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Scouting The Texans’ 2018 NFL Draft Class

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These guys are good.

Texas Tech v Houston Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

I missed the 2018 NFL Draft. I was driving out West to go climb back into that Grand Canyon. I listened on the AM radio long as I could until Kool-Aid powder colored coronations protecting the graves of ghosts popped up and waves could no longer reach me. My crystals were rearranged, thanks to a Sedona omelet, by the time the Texans finally made their picks. I laughed at the surreal absurdity the Sonoran Desert has to offer and climbed onto the plateau when it came to a conclusion.

But now, I’m caught up, and I have come to the conclusion that yes, the Texans had a great draft. They stayed still and didn’t give into the temptation of trading up. They filled needs. They added speed to a roster previously filled by solid, unassuming athletes provided by a bygone era.

Specifically, player by player, this is what I was able to gather.

Justin Reid

Seven years ago, I scrapped around other people’s garbage at the local flea market. I had $20 melting the skin off my hands. I could either get a battle red Jamie Sharper jersey or a backpacking backpack from a Vietnam veteran. I turned twenty into a purple and teal early 2000s Arizona Diamonbacks colored Kelty external frame backpack. Since then I’ve taken it all over this country of ours and crawled around through dozens of wilderness spectacles with it.

The Texans did the football equivalent this offseason. But instead of a backpack, they picked up an entire secondary. They signed Tyrann Mathieu to a one-year, risk free deal, added Johnson Bademosi to improve the special teams and work in a depleted secondary, scooped up Aaron Colvin from the Jaguars on a much better deal than what the Titans gave Malcolm Butler or the Jets gave Trumaine Johnson, and they added a very good, free-falling Justin Reid to this roster.

From now until the season begins, so much will be made about the Texans’ secondary and who will play where or who will play. I don’t think these conversations matter much. This secondary will be fluid, playing a variety of coverages and players, and blitzing from every orifice to get after the quarterback. Conventionality should be ignored. Romeo Crennel is a free thinker.

Reid fits in perfectly to this defense right away. He can do so, so many things. Even with Andre Hal, Mathieu, and everyone else around, Reid is going to see the field plenty.

One of the things Reid’s best at is playing shorter hook zones. He’s closer to the line of scrimmage, can demolish the quick passing game, play the run, and use his strength to cover up missed tackles. Here he reads an immediate smoke play. He runs past the first invisible blocker and yanks the receiver out from the sky.

This is a jailbreak screen. The wide receiver comes back for the ball. Reid punches, extends, and abuses the wide receiver blocking. From there he takes a correct angle to tackle the ball carrier, refusing to allow him to gain any additional yards in the process. For too long Houston has been devoured by screens (see Kansas City), and it looks like the Texans finally have a player that can swat mosquitoes.

Overall Reid recognizes plays well in zone coverage. On this red zone toss, he quickly sees the slant. Reid plants himself between the quarterback and the ball, taking away the quarterback’s immediate read. This leaves the quarterback cramping and the rush arriving.

This recognition is one of the contributing factors to his playmaking ability. That, plus his ball skills, ability to tackle, and closing speed, leave him turning and spitting grass up all over the field. This play is fun. He’s scrapping along the sideline against a fade route. He has the slower receiver covered up. Rather than play him, Reid turns and reads the quarterback. Easily, he stops, plants, and goes up to get the ball. It’s easy to see why he had five interceptions last year.

Reid’s tackling is done in a menagerie of ways. There’s hit stick flicks into spread arm receivers, spears into running backs bouncing out of the pile, and stiff arm scoffing. Sit back and take a look.

At the NFL Combine, Reid ran a 4.4 40 yard dash. The green between him and offensive players disappears immediately. He teleports around the field. This allows him to play the sideline as a deep safety, and it also allows him to blitz the quarterback. Throwers of the football don’t get extra seconds to make decisions when Reid is coming. Impact is instant.

It’s impossible not to love the Reid pick unless your heart is the shade of a pack a day for twenty years. He’s a versatile player who can play and zoom all over the player. He should help Houston’s struggles against quick passes and screens, and he’s the blitzer at safety Houston has been dying for. No longer will Andre Hal have to try and get to the quarterback from the safety position. Additionally, Reid is a safety net in case Matthieu is either horrendous or is spectacular and cashes in on a big 2019 commitment elsewhere. The Texans took the best player available when they first went on the clock, and they got a good one.

Martinas Rankin

Not today. Rankin is getting his own party.

Jordan Akins

Akins is a seam route runner. He can outrun defensive backs all while being too big for them. At times he leaves defensive backs falling over; others, he’s leaping up and over them. He also can make catches in traffic. At the college level, Akins was a slot running matchup maker.

My biggest concern is his age, but that concern is also why the Texans drafted him. Akins tried to be a Texas Ranger. It didn’t work out. He’s 26 years old. Despite this, he didn’t dominate in college. Even blocking against defensive ends six years younger than him, or alley way defenders he outranks in seniority and size, Akins’ blocking didn’t stick. Akins should have dominated these blocks, but never was able to. He should have. Too often he did just enough to get by. I’m sure his former Crawdad teammate Joey Gallo can mash more than he did on a college football field.

