The Texans have an elite offense when the training room doesn’t resemble your average Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
Every team has to slug through injuries every year. That’s the harsh reality of a physical sport, but the Texans were dealt an especially brutal hand in 2011, which made their first division championship and playoff berth in that much more remarkable. But those injuries could also strongly influence their draft strategy.
Andre Johnson is still a scary man when he’s running routes, catching footballs, scoring touchdowns, and beating up DBs. But far too often, he’s the one crumbling to the turf. This year’s draft has a deep wide receiver class, with four wideouts possibly coming off the board in the first round. So with Johnson’s injury history and the lack of explosive depth behind him, drafting a wide receiver is a logical direction for Houston.
1. When healthy, Johnson is clearly still an elite receiver, but at 30 years old he’s not getting any younger, and he’s missed 12 games over the past two years. This should be a pretty deep draft at wide receiver, so is that a direction GM Rick Smith could go in early? Maybe Kendall Wright?
It really depends on how the Texans have graded the receivers. I think the general consensus is that there is a big talent drop off after Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, and Kendall Wright leave the board. If Wright is around at 26, I think the Texans would be all over that. If they’re left choosing between players like Stephen Hill and Reuben Randle, though, the depth of the class could let them hold off the decision until the second or third round. Unless they have a very high grade on one of those second-tier receivers or if Wright falls, I think it’s likely that they go in a different direction.
2. Is there a player you’re hoping to see targeted in the first round?
Since the Texans continue to insist that they are fine at nose tackle with Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell, I think this pick comes down to wide receiver or outside linebacker. With (warranted) concerns about Johnson’s health and the loss of Mario Williams, those are the two positions that need the most solidifying. Ultimately, I think Wright heads off the board before the Texans get a chance to draft him, and I think the decision comes down to a pair of pass-rushing outside linebackers: Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, or Nick Perry out of USC. I’d prefer Perry out of those two because I think he projects better at outside linebacker and has had a more consistent career arc than Mercilus.
3. What about an offensive tackle? Eric Winston leaves a hole…
The Texans don’t seem at all worried about pushing Rashad Butler into the starting lineup, but I think the real factor here is that at 26 the Texans aren’t likely to crack the first or second tier of tackles to come off the board. They might have a chance at a Jonathan Martin or Mike Adams, but a lot of teams in front of them are tackle-needy. I do think the Texans will sniff around for a tackle, but I wouldn’t expect them to jump for someone just because he falls to them.
4. DeMeco Ryans was dealt partly because he wasn’t a good fit in Wade Phillips’ 3-4. Is a middle linebacker who fits Phillips’ scheme better a priority in the middle rounds?
Houston has been really high on former fourth-rounder Darryl Sharpton, who was starting to steal some snaps from Ryans before going down for the year. Unless Sharpton has complications in returning from his quadriceps tear, I think he’s starting next to Brian Cushing when the season opens. The Texans will certainly look at all options at middle linebacker, especially in the middle and late rounds, but I think they are of the opinion that it’s not a priority position in their defense, so I’d be pretty surprised to see one go early.