Now that we've had a chance to let the 2016 NFL Draft sink in a bit, the Battle Red Blog staff is ready to weigh in with it's way too early thoughts on the best/worst picks of the Texans' latest draft class.
Best: I'm generally pretty skeptical post-draft, but I actually liked a lot of picks this season. My "favorite" was Braxton Miller, but I'll go ahead and say the best pick was Nick Martin. There may have been better centers in the draft, but I love that he's versatile and by all accounts is a tough, smart, hard-working guy who I'm hoping/thinking won't have the "ramp-up" issues that one XSF had for Houston. I didn't watch a lot of college ball this year, but I went and looked at some online tape of the Irish (not just Martin's highlight reels) and I liked Martin's hand usage quite a bit. Bit of a mean streak, too. I can get behind this pick for sure, even if there's not much less-sexy than a 2nd-round offensive lineman selection.
Worst: I hesitate to say Will Fuller, but Will Fuller. I don't hate the pick at all; I just don't buy that he was better than the other two WRs who went right after him (especially Josh Doctson). I understand that there's a specific need for a WR with deep speed on this team, but when you pick a skill position in the FIRST ROUND, I think it should be flat-out the best one. Pretty luxurious pick for a team with back-to-back 9-7 seasons. If it was, say, a third or fourth rounder, sure - go for the guy with tremendous speed upside. I hope I'm wrong but I very, very much cringe at the considerable amount of tape that shows Fuller letting the ball come to his body *COUGH --Nate Washington--- COUGH HACK COUGH BLEED BLEED COUGH BLEED DIE*
Best: Nick Martin. Braxton Miller is the most exciting player the Texans picked, but at this moment, he appears unlikely to be a guy who anchors his position group for the next eight to ten years. Of all the draftees in this Texans' class, I think Martin's the only one who can win a starting job immediately and not relinquish it for a decade. While I understand the distaste for taking a center in the second round, I can get behind it.
Worst: Tyler Ervin. I would have preferred Kenneth Dixon or Devontae Booker. That said, I understand Ervin's appeal as a running back in O'Brien's offense, and I'm intrigued by the possibility he could make an impact in the return game. If the comparisons to Darren Sproles are even somewhat accurate, I'll love this selection in no time.
Best: Nick Martin - Not at all a sexy pick, but you must do two things in football: get to the other QB and keep yours clean. Martin does the latter.
Worst: Will Fuller - A luxury pick with a tremendously high opportunity cost.
Best: Braxton Miller - I came around to the Will Fuller selection eventually after thinking it over, but Braxton Miller was a pick I was on board with from the very first minute. There is nothing this kid can't do. He projects to be our hyper-athletic slot receiver right out of the gate, but he also can be a running back, return man, wildcat quarterback, and everything in between. Bill O'Brien is a creative offensive coordinator, so I really cannot wait to see all the ways that Miller is used next season. Believe it or not, he is legitimately an offensive rookie of the year candidate with O'Brien calling plays for him.
Worst: K.J. Dillon/D.J. Reader - I don't actually hate the Dillon or Reader picks to be honest. In fact I think they were good moves to get some safety and defensive tackle depth with upside. If I absolutely have to have a worst pick, I guess it would be them simply because I would have preferred to draft Derek Watt at this spot instead.
Best: Braxton Miller. Look, I hate him. I will always hate him. That's just how things go. At the same time, I respect him, because in thirty years of watching Michigan football, I've never been more afraid of any player than I was of Miller. There are faster players. There are stronger players. But I've never seen another player versus Michigan who was so consistently able to turn what should have been a small gain (or even a loss) into a massive play. In fact, if you watch this video you'll quickly notice that his success as a passer was due almost entirely to the fact that everyone was deathly afraid that he was going to keep the ball. He wasn't using pump fakes and tons of play action to freeze linebackers; he just rolled out and, inevitably, someone would fall down, blow coverage, or otherwise overreact to the mere thought of Miller in the open field.
Now? Now he gets to operate in a scheme where (in theory) Will Fuller is forcing safeties to stay back and DeAndre Hopkins is doing those ridiculous things that he always does. Miller will consistently find himself defended by nickel corners at worst, and he'll have a lot of space in which to operate when the ball is in his hands.
I can never like him, but at least now I can enjoy the fear he'll bring to other teams, rather than worrying yet again about him ruining my day.
Worst: Nick Martin. It's not that I think Martin will be bad, per se. It's that Houston traded up to get Martin when they could have stayed put and taken Max Tuerk or even taken Graham Glasgow later after nabbing someone like Vonn Bell in the second. Martin has never seemed markedly better than other interior linemen/centers to me, so I certainly don't get the trade up at all. But I also think that taking him in the second round--with or without the trade up--makes little sense in context.
Best: Braxton Miller will add another dimension to this offense. I personally thought he was underutilized at Ohio State; 43 rushing attempts for 261 yards and 25 catches for 340 yards. He should be great at jet sweeps as well.
