Evaluating The Houston Texans’ 2012 Draft Class
The Houston Texans came into the 2012 NFL Draft with specific needs in mind to address. Specifically, the Texans wanted to bolster the depth on the interior of their offensive line and add some competition at wide receiver.
By the time offensive tackle Nick Mondeck of Purdue was selected in the 6th round, the Texans’ last selection of the draft, Houston had taken three offensive linemen and two wide receivers, plus a ferocious pass rusher and a new defensive end to add depth. Problem solved.
While this may not have been the sexiest draft in recent memory, the Texans were able to get good value on most of their picks, with the Devier Posey selection being the only one that has received scrutiny (although the selection has also received praise from an equal amount of analysts and NFL personnel).
Here’s a look at each of the newest members of the Houston Texans and how they’ll fit in with the team going forward into 2012.
OLB Whitney Mercilus (1st Round, 26th overall)
The Texans were apparently very high on Mercilus entering the draft, as there was supposedly even talk about trading up to ensure they were able to select him. The funny thing is, I’ve read several scouting reports on Mercilus on various websites claiming that he won’t be able to convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and that he’s better suited at defensive end. I’m not sure what game tape they’ve been watching, but Mercilus is about as versatile of a pass rusher as they come.
Whitney will rotate in at outside linebacker with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed early on. You can expect him to struggle anchoring against the run in his first year or two in the league, and he may never be real stout against the run. He’ll make an immediate impact in the pass rushing department, though, so Texans fans shouldn’t be worried. The job of an outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ scheme is rather simple: Relentlessly get after the quarterback. Mercilus has an incredible, never-quit motor and he plays through the whistle. He has the ability to beat most offensive tackles outside, but one of his most impressive plays was a sack this past season against UCLA. He simply got up under the offensive tackle, driving him straight back into the quarterback, and subsequently reaching over the hapless lineman to drag down the opposing QB. The point is, Mercilus is not simply a finesse pass rasher. He plays with tenacity and some nastiness.
Another thing to keep in mind in regards to this selection is the fact that Connor Barwin will soon be a free agent. As we’ve all seen this offseason, it’s awfully hard for NFL teams to retain every one of their contributors. Duane Brown and Matt Schaub are both set to become free agents in 2013, as well, and they will both be atop the priority list. Mercilus can offset the potential loss of a key player like Barwin to free agency.
WR Devier Posey (3rd Round, 68th Overall)
The Devier Posey selection came as a surprise to many who follow the draft process closely, including myself. My eyebrows were definitely raised, but one thing is for sure. The Houston Texans are serious about protecting the locker room from cancers. The front office never has put up with players who cause trouble, so you can be sure the Texans did their due diligence on Devier Posey. Count Gary Kubiak as one of Devier Posey’s believers: “I felt very good about him after doing all of our research and watching him play the game the year before”
If not for being suspended for 10 games in 2011, Posey could have been a 1st to 2nd round talent. At 6’2”, 210lbs, Posey has the size that the Texans really like in their receivers. He ran a 4.44 40 yard dash, so the speed is there, as well. Posey seems to be a very well rounded prospect. There really aren’t a whole lot of holes in his game. Posey has good hands and he can run just about any route he’s asked. There have been rumors that his stock slipped due to his not being fond of going across the middle, but they are largely unfounded rumors.
In his sophomore and junior seasons combined, Posey caught 113 balls and 15 TD’s for the Ohio State Buckeyes. That’s impressive production for a young college player playing in a conference like the Big Ten. It’s also important to keep in mind that he didn’t have the ideal quarterback throwing him the ball. Terrelle Pryor is certainly a unique and dynamic talent, be he never has been a polished quarterback.
Posey will likely begin the season as the Texans’ WR3, playing behind Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. I’m sure many will ask, so I’ll just go ahead and throw my opinion out there: I do not believe that Jacoby Jones will be on the Texans’ roster once preseason starts. It’s in his and the Texans’ best interest if they part ways.
OG Brandon Brooks (3rd Round, 76th Overall)
The reason the Brandon Brooks selection is so unique is the mere fact that he is by far the largest offensive lineman the Texans have ever had on their roster. Brooks tips the scales at 345lbs. In the Texans’ zone blocking scheme, the offensive linemen are required to be athletic and are asked to do a lot of things. Simply mauling the opponents is not the strategy. However, if you can find a guy who is 345lbs AND he is athletic enough to make cut blocks, get to the second level, etc…, then you’ve got yourself a real nice addition to the offensive line.
Brandon Brooks simply dominated at times during his playing days at the University of Miami (Ohio). He’s extremely strong in his lower body and does a great job of anchoring against the bull rush. Pass rushers have a very tough time moving him around, so he should provide an immediate impact in the passing game. The Texans’ run blocking scheme is complicated, and it will likely take a little time for Brooks to become integrated. Some scouts have shown concern over Brooks’ work ethic, citing the fact that he never seemed to dominate non-BCS competition despite his obvious physical advantages. I find it hard to believe that Brooks is a lazy player, though. He graduated in December 2011 and worked hard to keep his weight down (he got upwards of 375lbs at times) for the offseason to show what he can do. He’s also got a great group of veterans surrounding him to help further his development. The most exciting thing about Brooks is his potential to develop into a right tackle. His current best fit is at guard, but he has the frame and the athleticism to play right tackle in the NFL if he continues to get better. Don’t be surprised to see Brooks starting at guard at some point during the 2012 season, though.
