The Houston Texans will have nine chances to add rookie talent to their roster in this years draft. After walking away successful so far in most of their free agent ventures, the Texans and general manager Rick Smith have answered a few needs this offseason, particularly on defense – while there’s still a few other spots left to figure out.
Feb 21, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith speaks at a press conference during the 2013 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Looking at Smith’s drafting style, it’s easy to learn a lot. If we’re to predict who the Texans might take at the end of April, it’s fair to say we won’t see the Texans reaching for anyone, and it would be stupid to predict a trade up or down at this point in time. It’s also a safe bet that the Texans will draft either a linebacker or a cornerback in the first three rounds. History itself suggests that, since the Texans have taken 11 cornerbacks and 10 linebackers in their history.
There’s only 22 days until the Texans will select their first round pick. Here’s a look at the positions Houston might target with their nine picks:
Round 1 (Pick 27) – Wide Receiver
Like we thought, the Texans missed out on the top talent available in free agency. They were never going to even bid on guys like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola, as the focus always seemed on the draft to gain a second go-to guy behind Andre Johnson.
This pick is as much about drafting another target for Matt Schaub as it is about preparing for the future with Johnson at age 31. Luckily, the wide receiver position is stacked this year, and it would almost be dumb for the Texans not to grab someone like DeAndre Hopkins, Quinton Patton or a more popular pick like Tavon Austin as early as they can.
If things fall right, the Texans could also land a capable punt return prospect if they choose someone like Hopkins. Matt Schaub’s accuracy continues to come into question by some, so a reliable set of hands is a must.
Round 2 (Pick 57) – Inside Linebacker
Ask anyone, and they will tell you the importance of upholding the Texans’ strong run defense through 2013, and not all of that workload can fall on J.J. Watt’s shoulders. But while the run defense stood, the Texans struggled to cover tight ends and had trouble with elite quarterbacks last season – which might only continue now that Connor Barwin is in Philadelphia.
There are also a lot of questions surrounding how healthy Brian Cushing will be after undergoing ACL surgery late last year. Gary Kubiak told reporters last week that Cushing is likely to miss the start of OTA’s in May, and even though he will probably start in Week 1, we may not see the same Cushing for a little while.
Like wide receiver, there’s a lot of options at linebacker this year too. Someone like Kevin Minter, a projected early second round pick is a nice prospect. The Texans don’t need someone that is incredibly fast. Someone that can play inside, set the edge and mow down a blocker is more than suitable.
Round 3 (Pick 89) – Cornerback
The Texans were amongst the Tyrann Mathieu talks last week, but it doesn’t mean much at this stage. By all means, Mathieu is likely to fall somewhere after the third round, but there are much better options at corner in the third round. I gave some options recently in regards to who the Texans could take. Someone like D.J. Hayden will probably go much earlier, but the Texans would be wise to target a guy with some height over 6’0, and who has a solid zone presence that Wade Phillips can tamper with if guys like Johnathan Joseph and Brice McCain fall injured again.
To me this is a big priority pick for the Texans. The starting roles will be shared well between McCain, Joseph and Kareem Jackson next season, but the roster is thin after that. Guys like Tom Brady will always enjoy those kind of circumstances.
Round 3 (Compensatory Pick) – Outside Linebacker
It’s probably boring to see two linebacker selections so close together, but again this comes down to depth and the loss of Barwin. At starter, the Texans look good to go in Week 1 with now second year player Whitney Mercilus expecting more starts. Behind him, Brooks Reed has only 2.5 sacks in 12 starts last season, and while he’s a solid second man, there’s not much else behind him.
Scouts continue to talk about the rising stock of outside man Sio Moore from UConn. He’s sitting in between the second and fourth round right now, but if not him, someone like Jamie Collins is also worth looking at.
August 30, 2012; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies linebacker Sio Moore (3) tackles Massachusetts Minutemen quarterback Mike Wegzyn (11) during the first quarter at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ivins-US Presswire
Round 4 (Pick 124) – Quarterback
The questions surrounding Matt Schaub are a lot to overlook. He is the guaranteed starter of course, and T.J. Yates will always be his replacement at least for now. But the need for drafting a quarterback is simply to push Schaub and Yates, way past the Divisional Round so we can see what Schaub is really made of.
Guys the Texans could consider are Ryan Nassib if he isn’t already long gone. Or less favorable candidates like Matt Barkley or Tyler Wilson. Whoever it is, they will spend a lot of time developing, anyway.
Round 5 (Pick 160) – Nose Tackle
This is kind of a forgotten position for the Texans, and one that needs to be addressed quickly.
Currently nose tackle Shaun Cody is a free agent, and we haven’t heard a murmur from himself or the Texans in regards to a contract – or even talks. The Texans are lucky in the regard that not every team is in the hunt for a nose tackle, and while others see this position being addressed in an earlier round, the fifth is a perfect place to do so.
Round 6 (Pick 195) – Safety
Ed Reed is 34-years old, while fellow safety Danieal Manning is 30. That’s a lot of old and not a lot of new at the position, even though Reed will surely add his typical touch to the Texans secondary this season. Manning started in all 16 games last season but only had two interceptions next to his name, but was an excellent kick returner when it mattered. Age is a factor here, so is the liability of a possible injury. This is one of those “be safe or sorry picks”. Guys like Richmond’s Cooper Taylor or N.C. State’s Earl Wolff could still be available in the sixth, two guys that had a few interceptions to their name last season.
Round 6 (Compensatory Pick) – Tight End
Owen Daniels is the starter for the Texans, but after losing James Casey to the Eagles, there’s even less depth at the tight end position. Behind Daniels is Garrett Graham, who actually had a decent season with 263-yards and three touchdowns in the number two role last season.
All the big name tight ends are likely to go early this year, and in the sixth round, it’s hard to expect a lot. If the Texans can find someone who replaces Casey and offers a good blocking presence, it’s worth taking a chance.
Round 7 (Pick 233) – Offensive Line
Guard Antoine Caldwell is visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers this week, meaning the Texans excellent offensive line could lose a member to free agency sometime in the coming days. Rashad Butler and Ryan Harris are also free agents this offseason, meaning the seventh round could be a good spot to pick up nothing more than a roster filler as a just in case.
Aside from any Schaub troubles, the Texans offensive line has lead them this far. Regardless of the playoffs, the front seven are responsible for just 28-sacks in 2012, one more than rivals the New England Patriots. There’s no reason the Texans should feel uncomfortable with their offensive line even if they don’t draft a tackle or guard, but picking up one in the seventh round or even in undrafted free agency is a big plus.
Follow Ryan Cook on Twitter.