The Texans’ fanbase seems unified in what they think the team’s two biggest positional needs are: WR and NT. Last week, I explored the former with North Carolina WR Dwight Jones being selected in my first mock draft. Now, onto the nose tackles. Let’s look at Fletcher Cox from Mississippi State.
Cox is a highly agile interior lineman. A junior who played 12 games as a freshman (pretty impressive for an SEC defender), he has now started the past 2 years. Cox won 4 SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards this past season, and was named First-Team All-SEC by the Associated Press. He has a great deal of upper body strength, is a solid tackler, a player that doesn’t take plays off, and a contributor on special teams—which Gary Kubiak values—with 4 blocked kicks in his time at Mississippi State. He’s also extremely versatile, capable of playing all over the line in the 3-4 and at DT and strongside end in the 4-3, giving Wade Phillips options on how to use him. If he were unable to play nose tackle in the NFL, he’d have a chance to replace Antonio Smith down the line, who is on the wrong side of 30.
Cox weighs in at 295 lbs. While he definitely has room to add some pounds to his still-developing frame, he would be considered light for most nose tackles. Texans fans should be reminded of Wade Phillips and his scheme. Wade runs a unique 3-4, which is almost more akin to the 4-3 in its principles, especially at defensive tackle. A big part of the reason that I think the Texans will, in fact, go with a wide receiver in the first round is because Wade Phillips is very confident in his ability to find diamonds in the rough at nose tackle, much as he did with 285 lb. Jay Ratliff in Dallas, a seventh-rounder who was arguably the best nose tackle in the NFL soon after he was drafted.
Unlike Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, two good DT prospects, Cox should be available when Houston picks. He is lacking a bit in lower body strength, which is only compounded by the fact that he occasionally gets too high and cannot get leverage on blockers. He led Mississippi State with 5 sacks last season, but he still is very raw at pass rushing. That’s very fortunate for Houston, as it would afford them the opportunity to draft an athletic player who was productive in arguably the toughest conference in college football, and one who can improve greatly. If anyone can help Cox, a player with a few technical issues that can easily be fixed by the right coach, to reach his full potential, it’s Wade Phillips.