Youth Movement

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Youth Movement
by Warren DeLuca

There’s no truth to the rumor that due to the Texans drafting Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, the team is going to start serving Happy Meals at the training table. Or that they’ve hired Barney the Dinosaur as the new defensive line coach. Or that Disney is going to produce their scouting tapes.

Okay, I’ll stop. At age 19, Okoye will be one of the youngest players to ever suit up in the NFL but he also has the potential to be an impact player early in his career. Continuing what has become an annual post-draft tradition around here, we asked Rob Rang of for his thoughts on Okoye and the Texans’ draft.

HPF: What qualities does Okoye bring to the Texans’ defensive line rotation?

Rang: Many of the same qualities that Travis Johnson and Mario Williams brought each of the past two years – which is why I am so excited about Houston’s young, talented defensive line. Okoye has a rare combination of size, strength, and quickness that make him a fit at any of the defensive line positions, regardless of scheme. Like Johnson and Williams, he isn’t yet a finished product. Unlike Johnson and Williams, who are known more for their lead-by-example personas, Okoye is a vocal leader and a player I believe will quickly develop into one the rest of the Houston defense rallies around. Surrounded by this kind of talent, all three should make dramatic step up in production in 2007.

HPF: Do you believe Okoye’s age will affect his transition to the NFL and his development as a player? If so, how?

Rang: The likelihood of Okoye making an immediate impact along the defensive line – arguably the toughest position for any rookie to make an immediate impact – is lessened because of his age. That said, Okoye is a legitimately talented player with the size, strength, and overall athleticism to contribute early. The early exposure to the NFL will make the learning curve that much steeper for a player of his age, but ultimately will serve him (and the Texans) well. Five years from now, Okoye very well could be considered the best defensive lineman from this class. Some feel he’ll eventually prove to be the best defender regardless of position from this class.

HPF: The Texans had conversations with some teams, reportedly including the Broncos and Browns, about trading down. Assuming for sake of discussion that they could have received something close to chart value in return, what do you think of their decision to take Okoye versus moving down and acquiring extra picks?

Rang: Assuming the club would have received the appropriate value for moving down, a trade would have made some sense. After all, while the Texans are an improving club, Amobi Okoye isn’t the final piece that makes this a Super Bowl contender in 2007. The extra picks could have shored up depth at other areas.

As intriguing as the thought of the extra picks might sound, however, the two trade down possibilities mentioned here — the Broncos and the Browns — would have simply been too much of a drop for most teams to consider. If one is to assume for a moment that the Texans targeted a defensive tackle for their first round pick, the team would have lost out on chance for Okoye, as well as Justin Harrell in trading down seven spots with Denver, as Harrell went to the Packers with the 16th pick. Trading out of the first round completely, as the team would have if they’d completed a trade with Cleveland, would have robbed the Texans of an opportunity to get one of the elite players. Depth is nice, but this game is won with front-line players.

I believe Okoye has a chance to be one of those front-line players that a Super Bowl caliber team can be built around. ranked Amobi Okoye as the eighth best player available in the 2007 draft. I believe the Texans got excellent value with their selection. If I had been running their draft and was presented with the fair trade possibilities assumed here (for the sake of discussion), I would have stuck with the tenth pick and taken Okoye.

HPF: WR Jacoby Jones must take a big step up in competition as he moves from Division II Lane College to the NFL. Please discuss what kind of impact you expect him to have on this team, both short-term and long-term.

Rang: Whatever receiver starts opposite Andre Johnson is going to have an opportunity to make a huge impact in 2007. Jones has the talent to eventually excel in this role, but it is asking for a lot to expect him to make an immediate impact in this — or any other role — considering the jump in competition he’s facing. That said, I’m quite high on Jones. His performance throughout the week of practice for the East-West Shrine Game was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. Realistically, Jones’ ability as a returner makes special teams his likeliest area for immediate production. If he is able to win the starting job opposite Johnson, Jones has the hands and athleticism to surprise. More likely, however, he’ll be a third or fourth receiver as a rookie. In the long term, if Jones can develop more toughness and learn to harness his natural tools, he has the ability to be a legitimate starter in the NFL — and perhaps a standout at that.

HPF: The Texans love CB Fred Bennett’s size and speed but others have questioned his tackling. Is this the case of a few missed tackles getting exaggerated or is he another Deion Sanders when it comes to run support?

Rang: Somewhere in the middle, actually. It isn’t just that Bennett has missed a few tackles, he hasn’t consistently played with the aggression and physicality that most teams require from their cornerbacks. He certainly hasn’t shown the toughness in run support that one would expect from a 6-1, 200 pounder with 33 career starts. At the same time, Bennett is athletic enough to be a reliable open field tackler, and while he may never prove to be a punisher, he isn’t a liability.

HPF: S Brandon Harrison played mostly strong safety at Stanford and has the size of a small linebacker, but the Texans need a free safety-type with range and cover skills. Can Harrison fill that role?

Rang: An interesting question. I’m not so sure that Harrison is best suited to this role. His time at cornerback as a senior showed better instincts and football speed than I had previously given him credit for. That said, we viewed him as more of a pure strong safety type, perhaps even as a traditional in-the-box safety. An interesting side note is the fact that there were some teams that viewed Fred Bennett as a potential free safety prospect. I question whether Bennett has the physicality and open field tackling to make this transition, but between both Harrison and Bennett, the Texans have two athletic, instinctive athletes to mold.

