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Texans D-Line Draft Board

Posted May 2, 2014

Texans Analyst John Harris has broken down the film and come up with possible defensive line selections for the Texans throughout the Draft.

2013 Defensive Line recap

Rush defense (23rd) -  122.4 ypg
Pass defense (3rd) - 195.2 ypg, 32 sacks
 
Key offseason additions:  NT Jerrell Powe (formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs), DT/DE Ricardo Mathews (formerly of the Indianapolis Colts)

Key offseason losses:  DE Antonio Smith (signed with the Oakland Raiders), NT Earl Mitchell (signed with the Miami Dolphins), NT Terrell McClain (signed with the Dallas Cowboys)

UFA:  None
RFA:  None

Draft picks
1st (1)
2nd (33)
3rd (65)
4th (101)
4th (135 - Compensatory - pick cannot be moved)
5th (141)
6th (177)
6th (181 - from Oakland, in the Schaub deal, CAN be moved)
6th (211 - Compensatory - pick cannot be moved)
7th (216)
7th (256 - Compensatory - pick cannot be moved)

Defensive Line depth chart
DE - J.J. Watt, Ricardo Mathews
DT - Jerrell Powe
DE - Tim Jamison, Jared Crick, Keith Browner

Well, J.J. Watt is pretty good.

All kidding aside, not only is Watt “good” per se, he’s the most dominant lineman in the game.

That is inarguable.

How he’s utilized in the defensive scheme will be as intriguing as anything that transpires on the defensive side of the ball this season. With new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in charge, the Texans defense, at times, will look only slightly different from last year and completely different at others. The only true constant, in the defensive line anyway, is Watt.

What makes Watt such a vital piece to this puzzle, other than the obvious (that he’s good), is that he can align anywhere along the line of scrimmage and still impact the game. It’s probably not wise to play him over the nose, but as a different look in a three man line on third and long, who’s to say it may have not have merit for a few snaps a game? Either way, Watt is far from the issue; the bodies are. Literally. The Texans lost three key defensive line contributors, including starters Earl Mitchell and Antonio Smith. Off-season additions Jerell Powe and Ricardo Mathews may not be household names but could provide much needed value at relatively bargain basement price tags.

As such, it goes without saying that the Texans will add a defensive lineman in this draft, perhaps even linemen. Note for most of the options below the slash marks, indicating the ability to play different defensive line positions. If that duality wasn’t a priority in the past, it definitely is now and will be for the foreseeable future. The good news is that there are solid options for the Texans throughout this entire draft.

Draft Options


1st - DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney - South Carolina


2nd - DE/OLB Kony Ealy, Missouri, DT/DE Ra’Shede Hageman - Minnesota, DT/DE Dominique Easley - Florida, DE Stephon Tuitt - Notre Dame, NT Louis Nix III - Notre Dame


3rd - DT/DE DaQuan Jones - Penn State, DE Kareem Martin - North Carolina


4th - DT/DE Caruan Reid - Princeton, DE/DT Taylor Hart - Oregon, NT/DT Justin Ellis - La. Tech


5th - DE Brent Urban - Virginia


6th - NT Zach Kerr, Delaware, DT/DE Jeoffrey Pagan - Alabama, DT Khyri Thornton - Southern Miss, DE Josh Mauro, Stanford, DE/DT Ed Stinson - Alabama


7th - DT/DE Kerry Hyder - Texas Tech

If you’re unaware of this Clowney character, then you’re probably not taking the time to read this article anyway. I’ve listed him at defensive end, but he may ultimately play outside linebacker. In all honesty, he may play a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position that has no traditional name. The possibilities are truly endless for the 6-6, 266 pound man-beast. Crennel’s charge will be to figure out how, where and when to unleash Clowney and in what capacity. Now, taking Clowney at pick No. 1 doesn’t, and shouldn’t, preclude the Texans from taking another defensive lineman at pick No. 33. That’s good news considering the number of intriguing options seemingly available at that spot.

Ealy is an interesting option to start the second round, if he’s still on the board. Someone asked me last week if I felt better about a Clowney/QB duo at No. 1 and No. 33 or a QB/Ealy duo with the same picks. I’ll admit it gave me pause because Ealy has similar traits and size as Clowney, but Ealy’s less gifted physically than Clowney. The former Missouri Tiger was often overshadowed by his teammate Michael Sam who was a finalist for nearly every defensive award in 2013.  Yet, teams feared and game-planned against Ealy. He has impressive burst and explosiveness off the ball. For that reason, he should be off the board by pick No. 33.  But, if the Texans end up selecting a player at a different position and he’s there at No. 33, it’ll be difficult to look the other way.

