Houston Texans Draft Needs: Post Free-Agency

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Before signing receiver Cecil Shorts III to a two-year $6 million deal, the Houston Texans’ best and most likely option in the first round was to select a wide receiver. Now, the Texans can go in a variety of different ways because they do not have one major hole like they did without a viable second wide receiver.

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Just after signing Shorts, the Texans announced an agreement with Vince Wilfork. The ex-Patriot is a two time Super Bowl Champion, 5 time Pro Bowler, and an All Pro. But more importantly for the Texans, Vince Wilfork will be a mentor for third round pick Louis Nix III who missed his entire rookie season.

The Houston Texans have soaked up all cap space with the signings of Shorts and Wilfork. The attention now will shift to the 2015 NFL Draft on April 30. It will be interesting to see how owner Bob McNair, general manager Rick Smith, and head coach Bill O’Brien attack the draft, but these positions will be a point of emphasis:

1. Linebacker – Under Defensive Coordinator Romeo Crennel, the Houston Texans run a 3-4 defense. Despite entering the NFL Combine as a defensive end, last years top draft pick Jadeveon Clowney actually plays outside line backer for the Texans. With J.J. Watt and Jared Crick playing true defensive end, Clowney plays in a role lined up outside of either Crick or Watt depending on the formation (of course this is when Clowney is healthy).

Opposite of Clowney is line backer Whitney Mercilus who was graded as the worst 3-4 outside line backer in 2013. Last year, he was given more pass coverage assignments because of the pressure the rest of the Texans were able to bring. Mercilus will continue to be the linebacker who will cover tight ends, especially with Brooks Reed signing with the Atlanta Falcons.

Reed was a versatile player for the Texans the last few seasons because he could play inside or outside linebacker. Since he is gone, the Texans are in need of a replacement to be paired with Brian Cushing on the inside. The linebackers being mocked early in the draft are primarily edge rushers like Clowney who are not designed to drop back into pass coverage.

The Texans instead are looking for middle linebackers with at least some ability to drop back in coverage. Inside linebacker Eric Kendricks is my favorite fit early in the draft for the 3-4 defense. His strengths are quickness and pass coverage according to CBSsportsline.com. Kendricks is mocked to be a first or second round pick.

Inside linebacker Benardrick McKinney is visiting with the Texans and is a possible fit in the first round or possibly the second round, but does not have the pass coverage skills I expect the coaching staff is looking for. Other notable line backers to watch are Paul Dawson, Stephone Anthony, and Denzel Perryman.

2. Wide Receiver – Cecil Shorts is not the entire answer at the position but provides upside at a cheap price. He is only 27 years old, but his injury history is lengthy and has not shown to be a red zone threat (maybe because the Jaguars haven’t been in the red zone in about 5 years). Instead, Shorts is presumably going to be the slot receiver with Damaris Johnson filling in behind.

The taller and heavier the receiver is, the more efficient they are at scoring touchdowns. DeAndre Hopkins has good size, but the Texans need to find a 6’3″-plus rookie who can consistently win goal line fade routes. J.J. Watt has proved to be dominant at the goal line, but the Texans need somebody other than Hopkins for Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer to throw a jump ball to.

With the depth given in this 2015 draft at wide receiver, it makes sense to fill the “Y-Receiver” in Round two or three if Amari Cooper, Kevin White, and DeVante Parker are gone before Houston’s pick. Dorial Green-Beckham’s draft stock is hard to gauge due to the differences between teams in their willingness to roll the dice on a player with off the field issues. His size would be an ideal fit if Bob McNair is willing to give him a chance, especially if he falls to the second round. Other potential second round “big” receivers are Devin Funchess and Breshad Perriman.

Next: What Else Do The Texans Need In The Draft?