OC Ben Jones (4th Round, 99th Overall)
It’s obvious why the Texans were intrigued by a player like Ben Jones. Jones was a four year starter in the SEC playing for Georgia and a team captain. He’s a leader, a hard worker, and a highly intelligent offensive lineman. Having lost two starting offensive linemen in free agency, the Texans’ front office remembered where their bread is buttered on offense (the running game) and insured that there wouldn’t be a drop off in talent or depth by taking two offensive linemen in their first four picks.
Jones projects extremely well to the Texans’ zone blocking scheme. National Football Post said Jones is “A ‘plus’ run blocker on the move”. In other words, he can pull and get to the second level, locating his assignments and creating holes downfield. Jones doesn’t offer up elite athleticism, but he plays with a mean streak and finishes off each of his blocks. He is known for his impressive cut blocks, which is likely one of the attributes that has Rick Smith so excited about this selection. Cut blocking is a big part of what the Texans’ staff asks of their offensive linemen. Keep in mind, the Texans are adept at finding good offensive line talent in the later rounds of the draft. Chris Myers was a late round selection, much like Ben Jones is now. Myers is now known as one of the best centers in the NFL.
WR Keshawn Martin (4th Round, 121st Overall)
The Keshawn Martin selection is the one that probably has me more excited than any. Martin brings a dimension to the Texans’ passing game that I can’t ever remember them having. Martin is 5’11”, 190lbs, so he’ll be one of the smaller targets on the Texans’ roster, but he’s no Trindon Holiday, either. Martin has elite speed and will offer an immediate impact in the return game, but his ability to work out of the slot and create mismatches for opposing defenses is likely the most exciting thing to watch for.
The Texans have never had a receiver quite like Martin. Physically, David Anderson is probably the closest comparison, but Anderson rarely saw the field and isn’t as close to as fast as Martin is. Martin is likely already a better route runner than Anderson ever was, as well. Keshawn Martin is the type of receiver that defensive coordinators hate to game plan for. He’s not too small to line up out wide, and he’s fast enough to line up in the slot and take advantage of slower safeties and smaller nickel backs. Martin brings big play potential with him to the Texans offense. He’s the type of player who, with the ball in open space, can take it to the house before the defense knows what happened. Martin will likely be the kick and punt returner for the Texans in 2012, and he’ll start the season with a limited role in the Texans’ offense. It’ll be exciting to watch this young player develop.
DE Jared Crick (4th Round, 126th Overall)
Say what you will about Jared Crick’s time at Nebraska. Maybe those 32 tackles for loss in 2009 and 2010 were a result of playing next to big Suh. The fact of the matter is, Suh or no Suh, he won his individual battles on film on a consistent basis and terrorized Big 12 and Big 10 competition. He reminds me so much of J.J. Watt it’s a little scary. Sure, he isn’t quite the elite prospect that Watt was coming out of college, but much of that is due to the fact that he missed most of last season with a torn pectoral muscle. I’m not sure why that scared teams off so much. Mario Williams is coming off of a torn pectoral muscle, and the Bills were so concerned that they gave him $100 Million to come play for them. Bottom Line: Crick was a steal at the end of round 4.
The Texans may or may not have been looking to add another defensive end, but when Crick fell to the end of the 4th round, why not pull the trigger? Crick is 6’5”, 280lbs with the frame to add a little more bulk. With his tall frame, don’t be surprised to see him batting down passes at the line of scrimmage like we’ve seen so much from Watt. Crick is simply nasty in the trenches. He plays his rear end off and you get the feeling that he really hates his opponents when he’s on the field.
Crick will play the 5 technique defensive end position in the Texans’ 3-4. He’ll get some snaps in behind starters Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt in his rookie season, but barring injury he won’t be a starter. Crick needs to add more strength to anchor against the run. I could potentially see the Texans using him inside on passing situations, though, as he is adept at getting after the quarterback. Overall, this was another solid addition to add even more depth to the roster.
K Randy Bullock (5th Round, 161st Overall)
Some fans may not like the idea of taking a kicker in the 5th round, but I’m not opposed to it. The kicker position has been a revolving door in Houston, and it would be nice to have some stability. With that being said, I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not a little scared about the prospect of heading into 2012 with a rookie kicker, especially on a team expected to make a deep playoff run.
Kubiak and Smith can say what they want about Bullock having kicked in big time environments, but there’s nothing quite like an NFL playoff game. In college, if you miss some kicks, it’s not the end of the world. You get patted on the back and a “you’ll get ‘em next time”. In the NFL? Miss too many kicks, and you’ll be selling cars at your local Ford dealership real soon.
With all that being said, I’m happy the Texans were able to get the best kicker in the 2012 draft. Bullock has a monster leg capable of making kicks that neither Neil Rackers or Kris Brown ever could have. Bullock is the definition of stocky, standing 5’9” and weighing 210lbs. Randy won the Lou Groza Award in 2011, which goes to the best kicker in the nation, after making 29 of 33 field goal attempts. The Texans’ coaching staff cited his tough mental makeup as the deciding factor in selecting him in the 5th round.
OT Nick Mondeck (6th Round, 195th Overall)
I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about Nick Mondeck. Like anyone watching the draft, when I saw the Nick Mondeck selection come up, my first thought was, “Who?”
Mondeck is 6’5”, 295lbs. What I do know is that he was converted from a defensive lineman to the offensive line while at Purdue. The Texans apparently love his physical gifts. He’s extremely athletic and fast for a man his size. Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle even suggested that Wade Phillips could potentially give Mondeck a look at defensive tackle. It’ll be interesting to see what Mondeck can do throughout spring training and in the preseason. At this point, Mondeck will have to work pretty hard to make the opening day roster, considering how raw of a prospect he is. The Texans have brought in a lot of quality undrafted free agents who could easily unseat him for a roster spot.