The recompilation of the Houston Texans defense has already begun. Nick Caserio has courted two players from new head coach DeMeco Ryans’ former team the San Francisco 49ers that will immediately add to this defense.
While there’s still plenty of free agency left to accomplish, we can begin to turn our attention towards who fits the new coach’s scheme from the available draftees.
Overall, we are looking for a few things from our new defensive players. These will be traits physical, film-based, scheme-based, and developmental in nature. We are looking for players who are going to adapt quickly at the next level for some, but others have a many of the components necessary yet need Ryans’ tutelage to put it all together.
Brian Branch, Nickel/Safety - Alabama
- Expected round drafted: 1st
- Why he fits: Branch is a new-age secondary player. The nickel corner used to be for undersized players or your worst corner. Now, it’s possibly the most important position in modern defenses. They have to guard tight ends, support run defense, and stick with speedy receivers in the slot. Branch was far and away the lynchpin on Alabama’s secondary this past season. He will fit the new defense.
Now that the Texans signed Jimmy Ward, it actually helps keep Branch’s responsibilities in coverage to a more reasonable capacity. If the Texans can add Branch to a safety group with Ward and second-year Jalen Pitre, they’d have one of the best young secondary groups in the league.
Demarvion Overshown, LB - Texas
Expected round drafted: 3rd - 4th
Why he fits: Yes, this is technically a homer-pick, but weren’t almost all of the picks last year too? Overshown is an athletic specimen with the power to tackle at the NFL level and speed to support the secondary in these new defensive schemes. Overshown never truly put it together at Texas. Some games he would utterly shut down opponents, then he would get hurt for weeks.
There’s a balance to be had with a player such as Overshown. In an era where corners and defensive ends are prioritized over linebackers and safeties, it’s still the linebacker who makes or breaks a good defense. Overshown’s experience as a safety makes him a unicorn among interior linebacker prospects. He is one of those prospects who if well trained and tutored could redefine the position. Or, he could be out of the league in three seasons.
Adding a player such as Overshown who has all of the physical traits but lacks the consistency will be an excellent decision for Caserio and crew come draft time.
Keanu Benton, DL - Wisconsin
- Expected round drafted: Mid 3rd - early 4th
- Why he fits: Personally, this was becoming the ideal fourth round pick, until the Texans signed several defensive tackles in free agency. Benton is a former wrestler and his tape absolutely shows it. He is among the most handsy and active defensive lineman in this class. He is a supreme run stopper with quick agility in short distances. Benton doesn’t have fantastic horizontal agility and will never be a stat machine, but he reminds me dearly of former Texan Angelo Blackson. Both are 6’4, 315 pounds. Both are defensive run stoppers with a strong motor and knack for just frustrating the hell out of offensive lineman.
Benton fits with this team as the successor to many of the past iterations of defensive lineman. The group is fairly packed at the moment: Maliek Collins, Roy Lopez, Kurt Hinish, and now Hassan Ridgeway. Adding Benton would most likely kick Hinish out of the roster, but he’d be a high-upside addition in the middle of the draft.
Owen Pappoe, ILB - Auburn
Expected round drafted: late 3rd - early 4th
Why he fits: Ryans has made Dre Greenlaw into a bona-fide star next to Fred Werner. He was a fifth round pick who racked up 127 tackles this season. The coverage support Greenlaw provides allows the entire defense to play with a third linebacker and more fluidity.
Owen Pappoe the former 5-star draft prospect is the perfect partner for Christian Harris and will be available in between the third and fifth rounds. He’s a speed demon with pass defense capabilities. He’d honestly be a fantastic fit in the Tampa-Two defense donned by Lovie Smith, but he’s a high-upside OLB prospect who would be a fantastic add to the defense.
Oh, and he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine... and he had the fasted 10 yard split... and he had the fifth highest vertical... and he had the fourth longest broad jump...and he had the most bench press reps. Call me crazy but being the best at everything matters right? Or am I lucid dreaming over here? Pencil Pappoe in as the dream scenario in the fourth round or
Antonio Johnson, Safety - Texas A&M
- Expected round drafted: 2nd round
- Why he fits: He’s another player Houston met with at the NFL Combine. And for obvious reason. Johnson is a coach’s safety. He can play just about anywhere in the secondary and has that general grown man strength. Johnson has quality tackling ability and would be a stellar addition to a budding secondary. He would fit in well with his positional flexibility but also pairs well with Jalen Pitre. While they do have similar in the box playing mentality, Johnson would be a better player at the line of scrimmage while Pitre gets more in between the tackle box.
Johnson may not get the starting job right away with Jimmy Ward being signed, but he’d be a strong rotational piece with impact on special teams right away.
Keion White, DE - Georgia Tech
Expected round drafted: 2nd round
Why he fits: At 6’5, 285 pounds, White has no right being as athletic and low to the ground as he is.White is the type of player to be on an NFL roster for a decade. He is already 24 years old, making him a ready prospect who is not going to need much maturing or development in his football acumen. White only had two years of true productivity at Georgia Tech, but was highly productive during that time.
His frame and athleticism are well within a first round talent. However, the injury history, age, and
White may fit better in a three-down lineman system as a 4-techinque instead of head up over a center. If that’s the case, he wouldn't be as great of a fit. However defensive lines such as the Texans need a player who can jump in on first and second down and play across the majority of the defensive line.
Brenton Cox Jr., DE/OLB - Florida
Expected round drafted: 4th
Why he fits: Let’s step away from the defensive scheme and step into the reason why we’re here. The Houston Texans need to add pass rushers with exceptional skill while avoiding premium draft or free agent capital to do so. Cox Jr. can provide just that. His senior year was disappointing as he was dismissed from Florida mid-season. This will immediately take him off several draft boards.
The biggest issue with Cox Jr. is his off the field concerns. He was dismissed from the team for what appears to be a multitude of violations.
“We’ve kind of decided to move on here,” Napier said. “Being a football player at the University of Florida is a privilege, there’s certain expectations and standards that come with that.”
Getting kicked off the team is certainly outside of the Texans M.O. but a talent such as his under the tutelage of Ryans could make for a fantastic story and turnaround.
Mazi Smith, DT - Michigan.
Expected round: 2nd
Why he fits: There are some players you worry about their physical transition into the NFL. Mazi Smith is not one of them. At 6’3”, 337, he’s one of the most stout and aggressive interior defensive lineman this class has to offer. His athleticism is off the charts and makes for a fun Youtube black hole. He’d immediately disrupt the defensive end group and will be available in the day two. In Ryans’ defense, he will be able to play in the 4-3 over front as both the one technique over the center but also as the 3i or 3 head up because of his speed. At 6’3” and with some arm length issues, Smith will rely on his speed and strength to work around offensive lineman rather than Aaron Donald his way to the quarterback.