Although Hageman’s play is as up and down as Astroworld’s Cyclone (RIP Astroworld), his size, quickness, power and scheme versatility will keep him from getting to No. 33. But, just in case…nah, I won’t do it (just know that if he is, he would play the defensive end spot opposite Watt and I’d be more than fine with that turn of events).

Easley is intriguing. Two years ago, I was down on the sideline in College Station for Florida’s opener against Texas A&M. I was struck by Easley’s…height. I thought he was short, almost too short, as I was looking him directly in the eyes. But, he was built like a tank with strong legs and a well built lower half. Strong as can be and excellent with his hands, his burst off the ball is perhaps the most impressive of any front seven candidate in this draft.  Why, then, is he a second round candidate? He tore his ACL in game three and had a plethora of injury issues in the past. He played any number of spots at Florida, playing the nose, the under tackle (3-technique) and the five technique in odd fronts, so he provides as much flexibility as any player could provide in this draft. It’s just a matter of health. Now, he worked out during his scheduled Pro Day and is on track to be 100% by training camp. Had he been healthy, I would’ve never put him on this board as he’d have been the first or second defensive lineman off the board.

There were many that thought Tuitt would be a top five player if he declared. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t as impressed when I studied him closely. That said, he’s an excellent value pick at No. 33. He left Notre Dame after only three years and won’t be 21 until two weeks after the draft. Although he showed only flashes, played overweight all season long and played upright too often, Tuitt has athleticism that 6-6, 306 pounders could only dream to possess. That athleticism, change of direction skills and youth will get him drafted. His desire to stay in shape and dominate as his size/speed/dimensions indicate will determine how long he stays in the league.

Many are fans of Tuitt’s teammate Nix and he’s a fine player. But, he’s overvalued, in some sense, because he’s really the only true 3-4 nose tackle candidate in this draft. Others COULD do it.  Others MAY HAVE to do it.  Nix is truly the only one BORN to do it and, honestly, nothing else. Unlike others, I’m not scalding hot are on Nix. There are plays when he pops off the screen with his power and explosiveness. There are plays when he’s content just being on the field. The most underrated aspect of a defense that few speak of is the ability to push the interior of the pass pocket. Ask any quarterback and it’s the guy pushing at said quarterback’s feet that’s a huge nuisance.  That, Nix should be able to do. Because he has shown he can do that and because he’s really the only true two gap 3-4 nose tackle, he’ll more than likely be gone by pick no. 33. If he isn’t, it might be an indication that most teams think along the same lines as me.

New head coach Bill O’Brien is familiar with what Jones can do. After listening to new secondary coach and former Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler this past February at a coaching clinic, it was clear that the Penn State coaching staff thought very highly of Jones. He may not be a perfect fit scheme-wise but Penn State utilized him in a variety of ways the last two years.

Martin was highly productive at North Carolina as a 4-3 defensive end and he’d have to bulk up to transition to a 3-4 defensive end. But, he’s a solid prospect with length and the ability to get to the quarterback, although he struggled at the Senior Bowl doing just that. I don’t think he’s a top of the third round prospect, but if the Texans make a trade(s) and end up with a back end of the third round selection, Martin may be a good fit.

Reid is an Ivy Leaguer, isn’t that enough? Well, for me, it is. Okay, sorry, that’s my conference pride showing through, but Reid arrived in Mobile at the Senior Bowl as an intriguing question mark and left Mobile as an intriguing prospect. He was far from overmatched and more than held his own in every drill against some stout offensive linemen on the South squad. With the second pick in the fourth round, Reid is good value. 

Ellis is nearly three and a half bills, yet he’s not your typical 3-4 two gap nose tackle.  That can be good and bad. The bad is that he’ll need to learn the techniques associated with playing both A gaps in Romeo Crennel’s defense and that could take some time.  That said, because he penetrates and gets up field so well with quick feet and power, he allows the defensive staff some flexibility in their scheme if they do in fact mix in some even fronts or one gap 3-4 looks.  I don’t think he can bump out to the defensive end spot in this defense permanently, but I do think on run downs he has enough quickness to play that spot if asked.  If healthy, selecting Ellis in the fourth round would provide a ton of value for this defense immediately.

Urban is Thor. Remember him? Except Thor is Norweigan (I think, I’m just a football guy) and carries a hammer. Urban is Canadian and doesn’t. Other than that, dead ringer to be his stunt double. I was truly impressed with Urban early in Senior Bowl week and hated the fact that he got hurt and missed days of practice and the game. He’s built like Thor and when he walked across the stage in front of a room full of scouts, GMs and coaches in Mobile, there was this ripple of whisper. He just needs to keep that body healthy, unlike he was able to in 2013 at UVa.

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