It's official. Gary Kubiak, part 5, will be a part of the new Texans team. However, he will lose his third offensive coordinator when Lil' Shanahan deaprts to be the OC under his dad at Washington. IT looks like his replacement is Denver O-Line coach Rick Dennison. He worked under Kubiak and Gibbs before, and the Denver O-line has been very successful, the highlight being the 2008 campaign where, despite NUMEROUS injuries, the line allowed seven Denver running backs to average over 4 YPC. (Did we have ONE person do that this season?)
I'm a fan of this hire, but I have two reservations. One, Dennison has limited experience as an OC, which will likely cause Kubiak to be more hands-on, which many blamed for Kube's poor coaching in 2008. Two, another common thread between these two is Chris Myers. Nearly EVERY Texans fan and media guy would rather see Antoine Caldwell starting at center then let Myers get pushed around by anyone weighing more then 299, but, if Dennison is hired, then he won't change Kubiak's decision to cement Antoine Caldwell at guard, which is unfortunate.
1. How do we handle free agency?
Yay! Dunta Robinson is suddenly really happy with the team now that they went 9-7, and has COMPLETELY forgotten about the heinous contract dispute earlier this season. Note the sarcasm.
I've said all along that we need either Robinson or a replacement/upgrade, and it looks like we will probably retain Dunta as opposed to fishing/overpaying for a replacement. Dunta should have learned this season that he is still not back at Pro Bowl form, and hopefully he will be more reasonable this season. That said, I am not concerned, because I trust Rick Smith to replace him the SECOND he starts to hint at demanding more money than he is worth. I still like Carlos Rogers the best of the field, though sign-and-trading Dunta for someone with one year left on their deal might also be an option. How many first round picks would we need for Darelle Revis?
I'm still high on franchising Owen Daniels as opposed to just forcing him into another RFA tender. It not only shows considerable good faith to our Pro Bowler without handing him megabucks after a major injury, but, well, if I'm Cincinnati, and I NEED a tight end, I'll probably match the tender and sacrifice my first round pick, because, if I have to take a tight end coming off of a big injury, I'll take Owen Daniels over Jermaine Gresham.
Of the free agents on our roster that deserve to be resigned (Ryans, Walter, Daniels, Dunta, Pitts - for his leadership if nothing else), I see K-Dubz being the hardest to keep. He is even more a product of the system than Daniels, but, that said, he is a VITAL cog in the system. He is an aggressive run blocker, never drops a pass, and is excellent at the job of punishing teams for blanketing AJ. All that aside, someone is going to see him as a super WR who can be a major part of their team, similar to Seattle tossing super cash at T.J. Who's-Yo-Mama. As much as Kubiak LOVES K-Dubz, it will be hard to keep him if a team offers him #1 wideout money (Candidates include Saint Louis, Tampa, St. Louis, Miami, The Rams and Chicago). As it stands in this mock, I am drafting based on Walter departing the team and all over relevant free agents remaining.
One more thing: Rick Smith is a damned fool if he doesn't have open tryouts for his kicker and punter positions. Turk is inconsistently effective but he is 40, and Kris Brown's missed Extra Point doesn't do him any favors for those of us who think he is suffering from Brad Lidge Syndrome (if you didn't read my earlier definition, see under Lidge or Sage Rosenfels post-Rosencopter). I know KB is an Original Texan and all, but he had a BAD year and, if nothing else, he needs the opportunity to win a kicking competition, preferably against a veteran free agent and/or a top undrafted rookie, to rebuild both his and our confidence.
