I don't watch college football. This is because of two things. I went to a university that is perfect in every way aside from its athletic program, so when I watch Saturday's games, I think, "Who cares? I didn't go to any of these crappy schools." Second, I can only spend one day a week sitting in front of a screen before going to work for the week and sitting in front of a different screen. So when the draft happens, I have no idea who any of these players are and if they are any good at playing the footballs.
To counter this, I would watch the highlight videos of every poor soul who is now one of us. From that, I saw J.J. Watt come backside and toss Terrelle Pryor down with one hand, DeAndre Hopkins disappear and reappear in the end zone, and Trevardo Williams run past offensive tackles while providing nothing else of any worth on the football field. From these seven minute videos, I would cement an opinion that would carry me until real life football was played.
This was fine, but it wasn't anything more than a snapshot--a finger dipped into the soup. But now that I have done this football thing for a while, have a better understanding of the game, and with the proliferation of Draft Breakdown videos, I can branch out of highlight videos and watch entire games to analyze these players that make up the Texans' newest draft class. After going through multiple games of every pick taken three weeks ago, here are my thoughts and an expansion on the "Eyeball Test" that I spent so many years devoted to.
Will Fuller (WR--Notre Dame)
Fuller just loses guys. He's a top-tier athlete. Just watching him run is a joy. When he catches a screen pass, takes three steps to full speed and bursts to the end zone, I get visions of watching the Tasmanian Devil that is Russell Westbrook unleash hell onto the orange cylinder. It's incredible to see him make one small turn, go zero to sixty, turn the defender around, and evaporate to an empty part of the field. Also, he's strong in spite of the first impressions his chicken legs may give you. Fuller was a great blocker who swallowed up corners and opened up yards after the catch for his teammates. He was the best athlete on the field in nearly every game he played.
Because of this, nobody could consistently cover him. If they pressed him, he would run to the right or left right around them and beat them deep. This led to him playing against huge cushions. Corners would line up six to eight yards off of him at times. This allowed him to break his route short and sit for the ball with no one around. His speed opened the entire field up, and he spent the majority of his time at Notre Dame wide open.
The dilemma is that Fuller isn't good at doing the most important thing a receiver needs to do--catch the football. Since he was wide open on the majority of his targets, he could sit and wait for the ball to come to him. He could double-catch the ball. He could catch the ball with his chest and not worry about any repercussions. Fuller didn't have to extend his arms and actively catch passes. He was allowed to play passively.
When evaluating college players, it is vital to add a layer of NFL scenarios to what you are watching. At the next level, the cushions are going to be smaller, the corners are going to be able to press him, and the difference in speed is going to be mitigated. He has the athletic ability and route running skills to get open, but he doesn't catch the ball well enough for him to consistently turn attempts into completions. The deep routes where he waits will end with a safety slapping the ball out of his hands once it arrives. The slant routes that come into his chest will bounce in the air when the corner hits from behind. The routes to the sideline where one foot sticks because he doesn't extend his arms and attack the football will end in an incompletion.
This is the grim reality with Will Fuller. And yet, he's so fast and such a remarkable athlete that the potential is limitless. If he ever learns how to actively catch a football, consistently extending and catching the ball with his hands, he could become a great receiver. If not, he's going to be a Cordarrelle Patterson, jet sweep, screen game sideshow instead of a real receiver that can carry an offense.
Zach Martin (C--Notre Dame)
Martin is one of the best pass blocking centers I've seen. His head is always up scanning for blitzers and provides great help to the guards. Always, he's punching the chest, grabbing, mirroring and holding on until the pass goes. He's too quick for interior linemen to get around him, and he has the lower body strength to stifle bull rushes. Pro Football Focus credited him with zero sacks, zero QB hurries and five quarterback hits allowed last season.
In the run game, though, he's just alright. In college, he played about as well as Ben Jones did in the NFL last year. Martin suffers from some of the same issues that made Jones a fine, but not above average, run blocker. Martin can't move defenders in one-on-one blocks. On these plays, he either is moved back or lucks his way into a stalemate. He doesn't drive the first level on his own.
This is an issue, depending on the scheme. If Houston runs a lot of outside zone, all he needs to do his reach the defensive tackle, which he's great at. If Houston runs a lot of inside zone, he will usually end up in a combo block, which he's great at. But if Houston uses a lot more pulling now that Jeff Allen is the right guard, this will be an issue. In man scheme run plays, Martin is going to need to move the first level on his own.
The other problem that plagues Martin is a problem that plagued Houston's entire offensive line last year--sticking on the second level. The Texans filled an immediate need with Martin and yet now have another player who can't stay on his block when he gets to the linebacker.
Although he has problems moving the first level on his own, Martin is great at generating first level movement in double teams. Martin is awesome at getting hip-to-hip and plowing the defensive lineman. He has great feet, quickness, and comes off naturally to the linebacker. His head placement is usually good, and he punches the chest. However, after that he falls off his block. Numerous times, he lunged at the linebacker, fell on his face, and his man would make the tackle. The reason why is Martin lunges and leans. Too often his nose is over his feet when he attacks the linebacker. When the defender changes direction, all of Martin's momentum takes him forward and he takes a big tumble.
It is strange why this occurs. As stated earlier, Martin's feet are great and he's in perfect position, so it is not a quickness issue or a lack of technique. My guess is it is a lack of upper body strength. When blocking the second level, the punch stifles the defender and gets him into grasp. The legs and hips then drive him backward. Martin's punch is more of a lunge or a desperate leap than a controlled hit. My guess is that Martin does this to make up for a lack of upper body strength. He has to put more of his body into the punch to correct this issue; this is what leads to him falling forward.
