The Houston Texans came into the 2013 NFL Draft looking for the final pieces to a Super Bowl puzzle for what seems like the fifth year in a row and ended up with one of the most intriguing drafts both for what they took and what they did not. The window of opportunity for this team to win a Super Bowl is still open and the Texans’ front office led by general manager Rick Smith has done a good job of replacing talent as it leaves in free agency but it is difficult to maintain excellence over several years. In this year’s draft, the Texans opted to attack one big need that have been nagging at them for a few years and refill their depth after starters leave in free agency and their former depth moves into starting roles. In the end, the Texans appeared to have done a great job getting value in their picks but there is one position that was noticeably ignored and it could come back to haunt them and especially their head coach, Gary Kubiak.
Near the end of the first round, the Texans found themselves in position to take the second wide receiver off the board and opted to take Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins. It feels like the Texans have been trying to find a legitimate #2 receiver ever since Andre Johnson was drafted andHopkins is the next attempt to do it. The pick made a great deal of sense for the Texans becauseHopkins is ready to contribute now, which was incredibly important, and fits as a good #2 receiver but has the potential to become the top guy when Johnson leaves. Hopkins has tremendous feet, runs excellent routes, and separates well. He does not have overwhelming speed on the track but he has impressive speed on the field with the ball in his hands and his quickness makes him a legitimate threat after the catch not just to pick up yards but score touchdowns. The one issue that has been a source of frustration withHopkins is that he will drop passes. While this is usually a case of concentration and trying to run before he has secured the catch as well as appearing to have trouble locating the football when bodies obstruct his few even momentarily, there are some indications that he hears footsteps as well. Nevertheless,Hopkins should be able to transition well, fit intoHouston’s offense, and contribute early. There were other potential options for the pick but this one made a great deal of sense for the Texans.
In the second round, the Texans opted to address the secondary by drafting South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger. The Texans have made efforts to improve this position this year starting when they signed former Raven and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed. Between Reed and Daniel Manning, Swearinger will probably not be asked to do a ton early in his career. It is worth pointing out that Reed tends to get dinged up and the Texans could be conservative with him and save him for the playoffs and use Swearinger if Reed gets slowed down by injuries. It will be interesting to see if Swearinger is used as the third safety or if they focus on one spot over the other. Swearinger is famous for one of the more entertaining highlight reels between hits he has made to some impact plays he has causing turnovers for the Gamecocks. There may not be a guy in this draft who can lay the wood better than Swearinger but he needs to be careful in the NFL that he does not penalized as the college rules are a little more lenient than the NFL in that regard.
The Texans addressed the offensive line in the third round by selecting North Carolina offensive tackle Brennan Williams. Williams was a highly thought of prospect who suffered a season ending injury but showed promise on tape in addition to his impressive size at 6’6” 318lbs. While he potentially has the ability to play both tackle spots and could be a swing tackle for the Texans, his earliest contribution will be in competing with Derek Newton for the starting right tackle spot. After Eric Winston left the Texans, Newton (a seventh round pick in 2011) stepped in to play that spot in his second year. With a year of playing experience under his belt, he might be ready to step up his play but Williams is there to compete for the job just to make sure they have that position covered. If Newton can hold him off, it seems like Williams is then competing with Ryan Harris for the role of being the primary swing tackle. Williams appears to be versatile enough to play four spots on the line if he can prove able to play left tackle.
With the compensatory pick they received for Mario Williams going to the Bills at the end of the third round, the Texans selected another pass rusher in Sam Montgomery from LSU. This began a trend for the Texans throughout the rest of the draft. Much has been made of Montgomery this offseason for comments he has made at the combine, a misinterpreted picture, but nothing that seemed legitimate. This is a good gamble on the part of the Texans because going into the season, Montgomery was universally regarded as a potential Top 10 pick and they get him at the end of the third round. Montgomery needs to get his weight right, which he said he has done this offseason, and improve his snap anticipation and first step, but he can contribute in both against the run and the pass. He came up big for the Tigers against Alabama beating highly touted tackle Cyrus Kouandijo for a sack and getting a fumble recovery backed up in their red zone. The talent is evident and the Texans could be just the team to cash in on it. Montgomery is incredibly strong and shows up well at the point of attack with the ability to jolt offensive linemen with his punch and bull rush, which allows him to set up more agile moves to free himself up to get after the quarterback. He is effective when it comes to swimming and ripping opponents and flashes an impressive spin move as well. What really stands out for Montgomery is his ability to get and stay low which forces offensive linemen to bend to block him, which is an advantage for the pass rusher. If he can do a better job with his first step and getting off the line quicker, it will make putting offensive tackles at a disadvantage and making his life that much easier.