Finally, a big change in my free agent stance. While I still MUCH prefer us seeking a new free safety in free agency as opposed to the draft (despite how deep this draft is at safety), I have soured on Brodney Pool. He is having a serious issue with chronic concussions that are calling into question his ability to continue in the NFL. That's not what you look for in a safety of the future. Digging deeper, I have found a guy I would like to grab, former teammate of Bernard Pollard, Jarrad Page of the Chiefs. Raiding the Chiefs' cabinet worked very well with Pollard, and reuniting him with Page would certainly play well into chemistry. Page is young too, only 26, but suffered a season-ending injury to his shoulder and calf last season, which caused the Chiefs to find replacements. Page will be on the cheap and can split time with Eugene Wilson, who's probably better at this moment but is fading fast. I know some of you guys would prefer Nate Allen, but there are other places we need to draft, so taking care of business at the safety, whether with Page or working out a way to get a top-shelf RFA like Nick Collins or O.J. Atogwe, is paramount.
#2 Whom do we draft?
Drafttek.com's early January simulation put us at #20, meaning we lost the coin-flip to Atlanta.
In this spot, the simulation continues to have us drafting Brandon LaFell in the first round. While he fits as a run-blocking possession receiver, I don't like drafting wideout in the first, and this pick is indicative of what little we have to work with at this pick in the simulation. Joe Haden, Earl Thomas, and Dan Williams are all gone by #20, and, while trading up for one of these guys is always a possibility, Dan Williams is the only one who is ahead of his peers enough to warrant it, and, if he completes his current mission of replacing Terrence Cody for the #1 spot at DT for both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, he will probably be too expensive to obtain.
So we trade down, and, if I had my way, we trade down HARD. Not just down a few spots and get another fourth rounder. No, no, no. If you already read my NFL mock draft, you know that this is the deal I have in mind:
Houston's #20 and 4th round pick for Buffalo's 2nd (#41), 3rd, and SF's 3rd (Buffalo trades down in the other mock to obtain the Niners' third).
Why does Houston make this deal? Well, like I said, we don't have much to work with at #20. Sean Weatherspoon and Brandon LaFell in the first round are both mistakes because we have a LOT of money tied up to those positions. If we trade down, and those players are available, then we can pull the trigger a lot more easily. Also, we are not in extreme need of a super-duper star. With this trade, we'll have five picks on Friday night. That core should be enough to give us a double-digit win season, despite the "tough" schedule. (Yes, we have the NFC East, but we also drew the AFC West)
Finally, as per needs...on the offensive side of the ball, many Texans fans expect that, if Dennison joins the staff, we will get Denver guard free agent Chris Kuper, and that seems to excite people (at least the people on the forum at footballsfuture.com), so guard isn't a need. I think we'll look long and hard at a running back, and, of course, we need a receiver to replace K-Dubz. Defensively, we need a new cornerback, preferably one that can outplay Reeves by Week 1 and outplay Dunta by 2011. We also need a nose tackle, and, even after signing Jarrad Page, we could draft a safety if one falls, and I'd prefer if we had a more natural WILL LB than Diles (and who doesn't stink like Adibi).
Okay, so now that the Texans took Thursday off, Let's get to work.
Buffalo's 2nd Round pick - Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame
Golden Tate would be an ideal partner to Andre Johnson. I had the opportunity to watch Tate play against USC because I was hoping to scout Taylor Mays. What I saw was, not one, but two instances where Tate caught the ball while being covered by his defender, then take a World-Famous Taylor Mays No-Wrap Shoulder Tackle, hold onto the ball, and score a touchdown. He looked like a playmaker, and he seems like just the kind of guy who can make defenses that bracket AJ pay DEARLY.
I'm not going to mince words. If we draft a guy like Tate, that kid has a legitimate shot at Offensive ROY.
Our 2nd round pick - Donovan Warren, CB, Michigan
After Joe Haden is off the board, there is a lot of questions as to who goes next, so, if you want the Texans to go cornerback in the second round, be prepared to do a LOT of research. Patrick Robinson, Syd'Quan Thompson, Kyle Wilson, Trevard Lindley, Perrish Cox, and Brandon Ghee are all cornerbacks who have something going for them.