At 26, there isn’t a ceiling for growth like there is for younger players. Akins’ film and numbers came against competition he’s an entire grade school older than. Houston needs tight ends, though. Stephen Anderson, someone else who can’t block, is the best one on the current roster. Aside from him, there isn’t much here. The Texans are betting on Akins, because of his age, making a smoother adjustment to the pros than most tight ends make since they have to learn blocking schemes and the passing playbook. Houston needs him to play right away, and of everyone else left on their board, the Texans felt he was the one who could contribute quickest. I would have gone in a different direction, but if Akins can offer anything in the seam or as a red zone threat, this pick will be a success.

Keke Coutee

It’s looking like the Braxton Miller experiment is over. Miller can make plays when the ball is in his hands; the trouble is getting the ball in his hands. He struggles at running routes and creating separation, and he isn’t effective enough to warrant force-feeding him like the Rams used to with Tavon Austin. As a slot receiver, you have to be able to do one of two things—split the safeties in the center of the field to allow outside receivers to play against single coverage, or get open quickly on slants, digs, and outs to add efficiency to the passing game.

Coutee can do the first thing. He bursts past defensive backs vertically. As a slow man, I felt something watching defensive backs chase after this insanity mode sprinting hellion. Coutee outruns guys. He’s VERTICAL.

The distances will be smaller in the pros, though. Coutee may have run a 4.43, but he’s still 5’10” and 181 pounds. He tracks the ball well through the air, but the catches he made in traffic were rare. I don’t know if he can leap and win a game of jackpot in the NFL; I just know he hasn’t shown it. Still, Coutee has speed that will translate to the professional game. Things just won’t be as easy as they were at Texas Tech. Subtlety will need to be added and the catches will be more complicated.

Despite being 5’10” and not showing high point ability, Coutee plays bigger than his size indicates. He’s outside his skeleton. The guy ducks, goes around, and through tackles. He has the same elusiveness Miller showed when he was drafted. The difference is Coutee can do other things than make defenders miss. He has an extra layer to something that’s already here. These are some diabolical moves.

The bigger question is his ability to get open quickly against press coverage. If he can do this, he can be more than a kick/punt returner and PLAY-ACTION BOMB receiver. At Texas Tech, they did some cute little things to get him the ball quickly, but that doesn’t mean he actually got open quickly. This jog, pause, and Doug Baldwin cut to the out is the only time I saw Coutee create separation in the way he’ll need to. This needs to be expanded upon for him to be a legitimate No. 3 wide receiver in the NFL.

Duke Ejiofor

Ejiofor is one of the most interesting edge defenders I’ve seen. He has an inside-out game, not an outside-in game. Nearly all edge rushers set up inside moves and bullrushes with quick jolts off the line of scrimmage and water slide bends around the edge. In college, Ejiofor wasn’t that guy. He was an inside-out player. What made him great at Wake Forest was his hands, particularly an inside rip and swim that took him inside offensive tackles right away.

The tight end in pass protection here is overbalanced setting wide. Ejiofor takes a big paw and swipes him, knocking him wide and creating a rushing lane he isn’t able to fully capitalize on.

This is an inside swim that J.J. Watt would be impressed by. The Seminoles are running an outside zone play. Ejiofor splits the double, swims over the tackle, and embarrasses the offensive line. And like Watt in 2017, Ejiofor isn’t quite able to devour the ball carrier in the backfield.

Here’s the same thing, but it’s a rip inside. Thursday, Friday...they’re both days that come and pass by. This is a Whitney Mercilus-esque move.

His hands are big and strong and heavy. He has concrete blocks for fists that pop-pop-pop heads off like a M6D. Whether it’s the pass game or rush game, he can matador offensive linemen with them.

The problem for Ejiofor is that he’s an edge defender. These inside moves are more widely suited for ‘3’ and ‘5’ techniques. He struggles when offensive linemen get their hands on him and double teams crunch him up. To escape this, you want to keep him wide. He’ll either need to be solely a weakside end or make the move to outside linebacker. Such a move also has its own predicament. Ejiofor has a good burst off the line of scrimmage, but he doesn’t have a continuation in quickness or bend around the edge. His spin is his only real edge rush move, and it’s fed by all these quick inside twitches.

He’s different. This isn’t bad. It just will require some coaching to get him in the right spot to make plays. His hands are the things that defensive linemen train with knives to get. Because of this, he’s exciting. Ejiofor has a good motor and elite skill. He’ll play. It’s going to be on the coaching staff to maximize his strength and limit his liabilities. If they do this, he can occasionally disrupt NFL offenses right away.

Jordan Thomas

There’s no video available. What he is is very big and he runs in a straight line well. Houston needs tight ends. Thomas will be the biggest one they’ll have on the field. It would be FUN to see what he actually looked like.

Peter Kalambayi

Kalambayi plays like a Rick Smith player. He’s solid. He doesn’t get embarrassed. But he doesn’t make plays and he leaves opportunities out on the field. He’s an athlete who plays slow. There’s a contrast between what he did in at the Combine and how he actually looks on the field. These are my least favorite type of football players.

Jermaine Kelly

See Jordan Thomas, except in cornerback form. He’s tall. He runs fast in a straight line. He fills a need the Texans have. No video available.