Houston Texans: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
Put aside the actual players the Houston Texans selected in the 2014 NFL Draft for now. Overall I was very impressed by the haul they came away with over the three day draft, but I was more impressed by how they approached it.
After the third round was over, it was clear what their strategy was going in. With each of their first four picks—and then later in the draft with the selections of Jeoffrey Pagan and Jay Prosch—the Texans selected tough, physical players who will make their impact near the line of scrimmage.
Whether you should build your team on speed, strength or a combination of the two could be debated, but I liked that the Texans had a plan and were able to execute it. Having a team identity and a clear roster-building strategy is important, but it is even more important for a team with a new head coach trying to establish his brand of football.
There were a few picks that I had issue with, but overall I thought Texans fans should be very happy with what they did during the draft. Ultimately their selections will likely be judged by the performance of two players: Jadeveon Clowney and Tom Savage.
Fair or not, that's where many fans and media members will focus their attention.
Round 1, Pick 1: Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, South Carolina
Round 2, Pick 33: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Round 3, Pick 65: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
Round 3, Pick 83: Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
Round 4, Pick 135: Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
Round 6, Pick 177: Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama
Round 6, Pick 181: Alfred Blue, RB, LSU
Round 6, Pick 211: Jay Prosch, FB, Auburn
Round 7, Pick 216: Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
Round 7, Pick 256: Lonnie Ballentine, FS, Memphis
Overall Grade: B+
At first glance, I think this class has a chance to go down as the best draft class in Texans team history. Currently that title belongs to the 2006 draft class, in which Houston drafted three Pro Bowl players—Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels—along with another solid starter in Eric Winston.
Going by the prospect rankings from CBS Sports, the Texans selected three players with a first-round grade. On top of that, they got guys who could be nice role players or solid reserve players like C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jay Prosch, who was the top-rated fullback on the board.
Their last pick—Lonnie Ballentine—is a freak athletically who could be a special teams stud.
Going back to their earlier picks, the addition of Jadeveon Clowney and Louis Nix gives the Texans a chance to have the best front seven in the league within a year or two. The combination of Clowney and Nix with the NFL's 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing will keep opposing offensive coordinators up at night. Their defensive backs will look much better when they don't have to cover as long because the front seven is getting quick pressure and causing havoc.
With all these positives, I'm sure you're asking why I only gave them a B+.
The reason I lowered the grade was due to their quarterback selection and because I didn't think they got great value with some of their day-three picks where they chose to select them.
I loved the picks of Jay Prosch and Lonnie Ballentine, but I wish they had gone in a different direction with their other three sixth- and seventh-round picks.
The 2014 NFL Draft had 256 picks; Jeoffrey Pagan, Alfred Blue and Andre Hal were all ranked below 256 by CBS Sports and probably would have been available in a later round or possibly as an undrafted free agent. Of course, drafts never play out exactly like prospect rankings, but I think there were better picks available.
At running back, Houston took Alfred Blue over Storm Johnson, who was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the seventh round, and who I thought was a much better prospect. Johnson had a great season last year and looks the part of an NFL back; Blue was often injured or the reserve back when healthy and never had more than 80 carries in any season at LSU.
Pagan and Hal might end up being good players, but the Texans took them over better prospects at other positions of need like inside linebacker. More specifically, I thought they should have selected Christian Jones or Shayne Skov to fill that need over Hal with the first pick in the seventh round.
The Battle Red Blog believes Hal will be the best cornerback in the draft. If that's true, maybe Hal should have been selected instead of Blue in the sixth round. Then Houston could have selected an inside linebacker with the first pick in Round 7.
I'm not trying to knock Hal, but coming away with no inside linebackers was inexcusable. Cushing is a great player when healthy, but he's coming back after a season ended by knee surgery for the second consecutive year.
After him, who else do they have?
Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton both left the team this offseason as free agents, leaving a gigantic hole at the position that wasn't filled with a starting-caliber player.
Again, overall the Texans did a very good job during the draft. I just think they lost sight of their biggest needs during day three and didn't get the best value possible out of each draft pick.
