Inside Story

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Inside Story
by Warren DeLuca

With the calendar turning to April and the big day now only weeks away, we step back from the analysis of individual players to take a look at how this year’s draft is shaping up and how the Texans fit in. We asked Neil Stratton of for his thoughts on how things might play out at the NFL’s annual selection meeting.

HPF: Let’s go through the various scenarios for the Texans with the #10 pick. There has been some talk that they may consider moving up to get Sean Taylor. How likely do you think this move is?

Stratton: As I see it, there are nine elite players in this draft:

1. Eli Manning
2. Robert Gallery
3. Larry Fitzgerald
4. Kenechi Udeze
5. DeAngelo Hall
6. Tommie Harris
7. Sean Taylor
8. Roy Williams
9. Steven Jackson

Now, there are those that would include Ben Roethlisberger, Kellen Winslow Jr., Kevin Jones, Mike Williams, Reggie Williams and maybe Chris Gamble in that group, but for my money, those are the top nine, and in about that order. Now, the top guys in order very rarely go in order – as always, teams’ choices are dictated not just by talent but by needs, personal team preferences, ticket sales impact, even the player’s agent at times or expected signing problems/negotiations.

I think, regardless of whether San Diego is the team that takes him, Manning goes No. 1. I think Gallery, who is probably the second-best player available, doesn’t make it past No. 4 tops, and only because Oakland (Fitzgerald) and Arizona (Roy Williams) need immediate help on offense. Udeze is the top pass-rusher, and he’s a wildcard because everyone needs sacks, and Hall is the top corner. I think that even if you jumble the order, those are your top six picks.

After that, however, you’ve got some disagreement among teams. Some, for instance, still like Jones better than Jackson, though that’s a minority. Some are going to like Harris for his upside, some won’t because of his tweener size and lack of senior production, and some may not want to take a rusher (Jackson) that high. There’s a chance, I think a good one, that Taylor slides to 9 or 10, only because he doesn’t play an impact position like left tackle, quarterback, defensive end or corner.

Three teams pick between Detroit and Houston – Cleveland, Atlanta and Jacksonville – and two of them (Atlanta and Jacksonville) are defense-minded teams. However, they both need impact offensive players. I really believe that if Cleveland passes on Taylor – Butch Davis loves his Hurricanes – then there’s a good chance he could make it to No. 10, and the Texans get their guy.

HPF: How high would they have to move and what do you think they would have to give up?

Stratton: I think the highest they might have to move up would be into Cleveland’s spot at No. 7. For that, my guess is that they’d have to swap picks, then throw in either a pick or an immediate starter. If that were the case, and I’m just speculating here, but maybe they’d trade them the No. 3 they acquired from Dallas for Drew Henson, or they could trade them CB Marcus Coleman, who is the likely free safety next season if the Texans don’t get an impact player in the draft.

HPF: If they stay in the tenth spot, who do you think will be the top players on their board, and whom do you think they would take?

Stratton: Presuming they don’t move and get trumped on Taylor, there are still plenty of impact players that will be available and of immediate help. First of all, I think it’s a lock they’ll take defense in the first round; really, nothing else makes sense there, and defensive players usually deliver instant bang for the buck, whereas offensive players normally take a little more time to get into the groove. With that in mind, I think there are a number of possibilities.

Obviously, neither Aaron Glenn nor Coleman are getting any younger, so Chris Gamble would make good sense at 10. I don’t see any safeties after Taylor that rate going that highly, though obviously they’ll try to address safety later in the draft if they can’t get Taylor. At linebacker, I think D.J. Williams would be a good candidate for the Texans; there are just few linebackers with his innate athletic ability, and I think he could play either inside or outside. Also, though he didn’t rush the passer much with the Hurricanes, I think he’d make a great 3-4 OLB. On the line, I think Will Smith is a little light to play an anchor end for the Texans, and he’s the No. 2 DE on the board, so I have my doubts they go in his direction. However, inside, I think either Vince Wilfork or Randy Starks would make good sense for the Texans. I give Starks the edge because Wilfork’s weight fluctuations scare me.

