It's that time again.
I've spent five months of being inundated in draft content. This year, I edited part of Matt Waldman's Rookie Scouting Portfolio. I talked draft with a ton of experts like Scouting Academy's Dan Hatman and Rotoworld's Josh Norris on my Three-Cone Drill Podcast. And now, I condense all that work into creating a fake team that, in my mind, should be "replacement-level" compared to what the NFL puts out there, given their advantage on knowledge.
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, but you can't keep players that leave as free agents or are released if you didn't draft them.
My goal is not to tell you that NFL general managers are stupid. My goal is not to impress you with my own brain -- I willingly admit that a lot of what I learn is second-hand, through people who have put in the work that I don't. The goal of this team is simple: If we simply used publicly-available knowledge to draft a team, what kind of team would we create? I think I learn a ton from this exercise every year, and if you read the previous installments, I've actually changed a lot as an evaluator from where I started.
1-16: Texans select CB Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest. Shadow Texans select CB Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest.
I actually don't have Kevin Johnson as the top player on my board at this spot -- I have edge rusher Bud Dupree as the best. But there are a few reasons I'm going with Johnson.
One is that, by my own admission, I hadn't really considered the thought that the Texans would take a cornerback in the first round. That was one of the strongest areas on the team, in my opinion. I figured they would trade down before they took a cornerback. Ergo, I didn't do a lot of pre-draft reading on trying to distinguish between guys like Johnson and Jalen Collins and Trae Waynes.
Two is that the Shadow Texans, even with all the waiver claims and undrafted free agents, are in much the same spot the real Texans are in. Janoris Jenkins is our Kareem Jackson, and frankly Jenkins hasn't given me much to validate his first-round status so far. I don't know that I'd call this a "need" pick, but it's definitely a pick that can benefit the Shadow Texans.
The third reason is an offshoot of reason one: surely the Texans think their secondary is pretty good with all the resources they've plugged into it by now, right? So think about this: just how highly rated was Johnson for them to not trade down? I've done enough reading to be comfortable with the pick, but the fact that the Texans felt that strongly about him was a tiebreaker to me.
2-43: Texans select LB Benardrick McKinney, Miss State. Shadow Texans select LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA.
From what I can tell, a lot of BRB commenters were uproarious and hated the SB Nation mock where we went with Kendricks in the first round. I'm proud to tell you that I'm the behind-the-scenes muscle on that one. I sold the list on the pick. From what I've watched and heard, I believe that Kendricks will be the next great mighty mite off-the-ball linebacker in the mold of Lavonte David.
And when the Texans come out after the draft and tell you that they're not planning on McKinney working on passing downs early, well, that tells you all you need to know about how refined he is at that right now. I won't completely dismiss that McKinney could get better, because he does have the physical traits to do so. But I think Kendricks is the sure thing.
On the Shadow Texans, he combines with DeMario Davis to give us, what I hope, will be a linebacker combo on par with the best in the league on third down.
3-70: Texans select WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State. Shadow Texans select DL Henry Anderson, Stanford.
I think Strong was drafted at a roughly appropriate spot here -- I don't think he was some kind of steal. This is a pick that comes down to a few draft factors:
1) The Shadow Texans actually have decent depth at wideout, enough so that I don't think they need to pick a gamebreaker here.
2) There's another wideout I have in mind, that went much later in the draft, that I'll take a chance on there.
3) I would've gladly taken Anderson in the second round and, with Jared Crick set to be a free agent and the Shadow Texans having not drafted J.J. Watt, it's a position with a few question marks.
Since I have nowhere else to put this: as much as I hate how much the real Texans traded up, I hate it even more for this team. There are a ton of fourth-rounders I'd love to jump all over.
5-175: Texans select WR Keith Mumphery, Michigan State. Shadow Texans select DL Michael Bennett, Ohio State.
Pretty much everyone I respect was dumbfounded that Bennett was available this deep into the draft. Most people projected him as a second or third-round pick, and I think he'd make a really nice five-technique in the Romeo Crennel scheme.
6-211: Texans select LB Reshard Cliett, South Florida. Shadow Texans select CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon.
Injury risks fall down boards. If anything has taught you this, it should be the 2015 NFL Draft. Ekpre-Olomu was a probable first-round pick as recently as December before tearing his knee up. I'll bet on the rehab, and I love his game.
Reshard Cliett, suffice to say, was not on my radar. Nor were any of the Texans' Day 3 picks outside of Christian Covington.
6-216: Texans select DL Christian Covington, Rice. Shadow Texans select WR Tre McBride, William & Mary.
McBride reportedly slid down boards because of a Diva personality. I don't care if the guy sings "Butterfly" while he plays -- if he can do to NFL players what he did to his college schedule, it'll be worth it.
I like Covington, but with two picks already invested in the defensive line, I'm fine passing him up.
7-235: Texans select RB Kenny Hilliard, LSU. Shadow Texans select OL La'El Collins, LSU.
Who knows what will happen with Collins at this point? I think NFL teams are being way too skeptical here, but that's based only on what is public knowledge as of this post. I also think the environment currently around the post-Ray Rice NFL has become way too risk-averse. NFL teams are never going to bat 1.000 on the character of players. That's an unavoidable fact of employing young men in this industry. Knowing this doesn't mean NFL teams have to bury their head in the sand when it comes to talking or discussing the issues -- they just need to be smarter and charitable in ways that are not quite so obtuse and glad-handlingly transparent.
This is a pick on Collins' talent. He's a first-round guy who went undrafted. A seventh-round pick gives you four years of him. Is he going to reward that? I'd be lying if I told you I knew. But I'd also rather take a 25% chance that I'll get a first-round player in the seventh round than a 100% chance I'll get a seventh-round player in the seventh round.
RB: Arian Foster, Chris Polk, Jacquizz Rodgers (2011-5th), Andre Brown (2009-4th), Marion Grice (2014-6th), Jonathan Grimes
TE: Jordan Reed (2013-2nd), Jace Amaro (2014-2nd), Ryan Griffin (2013-6th), James Casey (2009-5th)
OL: Duane Brown, David Bakhtiari (2013-4th), Bobby Massie (2012-4th), Brandon Thomas (2014-3rd), Michael Oher (2009-1st), A.Q. Shipley (2009-7th), Cyril Richardson (2014-4th), La'El Collins (2015-7th)
DL: Geno Atkins (2010-4th), Jared Crick (2012-4th), Vince Wilfork, Henry Anderson (2015-3rd), Scott Crichton (2014-3rd), Michael Bennett (2015-5th), Dan Williams (2010-1st), Daniel McCullers (2014-6th), Chris Jones (2013-6th),
OLB: Robert Quinn (2011-1st), Jadeveon Clowney (2014-1st), Connor Barwin (2009-2nd), Chris Carter (2011-5th), David Bass (2013-6th), John Simon
CB: Johnathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson (2015-1st), Janoris Jenkins (2012-1st), Davon House (2011-4th), Brandon Ghee (2010-3rd), Andre Hal (2014-7th), A.J. Bouye, Daryl Morris, Jumal Rolle, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (2015-7th)
S: Rahim Moore (2011-2nd), Rashad Johnson (2009-3rd), Stevie Brown, Eddie Pleasant
P: Shane Lechler