This off-season has certainly opened up new holes for the Texans to fill and some new need positions going into the draft. However, I firmly believe in taking the best player available over reaching for a need position. Reaching for a need position gets you Kareem Jackson, reaching gets you Travis Johnson; hopefully the Texans have learned from their mistakes. That being said, their biggest need positions are WR, CB, DT, OLB, ILB, and OG/OT; so hopefully the best players available play one of those positions.
The draft starts tonight! Here are some names the Texans should be targeting for every round.
Kendall Wright (WR Baylor) - Once thought of as a lock for the top 15, his poor performance at the combine in February has caused his stock to drop. His critics also have labeled him a bit of a one-trick pony with the fly/go route. He made the ESPN highlights each week by running by guys at Baylor, but his route running on other routes was sloppy at the combine. If Wright does slip to 26, his overall talent and upside is definitely worth a look for the Texans.
Coby Fleener (TE Stanford) - I know, tight end wasn't a position I listed as a need, but if there isn't a WR available that can start right away; I'd highly consider Fleener. If there is a run on WR, I'd rather have the Texans take the top tight end over reaching for the 6th best WR. Plus, remember the Texans offense uses their tight ends more than most teams; their 2nd TE is on the field and targeted more than their 3rd WR. Fleener also has the ability to split out as a slot receiver like Aaron Hernandez does for the Patriots, which along with James Casey at fullback would create serious matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Mark Barron (SS Alabama) - If the cornerbacks available at 26 are a bit of a reach, I'd consider taking Barron and moving Glover Quin back to CB. Barron is a tough, physical tackler, and from all reports a very good leader. With Manning and Barron at safety, and Joseph/Quin at corner; the Texans would by far have the best secondary in team history. Most likely, the Cowboys will take him at 14 though.
Rueben Randle (WR LSU) - Randle didn't put up great numbers, (only 717 receiving yards during his first 2 seasons) but remember who his quarterbacks were; he would have been better off throwing it to himself. Even without big numbers, Randle's size and speed numbers make him an intriguing prospect, but he did step it up in his junior year with 917 yards and 8 touchdowns. Randle is a physical receiver who should make a good blocker (very important in the Texans scheme), and would give them a down-the-field threat to either compliment Andre Johnson or replace him if he gets hurt again this season.
Vinny Curry (DE/OLB Marshall) - Draws comparisons to the Texans 2nd round pick last season Brooks Reed. Curry plays the run well and has a non-stop motor when rushing the passer; seems to be a perfect fit in Wade Philips defense. The Texans already have their starters penciled in at OLB for this season with Reed and Connor Barwin, but as we've seen with season ending injuries to Mario Williams last season and Barwin in 2010; they need depth.
Jared Crick (DE Nebraska) - I know what you're thinking; they don't need a defensive end. However, Antonio Smith is their only defensive starter over 30 years old; they can use some younger depth at the position. Crick played DT at Nebraska but still recorded 9.5 sacks in both 2009 and 2010. He looks like a carbon copy of JJ Watt with his size, strength, and non-stop motor. He'd be a perfect fit as a 3-4 end and could even play some nose tackle; allowing them to take one of their lesser starters (Shaun Cody) off the field.
Mohamed Sanu (WR Rutgers) - Sanu lacks the top end speed to be a deep ball threat, but has everything else the Texans look for in a receiver. He has good size (6-1, 211 lbs), blocks well, has reliable hands, and put up big numbers during his junior season at Rutgers. Sanu posted 115 catches for 1,206 yards with 7 touchdowns last season. He's being knocked down the board due to concerns over speed, but I like him more than guys like Stephen Hill and Alshon Jeffrey who rank ahead of him on those draft boards.
Mychal Kendricks (ILB Cal) - Kendricks is one of the rare players who performed at a high level both on the field, and at the combine, and yet is still not projected to go in the 1st round. The knock on him is his height, but any team that passes on him because of that is either blind or stupid. Kendricks was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year last season and impressed at the combine in February with the best 40 time and vertical jump among all linebackers. He has great instincts for the ball (106 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss last season) and I think would replace DeMeco Ryans very well.