For the fit in Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ defensive scheme, Montgomery could fit in a couple different spots. He will come in as a situational pass rusher for the Texans but he could line up with his hand on the ground at defensive end or as an outside linebacker. He is strong enough to play at the end spot and athletic enough to play at outside linebacker, so he gives the Texans a number of advantages when they get teams in obvious passing situations enabling them to keep their guys fresh.
Continuing to add pass rushers and depth, the Texans picked Trevardo Williams from Connecticut. Williams is undersized but strong and well built for his size with great technique for the position. He played as a defensive end in the Husky defense but transitions to linebacker seamlessly for the Texans and should be another good pass rushing asset. Williams employs good hand use, can shed blocks, and has tremendous speed and acceleration to track down opposing quarterbacks. Williams racked up 24 sacks the past two years and has a ton of experience rushing from both sides. What separates Williams from just being a speed rusher in addition to his technique is the fact that he is not afraid or hesitant to attack inside. He will take on guards and can beat them because of his tenacious style. Williams has an incredible motor and never stops or gives up on plays. He just keeps coming and will not die. The issue he runs into is when he is knocked off balance, he can be tossed aside by these big linemen like a bag of concrete. Williams also stands out as someone who should be a great special teams threat and the Texans may not be able to find enough ways to get him on the field. Teamed with Montgomery, this could be a tremendous group to get after the passer.
In the sixth round, the Texans went back to the offensive line and took the versatile David Quessenberry from San Jose State. Quessenberry is about as tough as it gets and played through all of this past season with a high ankle sprain. He had a run of playing in twenty seven games in a row before trainers held him out of a game in hopes of saving for their stretch run. The value for the Texans is that Quessenberry can contribute at all five spots at the line and is perfectly happy to do any or all of them from center to tackle. Quessenberry, after being able to rest and recover after the season, looked much better at the Senior Bowl and gave a far better indication of what he could offer a team. The one issue that faces Quessenberry is that he is not a natural bender, but if he can improve on that, he is not only an extremely valuable backup but a potential starter down the road and someone that teams love to have on their roster. He is the type of player people should not bet against and it was a surprise he lasted as long as he did.
Allen Bonner, a wide receiver from Jacksonville State made for an interesting pick in the sixth round. Bonner is an extremely quick receiver and a guy who profiles to play in the slot as well as someone who can be a returner. Texans really did not have someone that was specifically equipped to play in the slot, so not only does Bonner have an advantage as far as possibly making the team, he also has a chance to make an early impact. He will also be in competition with Keyshawn Martin to contribute as a returner. This is a good pick for the Texans because of what he could potentially be even as a rookie as long as he can adjust to the big jump in competition.
Still in the sixth round, the Texans picked Bowling Green defensive tackle Chris Jones. The last of this group of pass rushers the Texans brought in throughout the draft, Jones was an extremely productive player in the MAC and had a knack of getting to the quarterback. Over his last three years, Jones recorded 27 sacks including 12.5 his senior year. Regardless of the level of competition, getting sacks from the interior is not easy and Jones showed the ability to do it consistently. For the Texans, he can play as a 5-tech end or kick inside in pass rushing situations and either come from a 3-tech tackle or even rush from the nose.
The rotation at defensive end behind J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith appears to be wide open as the next guys in the rotation are journey Tim Jamison and second year player Jared Crick, so Jones appears to have a good shot to make the roster, especially if he can show that ability to rush the passer in camp. Crick was picked in the fourth round of last year’s draft but Jamison has been on and off the roster for the five years he has been in the league, so if Jones makes it close, he could take his spot. The one caveat is if the Texans think they can keep Jamison and sneak Jones onto their practice squad. The Texans suddenly have almost an entire rotation of guys who are specifically able to get after the quarterback and are one of the teams that have really embraced the idea that a team can never have enough pass rushers in addition to having talent that can develop and has the potential to start down the road.
With their lack pick of the draft in the sixth round and the last pick of the draft, went back to Storrs, Connecticutand picked Ryan Griffin, the Huskies’ tight end. Griffin comes in with that 6’6” 255lb size and has shown the ability to contribute as a receiver with the size to develop as a blocker. Griffin was able to be reasonably productive for Connecticut with a high yards per catch average of almost 17 yards on 29 receptions and had six touchdowns. and has the potential to develop into an all around tight end. Griffin figures to be the third tight end behind the two Badgers, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, but should not have a difficult time making sure he lands a final roster spot. They are going to need him to contribute on special teams as well as be depth while he develops for the Texans. He could also be a factor in the red zone in goal like situations and a giant target for Schaub.
