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Red Zone Play: Texans Rookie Roundup

Who’s a boom? Who’s a bust?

Central Florida v South Florida Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images

While we don’t have access to actual game film or have a low level assistant coach to sit around to splice together footage for us to watch and learn from, we do have the joy of YouTube when it comes to seeking out video to learn about players, teams, and schemes.

This week, let’s take a look at the OB Highlights - Texans Highlights! YouTube channel – more specifically, the video “Houston Texans 2018 NFL Draft Class Player Highlights”. The video is a great snapshot of game highlights for all the newest Houston Texans’ draft picks.

Round Three, Pick #68: Safety Justin Reid – Stanford

While it’s easy to strap together a handful of plays and make it look like an entire NCAA career was nothing but highlight reel playmaking, watching Reid on this (and other) videos shows a lot more than what we see initially. The casual fan sees a guy making interceptions and tackles; that’s what he’s supposed to do. But what many may not realize is how Reid is A) continually putting himself in position to make those picks and hits and B) prepared to take advantage of his opponent’s mistakes.

Notice on most of the interceptions the ball and receiver do not converge in the same place. Without the rest of the footage, it’s hard to know if this is due to poorly thrown passes, bad route running, a receiver knocked off his tree, or a combination thereof. In one shot you can clearly see the QB utilizes poor mechanics when releasing the ball. In another, a different signal caller is properly planted and employs his training to release the ball properly. Either way, Reid is there to grab the brass ring when the opportunity presents itself.

Smart plays by a smart, athletically gifted player. How Reid fell all the way to the third round is a question for the ages. Now, these sorts of opportunities aren’t as readily available in the NFL as they are in college, but Reid is the kind of player who will capitalize when J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney or Whitney Mercilus forces the quarterback to make a mistake.

Round Three, Pick #80 – Tackle Martinas Rankin – Mississippi State

Listening to the narration might seem like someone bragging on Rankin at the surface level. Going deeper into what is said, let’s pick out “one of the top offensive lineman in the SEC” and “two-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll”. Right there we can assume this kid is not only a great athlete, but he’s smart, disciplined, and knows how to focus on improving his craft.

Another thing in here that gets the fan adrenalin pumping is the statement about him paving the way for 286 rushing yards in one game. We all know Houston is, shall we say, deficient in proper run blocking these days. Having a smart, driven, talented lineman who knows how to pull the steam whistle and plow the tracks for Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman to blaze through is a major win.

Round Three, Pick #98 – Tight End Jordan Akins – Central Florida

It wasn’t that long ago that knowing someone came from UCF meant they had a very slim chances of cutting it in the NFL. Once former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper came along and put the school on the map, however, things changed.

Akins doesn’t appear to be the sort of tight end you feature on running plays in complex blocking schemes or jumbo sets where you need to grind out a few yards in the red zone. What he does show is an ability to separate as a receiver, attack the ball at its highest point and come down with the win when battling opposing defenders for a pigskin in flight. With the state of Houston’s tight end room in recent years, having a great pass catching tight end certainly can’t hurt.

Round Four, Pick #103 – Wide Receiver Keke Coutee – Texas Tech

Another smaller school addition to the roster, Coutee didn’t overly impress me when he first hit the radar. Digging deeper into his highlights, beyond just what’s in this video, a few things stand out. First, he has potential to be a major threat in the return game – if Houston can ever manage to figure out how Special Teams work. Second, most of his highlight catches come from getting behind opposing defenders. While that may happen regularly in the NCAA ranks, don’t expect too much of that in the NFL. If it was that easy, Will Fuller would look like Randy Moss. Third, while he’s not a top speed guy, he has a quickness and elusiveness that should serve him well against bigger defenders. Teaming him with Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins should create some matchup nightmares for opposing defenses – especially if Jordan Akins can live up to his potential.

The hesitancy comes from the “been there, seen that” experience of watching Houston struggle to find quality wide receiver talent outside the first round. Names like Keshawn Martin, DeVier Posey, Lestar Jean and Braxton Miller all cast a shadow Coutee will have to run out from under to change that perception.

Round Six, Pick #177 – Linebacker Duke Ejiofor – Wake Forest

It’s hard to get excited about a guy picked in the sixth round, even though some great talent has turned up there in the past. Yet watching Ejiofor play – particularly how slippery he seems to be when moving through the opposing line – gets the old defensive coordinator in me excited. Then hearing the talking head say Ejiofor could be one of the steals of the draft ratchets that excitement factor up even more.

Playing devil’s advocate brings the thoughts of what’s missing from the tape – clearly, he’s a bit raw, but so was Jadeveon Clowney. The real hitch is that knowing in a league that puts tremendous value on high quality pass rushers, Ejiofor fell all the way to Round Six.

Round Six, Pick #211 – Tight End Jordan Thomas – Mississippi State

Watching Thomas reminds me of a young Antonio Gates. He’s big, powerful, nimble, and wins the ball at the point of attack. Having him stand up on the line with fellow Mississippi State alum Martinas Rankin might aid in both players’ development as well. Like Akins, Thomas appears to be more of a receiving tight end than a bruising blocker, but with that physique, not many defensive backs are going to get around an edge he sets if his technique is strong.

Round Six, Pick #214 – Linebacker Peter Kalambayi – Stanford

Kalambayi’s best route to making the squad is most likely through the Special Teams door. His ability to navigate traffic and seek out the ball carrier should serve him well on kickoff and punt teams. But with names like Mercilus, Clowney, McKinney, Cole and so forth ahead of him on the depth chart, good luck seeing the defensive side of the field on game day anytime soon.

Round Seven, Pick #222 – Defensive Back Jermaine Kelly – San Jose State

Like Kalambayi, Kelly will have to spend his fair share of time sitting in Special Teams meetings and blowing up opposing return schemes before he lands on the field defending opposing offenses. But with the see-through depth in the defensive backs room, Kelly might have a shorter distance to the starting line-up, or at least to the situational roster, in Romeo Crennel’s ever evolving defensive.

So, aside from the obvious answer of Justin Reid, which one of these rookies excites you the most? Give us your boom or bust predictions on these eight men below.