Zach Brown (OLB North Carolina) - An amazing athlete with a questionable motor; we've heard that before. If Wade Phillips can light a fire underneath him, he could be a steal in the 2nd round. The big knock on Brown is his tackling in the open field, but he has great potential as a pass rusher.
Josh Robinson (CB UCF) - Probably won't slip to #58, but if they don't address CB in the 1st round; I'd take him if he's available. Still a bit raw, but as a pure athlete, he's a rare prospect. Robinson posted the top 40 time, top broad jump, top 3-cone drill, and 3rd best vertical jump among cornerbacks at the NFL combine. He's not just a workout warrior though, during his 3 seasons at UCF he recorded 10 interceptions, 36 passes broken up, and was a two-time All Conference USA first team selection. Most had him as a 4th round pick before the combine, so he's shooting up the board; question is, how far.
Janoris Jenkins (CB North Alabama) - Classic case of talent vs. off-the-field problems. Jenkins, who originally went to Florida before being kicked off the team for multiple arrests, has top 15 talent, but there is a "Pacman" fear surrounding him. Jenkins was a 3-year starter at Florida and made 1st team All-SEC as a junior; held future 1st round WR's AJ Green and Julio Jones to an average of 38 yards per game in 2010. The Texans will have to do their homework on Jenkins, but if they believe that his issues were either overblown or in his past; I'd consider taking him.
**Note, Texans have the Eagles pick in the 3rd round. #13 in the round, #76 overall**
James Brown (OL Troy) - Played tackle at Troy but projects better at the NFL level at guard and worked out some at that position at the Senior Bowl. Scouts rave about his athleticism and upside but say he's still a bit raw and will need to work on his technique. Brown wouldn't start right away, but at the very least he provides depth (which the Texans could use). Long term, my hope would be for him to replace Caldwell at right guard.
Mitchell Schwartz (OL Cal) - Started 51 games at Cal and according to scouts was very impressive at the Senior Bowl. Schwartz also made the All Pac-12 first team last season. At the next level, he can play either tackle position. The Texans need depth badly on the O-line and Schwartz would probably spend the 2011 season as their swing tackle. Long-term, he could replace Butler at right tackle or perhaps provide insurance if the Texans aren't able to re-sign Duane Brown.
Jayron Hosely (CB Virginia Tech) - Hosely dealt with injury problems last season that hurt his performance, but is just one season removed from leading the nation with 10 interceptions in 2010. According to scouts, he has good footwork and reaction skills, but lacks elite speed which can get him in trouble at times when he guesses wrong and tries to jump a route. At first I thought he'd be a 2nd round pick, but reports of a failed drug test recently could move him down to the 3rd round.
Ryan Broyles (WR Oklahoma) - Broyles made a fast recovery from his ACL injury vs. Texas A&M in November, to workout for teams about two weeks ago. However, there are still concerns over his health that has hurt his draft stock. Despite being the NCAA record holder in receptions, Broyles is not a #1 or maybe not even a #2 receiver at the NFL level, but I still think he has tremendous value. Broyles is a perfect fit as a slot receiver with his quickness off the line and great route running ability. If healthy, he could take Jacoby Jones spot right away.
Keenan Robinson (ILB Texas) - A versatile linebacker that could play some at OLB as well in the NFL. He didn't run well at the combine or at his pro day, but plays faster in games than his time would indicate. If the Texans miss out on Mychal Kendricks, he would be a nice consolation prize to add some depth to linebacker. Plays the run well but not able to cover slot receivers according to scouts. Not a perfect prospect, and won't start right away, but worth the risk.
**Texans have two picks in the 4th round; if they trade up, they'll likely lose these picks in the deal**
Tony Bergstrom (OT Utah) - Mature prospect at the age of 26. Scouts like his athleticism, agility, and foot work. Seems like a good fit for the zone blocking scheme.
Senio Kelemete (OG Washington) - According to scouts a very fluid athlete who played 3 positions in college including defensive tackle. Physical blocker, has the agility to play in the zone scheme.
Kheeston Randall (DT Texas) - Not much of a pass rusher, but great against the run. Could play either nose or 3-4 end in the NFL.
Emmanuel Acho (OLB Texas) - Good run defender, plays solid zone defense, not a high level pass rusher. A little small for the position but makes up for it with intelligence and his ability to react quickly.
