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The Eyeball Test: Scouting The Texans’ 2017 Draft Class (Part II)

Matt Weston does this thing that he does every year, review the Texans’ latest draft class.

NFL: Combine
Not the project you think he is.
Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

You can find Part I of this year’s edition of “The Eyeball Test” right here. Now let’s get started with the second half of the Texans’ 2017 draft class.

Julie’n Davenport

Some of us have the brain and body meant to do certain things. Davenport was put on this planet not to live a meaningful or enriching life, or to write poetry about the waxy corsage that’s the exterior of the cacti’s yellow flower, or to work in customer service for AT&T and never do what I need him to do. No, Davenport’s clay was given breath so he could pass block and grab things off the top shelf at the grocery store for the tiny and wrinkled.

The easy thing to say and and write about Davenport is to say and write that he’s a project. He went to Bucknell, a onetime #14 seed beating #3 seed Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament, that few even know has a football program. He played against teams like Georgetown and VMI. He’s really tall. Because of these things, he’s rough and ragged. He needs time to nurture and grow.

This is an easy cliche. A bland thing no one can argue against. You know, Davenport probably will need time to get acclimated to play against J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney instead of 5’10” defensive ends whose fathers owned a car dealership. I am here to say that I think Davenport is much closer to being a starting quality offensive tackle than what the usual suspects are telling you.

Here Davenport is in a two-point stance at left tackle. He snaps out of it like a cobra. He’s back on his heels, and his head is back. He’s anchored well. Kick-sliding is a strange movement. Nobody ever moves like that for practical purposes. It serves no use for anything other than football. Yet Davenport is a natural kick-slider. He has good lateral quickness and keeps a wide base. Most importantly, he’s quick. The defensive end is beaten to the contact point. Instead of sticking into Davenport, he delays the inevitable and tries to get farther outside. This forces the tackle to turn his shoulders. Despite that, Davenport is able to stay strong. He punches the chest and holds on.

Davenport shows excellent quickness and movement out of a three-point stance, too. He can pass protect either way, unlike most millennial offensive linemen who have been ruined by coddled schemes. He’s up and out of there. He strikes the chest and runs the end past the quarterback.

Additionally, Davenport has a good understanding of blitz pickup. Stunts don’t confuse him, leaving him lost and aimless. He blocks the correct man on almost every play, and he knows how to provide help before his man comes into contact with him. Before the play, he flashes to signal to the running back there’s outside pressure. The line is sliding one gap over to the left. Davenport has the edge. As he kick-slides wide, he uses his right arm to help the guard. By staying close to the guard, it limits the amount of space between the two, which closes off a path for the blitzer. The inside rusher is blocked with his body indirectly while he keeps his eyes on his assignment. When contact is made, he’s in good position, low and strong, and he walls off the edge rusher.

As good as Davenport’s feet are, his hands are the best part of his game. He uses his long arms to extend defenders off his body. He always punches and grabs the chest, turning the defender into a steering wheel and manipulating him however he wants to. In the run game, his hands and punch keep him stuck to blocks, and they prevent the defender from running off and away.

On this play, he takes three perfect short staccato steps. He’s directly in front of the end. When he punches, he uses his right arm to try and turn the end away from the play. It doesn’t work. But when he goes to escape, Davenport brings his hands back inside and places them back on the chest. The end is stuck and can’t make an impact at all.

This is another example of the same thing. Great steps, great punch, and great hands. Olive Garden.

Davenport’s feet are also just as good in the run game as they are in the pass game. Here Bucknell is running a play-action pass they are blocking like the outside zone. Davenport takes a perfect read step, gaining ground and depth at the same time. He gets his head on the outside shoulder of a smaller, quicker player, which is so hard to do. From there, he puts his hands on the numbers and sits.

His feet allow him to hit his landmarks and put him where he needs to be. They also make him a good second level blocker. The key to the second level isn’t driving blocks and hotcake flipping. It’s about making contact and sticking to the block. Davenport does exactly that. On this beautiful play, Davenport goes directly to the second level while the fullback pulls against the grain to cover the edge defender. At the second level, Davenport hits the confused linebacker head on and stays on the block.