However, the one I picked is the one less likely than all of them to be available in the second round. Donovan Warren is creeping up charts, but he may fall for the very reason that there are a ton of Friday cornerbacks (round 2-3) out there, so he may fall like running backs do every year. That said, I used to think that Trevard Lindley was the most ready-now corner in the field, but I think the distinction goes to Warren. Warren also doesn't have the two big issues of being too lightweight and having had a bad year right before the draft. Also, when I think about which of those two corners would be best able to replace Dunta as the #1 corner in 2011 if we franchise him again, I again think Warren. Matt McGuire has him at #12 on his big board, so I'd say he's a steal here.
Buffalo's third round pick - Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
I anticipate a BIG run on backs in the third round, so we grab the one we want while he's still there.
Gerhart seems to be prototypical of what we would want beside Steve Slaton. Gerhart was hyper-consistent, even given that he was the only weapon in Stanford's arsenal. I don't need to gush much further. Most Texan fans have drooled over the idea of adding Gerhart to our arsenal.
San Francisco's third round pick - Arthur Jones, NT, Syracuse
In part two of the most ridiculously awesome third round in NFL draft history, we take a nose tackle that slides out of the first round after some injuries affected his stats. (It didn't help that Syracuse blew chunks this year)
It may be a bad sign that he's compared to Travis Johnson on cbssports.com, but I'll take that with a grain of salt. The bottom line is that Jones is given heaping helpings of praise for his astounding lower-body strength which allows him to anchor and be an effective nose tackle despite being a svelte 300 pounds on the dot. His lightweightness should help in pass-rushing situations where he will want to slip past blockers instead of absorbing them. To me, this is the kind of talent at the nose that is good enough to say "Amobi, if you can't succeed with this cat beside you, then you're gone."
Our third round pick - Morgan Burnett, FS, Georgia Tech
And, there's number three. Morgan Burnett was a first-round pick until Earl Thomas had a dynamically awesome year while Burnett had a down year. However, don't fret. Burnett is still tied for third on the active career interceptions list, despite only being a junior, and many pundits are willing to accept that the problem was not with Burnett. Regardless, there are two things that everyone can agree on: 1, Burnett will be a starting safety in the NFL, and 2, getting him with the #82 pick is reeeee-diculous.
Fifth round pick - Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Orlovsky and Grossman have done nothing to instill confidence in their ability to step in and handle business. Christian Ponder would be considered a possible Heisman candidate if he stays in school, which is likely since Bobby Bowden is being replaced by his own offensive coordinator. However, if he is in the draft pool, the Texas native would be a very fun project for Kubiak.
Our 6th round pick - Myron Rolle, SS, Oxford
When he last left the field, this guy was a Thorpe finalist, and a Top 20 pick. The Rhodes Scholarship and subsequent year away from football no doubt hurts his stock, but it's hard to believe that he's lost EVERYTHING that made him one of the best defensive backs in football a year ago. If he falls this far, well, I'd at least rather have him than Brian Russell.
San Diego's 6th round pick - Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
Well, our needs list has gotten shorter, so we're back to being able to afford to splurge on this mammoth man of a punter. Kris Brown might be locked in, but 40-year-old Matt Turk? Yeah, buh bye.
7th round pick - Lawrence Marsh, NT, Florida
Lawrence Marsh was the starting nose tackle for arguably the best defense in college football. That's good enough for me to toss him a seventh-rounder.
My sources of information
Walterfootball.com - Excellent analysis and one of the few places as obsessed about the NFL draft as I am
Draft Tek - A unique 7-round simulator highlights an excellent draft site
NFL Draft Scout from CBS Sports - Great source of stats and info; the best data source for mid and late round draft picks
Scott Wright's Draft Countdown - great breakdown and analysis; this site finds strengths and weaknesses in even the best (and worst) prospect
Houston Diehards - a Houston Texans fan site; Chris is great for inside information, and there is a lot of thought-out discussion on the message boards. This site was