HPF: Moving down is also a possibility. What teams might be looking to move up to #10, and what do you think Charley Casserly’s asking price would be?

Stratton: As always, it’s usually the teams desperate for a passer that are itching to move. Buffalo is one team that was very interested in Drew Henson, and seems to be looking for a clean break from Drew Bledsoe. If Roethlisberger is still on the board at 10, I think the Bills might get on the phone. Others include Tampa Bay, which would make either Reggie or Mike Williams the No. 10 guy to replace Keyshawn; Seattle, which might want to move up to get either Smith or Starks, if they’re still available; or even Green Bay, which might not want to risk missing out on Losman if Manning and Roethlisberger are off the board.

HPF: What players do you think the Texans would be looking at if they did trade down?

Stratton: Again, I think defense dominates their thinking. If they move into the middle of the draft, some players they might be interested in include Dunta Robinson, Darnell Dockett, Gamble, Starks or Wilfork, presuming they’re still available.

HPF: Have you heard any other names mentioned in connection with the Texans?

Stratton: Primarily the ones I’ve just listed. I don’t see them taking any of the glitter receivers (either of the Williams’ or Fitzgerald), I don’t see them investing a first-rounder on a tight end (Winslow Jr.), they’re set at quarterback (Manning, Roethlisberger) and I think Domanick Davis deserves a chance to repeat his 2003 performance at running back. There’s an outside chance the Texans take a look at Shawn Andrews if they trade into the late teens/early 20s and he’s still there, but he has off-the-field issues that have to be considered.

HPF: What other players that you think would be great fits for the Texans – players that fill a particular need or who you think would excel in the Houston offense or defensive systems?

Stratton: Some players to watch in the latter rounds that might be Texans, depending on how things break in the first round, include Sean Jones (probably the second-best free safety), Isaac Sopoaga (punishing, middle-of-the-line run-stuffer), Cody Spencer (on-the-rise hard-nosed inside linebacker), Tommy Kelly (athletic d-lineman who can play inside or outside) and Adrian Jones (athletic blocker worth a mid-round gamble).

HPF: Is there any particular team that, when putting together your mock drafts, you considered a wildcard, a team that could really screw up the way most expect the first round to go?

Stratton: You always look at the teams with multiple mid-round picks, that have ammo to move up. Also, the teams that seem to have the fewest needs and can get really infatuated with one player at the expense of later picks. I think New England is a prime candidate to shake things up, partially because you never know exactly what Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick are thinking, anyway. Another one might be Jacksonville, which has a lot of needs and might want to climb up a few picks to get Gallery as the heir apparent to Tony Boselli, or even move down and try to add picks. The Jags have an extra third-rounder they could use. Finally, the Bengals have some cap space and got a pick in the top 100 (No. 96, a third-rounder) as a compensatory pick, so they might treat that as “found money” and use it to move into the top 10.

HPF: Who do you consider the most underrated players in this year’s draft?

Stratton: I think Jason Peters has unlimited athleticism and could really be a player once he gets his bearings and finds a true position, either at tight end or at tackle. I think Rashaun Woods, even though he doesn’t get the same hype as some other receivers, could be better than all of them. And while we’re on receivers, Lee Evans is a possible super-steal at the end of the first round. Travelle Wharton lacks a great body, but he has athleticism and is a good player.

HPF: The most overrated?

Stratton: I think there are a lot of reasons Shawn Andrews might not make a great pro. Chris Perry isn’t as big-time as a lot of people think he is. Karlos Dansby is far from a lock as a future star, and Ben Troupe seems to be most experts’ second tight end, but not ours.

Neil Stratton is president of Inside the League. He began the service after four years as senior writer for Lone Star Football, a now-defunct NFL draft publication. Stratton has appeared on radio shows all over the nation, contributed to numerous publications, and is the draft expert for

Inside the League is an on-line information service for “football professionals” and fans alike, tracking the players through the season, all-star games, workouts, and the draft. This year, Inside the League staffers personally scouted the Blue-Gray Classic, Cactus Bowl, Shrine Game, Gridiron Classic, Senior Bowl, and combine, giving subscribers daily coverage and reports that few services offer.

We thank Neil for his insight.

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