Best Pick: Jadeveon Clowney
I could get cute and try to argue that their best pick was Louis Nix because of where they got him, but we all know the best player drafted by the Houston Texans—and the best player overall in this draft—was Jadeveon Clowney.
Don't get caught up in discussing where the Texans will play him. To me it doesn't matter if he's exclusively an outside linebacker or if he plays as a defensive end in their nickel sub-package—however he is utilized, Clowney will make a huge impact.
As Rob Rang of CBS Sports explains, he has rare physical gifts:
Like the last defensive end to earn the No. 1 overall selection, Clowney possesses an exceedingly rare combination of size, strength and athleticism. Clowney is a more pro-ready talent than Williams was when the Houston Texans nabbed him out of NC State in 2006 and, as the consensus top prep prospect when he signed with South Carolina, he has already demonstrated the ability to handle high expectations.
Combining him with J.J. Watt will be a scary combo to deal with for opposing offenses.
According to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Clowney has already spoken to Watt and talked to him about being his mentor. For any of you still concerned about his work ethic, I hope this quote from Clowney will ease your fears:
I talked to J.J. Watt. He's like, 'Man I'm glad you're being a part of the Houston Texans, I'm ready to show you around.' He's gonna be like a leader to me, I'm gonna follow him and get ready to get going.
He told me he's going to give me every piece of knowledge to help me improve my game. He's going to show me like a mentor or big brother to me and I told him I appreciate that and I'm looking forward to working with him.
I think the experience of not being the best player on his team will be a good one for Clowney. The hope, of course, is that he will become the Texans' best player, but I think having J.J. Watt on the roster will ease some of the pressure early on.
Nothing was fun about Houston's 2013 season. It did, however, give them the opportunity to select the best pass-rushing prospect since Julius Peppers, in my opinion.
No need is ever bigger than quarterback, but don't forget how bad the Texans pass rush had been over the last two years.
They finished tied for 29th in sacks last season, with just one more than the team who finished last. In 2012, Houston finished fifth in sacks with 44, but nearly half of those came from J.J. Watt (20.5), so the pass rush was more a one-man gang than a team effort. Not surprisingly, Watt led the team in sacks in each of the last two seasons, with the second-place finisher only sacking the quarterback seven times each year.
The Texans needed to add another pass-rusher, and they selected a player who has the potential to be an all-time great. Job well done.
Worst Pick: Tom Savage
I hope I'm wrong in my opinion of Tom Savage, because I'm a Houston Texans fan as well.
I don't mind being wrong—everyone gets something wrong from time to time—and I'd much rather be wrong about a player than not give you my honest opinion.
That said, I hated Houston's selection of quarterback Tom Savage.
In my opinion, Savage had his draft value inflated because he looks the part of an NFL QB. He has great size and arm strength for the position but has never shown an ability to execute other crucial parts of the game that make quarterbacks successful.
Players like JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert and David Carr all failed because they were never able to get their ability in the mental side of the game to the level of their great physical tools.
I would much rather have a quarterback who has plus accuracy, has an ability to look off defenders, can go through his reads quickly to get rid of the ball on time and has proven to be capable of anticipating and throwing receivers open.
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports points out that each of those areas I just mentioned are all weaknesses of Tom Savage:
Accuracy and ball placement is very streaky with poor timing.
Too many poor decisions as a passer, forcing throws and staring down coverage. Leads defenders to his intended target. Questionable vision and eye use. Needs to develop his anticipation to grip it and rip it. Struggles to identify blitzes and consistently read defenses.
Lacks ideal on-field experience for a 24-year-old prospect. Decided to leave two different programs (Rutgers, Arizona) and his commitment and mental toughness will be questioned.
Don't believe Brugler? Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com saw the same flaws:
Needs to speed up his clock and show better awareness in the pocket. Needs to quicken his eyes, expand his field vision and learn to manipulate safeties. Tends to stare down his target. Forces some throws into traffic. Erratic accuracy. Slow of foot -- not a scramble threat. Can improve play-action fake. Had some duds -- struggled against Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Mental toughness needs to be looked into.
