We’re deep into the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Door #22-The Texans
2012 finish: 12-4; lost in Divisional Round
TOTAL PICKS: 9
33 (95) (compensatory selection)
33 (201) (compensatory selection)
If the NFL Champ were crowned during the first three months of the regular season, Houston would be getting fitted for rings right now. In reality, the Texans stormed out to a dominant 11-1 start in 2012 behind their typically proficient offense and an improved defense under coordinator Wade Phillips only to go 1-3 to finish the regular season, look horrible in a tight 19-13 Wild Card win over the Bengals, and then get routed by the Patriots.
During the home stretch, it was that same defense that looked very susceptible, especially against the pass. (It didn’t help that it lost LB Brian Cushing to a season-ending knee injury that is being held up as the exemplar for low blocks that the NFL is looking to outlaw.) General manager Rick Smith hasn’t done a whole lot to address this issue so far this offseason. He did bring in future Hall Of Fame safety Ed Reed to replace Glover Quinn, who left to Detroit as a free agent. Reed’s presence represents an upgrade in leadership and big-play capability in the defensive backfield, but overall the unit becomes more susceptible to giving up some big plays of their own since Reed has become even more of a gambler in the twilight of his career. Alan Ball is also gone as a free agent (Jacksonville). No, not the guy who created Six Feet Under and True Blood, but the third-string cornerback who was a serviceable player in the few minutes he played per game. Ball isn’t a big name, and he played at a position of weakness, but it will be tough for Houston to ignore the DB position in the draft and still feel good about having consistent pass coverage next season.
Phillips’ 3-4 scheme thrives on big-bodied outside linebackers that crowd the line of scrimmage, hemming in opponents’ run games and harassing the quarterback in the pocket. The Texans D lost one of those bodies – Connor Barwin signed with the Eagles – but Smith loves to restock the LB position via the draft almost every year, and will likely do so again next week. Houston would be well-served to use at least half of its selections in this year’s draft to strengthen the defense, but don’t expect them to spend the 27th overall pick on that side of the ball.
No NFL team coming into this draft has a more obvious and specific need than the Texans do: Wide receiver. Despite whispers of his demise that have swirled over to the last few seasons during which he played banged-up, Andre Johnson is still a stud. But even in his prime it wouldn’t have been prudent to depend on him to go it alone as much as he has had to lately. Despite the defensive lapses and the loss of Barwin, Houston’s roster is in pretty good shape all-around, so they can focus on a roster hole that needs to be addressed for them immediately. Good thing too, because even after a decidedly one-sided contribution from the position last season, it has taken some hits. 2012 third-rounder DeVier Posey never got a chance to prove his worth, thanks to an Achilles injury. It’s believed that Posey could miss a big portion of next season’s games, if not all of them, and waiting on a guy to blossom into the second option at receiver after that sort of injury isn’t wise. The injury-prone and disappointing Kevin Walter signed with Tennessee but Houston’s weakness at wide receiver is made all the more obvious by the fact that Walter could be missed. Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) stands a good chance of being the first WR picked in the draft. It remains to be seen if it will take until Number 27 for a wideout to get picked. If Patterson is off the board, Cal’s Keenan Allen and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins should still be available. Truth be told, I thought Hopkins looked better in college than either Patterson or Allen, so if he’s who Houston ends up with, fans shouldn’t take it as a let-down.
It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Texans finally got the playoff win their franchise had been looking for. Now, it’s the same old story – just one step away from their goal – but at least that goal is a loftier one. If this team can shore up its pass defense and finally find a steady compliment to Johnson, the wait for the next step shouldn’t take nearly as long as it did to merely win once in the postseason.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR. WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.