Nick Toon (WR Wisconsin) - Lacks elite speed but has the size the Texans want from a wide receiver. According to scouts Toon is a physical player and a great route runner; much like his father.
Ronnie Hillman (RB San Diego State) - Despite not having great size, Hillman is a tough, physical inside runner. Ran for 3,188 yards and 36 touchdowns in two college seasons. A poor man's Maurice Jones-Drew.
Russell Wilson (QB Wisconsin) - He'll be drafted later than I think he should be due to his size (5-11, 204 lbs); if he was 6-3 I think he'd be a late 1st round pick. Great athlete (1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns as a rusher), very accurate (QB rating 22 points higher than Andrew Luck), and very good on the move with the rollout; a perfect fit for the Texans. At the very least, the Texans need a 3rd QB with Matt Leinart gone; but I think he could replace Yates.
Chase Minnefield (CB Virginia) - Still recovering from micro fracture knee surgery in January, would have been a 2nd round pick if fully healthy. Lacks elite speed, but a great man/press coverage corner. Despite the injury (recovery from his surgery is typically a year), he's got great value in the 5th round; though it's possible he goes in the 4th.
Evan Rodriguez (FB Temple) - Scouts describe him as a poor man's Aaron Hernandez. Would primarily play fullback for the Texans, but has great hands and would cause matchup nightmares for opposing defenses trying to cover him out of the backfield. Not the blocker that Vonta Leach is, but very solid.
Nick Foles (QB Arizona) - Good athlete, good size, good arm strength; I'm a little surprised to see him ranked as a 5th round prospect. The knocks on him seem to be that he has happy feet and a bit of a long delivery, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was drafted in the 3rd round. If he's available in the 5th, the Texans should snag him.
Tommy Streeter (WR Miami) - Streeter obviously wouldn't be a starter for the Texans, but the Texans need more than 1 wide receiver so they can avoid signing guys like Bryant Johnson again if there's another injury. He's got great size and speed (6-5, 4.40 40-yard dash), so why is he expected to go this low? He was a 1-year wonder at Miami (6 total catches his first two seasons), and at this point he's limited in his route tree and ability to get off the line of scrimmage; physical corners can take him out of the game. If learns to use his hands better against press coverage and works on his routes; could be a steal this late.
Tank Carder (ILB TCU) - A bit undersized and not great in coverage, but very solid against the run, has a high motor, and is a good value pick this late.
Brad Smelley (FB Alabama) - Solid run blocker with surprisingly good hands. Not a great athlete and lacks typical fullback size, but if the Texans don't address fullback before here; it'd be a solid pick.
Joe Looney (OG Wake Forest) - Fits the Texans profile of smaller, more athletic lineman for the zone blocking scheme. Scouts love his strength and ability to use his hands, but plays a bit high and loses the leverage battle to shorter defensive tackles.
Coryell Judie (CB Texas A&M) - Has a track background and as you would expect, is a great athlete (4.44 40-yard dash, 37 inch vertical). Injuries are a concern with Judie, but if he can stay healthy, he has great upside. A bit of a late bloomer, Judie didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school and started his college career at a junior college. While I wouldn't expect Judie to get much playing time at corner right away, he can return kicks and punts, giving him extra value. If Judie is still available here (some project 4th round), it'd be a solid pick.
Nate Potter (OT Boise State) - Not as strong as you'd like, but has long arms and is a great athlete for his size. Scouts like his footwork, should be a good fit for the zone blocking scheme.
Randy Bullock (K Texas A&M) - Fearless kicker, from Houston, and has a big leg. Bullock won the Lou Groza Award last season as the nation's top kicker. The Texans have worked him out, he apparently handled the pre-draft interview very well; I think it'd be a perfect fit. It'd be nice for the Texans to be able to attempt 55 yard field goals once again.
Blair Walsh (K Georgia) - Had a rough season last year, but is still regarded as the top kicker on the board by most scouts. Also punted at Georgia so could provide some flexibility.
My Ideal Draft:
1st - Kendall Wright or Coby Fleener
2nd - Mychal Kendricks or Mohamed Sanu
3rd - James Brown or Ryan Broyles
4th - Russell Wilson & Senio Kelemete
5th - Evan Rodriguez
6th - Coryell Judie or Nate Potter
7th - Randy Bullock