As Nawrocki mentioned, Savage really struggled last year against the few good defensive teams he faced. I don't expect Savage or any other prospect to put up big numbers against every team, but it's hard to see him as an NFL-caliber prospect if he comes up small every time.
As I pointed out in a previous article on Savage for the site State of the Texans, he faced only three teams last season that finished ranked in the top 20 in fewest points allowed per game. The average rank of his other opponents in that stat was just 60th.
In last season's games against Florida State, Virginia Tech and Bowling Green, his combined stat line was 52 percent completion for 170 passing yards per game with one touchdown and two interceptions.
On that website I also broke down his game video from the Florida State matchup for those interested.
I just don't see what makes Savage a prospect worth selecting and developing.
Did he lead his college team to great success and prove himself a winner? No: The Pittsburgh Panthers went 7-6 last season. Did he put up eye-popping numbers that would lead me to believe he could have NFL-level talent? No: He put up decent numbers but passed for under 3,000 yards in the worst of the five major conferences.
The other thing I don't like about the pick is that for a fourth-rounder they want to develop for the future, they're likely to give him at least two or three years. This will probably take them out of the quarterback market next year, a draft class which could include both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.
Perhaps if they had addressed another key need with that fourth-round pick like inside linebacker or cornerback, they would be in a position next year to be able to trade multiple picks and get a better prospect as their quarterback of the future.
Tom Savage or no Tom Savage, none of the Texans quarterbacks are capable of leading them to the playoffs this season, so I think they would have been better served by building up the rest of the team and waiting to take a project quarterback until the sixth or seventh round.
Again, I hope I'm wrong.
Undrafted Free Agents
Here's a list of the undrafted free agents signed so far by the Houston Texans.
My analysis is available on the slide show dedicated to the undrafted free agents.
Bryan Witzmann, OT, South Dakota State
Max Bullough, ILB, Michigan State
Anthony Denham, TE, Utah
Tyrone Ezell, DT, Pittsburgh
Travis Labhart, WR, Texas A&M
Chris Martin, OT, Central Florida
Chris Boswell, K, Rice
Chris McAllister, DE, Baylor
Leon Minto, DT, Johnson C. Smith
Matt Feiler, OT, Bloomsburg
Stan Grosz, DT, Cal Poly
Chris Young, LB, Arizona State
Austin Brown, DT, Miami (OH)
Jason Ankrah, DE, Nebraska
Kevin Forsch, OL, Houston
Chris Coyle, TE, Arizona State
Marcus Williams, CB, North Dakota State
Terrance Lloyd, OLB, Baylor
Anthony McClung, WR, Cincinnati
Cory Henry, DE, Florida Atlantic
Nathan Slaughter, WR, West Texas A&M
Lacoltan Bester, WR, Oklahoma
What's Next for the Houston Texans?
The Houston Texans will likely never admit it publicly because of potential fan reaction, but I believe rebuilding the roster was always going to be a two-year process.
Over the last three to four years they have lost about a dozen starters without replacing many of them because of money going into re-signing players like Arian Foster, Duane Brown, Brian Cushing and Matt Schaub (before he was ultimately traded to Oakland).
The Texans lost starters Antonio Smith, Joe Mays, Earl Mitchell, Danieal Manning and Owen Daniels this offseason to free agency and cuts, but the losses didn't end there.
They also lost starters DeMeco Ryans, Mario Williams, Glover Quin, Mike Brisiel, Eric Winston, Vonta Leach and Connor Barwin and quality reserve players like Ben Tate, departures that left more holes on their roster than they could fill.
The Texans still have needs at inside linebacker, slot corner, slot receiver and even quarterback and running back despite selecting players at those positions during the draft. I think the Texans were wise to address other needs early without a can't-miss QB available. That way—when they either find their franchise quarterback or if Tom Savage develops into one—the rest of the team will hopefully be complete and able to support him.
My way-too-early guess for the team next season is a record around 5-11 to 7-9. They've added talent, and I think head coach Bill O'Brien will have them playing with more passion and intensity than last year's team showed.
They just have too many holes to fill this offseason and still have work to do before they can get back to the playoffs.