May 9, 2003
The Second Story
by Warren DeLuca
Did Charley Casserly and the Texans effectively use the 2003 NFL Draft to stockpile the team with future stars that will form the foundation of a contender, or did they blow the franchise’s second set of picks on projects, reaches, gambles, and other busts-in-the-making? The talking heads have had their say, and the internet message boards have been lit up with fan opinions and amateur analysis.
HoustonProFootball.com asked independent scout Rob Rang of Boomersdraft.com to sort it out for us. Rang’s work has been lauded in such national outlets as USA Today and ESPN the Magazine and he frequently appears on radio shows across the country.
HPF: What are your overall impressions of the Texans’ draft?
Rang: The Texans raised some eyebrows in selecting Dave Ragone in the 3rd round and taking a flyer on Drew Henson in the 6th round, as well. The key is not to make more of this situation than one should. The Texans are ecstatic about David Carr’s progress and are thrilled with his upside. The best way to acquire high draft picks from teams is to develop young quarterbacks. With Carr being hit so often, there is a good chance he eventually will be knocked out for a few games over the next few seasons. Should Ragone be able to come in during this time and play well, the Texans could potentially land a high pick for his services. Similarly, should Henson elect to return to football, he would be the exclusive property of the Texans – and the club could likely fetch a Day One, if not Round One pick for him immediately.
The real gem of the Texans’ draft, of course, is #3 overall choice, Andre Johnson. Not as polished as Charles Rogers, Johnson nevertheless has more natural ability and a higher upside. It might take him a year to develop, but the Terrell Owens/David Boston comparisons are valid. The club added three underrated players at picks 41, 67, and 101 in Joppru, Peek, and Davis. Joppru should be able to step right in and contribute as both a receiving option and blocker. Peek has the ability to both play in space and rush the passer and thus should be an instant upgrade at OLB. Davis brings the top kick return skills in the draft to Houston and will also serve as a great change of pace back.
Of the remaining picks, Seth Wand is by far the most intriguing. Like many of their OL picks the year previous, Wand is far from a finished product. He is huge, athletic, and a bit raw. That said, he has legitimate left tackle potential and could really develop into a special player in time. With so many picks, the club would have had to work to screw it up. Some feel they did just that, "wasting" two picks on quarterbacks. As mentioned previously, I really like the long-term benefits of drafting these two players, and see this as another successful draft by Casserly and Co. Overall Draft Grade: A-
HPF: How different is the situation that the 2003 Texan draft class steps into than that of the 2002 group, where many of rookies earned key roles by default?
Rang: Obviously, the club has filled some holes via both free agents and the 2002 draft, and thus, the need to fill holes immediately with 2003 rookies isn’t nearly as dire. Andre Johnson obviously has a chance to start. Both Bennie Joppru and Antwan Peek are likely starters, as well.
Any team that will likely start three rookies is still a ways away from contending from the Super Bowl, but these are players who should be starting because they have the talent to earn jobs, not because the Texans’ lack of depth forces the issue.
HPF: Most young wide receivers don’t seem to really hit their stride until their second or third years in the NFL. How long do you think it will be before Johnson makes an impact?
Rang: This all depends on what kind of impact you are expecting from Johnson in his rookie season. I ranked Charles Rogers #1 on my board all year long due to the fact that I felt he had superb long-range potential, but even more so because I felt he could have an immediate impact.
While Andre Johnson clearly has the higher upside, he isn’t as polished in his route running or hands. I believe that you will see him enjoy a rookie season with some disappointing drops, but also some highlight reel catch and runs that leave your jaw dropped and imagination running wild with this kid’s future.
HPF: Joppru obviously made a very favorable impression on the Texans’ coaching staff at the Senior Bowl. How do you think he compares to some of the other tight ends who were still on the board at that point, most notably Jason Witten?
Rang: Joppru might be the most NFL ready of the draft’s tight end prospects. Similar to the comparison I made between Charles Rogers and Andre Johnson in the previous question, Jason Witten clearly has more upside than Joppru. That said, Witten didn’t take command of this past season and enjoy the monster campaign many thought he might. Joppru, on the other hand, did, and extended it past his final season and into Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Joppru is a better blocker and receiver, at this point, and should develop into a reliable weapon early on.
HPF: How does Peek compare to some of the top pass-rushing outside linebackers that have thrived in Dom Capers’ system?
Rang: I really feel that Peek can be a star in this system. There are some who believe that Peek could have made the transition to a 4-3 OLB, which says wonders about his athleticism after playing his entire career at DE. The fact that he is going to be able to play OLB in the 3-4, which asks him to focus on rushing the quarterback (his specialty), is all the better. As far as instant contributor, Peek could be the guy.
HPF: What is the biggest thing that Wand must learn in moving from a Division II college program to the NFL, and how do you rate him as a long-term prospect?
