Houston Texans: Defensive End

2014 NFL Draft

Defensive end Jared Crick officially ended his tenure with the Texans, signing a 2-year, $4 million contract with the Denver Broncos; a move that makes it sound like Crick wanted a spot on Denver’s roster in the FA. The contract isn’t a pay day (Denver can’t offer any more of those), and the Texans could have matched, but an over-payment was likely if they wanted to hang on.

Crick joins a former coaching staff that picked him up and reared him in his rookie years – Bill Kollar, Defensive Line Coach, Wade Phillips, Defensive Coordinator, and Gary Kubiak, Head Coach, and he’s headed to a defense where he’ll fit pretty comfortably in a spot left open by the departure of star DE Malik Jackson. Crick’s talent isn’t comparable – he’s certainly a downgrade, but he can fill the hole, and that’s what Denver can afford right now, with their current cap.

The Texans, though, have a more urgent need in the draft at DE, with the depth behind JJ Watt going to Jeoffrey Pagan, and then 2015 undrafted rookie Dan Petinato. Pagan has had some rotation in the line-up the past two seasons, and he’s the next man up, but not enough  to start confidently moving into 2016. DT depth isn’t deep enough to shuffle anyone either, without opening another hole.

Suddenly, DE has become a pretty high draft priority.

There is still some room in the cap to pick up a veteran FA to hold over for a season (Note: Hopkins can be picked up on his 5th year option or extend contract without affecting his 4th year, although Texans may want to shore it up early. Option deadline is typically the day after the conclusion of the draft). Is there anyone in the FA worth paying for a year to hold over the position? Possibly.

There are still half a dozen decent replacements left in the FA, with good experience to plug a hole at DE. Out of those, I would take a look at 3: Jason Jones, George Selvie, and Gorey Wootton. All three have multiple years of experience, wouldn’t demand a lengthy or costly contract, and are just under the age factor (30 and under). I honestly don’t have a favorite here, as I’d see it more as a plug in, and wouldn’t move much higher than Pagan’s current deal.

Another option would be to shuffle around on the roster. This isn’t likely, but I still wonder what would the current state of the defensive line be had Clowney been brought into play opposite of Watt at DE. Injury, I guess, but if there’s a plug-in that the Texans want to try on the roster at DE, that should be it. That, of course, relies heavily on health. I don’t know if I put too much stock in that these days. Time will tell.

Most likely, however, would be to draft relatively high. Maybe not the 1st round, but we can’t count that out. What a groan that would cause if another 1st round draft pick from the Texans was a defense player – right? Well, it may happen, depending on how the WR selection pans out. At this point, 1st/2nd round will possibly go to WR/DE, and that order is interchangeable. I’d still expect 1st round to go to WR,though.

So, who would be a good pick for the Texans?

I’ll take a look at the top 5 DEs coming from mainly from 3-4 college defense, with a single exception. If we’re looking for a guy to preen for a starting position in the draft, familiarity with a 3-4 defense is a good idea. A majority of our front 7 came out of a 4-3 defense in college, or in the pros. That does speak for the ability to turn around and shift players – a necessary skill – but these shifts were not always a smooth transition.

It’s the same reason why we’d look at more pro-style QBs than spread. The transition is simply easier to acclimatize to the already large learning curve of graduating to the pros if the transition is within a similar scheme. Clowney is a good example of this. While injury has been his major challenge, he’s also had the learning curve of switching from 4-3 DE to 3-4, 2-gap LB. Even without injury, Clowney had a lot of work before he could start. That doesn’t mean the Texans will focus on a 3-4 guy, but it should factor in.

DeForest Buckner:

Buckner is a DE coming out of Duck country – Oregon. He’s a 6’7 monster on the field with tremendous presence and speed on the front line. He was credited with 76 tackles, 16 for a loss in yards, 9.5 sacks, and 5 passes batted down. He was effective in both run blocking and highly skilled with the pass-rush. I could go on here, but Bucker will likely be a top 10 pick, battling Bosa for the 1st overall DE selected, and we’re not trading up for that.

 A’Shawn Robinson:

Robinson comes out of Alabama. He’s possibly within reach in the 1st round for the Texans, and would stack the front 3 with a great size, speed, and overall athletic ability. He’s had some problems with consistency – he’s hot and cold – so he’d need to develop his game before heading out as a starter. If drafted, he’d likely come out mid-season to get some playing time in, and share it with Pagan. Interesting to note: Pagan also hails from the Roll Tide roster

(two players ranking in the top 5, Robert Nkemdich from Ole Miss and Adolphus Washington from Ohio State come with some dubious criminal records – possession and solicitation, respecively. I don’t see the need for evaluation as the front office of the Texans boasts good character for their athletes, and criminal history is not likely to factor well in the draft selection process).

Jonathan Bullard:

Bullard comes out of Gator country, Florida State. He’s a litle on the small side (6’3, 285), but has some good speed and skill on the field. He’s a top run blocker, and his side does allow him to commit to inside pass rushing. He’d likely need some intensive strength training before hitting the field in order to be an all around compliment to Watt on the field. Currently, he’d work best in a 4-3, but improvements in strength could change that.

Carl Nassib:

Nassib comes out of Penn State. He was a monster with sacks in this 2015 year, recording a total of 15.5 before an injury set-back, but he’s bounced back and is healthy as ever. He’s got a similar story to Watt, as a walk-on for Penn State who – interestingly enough, was told by O’Brien (as HC) to forget about the pros. That could prove to be a bad evaluation, as Nassib’s one year as a DE proved to be explosive. He’s raw, but has great ability to develop. He’d need some strength and mass training for the pros.

Emmanuel Ogbah:

Ogbah comes out of a 4-3 defense from Oklahoma State. He’s got tremendous speed and skill, and garnered 13 sacks in his senior year, as well as 64 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. He could be a quick study and turnaround to be a prolific 3-4 DE to compliment Watt on the pass rush, and can catch players in the back field with his speed. He needs to be a little more consistent on the field, and would need some development before heading into a game in the pros.

There’s my round-up for possible DE picks in the top 2 rounds. I’d like to see the story on drafting Carl Nassib, a walk-on that was told no, similarly to Watt, if O’Brien would be humbled enough to eat his words. In all fairness, O’Brien is an offensive-minded HC, so they’d have to see Crennel and Vrabek’s evaluation on this guy, but what a duel fairy tale that would be for the Texans defense if it works out.


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