We all have problems, things we can get better at and improve upon. Davenport isn’t mean enough in the run game. He doesn’t consistently drive the first level and beat up on defenders. His blocks are technical and nice, but football is a violent sport based on collisions, and Davenport doesn’t create enough of them. On this deuce block, he creates movement when he hits the defensive end. Afterwards, he drives to the next level. When he gets there, he catches the defender, holds him, and gets in the way. He’s not out to ruin days or disintegrate bones like flood water. He just moves well and stands in the way.

The other problem is that Davenport plays high. How much of this is an optical illusion—like that beautiful young woman who is also a witch—because of the difference in size between him and his competition, I don’t know. But I do know he can be better at bending his hips and playing low.

Here, his feet are great. His hands are great. He’s in a perfect position. After he makes contact he explodes up. He doesn’t drop back down. He’s standing straight up and gets driven back. He’s able to recover and move the defender because his hands and feet are so good.

Because of what I read after the draft, I am shocked by how good of a player Davenport already is. I expected a big, tall oaf who doesn’t know how to play the game. Davenport is already technically sound. His hands, feet, movement, and size are all NFL-ready. The only question I have is how difficult it’s going to be to go from blocking small, limited athletes to some of the biggest, strongest creatures on this marble. If Davenport can handle the speed of the pro game, and I think he can, Davenport could compete for the starting right tackle spot on the Texans’ line this season, and he could one day be Duane Brown’s replacement on the left side. Davenport is a legitimate player.

Carlos Watkins

Watching Watkins was a chore. He’s a bore. The majority of my wasted life was spent watching him get blocked over and over again without showing any consistency of strength, effort, burst, or anything really. He was consistently moved backwards. He rarely held the point of attack and helped his linebackers out. It was five games of me waiting for him to do something, ending with my hand cradling my head and staring out the window.

Here Watkins is playing the left defensive tackle spot and is lined up over the right guard. He’s blocked one-on-one. He doesn’t bring anything when he comes off the ball. He takes the guard on head on. When he tries to sit, the guard overpowers him and moves him backwards. While he drives, Watkins just holds on, looking for nothing to do. He ends up getting driven back seven yards and watches while the back easily picks up the first.

The problem is Watkins isn’t a great athlete. He isn’t very strong. On the field, he’s slow, aside from the times he shows some sort of sudden burst out of nowhere. But after the Orca leaps to drink from the stars, the water soon becomes placid. Watkins goes back to his old ways of nothing happening. Nothing happening. Nothing happening. Then something happens. Then nothing happens again. Watkins just doesn’t do anything well enough to point to him being a viable NFL player. He doesn’t have the athleticism to expect for him to grow and mold into something nice, let alone bright and beautiful.

On this outside zone run, Watkins beats the guard off the snap. He gets to the outside shoulder. He makes contact first. From there, he doesn’t have the strength to get in the backfield, despite playing against a guard catching up and blocking him from an unfortunate 45 degree angle. Watkins just gets worked here. The guard overtakes him and gets to the outside shoulder, dipping his hands under Watkins’s arms and into his chest. This is a play where most defensive linemen drive the outside shoulder into the backfield and either make a tackle for a loss, or force the back to cut inside to the center of the defense. Instead, Watson turns a favorable situation into a waste.

This is what the majority of Watkins’ snaps look like. They’re boring and uninspired. The occasional bright spots are the creation of jumps off the ball and lateral quickness. Like this play, where Watkins actually leaps off the snap, attacks the outside shoulder, stops when he gets too far, and turns back to find the ball. This is defensive line play. This is actual football.

Enough of these bursts led to some ticks in the box score. He had 20 tackles for a loss the last two seasons and 84 total tackles. Additionally, he picked up 14 sacks the last two seasons from the defensive tackle position. This is a perfect example of why numbers don’t matter much when watching college football players. Scheme, snaps, situation, and opponent play an integral part in the numbers players produce in the college game. Rarely do great college accumulators become great NFL players.

Most of Watkins’ sacks weren’t the result of him doing much at all. They occurred after exterior pressure forced the quarterback up into the pocket and crossed close enough to Watkins for him to reach out and make the tackle. His sacks also occurred on stunts when he looped around unblocked or through a chasm between two offensive linemen to make a play. Watkins’ box score production is quickly soured by the context and his actual play.

