With the NFL Combine now over, prospects have started to stratify themselves more definitively between different tiers of value. Jared Goff and Carson Wentz clearly established themselves last week as the most desirable quarterback prospects in this draft class, which in all likelihood guarantees that they will not be available for the Texans when they go on the clock late in the first round. That being said, however, Bill O’Brien and company probably already have their hearts set on a different heavily-debated quarterback prospect to take over the franchise anyway (cough, cough, Hackenberg, cough, cough,). As we transition from the excitement of the Underwear Olympics to the intrigue of Free Agency Frenzy, I have put together a full Texans-specific mock draft to improve the new roster as it stands after this morning’s multiple roster cuts.
Keep in mind that all of these picks are what I would do as GM, not necessarily what I predict will really happen in April. Also please note that this mock stops after the sixth round, as the Texans currently do not possess any seventh round picks.
Round 1 (Pick 22): Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Scouts hate him, media personalities hate him, and even most fans hate him, but the only opinion that really matters on the subject – Bill O’Brien – absolutely loves Christian Hackenberg. He’s big, athletic, has a great arm, and is quite possibly the smartest quarterback in this entire draft class. Footwork and accuracy issues have plagued him for the last two seasons, but O’Brien is well aware that the only rookie signal-caller that stands a remote chance of mastering this offense by opening day is the same quarterback that mastered it as an 18-year old freshman in college.
Most people think Hackenberg is a Day Two prospect at best – and to be honest, they are completely justified in that opinion – but the Texans have no room to get cute when it comes to picking their quarterback of the future. Bill O’Brien is one of maybe three or four coaches in the NFL who can unlock Hackenberg’s incredible potential, so I don’t particularly care if this selection is considered a reach or not. If it works, and I think it will, nobody will give a damn in two or three years what pick was used to take him.
One more thing--fifth year options on rookie quarterback contracts (which automatically come with all first round selections) are incredibly valuable. Hackenberg is worth a first rounder just because of the potential long-term cap implications alone.
Round 2 (Pick 52): Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Sterling Shepard might not be available at this pick, depending on how many clubs are looking for slot receivers in the draft, but if he does happen to slip to 52nd overall I would run this card in immediately. Outside of DeAndre Hopkins, this team has a rather uncertain future at the wide receiver position. Jaelen Strong showed a ton of potential late in the year as a possible replacement for the free-agent-to-be Nate Washington, but there's still a noticeable void on the roster when it comes to "scrappy, crafty, quicker-than-fast" slot receivers. You know, the Wes Welker-ish types of pass catchers that can just flat out get open on every snap and make life easier for their quarterback.
If Christian Hackenberg is going to be successful early in his career, he needs someone who can run immaculate routes, catch contested passes in tight coverage, and be relied upon to move the chains in 3rd and long situations. He needs someone who can single-handedly bail out a stalled offense and give DeAndre Hopkins more opportunities to make big plays. Most importantly though, he needs someone who won’t turn into Captain Dickfingers and drop a wide open touchdown on the most important play of the game – I’m looking at you, Nate. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sterling Shepard, he’s exactly that kind of guy. Well, not the Captain Dickfingers part…he’s the exact opposite of that.
Oh, and this kid is also a fantastic person. That helps.
Round 3 (Pick 85): Chris Jones, DE/DT, Mississippi State
I know, I know, we need a running back to replace Arian Foster, but hear me out here. In any normal defensive tackle class, Chris Jones would have been long gone by now. I think with the depth in this year’s DL crop, there is a decent chance that he will still be around in the back half of the third round, which could be a tremendous value for Rick Smith if Jared Crick ends up leaving in free agency. Hell, even if Crick comes back, he has still only been just "okay" rather than a player who is above replacement.
Jones’ motor ran hot and cold all season long, and there were certainly issues with leverage and hand usage, but when it comes to physical tools, he is easily one of the most gifted linemen in this entire class. As a 5-technique prospect, his size, length, and frightening power all compare very favorably to Muhammad Wilkerson; he just needs some help from his future coaching staff and teammates to get him to that level. Put Jones in a room with J.J. Watt, Vince Wilfork, Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, and former teammate Benardrick McKinney, and I think he would fall in line with the overall intensity of that front seven in very short order.
Round 4 (Pick TBD): Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
Ah, finally, a shiny new running back! Adding a quarterback and a slot receiver won’t fix all of the issues with this offense. The Texans still need another infusion of athleticism on this side of the ball, and Drake can provide that in spades. With blistering 4.4 speed, uncanny agility for his size, and reliable hands, he can give Christian Hackenberg a deadly receiving option out of the backfield while also impacting special teams as a dangerous kick returner. As a pure ball-carrier, Drake is pretty darn good as well; he just happened to be on the same team as a couple of running backs who were even better.
A fairly serious history of freak injuries will keep Drake from going higher than he deserves, so snagging him in the fourth round may end up as a great value down the line. For those of you who were hoping to replace Arian Foster much sooner in the draft, consider that Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry are both in very tough positions value-wise to be realistic picks for the Texans. Elliott in particular has a very good chance of being picked well before 22nd overall, while Henry is rather limited schematically and does not perform nearly as well as Drake in the passing game. Hackenberg needs receiving weapons above all else, and Kenyan Drake is exactly that.
Round 5 (Pick TBD): Thomas Duarte, TE/WR, UCLA
I am not just drafting Thomas Duarte because we both went to the same high school…okay, maybe I am a little bit (go Monarchs). However, Duarte might be yet another missing piece for this offense as a move tight end who can line up all over the formation and create match-up problems for safeties and linebackers. Garrett Graham was just released today because he was absolutely incapable of being that kind of player, so that is a hole that still needs filling.
Duarte is not very big for the position at just 6’2" and 230 pounds, but I think with a typical NFL strength and conditioning program, he can bump that up to at least 240 pounds without losing any speed or quickness. Blocking is also a work in progress, as he was basically a glorified slot receiver in college, but with his particular skillset, he would still essentially be a glorified receiver in this offense anyway. I am intrigued enough by his potential alone to spend a fifth rounder on him; that is what Day Three picks are for, after all.
Round 5 (Pick TBD): Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana
Sudfeld first caught my eye while I was scouting Tevin Coleman last year. He was playing remarkably well before a season-ending injury ruined a potentially great run for the Hoosiers in 2014. One year later, Sudfeld mostly picked up where he left off and led a middling Indiana roster to a six win season and a bowl appearance. If you don’t follow Indiana football, by the way, a bowl appearance is a pretty damn big deal for that program.
He still has a ways to go from a decision-making and accuracy standpoint, but the size and physical tools are certainly there to mold. Sudfeld is a logical choice to sit back and develop behind Tom Savage and Christian Hackenberg, assuming that Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and T.J. Yates are all let go this offseason.
Round 6 (Pick TBD): Travis Feeney, LB/S, Washington
Feeney is more of an athlete than a pure linebacker right now, which is perfectly fine by me as the fake GM of a team that is looking for high-upside special teams talent late in the draft. Any potential he shows as a nickel coverage specialist in camp is just gravy on top of that.
So what do you think, BRB? Would you be okay with an offensive-centric haul in the draft, or would you prefer more balance between both sides of the ball? What was your favorite pick? Your least favorite pick? Sound off in the comments below and feel free to leave your own six-round mock drafts for us to angrily disagree with.