Rang: Wand is a very, very intriguing long-term project. He needs to develop his strength. Despite being a huge man, he is more of a finesse blocker and will need to work on both strength and being aggressive to develop into the player he could be. That said, his size and athleticism cannot be taught. I was excited about the prospect of Chester Pitts here after last year’s draft, and while I still believe Pitts can be a solid player in this league, Wand has considerably more potential, in my mind, and thus, was more of a value choice.
HPF: Charley Casserly caught many Texan fans off guard with the selection of Ragone in the third round. What do you think about the Texans using a first-day pick on a quarterback? What do you think of Ragone’s pro potential?
Rang: As I mentioned in the draft grades comment, I really like this selection. No one is saying David Carr isn’t the superstar quarterback everyone who follows Houston football knows he can be. The simple fact is, Dave Ragone was a 2nd round prospect and he was available in the 3rd round. Everyone who follows the league knows that Rob Johnson, Matt Hasselbeck, and many others recently have been traded to teams for 1st round picks following limited regular season playing time. So, should the Ragone be future trade bait, or simply insurance for a potential Carr injury, the choice was a good one. The Ragone pick seems odd now, but drafting the best available player is always the right move.
HPF: The Texans need a big-time runningback, but the only one that they selected was third-down back/return man Domanick Davis. Do you think the apparent decision to wait until next year to try to fill that hole was the correct one?
Rang: I really do. Much has been made about the fact that the running back well apparently dried up over the last few years. Next year’s class, however, will be coming back in full force. With legitimate 1st round talents like Kevin Jones (Virginia Tech) and Steven Jackson (Oregon State) draft-eligible, and other potential high picks recovering from injuries (Greg Jones of Florida State, Clarence Farmer of Arizona, etc.) the Texans should be able to find their franchise back next season.
HPF: What’s your assessment of the most talked-about pick on the second day of the draft, the Texans’ selection of Henson?
Rang: A nice gamble. Again, I wrote of this situation a bit during the draft grade comments. Should Henson never return to football, the Texans lost out on a 6th round pick. Statistically, 6th round picks have about 13% chance of making the club anyway, so this wasn’t a big gamble. Should he decide to play, however, he might instantly be worth a high choice in trade, and again, potentially provides the club with insurance should Carr get injured. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Drew Henson, in terms of being an NFL prospect, was the best collegiate quarterback I’ve scouted in the past ten years.
HPF: Should Henson return to football this season, which teams would you speculate would have the most interest in acquiring him in a trade?
Rang: This is pretty tough to speculate on as any team would potentially be interested in a player of this caliber. Obviously teams with a track record of gambling on prospects, such as the Raiders and New York Giants would be an option, but there really is no way of telling, at this point. The Texans would have a myriad of options should Henson return.
HPF: Keith Wright did not get as much interest from the NFL as one might expect for a player who as productive as Wright was at Missouri. How do you see him fitting into the Texans’ defensive line picture?
Rang: Wright is an intriguing prospect. His game is more built on quickness than power, despite him being quite strong. He played defensive tackle at Missouri and I had him pegged as a one-gap slasher, ala the more heralded Dan Klecko of Temple. I question if he can be the anchor in the middle for this club and also wonder if his lack of size will hurt him as a defensive end in this scheme. What is obvious is the kid can make plays. An intriguing talent, but a player that I’m not certain is a good fit with this scheme.
HPF: After re-signing Eric Brown, the Texans appear to be in much better shape at strong safety than free safety. Do you think that Curry Burns, a strong safety at Louisville, could move to free safety?
Rang: He is going to get every opportunity to prove he can. Because of Anthony Floyd’s inflated interception numbers, many assume he was the better coverage safety of the two, but in all actuality, Burns is both faster and quicker. I don’t doubt Burns has the coverage skills to man centerfield. His tackling consistency needs to improve if he wants to remain on the field, however. The question was posed earlier regarding the Texans forcing rookies onto the field. If there is a scenario where a late round pick might make a significant impact because the team
simply doesn’t have a great deal of depth at the position, this is likely the player and position it will be at.
HPF: Some fans have opined that the drafting of Henson and long snapper Chance Pearce and the trading of two picks for 2004 selections show that Casserly did not think much of the talent available in the later rounds of this year’s draft. What do you think of this assessment, and how do you think the depth of this draft compares to others from recent years?
Rang: I don’t think that this was necessarily the case. This was a solid draft class, with excellent depth at some of the hardest to find positions (QB, CB, DT). At this point, there is no guarantee that next year’s class will be any better, as many of the most intriguing names are still underclassmen. Two positions that the Texans obviously need more help at – running back and free safety – will likely have some of the better talents in years (Kevin Jones, Steven Jackson, Stuart Schweigert, etc.) so reaching for players at these positions in this draft didn’t make a lot of sense. Casserly likely just acquired the picks for next year because the opportunity presented itself. Unless there is a player you are very excited about, the opportunity to add more picks next year is always an inviting option.
Thanks to Rob Rang for his time and his insights.
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