HPF: The two offensive linemen that the Texans drafted appear to be a study in contrasts: OT Brandon Frye is very athletic but more of a finesse blocker and relatively inexperienced, while OG Kasey Studdard is tough, physical, three-year starter but doesn’t have the quickest of feet. How do these two fit into the Texans’ zone blocking scheme?

Rang: Frye is an intriguing fit. With only one season of starting experience, he is raw as they come. He is a legitimate athlete with the quick feet and long arms to warrant more development as a left tackle. He is a nice fit in this scheme due to his athleticism, but needs plenty of work. Studdard will also be making a transition, as much of Texas’ scheme was based on straight ahead drive blocking. Studdard may not appear to be the greatest fit for Houston’s zone blocking scheme, but his dependability and versatility (some view him as a future center) makes him a good pick, as well. He may never prove a great fit in this scheme, but he’s a player that if forced into the action early on, could hold his own due to his toughness and experience.

HPF: Could LB Zach Diles step in as the primary backup to DeMeco Ryans in the middle, or is he strictly a special teamer?

Rang: Diles could surprise. He isn’t a great athlete, but plays the game the way it is supposed to be played. If used strictly in a backup capacity, Diles could make the team, as he has the instincts and toughness against the run to be effective on first and second down. That said, I don’t see much upside and think the Texans may have landed just as good a linebacker in free agency (more on this with next question).

HPF: The Texans have signed undrafted free agents QB Jared Zabransky, RB Darius Walker, FB Cory Anderson, WRs Onrea Jones and Terry Richardson, TE Luke Smith-Anderson, C Enoka Lucas, OT Tavo Tupola, DEs Victor DeGrate and Deljuan Robinson, LB Jon Abbate, S Brandon Mitchell, CB Derrick Roberson, and P Eric Wilbur. Which, if any, of these players have the potential to make the team?

Rang: Enoka Lucas will make this team. Only an injury red-flag that popped up at the Combine pushed him out of the draft. He has the ability to contribute early in his career at any of the three interior positions along the offensive line. I’m also high on Darius Walker and fullback Cory Anderson. Walker’s versatility as a runner and receiver makes him an intriguing fit in this offense. His quick feet and vision make him a natural for Kubiak’s offense. Abbate could stick, as well. He may lack size, but his determined, heady play could get him a roster spot.

HPF: What are your general thoughts on the efforts of Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak to overhaul the roster this offseason, through the draft, trades, and free agency?

Rang: I like the Texans’ aggressiveness throughout the entire offseason. Their targets in free agency surprised me a bit. I liked that they highlighted a position of need and quickly stepped up to pay the player they viewed as among the elite free agents at that position. I just expected that position of need to have been wide receiver or left tackle — not running back. After getting little from veteran Eric Moulds in 2006, I’m a little concerned that the team was so willing to pin their hopes on a 30-year old Ahman Green. Green is a talented back to be sure and he is well suited to Kubiak’s scheme. I see him enjoying a strong 2007 season, both as a runner and receiver. I do wonder, however, how effective he’ll be two or three years down the road.

Of course, the big move was the trade for Matt Schaub and subsequent release of David Carr. Schaub is big, strong, accurate passer who is a good fit in the West Coast Offense. Without significant improvement in terms of pass protection, however, I worry that he’ll struggle through some of the same problems that led to Carr’s downfall. I also question if he’ll have the same ability to get up hit after hit like Carr did. Schaub may prove to be just as tough as Carr — which is saying something — but with only two NFL starts, you just don’t know how he’ll handle that kind of punishment.

Ultimately, as much as I like the addition of Green and Schaub, I still have concerns about left tackle. I recognize that Jordan Black, Ephraim Salaam, Charles Spencer, and perhaps Eric Winston and Brandon Frye give the Texans’ a multitude of options at the position. I don’t know that there is a player among this group ready to be the standout pass protector Houston needs to make a legitimate playoff run in 2007.

Rob “Boomer” Rang built a reputation as one of the top independent scouts in the industry before joining as a Senior Analyst. His contributions to that organization include player rankings, mock drafts, feature articles, all-star game coverage, and interview requests.

Related Draft Articles

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It’s Mocking Me Crazy Keith wastes an hour of his life putting together his mock draft so you can waste five minutes of yours. (April 24, 2007)

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Checking the Comps Warren reviews the recent history of quarterback trades to determine what David Carr might be worth. (March 4, 2007)

From Mobile to Naptown Warren welcomes back Neil Stratton from Inside the League to discuss this year’s draft class. (February 21, 2007)

Bowling On, Part 2 Warren completes his bowl previews with a quick guide of those you might see again come April. (December 31, 2006)

Bowling On Warren previews each of the December bowl games with an eye on who to watch for the 2007 draft. (December 21, 2006)

Just Looking? Even though the Texans might not need a new signal caller (right?), Warren introduces us to the top QB prospects available in the 2007 draft. (October 10, 2006)

2006 NFL Draft The War Room guides us through the tumultuous events up to and including the 2006 draft.

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2003 NFL Draft Back for seconds, The War Room delivers the profiles and feature articles covering the Texans’ encore draft.

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Player Profiles

Meet the 2007 draft class:

>> Amobi Okoye
>> Jacoby Jones
>> Fred Bennett
>> Brandon Harrison
>> Brandon Frye
>> Kasey Studdard
>> Zach Diles

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