred Blue, LSU.
Shadow Texans select running back Marion Grice, Arizona State.
Grice is the rare back that can be an ultimate weapon in the passing game without having the speed that Darren Sproles does. They used him in a variety of ways as a receiver at Arizona State. I liken him to Shane Vereen and think he’s got a chance to be an effective between-the-tackles back as well.
Blue wasn’t on my radar, either. (That’s not to say he’s a bad pick. Just the circles I run in didn’t cover him much.)
6-211: Texans select fullback Jay Prosch, Auburn.
Shadow Texans select nose tackle Daniel McCullers, Tennessee.
A humongous man at 6-foot-7, 344 pounds. McCullers is a space-eater. No, McCullers is a planet eater. While I like Dan Williams, I’m intrigued by a player some scouts and draftniks had as a second-day guy hanging around in the sixth round. I wouldn’t ever spend a draft pick on a fullback. Even a sixth-round pick.
7-214: Texans select cornerback Andre Hal, Vanderbilt.
Shadow Texans also select cornerback Andre Hal, Vanderbilt.
I liked this pick. I don’t think Hal is a threat to start, but I do believe that scouts undervalue undersized corners. With this archetype of player, you tend to get two results. Either he’s scrappy, and he plays hard enough to stay on the roster, or he can’t overcome the physical limitations. I think Hal’s got a fighting chance to stick as a dime corner.
7-256: Texans select safety Lonnie Ballentine, Memphis.
Shadow Texans select tight end Colt Lyerla, Oregon.
Yes, there was a cocaine issue. Yes, he quit on his team. Still, if there’s one stab in the dark at the draft’s UDFAs that I get to make, it’s with Lyerla. He’s often compared to Aaron Hernandez as a player, and as you can tell, I like accumulating move tight ends with that kind of potential. This pick may flush right down the toilet. But, if it pans out, there’s a much bigger likelihood of it being "better than roster fodder."
I thought Ballentine was a reasonable pick for the real Texans. But with Rahim Moore, Chris Clemons, and Rashad Johnson, my safety spot is pretty well-handled.
Here’s how my 2014 Houston Texans roster shakes out:
QB: Russell Wilson (2012-3rd), Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Fales (2014-6th), Case Keenum
RB: Arian Foster, Jacquizz Rodgers (2011-5th), Andre Brown (2009-4th), Marion Grice (2014-6th), undrafted FA stew (Dennis Johnson? Jonathan Grimes?)
WR: Andre Johnson, Marvin Jones (2012-6th), Cordarrelle Patterson (2013-1st), Keshawn Martin (2012-4th), Dezmon Briscoe (2010-6th), Charles Johnson (2013-6th), Mike Thomas
TE: Jordan Reed (2013-2nd), Jace Amaro (2014-2nd), Ryan Griffin (2013-6th), Zach Potter, Colt Lyerla (2014-7th)
OT: Duane Brown, Michael Oher (2009-1st), David Bakhtiari (2013-4th), Bobby Massie (2012-4th), Andrew Gardner
OG: A.Q. Shipley (2009-7th), Cyril Richardson (2014-4th)
OC: Chris Myers, Matt Tennant (2010-5th)
DE: Geno Atkins (2010-4th), Scott Crichton (2014-3rd), Jared Crick (2012-4th), Chris Jones (2013-6th), Greg Romeus (2011-7th)
DT: Dan Williams (2010-1st), Daniel McCullers (2014-6th), Jerrell Powe, Ricardo Matthews
OLB: Robert Quinn (2011-1st), Jadeveon Clowney (2014-1st), Martez Wilson (2011-2nd), Chris Carter (2011-5th), David Bass (2013-6th)
ILB: DeMario Davis (2012-3rd), Khaseem Greene (2013-3rd), Mark Herzlich (2011-7th)
CB: Johnathan Joseph, Janoris Jenkins (2012-1st), Davon House (2011-4th), Brandon Ghee (2010-3rd), Amari Spievey (2010-2nd), Andre Hal (2014-7th)
S: Chris Clemons, Rahim Moore (2011-2nd), Rashad Johnson (2009-3rd), Kendrick Lewis
K: Chris Boswell
P: Shane Lechler