When he did pick up sacks without stealing valor, it was the result of leaps of lateral quickness. Here he’s running a stunt where he shoots the interior gap. He beats the guard off the snap and surprises him when he runs inside. The guard is stuck. His feet are encased in slop. Watkins shields him off with his right arm to prevent the guard from recovering. Finally, he wraps up the quarterback before the other defensive tackle can.

It’s a fine play. It’s a nice play. But there isn’t any real skill here other than catching the offensive lineman off-guard and showing some quickness. If you want to talk yourself into Watkins being something, it’s going to be because you think the coaching staff can get the most out of him and trick him into bringing it every play. That’s it. Because there just isn’t enough skill or athleticism to expect anything at all no matter what the box score and the “C” on Watkins’ chest say.

Treston Decoud

It’s okay to not know anything. It’s okay to say you don’t know anything. We don’t have to have an opinion on everyone and everything.

There is one video I could find of Treston Decoud playing football. It’s a little more than three minutes long. He blitzes from the cornerback position a few times. He doesn’t press a receiver. He gets beat on a double move. He almost gives up a fade touchdown as a result. He’s really tall. That’s all I’ve got.

Kyle Fuller

The most boring position in sports has to be playing offensive line at Texas Tech. You never get to really run block. You are forced to take absurd splits so you never get to really pass block. You are just a tall human shield who doesn’t get to find joy in crushing other humans and playing violent isolation basketball defense.

The second most boring position in sports is playing center at Baylor.

So many of Fuller’s plays have zero NFL context to them. He snaps the ball, shifts one gap over, and helps with pass protection. He snaps the ball, and blocks the one technique in front of him while the quarterback throws a split second quick pass. And sometimes, if he’s lucky, Fuller gets in the way and makes a simple one-on-one block against the nose tackle. It took a long time and a lot of plays to find anything of substance. When I finally found the gold, it was pretty alright.

The reason why Fuller was drafted is his size. He’s a monster. He’s someone who I’d see at the grocery store and think to myself, “Look at that freak!” until I realize that I’m a bit taller and I stick out just the same. At 6’5” and 307 pounds, Fuller is one of the biggest centers I’ve seen. He has the size to play center, guard, and tackle.

Although he looks strong, Fuller doesn’t play very strong. The fundamentals of the position are holding him back. He shoves rather than punch, grab, and control. His feet are either slow, or he takes the wrong steps and misses his landmark and the block. Instead of striking defenders, he leans into them and neuters his own strength.

This is a real block. Fuller has an ace with the left guard. He makes contact too far to the right and ends up getting turned around at the first level. He slips off once he knows the guard has it under control, just as he should. When he gets to the next level, he shoves and pushes the linebacker rather than get into his body, grab, and actually make a block.

Here Baylor is running dart to the right, pulling the backside tackle to the play-side linebacker. Fuller is blocking the left defensive tackle by himself. Out of his stance, he takes a slide step left. He’s leaning, though. When the tackle stunts into the inside gap, Fuller is off-balance. He can’t correct his feet to cover the tackle. All he can do is leap and fall forward, touching no one. This forces the tackle to block his man, which allows the linebacker unblocked to stop the run.

This last play was the result of leaning and bad feet. This same lean can be seen again on this spat of pass protection. Fuller never gets a punch off when the defender runs inside. He just falls over his toes and puts his weight against the defender. The rusher spins back around and has a free path while Fuller doesn’t know where he’s at.

When everything falls in place—the feet, punch, pad level, hand placement, and drive—Fuller can make some strong blocks. This ace leads the way for a touchdown dive. Fuller swallows up the tackle, drives the defender when the guard makes contact, stays low, keeps his hands inside, and finishes the block. It’s the type of mauling that Fuller should consistently deliver if he was a consistent and more technically sound blocker.

Unlike Davenport, Fuller is a project. He’s a body that needs to learn how to play the game. Maybe with enough time, this could happen. But he’s a seventh round pick. A redshirt senior who probably won’t get the chance to get that time to develop unless he quickly makes leaps.