Reader: Big nose tackle that will eat up space. Desperately needed one and he gets to learn from Vince Wilfork, who was great himself.
Worst: Will Fuller. Just worried if he can be physical enough with corners. His drops are concerning but hopefully they can be improved. I hope he's better than just a guy that is fast. He will always be compared to Doctson and Laquon readwell just like DeAndre Hopkins was with Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Tyler Ervin: Better talent on the board with Booker and Dixon still there when we picked Ervin. If Lamar Miller goes down, I don't have any faith in Alfred Blue or Ervin carrying the load. However, many smaller backs are being used all over NFL back fields like in New England and the Detroit. Ervin compared really favorably to Akeem Hunt, Sproles, and Dexter McCluster. I hope he can become our Dion Lewis.
Best: I'm torn between Braxton Miller and Nick Martin. Miller is a wildcard gamble that brings quite a bag of creative game-planning options for the Texans, while Martin could become the anchor of this offensive line for many years like Chris Myers did. The risk with Miller is that his dominance at the college level may not translate to the NFL while he completes his transition from QB to WR. The risk with Martin is being selected high in the draft for pedigree, but never matching his brother's ability.
Worst: I didn't understand the Tyler Ervin pick at first, when you consider that Dixon and Booker were available. However, after some consideration, I can see Ervin potentially being the speedy return specialist that Houston has been searching for the last couple of years, and he can rotate in for third-down duty as needed or run a new hybrid "edge" role near the slot. I'm not at all cool with them giving him Arian Foster's #23 jersey so soon, but then again, I think it is dumb to retire football numbers when there are only double digits to work with for each team.
Best: In 2013, I hated the Xavier Su'a-Filo pick because of, you know, Teddy Bridgewater. But not because of the player or the position. One of the benefits of taking interior blockers early in the draft is you get to pick the best of the bunch. Unlike cornerback, offensive tackle, or edge rusher, where you'll get the fifth player selected at that position in the second round, you get to make the first or second pick at this position. By doing this, a team gets top talent in a round where the #elite talent has already been scraped off the top.
With Nick Martin, the Texans got the second center taken in the draft and a top talent at this position. Martin is also someone who should start right away, fills an immediate need, and removes Tony Bergstrom from a starting spot he should never have. Martin allowed zero sacks last season, can reach the nose tackle, moves fluidly to the second level and can actually block and stay on linebackers (something no one on Houston's OL could consistently do last season). He should be better than Ben Jones right away. His issue is that he needs to get stronger so he can move rather than cover up the line of scrimmage. If he starts plowing, he should become one of the better centers in the league and hopefully anchor this offensive line for all these ensuing days to come. If he doesn't, he'll at least be solid. He's a safe, capable player, and is unlike the lottery balls shooting through the tube that makes up the rest of this class.
This draft reminds me of the 2014 draft when pundits, fans and the general consensus loved the draft because the Texans went all in on the line of scrimmage and would win with some good ol' fashioned power FOOTBAW, crushing their opponents' bones into fine powder. That never came to fruition. Instead, they left with an injury-prone freak who may never fully put it together, an inconsistent guard, a tight end who can't block, a barely employed nose tackle, a warm body defensive end and the worst fullback I've ever seen to play around the line of scrimmage. Like 2014, everyone loves this draft already because of speed. Houston is now going to torch the field. It is going to be a party in the end zone. They are going to get the ball in space and run around teams.
I'm dubious, and it starts with Will Fuller.
I start to watch rookies once they're drafted. This way I can picture how they will fit in a scheme and a unit and adding a layer of known to such an unknown process. So when everyone's opinion on the Texans' first round was "Anyone but Will Fuller," I didn't know what it meant. Now that he's a Houston Texan, I understand what that meant. Now that he's a Houston Texan, I'm all alone, while everyone has quickly flipped to "He's one of ours now" and has accepted the pick.
Fuller is really fast and offers a different set of skills to the offense than Jaelen Strong (size), DeAndre Hopkins (being really good at everything except running really fast), Cecil Shorts III (heart) and Braxton Miller (elusiveness) don't have. That being said, he can't do the staple of the position--catch the football. This isn't just a statement based on Pro Football Focus' drop rates. This is a statement based on how he catches the ball. He doesn't catch the ball with his hands. Instead he claps it, brings it into his chest, sits passively and waits for the ball to drop into his lap. He catches like someone learning how to catch a football instead of someone who went to school to catch a football. There's no high pointing, extending the arms to catch the ball, or an active use of hands. This worked in college. But when evaluating college players against college competition, you have to extend a level of perception of how these plays would look in a NFL environment. In this new environment, the corners are going to hit him sooner and these "catches" are going to be incompletions and passes popped into the air that lead to interceptions.
There were better receivers on the board available at the time. Houston went with the potential and the really fast guy instead. If Fuller learns how to catch a football, which is on par on a college quarterback learning how to accurately throw a football, this pick will work out when the middle of the field opens up because of DeAndre Hopkins. If he doesn't, he's going to be a garage kept sports car. My guess is the latter.