A Quality over Quantity Approach in 2020
One week removed from the most anticipated draft in living memory, the tremors continue in the absence of any live sport. As the first live event in two months, the already glitzy administrative event was going to have even greater fallout than the typical exaggerated media conclusions.
Most Are Down On The Texans ‘Winning the Offseason’
Prior to the newly acquired players even taking a snap, the ‘draft-nicks’ disseminate their resulting team grades. A resounding scale is applied to multiple three-year talent projections, which in turn heavily shapes the general opinion. If these grades were to mirror reality, then the Texans were adjudged to have an unsuccessful weekend. Possessing only five picks, the Texans had already attempted to leverage this and next years draft into the ’19 & ’20 seasons. Therefore, those investments will need to yield a positive return on the field and manifest a significant win total. But we are some time away from those days of definitive judgement, that will reveal a startling reality this winter.
The questions that no one can truly answer, in this current state of flux: Did this team get better and are they positioned to win? Based on those who control the betting odds, it would pose a consensus of negativity. As the Texans are ranked in the 18th-21st position range, somewhat lower in comparison to recent seasons.
The external confidence is low on Houston’s 2020 chances despite the ever present Watson-Factor. It’s not overly difficult to see where the potential structural flaws lie. A poor pass-defence that was already in the bottom third of units across the league, has been limited on positive additions. Further, trading their most prominent playmaker, whilst implementing a new mould of their offence amongst a reduced off-season programme, will limit reasonable expectations. But there’s always the draft to revise a rosters composition.
The Draft Class of 2020
After being accustomed to off-kilter moves, there was little to ponder in angst upon the draft concluding. Despite rumours of trading into the first round, only a flare up of O’Brien’s infamous temper found its way on to the ESPN broadcast, displaying his typical assertive style. Based on various reports, it would seem Detroit were the protagonists but quite what transpired we will never quite know, beyond a failed trade back from their third round pick.
In the absence of that trade, with 90th pick Houston selected Jonathan Greenard, the Florida Gators Edge rusher, who presents an intriguing schematic fit and skill set. ‘The more you can do’ is often the mantra set to rookies, in order to make the final 53-man roster. Greenard certainly fits that and is able to play at multiple spots across the defensive front. It’s clear that he has a knack for finding the ball – that’s not always as common as you’d think and it translates to production: three pass-break-ups, an interception and three force fumbles. Added to his all SEC-Team honours where he notched 15.5 TFL’s and 9.5 sacks in 12 games. His frame and rushing ability suggests a three down player, if he can understand his responsibilities at outside-linebacker, the Louisville transfer, could do the most to enamour fans, in the early stages. As nothing quite gets a crowd riled like a potential sack artist.
The headline pick was Ross Blacklock, Defensive Tackle, TCU. His motor and athleticism for a 290-pound man is clear to see. But his ability to refine his technique at the point of attack will be the defining factor if he can become a true game-wrecker. Pad level, hand usage & finishing will be at the forefront of his development plan with the coaches. By adding that to his relentless effort, lateral quickness and electric first step, the Texans could have picked up a player at 40th overall who can create constant interior pressure. If so, they may have found a much needed cornerstone piece in their defensive unit.
Quite how Blacklock will be used in the defensive front, will be dependant on Weaver’s scheme preferences. Ross could features as a true Nose Guard in odd fronts but at 290 it would seem it he will play as the right defensive end and be moved inside on even looks/passing downs. His role will expand as much as his aptitude allows, whilst finding his way as a pro, in year one. Often ‘value’ prospects are found at the beginning of round two and the run on offensive players and corners may have just left a player, who at just 21, has the ability to be a highly impactful lineman in the league.
Trading Back but to Great Effect?
The Texans moved back from the 111th pick in round four to add an extra 4th round pick. After a further trade up, using two seventh round picks, they selected Charlie Heck from North Carolina, Offensive Tackle. His 2019 tape for the Tar Heels has done little to inspire confidence at left tackle. But referring back to the year prior and his contributions at right tackle would seem to pose a far more refined player.
Based on the evaluations of both Tytus Howard and Max Sharping, the benefit of the doubt is earned but it’s hard not hide the initial disappointment whilst pausing judgement on the pick. As in reality, Heck playing would mean either one of the Texans offensive line bookends are missing time. If they incur injuries to either tackle then then building depth at a key position cannot be criticised either.
A similar outlook must be taken with defensive backs, a position that perennially evades the Texans. Using the additional 4th rounder, to select John Reid, a who was offered a scholarship by O’Brien to join Penn State, at 136th overall. The Texans looked to address what is now a starting spot with Nickel and Dime packages prevalence against ever increasing passing numbers. A year removed from injury and data science major, Reid looks like he will be able to fight for a rotational position in the middle of the defence and possibly return kick offs on special teams. Once again a clear delineation with the team hierarchy and high footballing IQ was the order of the day, personified by the Reid pick.
Rhode Island – College Football?
Theres a clear difference in the stadia and number of spectators surrounding Isiah Coulters tape, but the Texans haven’t swerved from small school players and the 171st pick was no different. Coulter’s head coach has links to Brown University and the Texans coaching staff, that helped support the interest but it’s clear from Coulter’s tape – he can burn. His ability to extend out and catch the ball away from his body and with speed, poses a rare blend that was worth a splash in the fifth round. At 6’2″ he instantly is the receiving rooms largest threat, despite his slender frame, that will need supplemented with additional playing strength against press-man coverage. In year one, Coulter’s impact may be limited, but the potential seems obvious as both Will Fuller or Kenny Stills enter contract years.
‘A Veteran type of Year’
Houston’s final act was trading out of the 7th round, for a 6th rounder next year from the Saints. It was another sign that the Texans wanted a streamlined class of rookies. Just as they signed a limited number of un-drafted players in the hours following. It will be mightily difficult for rookies to make contributions this year, as the conditions are not level. As the off-season program will limit their ability to take physical rep’s whilst attempting to make their biggest developmental jump as players.
The Texans have grouped an interesting crop of un-drafted players who will likely form the majority of the practice squad. Notably offensive playmakers on big school programmes: Scottie Phillips and Tyler Simmons form Ole Miss. & Georgia. If there’s a player in the group that can contribute on special teams, then its found money at this stage of the process.
There are still a number of veteran players that the Texans could turn to, particularly at Saftey with cutting Teshaun Gipson, despite losing more in dead cap, than in savings. Eric Reid and Tony Jefferson being the most recognisable names available out there. It would seem the Texans could be helped with the addition of Everson Griffin or similar type player who can be relied upon upfront as the roster rounds out over the coming months.
From their initial press exposure, this draft class of players are high IQ guys and will fit into that ‘team-first’ mould. The days of drafting character types akin to DJ Swearinger are in the distant past for the franchise and it’s difficult to argue with that outlook. All the players who’ve entered the program are known quantities off the field, in the backdrop of many unknowns for the team.
|John Reid||34||CB||141st Overall|
|Jonathan Greenard||52||OLB||90th Overakk|
|Charlie Heck||67||OT||126th Overall|
|Isaiah Coulter||82||WR||171st Overall|
|Ross Blacklock||90||DT||40th Overall|
As all teams await the first date they can have physical contact with their players in preparation for a season like no other, the refined process of the Texans may just yet prove prudent, for one year at least.