Throughout the entirety of the NFL Draft process, the two phrases you'll hear most often are "needs" and "best player available." The truth of the matter is that you marry those two together to find the best player who does both. As much as they probably would be helped by it, wide receiver as a tertiary need makes it unlikely that the Texans will be walking away with Julio Jones. It's logical to draft him as the best player available, but not even in Ryan Mallett's craziest trips will the Texans wind up with him. Especially since the Texans have managed to build a pretty good offense out of mostly low-round picks. Expect that defense to carry the burden again.
So what are the Texans needs? Here's how I'd rank them:
1) 3-4 OLB -- They'll absolutely need to rush the passer better, and that may mean multiple picks here considering the Texans have no idea whether Connor Barwin will bounce back or not. This is essentially a dead position on the roster right now, as there are no sure things at either spot.
2) Safety -- Whether it's moving Glover Quin here or addressing it via the safety class, the Texans will enter this year with zero players who have proven they can play safety. No, Rick Smith, Troy Nolan does not count. I might also consider multiple picks here.
t3) Nose Tackle -- There are still no actual nose tackles on the roster either. And no, Rick Smith, Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell do not count. I'm willing to let Mitchell take a shot as a part-timer, but putting him out there on run downs would not end well.
t3) Cornerback -- The reason this gets put a bit lower than safety, to me, is that the Texans at least have a few youngsters here that could become good players. Quin and Kareem Jackson both have the tools to be better than they were, and Sherrick McManis could yet become something as well.
5) Wide Receiver -- Jacoby Jones was brutal over the middle and may be a free agent. Kevin Walter and Andre Johnson aren't getting any younger.
6) Inside Linebacker -- DeMeco Ryans, this is my admission that I'm worried about you coming back 100%.
7) Punter -- Matt Turk needs to be replaced.
8) Offensive Line -- The Texans may lose Rashad Butler, and will need to find a new developmental tackle. A guard might be worth it too.
9) Fullback -- Because they need to replace Vonta Leach rather than reward him for being good.
On the needs
Most draft experts regard this as a fairly deep cornerback class. The deepest position may be 3-4 defensive end, which would be great if the Texans weren't locked into a pair of big money players there in Antonio Smith and Mario Williams. There are quite a few names that would fit as Wade Phillips nose tackles. The safety crop is unfortunately rather weak, but the 3-4 OLB crop appears to be pretty solid.
On trading up
The Texans do not need Von Miller or Patrick Peterson badly enough to give up multiple picks when they have a smorgasbord of problems to address. Giving up multiple picks to go get Miller sounds like a good idea in theory. Bringing in a young defensive anchor, someone who can come in right away and help save the jobs of Gary Kubiak and Smith, is appealing in theory. I see the reasoning, it's just not taken full-circle. Who cares how many sacks Von Miller gets as a rookie if Mark Anderson is starting at the other 3-4 slot and getting raked over the coals on short passes? If Shaun Cody is going to get pushed out of every play? If Troy Nolan is getting destroyed by tight ends? If you're paying him an exorbitant amount of money that he has not earned yet?
It just isn't a smart move to me.
On trading down
Now we're talking my language!
The problem is that the Texans don't have an enviable bartering position here. They could potentially be able to ransom Julio Jones, but if any of the other big-name defenders slip, it's likely they would just pull the trigger on them. They could also wind up in a scenario where a team wants to trade ahead of the Vikings to overdraft a quarterback--the problem with that is that most of the teams that would make that kind of move are already going to be spending their first rounders in this draft, meaning all they could offer in addition to their second rounder would be future No. 1's. The only teams behind the Texans that are relatively unsettled at QB are the Seahawks, Jaguars, and Dolphins. While it would be nice to snag a pick around that area in a trade down, the Texans appear to be in no-mans land with the trade possibilities.
So, look for Rick Smith to ultimately try to trade the pick, but come up short on the options.
No. 11 overall
I know Daniel Charles will hate me for this, but I think if Robert Quinn is on the board at No .11, the Texans should rush the card to the podium. He's one of the very few edge-rushers in this draft with elite talent right off the bat. I also might consider Akeem Ayers, even though I know he has some bad tape, because he's one of the only guys in this draft that I think has the potential to be a dominant edge rusher. Aldon Smith fits in after that for me because as good as the raw physical talent is, I don't think he can play right away.
If it's not an OLB, it almost has to be a cornerback. Prince Amukamara is beginning to fall past the Texans in quite a few mocks, and while I'm not positive he's a shutdown corner, it couldn't hurt to accumulate first round picks at corner like the Bengals did and eventually grow the secondary into something great. I might actually prefer Jimmy Smith to Amukamara--I think he looks better on the tape that I've watched, and I don't care about the "attitude problems" he has. I actually want my cornerbacks thinking they compare favorably to Nnamdi Asomugha, myself.
No. 42 overall
If the first pick decides the direction of the draft, this pick is probably the most crucial. There are a lot of specific directions the Texans could go here. Stephen Paea or Phil Taylor may still be around to play the 3-4 nose, Brandon Harris and Rahim Moore could fit in the secondary, and Brooks Reed or Martez Wilson could feature as outside linebackers.
Of those six, I would lean towards Paea first. Call it a man-crush, but anyone who has that kind of raw strength and still can fit in the Wade Phillips 3-4 is going to get the potential Jay Ratliff tag from me. Wilson would be interesting because he could also kick in and help out inside if Ryans continues to have problems recovering from his injury.
There's just a lot of directions to go here; I would try to stay as faithful to the top of the board as possible.
No. 73 overall and No. 105 overall
I want Chris Carter here more than anyone else. The Fresno State 3-4 OLB looks like an unheralded gem to me, and even if the Texans wind up with Quinn in the first round, more pass rush could not hurt this scheme at all. After that, it sort of comes down to who is still around. DeAndre McDaniel and Jaiquawn Jarrett could be stabs at starting safety spots, Jerrell Powe and Sione Fua could be pure run-stuffing 3-4 NT's, and Dontay Moch's pure athleticism might make him worth a look.
The reason I haven't addressed wide receiver yet is that there has been a preponderance of good late-round WR's in the past few years. It's my supposition that the Texans could find a decent one late here, and with that in mind, I'm looking hard at whoever is on the board here. Greg Little, Jeremy Kerley, Dwayne Harris, and DeMarius Moore are among the names I've got my eye on. Other than that, and the potential of a punter, I'm fine with playing the long shots at this point. Go for boom-or-bust players who could see the light go on.