The good news is that Martin can get stronger. Most 21 year olds are far from their athletic peak. He should be able to put on the upper body strength to move the first level and stick on the second level, as long as Martin isn't one of those men who could sprout a beard at fourteen and hasn't grown since . This will take some time, though. Like last year, Houston will probably have trouble blocking the second level. Lamar Miller is going to have some possible, 20, 30, 40 yard runs become 8 yard runs because of this core incompetency.
Braxton Miller (WR--Ohio State)
There are people out there who are just born with the ability to make people miss. Miller is one of those fortunate souls, unlike me, who has never juked anyone in his entire life. When Miller gets in space, he can spin into a viral video, juke, stop, start, and cut his way to freedom. It's remarkable how great he is at this one thing.
Miller can also do multiple things in an offense. Because of his elusiveness and vision, he's an above average running back in wildcat offenses. Because of his time at quarterback, he knows how to make the right reads to make sure the correct player is carrying the ball. It will be interesting to see if Houston uses this formation with Miller next year or if last year's version was the result of quarterback sewage. He can catch screen passes and do despicable things to defenders in space. And he's also a great catcher of the football. Unlike Fuller, Miller catches the ball with two extended hands and snags the ball from the sky.
Braxton is raw, though. You'll see him fall on routes because he's out of control. He saw limited targets at Ohio State his first year at wide receiver. He will need time to learn how to play the position, but the foundation is there. Of all the picks Houston made in 2016, this was my favorite because of the slot and upside. Life should be even more of a joy with Braxton Miller in it.
Tyler Ervin (RB--San Jose State)
Miller was my favorite pick. Ervin was my second favorite pick. The idea is for Ervin to be a change of pace back, kick returner and occasional slot receiver to throw screen passes for. This possibility sells him short. Ervin could be a starting back in a zone scheme offense.
Ervin is a great running back. In his lackluster conference, he was the fastest player on the field. Against power conference schools like Oregon State and Auburn, he carried the offense and moved the ball against some of the better players in the country. What stands out with Ervin is his vision. He can make one cut and go. When he cuts, he usually makes the correct choice, and that leads to extra yards. When he goes, does he go. He outruns defenders to the edge and turns up field. He makes players miss in the hole and accelerates past slower box players into the open field.
Although he's less than 200 lbs., Ervin can break arm tackles and he always fell forward. Like Fuller, he rarely takes a horrible hit despite his lack of size. The one thing, size, that could hold him back isn't really an issue.
Tyler Ervin is more than a scat back or comma that changes the flow of the game. He's a possible future starting running back in a zone offense. If Lamar Miller ever goes down or plays just two years of his deal, Ervin could be a possible starting running back for the Texans as long as they keep running the outside and inside zone.
K.J. Dillon (S--West Virginia)
The safety from West Virgina was the worst player the Texans took. His best skill is playing man coverage, which he did against opponent's fourth and fifth receivers. Other than that, the only nice things that can be said about his play are that his ball skills are okay and he sits in zone coverage alright.
I don't see him every playing as a legitimate NFL safety. Dillon doesn't have the athletic ability to come across the field to make plays on the ball. You can see this when he blitzes free with the opportunity for him to blindside the quarterback, only to never get there. Additionally, Dillon looks stiff when he backpedals or changes direction. This was never really an issue in college because he was covering the bottom of the depth chart. His man coverage ability won't translate to the pros.
So, what is he good for if not to play safety? Well, Houston resigned nickel linebacker Eddie Pleasant, who was devoured on the ground over and over again last year; Dillon has the size and enough speed to play here. Also, the sky is still blue and Houston again had terrible special teams last year. Both of these are chances where Dillon could play.
Except the guy can't tackle. Slants are run past him. Tackles for a loss are turned into flails. He doesn't have technique when tackling and he looks scared when it is just him and a ball carrier. He would be worse than Pleasant is at the one spot where he could make an impact on defense. On special teams, you can't play a guy who can't tackle in the open field. I don't see a role for Dillon on the Texans.
D.J. Reader (DT--Clemson)
This is a case of a player being drafted to play in the wrong scheme. Reader was taken to be a backup nose tackle to Vince Wilfork's carcass. At 327 pounds, this makes sense. It seems like he would be best at sitting in the center of a defense, tying up two offensive linemen and constipating the run game. But when I watched him, he looked like a better fit as a 4-3 defensive tackle.
I liked Reader a lot when he got to attack a gap and take on a center or guard one-on-one. There, he was impossible to move back. He's big, strong and plays low; pad level is his best attribute. He punches the chest, reads, and sits well. Reader consistently controlled blocks. His hands were good, too; he could shed blocks and find the ball carrier. It was surprising to see him get to the backfield as often as he did with his size. In double teams, it was much of the same, except instead of shedding and making a play on the ball, he would eat the double and keep his ground while someone else in orange and purple would come trouncing in.
This last sentence, a lack of nose tackle depth, and Wilfork's age is why they took him. This makes me sad. I wish he went to a team like Minnesota where he would be a perfect fit to stop the run on first and second down, only to be pulled out on passing downs when he's unable to make an impact. Instead, Reader will toil in Houston for a bit and hopefully down the road he will get the chance to play in a 4-3 and cultivate an NFL career.
What about you? Have your thoughts changed on the Texans' 2016 draft class these last three weeks?