Lance Zierlein writes the Zreport, a blog about the Houston Texans for Houston Chronicle online and is also owner/operator of thesidelineview.com. Lance really knows his draft stuff as an evaluator, but also has connections with coaches and scouts in the league.
It’s the best place to stop for Houston Texans coverage.
He took some time out of his day to answer a few questions from me, which you’ll find after the jump.
1) What are the Texans needs to address this off-season?
The Texans don’t have a true 3-4 nose on the roster and they have to start looking for one. Even in Wade Phillips “1-gap” version, the 3-4 nose still needs to be a little more stout at the point of attack than anyone the Texans have on the roster. The Texans also need to find a veteran cornerback and safety for the secondary while potentially drafting at the position as well. The Texans also need to add an OLB with edge speed and could use another wide receiver who can stretch the field with deep speed as well as help in the return game.
2.) How are the last two draft classes coming along?
The 2009 draft is a tough to call right now. Brian Cushing was was an All-Pro after his rookie season, but last year, he didn’t play like the same player after his suspension so Texans aren’t sure which version they will see next year. Connor Barwin will transition to the OLB spot, but he was injured and out for the year during the first game of the season so there is an “incomplete” grade on him right now. Antoine Caldwell shares playing time at the right guard spot while Glover Quin has been a very solid 4th round pick as a CB who could slide to safety this year. From last year’s draft, Kareem Jackson was a big disappointment. Ben Tate missed the entire year while defensive tackle Earl Mitchell showed flashes last year but might be out of place in their new 3-4.
3) Can you tell our readers how the Texans’ front office works in regards to the draft?
It all starts with the Texans scratching players off of their board who have “character issues”. There are several players who are crossed off their draft boards every season that other teams might keep on theirs. The Texans prefer to look for CBs who can play press coverage and who have good to very good speed. They look for speed and athleticism over power as it pertains to their offensive and defensive fronts. Under this regime, the Texans haven’t shown much of an interest to move up in drafts, but are more than willing to move back in the draft. While the Texans seems to be intentionally vague in terms of the power structure between Gary Kubiak and their general manager Rick Smith, I’ve heard that Kubiak handles most of the offensive selections while Smith handles most of the defensive selections. Gary Kubiak has the final say according to my sources.
4). What impact will Wade Phillip’s arrival have on the draft and offseason?
He will have a major impact. For one, the two of the Texans best players on that side of the ball are Antonio Smith and Mario Williams and they are both best suited to be 5-technique defensive ends in a 3-4. With those players in place, Phillips can help to evaluate talent and find pieces to fit around those two players. Rick Smith has no experience in evaluating 3-4 talent so Phillips expertise and experience will play a huge role in figuring out 3-4 talent and just defensive talent in general.
5). What are the best and worst pick(s) of the Texans short life as a N.F.L. franchise?
I’ll give you two “best picks” – one in terms of overall play and one in terms of value. The all-time best pick has been Andre Johnson with the 3rd pick of the 2003 season. “Dre” has been everything the Texans could have hoped for. As for value, their best pick would probably be between Eric Winston (66th overall pick in 2006) or Owen Daniels (98th pick in 2006). They have had their fair share of worst picks, but two stand out. In 2003, the Texans took Michigan TE Bennie Joppru with the 41st pick, but he suffered multiple season ending knee injuries that prevented him from ever making it with the Texans. In 2007, the Texans took Amobi Okoye with the 10th pick and while he has started since day one with the team, he hasn’t made much of a difference on the field. The real killer about taking Okoye 10th was that the Texans passed on talents like Darrelle Revis and Patrick Willis to take a one year wonder who was only 19 years of age when he was drafted.
6) What leads to the Texans inconsistency because they have talent…is it coaching or something else?
The inconsistency has been a combination of coaching and talent evaluation. Gary Kubiak has the offense figured out for the most part, but the team has done a poor job of evaluating and coaching the talent on the defensive side of the ball. The Texan misses in the secondary combined with their inability to figure out how to draft pass rushers has created this horrible cycle of draft picks and money spent on the secondary and defensive line with very little to show for it. With Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator we’re hoping to see better consistency on the defensive side of the ball where most of the problems have originated.
7) Does there seem to be one player that the fans really want the team to draft at 11th overall? Is there a player(s) that the Texans seem to be targeting right now?
The fans want Von Miller, but that is a pipe dream since he wont’ be there. Most fans tend to fall in line with the more public mock drafts like Mel Kiper’s so Texans fans are starting to lock in on Robert Quinn or Prince Amukamara. Both of those players would fill needs as well so those picks make the most sense to fans.
8). You’re a big draft guy, who are some of your underrated and overrated players?
Underrated would include Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan who is tough as nails and a big-time player with the ball in his hands, Cal safety Chris Conte, Virginia Tech CB Rashad Carmichael, Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers and N.C. State LB Nate Irving. On the overrated list, I would include Antony Castonzo, Akeem Ayers, Da’Quan Bowers and Arizona OLB prospect Brooks Reed. I know Reed is the hot name now and had a great Senior Bowl week and combine, but I didn’t see as much impact in game situations this year as you would expect from a potential late first rounder.
9). I’ve thought for awhile now that the Texans might be the one team that makes a pick in the top 15 that people go huh? When they select Phil Taylor out of Baylor. Am I crazy?
I think Taylor is too high at 11, but if the Texans were to trade back into the late teens or early 20s, I could see Taylor as the surprise pick, yes. I also feel like Justin Houston from Georgia has the type of edge speed that the Texans would be interested in earlier than most people have him slotted.
(Editor note: Lance Zierlein on The Z-report recently mocked another shocking pick to the Texans when he had the Texans selecting DE/OLB Justin Houston out of Georgia at 11. Did I have the right team, but the wrong player?).
10). Tell us about your site and why our readers should come and visit?
I have friends in the league who are coaches and scouts so you will be able to get legitimate inside information throughout the draft process as well as into the college and NFL seasons.
Editors note: for instance this morning Lance has tweeted:
“Sources say Panthers leaning towards sticking w/ Claussen & waiting for next year to look QB. Scouts saying “put Dareus 1 & keep him there”
11) Is there anything else you would like to add about the Texans and/or the draft?
The Texans need immediate help on the defensive side of the ball and I can’t see all of that help coming in this year’s draft and yet the Texans need to win this year to save Gary Kubiak’s job. Therefore, it is important that the Texans make good decisions and signings when/if the free agency period finally opens up.
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Have a nice day, everyone.