My Thoughts: It is hard to argue with what the Texans did in the first round. Keenan Allen would have made a ton of sense but he is still coming back from a knee injury, Cordarrelle Patterson will not be ready to contribute quickly enough for what the Texans need, and Hopkins was a great fit for that system. With Matt Schaub at quarterback, the Texans simply cannot get enough weapons to make him successful as he really had trouble when they were forced to try to come back in games from any kind of deficit.
Speaking of Schaub, my one big complaint with the draft is that the Texans did not draft a quarterback. The class may not have been great for quarterbacks but a guy like Matt Barkley could have come in and may have been able to beat Schaub in a competition. Schaub was easily the worst quarterback of the teams who made the playoffs last year and they did nothing to improve the situation. Unless they believe T.J. Yates is going to be good enough to take the job from Schaub, they appear doomed to fall short in the playoffs again unless the defense can simply overwhelm opponents in every game in the playoffs.
I said it before the draft, but I will mention it again. I do not get D.J. Swearinger. A lot of people like him, but when I watched him on tape, I simply did not see what others did. I saw a guy with limited range who was often out of position and missed too many tackles trying to go for highlight hits. Based on what I saw, I thought he was a third day prospect and borderline undraftable due to a lack of upside. I am fully prepared to be wrong and have said all along that I simply did not see what made this guy special. Clearly the Texans were in the crowd of people who thought he was a good prospect taking him in the second round.
I love what the Texans did with the picks to get them Montgomery, Williams, and Jones. Between the talent and the fact I thought the concerns were overblown, this felt like a great value for a guy who has the talent to be a franchise pass rusher. On tape, he was incredibly impressive and the issues people had felt contrived. Williams is such a terrific football player and the only thing that hurts him is a lack of size. His work ethic, his motor, his passion for the game shows up on every play and he just knows how to get after the quarterback. Williams was incredibly productive at Connecticut as well. If there was a guy who could be the Russell Wilson type undersized player that comes out and plays great, Williams is the favorite in my opinion. And then they add Jones who quietly piled up the sacks for Bowling Green. For the cost of a late third, fourth, and sixth round pick, the Texans upgrade their pass rush and get a nice second unit of players with the potential to be more.
I also like the picks of Brennan Williams and David Quessenberry. Both guys have a ton to offer in terms of versatility and Williams might be able to contribute at four spots on the line while Quessenberry can play all five. From a toughness, character, and just a gritty football player teams cannot get enough of for their locker room, Quessenberry is fantastic. He is a kid raised by a Captain in the Navy, has a brother who currently attends and plays football at Navy and Quessenberry worked from a walk on to the starting left tackle for San Jose State as well as being able to play every spot on the line. He played hurt and he is a tremendously difficult guy for coaches to cut. If he can just find a way to bend more naturally, the sky could be the limit. They also are able to land a developmental tight end which was probably aided slightly by their familiarity with Williams. Personally, if I was going to double up on a college team for that tight end, I would have opted for Quessenberry’s teammate at San Jose State, Ryan Otten as they have similar profiles but Otten was more productive as a receiver. Otten ultimately ended up in Jacksonville so that could be a head to head match up to keep an eye on in the future as to who the better tight end will be.
The Allen Bonner pick was a little confusing, not because he is not good or he will not be able to contribute but it seems odd that Houston waited so long to take a slot receiver if they deemed it a spot to upgrade. It seems like they should have attacked it earlier in the draft. Nevertheless, the pick could bear fruit early and look good if Bonner can take over the position of being the slot receiver as well as competing for the job of returning kicks. The other factor with this pick and the receiver position in general is not knowing if DeVier Posey will be able to contribute this year. He showed some flashes before suffering an Achilles injury in the playoffs that could not only force him to go on the Physically Unable to Perform List but could ultimately keep him out the entire year as that is a difficult injury to come back from and takes time to get back to full strength. That factor could open up a roster spot for another receiver and help Bonner stick and get more opportunities.
Overall, the Texans got their receiver, added to their pass rush, and added quality to the offensive line. It is difficult to argue with that from a football standpoint but again, not getting a quarterback to compete with Schaub is going to be the big question going forward. On the talent and grading the draft down the road, it would not be surprising if the Texans do well when it comes to evaluating individual prospects. Considering the moment in time and if they are ultimately unable to win the Super Bowl, it could be regarded as a missed opportunity for Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak could be the fall guy in that scenario.
Tags: Allen Bonner Bowling Green State University Falcons Football Brennan Williams Chris Jones Clemson Tigers Football Connecticut Huskies Football D.J. Swearinger David Quessenberry Deandre Hopkins Houston Texans Jacksonville State LSU Tigers Football NFL Draft 2013 North Carolina Tarheels Ryan Griffin Sam Montgomery San Jose State Spartans South Carolina Gamecocks Football Trevardo Williams