Upon Further Review | HoustonProFootball.com
February 28, 2007
The Day the Lugnuts Loosened
by Bob Hulsey
Believe it or not, there was once a time when the Houston Texans looked like they had a firm handle on how to build a franchise. They took a surprising 4-12 inaugural team and moved up to a 5-11 record in their second season of existence. Charley Casserly and Dom Capers had made few noticeable mistakes and optimism reigned in H-town.
But something went terribly wrong and the off-season of 2004 is where I think the direction turned.
Allowing for three years of hindsight from the year of the draft, I annually compare the desires from my Chance Pearce Mock Draft column to what actually happened on Draft Day. This year, I’ll revisit the 2004 moment in which, I believe, the wheels of this franchise began to spin off.
All of my mock advice is detailed here. I provided a checklist for Casserly to run through in using the 10th overall pick of the ’04 draft. In abbreviated version, those were:
1. Trade up for OT Robert Gallery if he fell to the fifth spot. He didn’t. (Thank goodness).
2. Trade up for S Sean Taylor if he fell to the fifth spot. He did but the Redskins traded down one spot and took Taylor anyway after fleecing the Cleveland Browns out of a draft pick.
3. Trade down if QB Ben Roethlisberger or RB Steven Jackson were available as trade bait. As it happened, both were still on the board so I’ll presume the Texans either didn’t get a good offer or were so set on the guy they eventually took that they chose not to trade. For those with short memories, the Texans were quite satisfied with QB David Carr and RB Domanick Davis at the time and would have been unlikely to pick either guy, much as we’d like to believe differently now.
4. Select DT Tommie Harris if available. In fact, he was there although I didn’t think he’d be at the time. Harris lasted until the Bears took him with the 14th pick and Chicago has been loving it ever since. Assuming that items 1,2 and 3 were not workable, this would have been my suggestion. Harris is a quick off-tackle who would have made a great 3-4 DE in the system Capers used.
That led to my actual prescribed choice:
Round 1 (10th overall)
Texans Pick: Dunta Robinson, CB, South Carolina
Bob’s Pick: DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech
Reality Check: Hall went to the Falcons with the eighth choice which left Robinson as the next best corner. Both players have turned out to be generally what was expected of them. Hall probably has more straight-line speed and would be a fine kick returner if called to do it. Hall has a penchant for big plays but also an attitude that sometimes gets him in trouble. Robinson is a better technician at the corner than Hall and a solid tackler who would make more big plays if the Texans had a good corner to pair him with. Three years later, the debate over whether Hall or Robinson is better still simmers and one could choose either way. Both would have been solid choices at the tenth spot although I’d still have taken Harris before either one.
Next, we’ll get a little bookkeeping item out of the way:
Round 2 (33rd overall)
Texans Pick: Tony Hollings, RB, Georgia Tech (taken in Summer 2003 Supplemental Draft for choice acquired from Oakland)
Reality Check: Had Casserly not wasted this pick on the injured Hollings, this choice might have been the primary bait in what will happen below. Or, it could have been used at the top of the second round to secure a player like LB Karlos Dansby, DT Igor Olshansky, S Bob Sanders or RBs Tatum Bell or Julius Jones. Instead, the Texans took a player with four games’ experience as a running back with a scoped knee who never amounted to much in Houston and is no longer in the NFL.
Now, we get to the main part of the review – a trade that still sends shudders down spines of Texan fans everywhere:
Round 2 (40th overall)
Texans Pick: Traded, along with the third round (71st overall), fourth round (103rd overall) and fifth round (138th overall) choices to the Tennessee Titans for their first round (27th overall) and their fifth round (159th overall) selections. The Texans then chose Jason Babin, LB, Western Michigan.
Bob’s Picks: Isaac Sopoaga, DT, Hawaii. Round 3 (71st overall) Courtney Watson, ILB, Notre Dame. Round 4 (103rd overall) Roderick Green, OLB, Central Missouri St. Round 5 (138th overall) Brandon Miree, RB, Pittsburgh.
Titans Picks: Ben Troupe, TE, Florida Round 3 (71st overall) Randy Starks, DT, Maryland Round 4 (103rd overall) Bo Schobel, DE, TCU Round 5 (138th overall) Jacob Bell, G, Miami (Oh).
Reality Check: There are so many ways to look at this deal, none of which are too flattering for Charley Casserly.
First, let me say that it isn’t Jason Babin’s fault that his name will be forever attached to an infamous trade. A bar was set impossibly high for him when he came to Houston as "the next Kevin Greene" and the small-school converted defensive end simply wasn’t up to the challenge. However, had he simply fallen to us at #33 or #40, Babin might be perceived today as a solid second-round choice.
In 43 games, he has amassed 94 tackles and 13 sacks with 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. Not bad for someone who had to change positions twice and fight for playing time. But, to justify the trade that acquired him, Babin had to perform like a Top 15 selection and that hasn’t happened.
From the aspect of the trade value chart, this one calculates the Texans traded 859.5 draft points (500 + 235 + 86 + 36.5) for 708.4 draft points (680 + 28.4) when factoring in the compensatory picks at the end of the third and fourth rounds. The difference is 151.1 trade points, or the equivalent of a low third-rounder. To paraphrase a recent Verizon commercial, Charley got hosed.
My own choices for those picks have not done too well, yet all have found homes in the NFL except for Watson who, ironically, was the one drafted earliest of my four picks stolen in the Babin heist. Sopoaga lasted until the fourth round, taken by San Francisco where he contributes as a backup DT. Green spent two seasons as a backup in Baltimore but bulked up to play DE in San Francisco last year and registered four sacks in limited action. Miree spent two years buried on the Denver bench but got into 10 games last year with the Packers in a backup role. I still think all could have developed in Houston in roles available in 2004. Watson had a fine start in New Orleans but fell out of favor and bounced to Buffalo and Houston before being cut here late in the preseason.
For a better look at what Houston gave up to get Babin, just glance at what the Titans did with the picks we traded to them. Troupe has caught 101 passes for 1009 yards and 7 TDs. Starks has compiled 115 tackles and 10.5 sacks with four fumble recoveries as a defensive tackle. Schobel has 44 tackles and 1.5 sacks in three seasons as a backup with the Titans and the Colts. Bell has made 30 starts for the Titans so far in his career.
If you really wanted to bury the trade, you could cherry-pick a draft of S Bob Sanders, RT Max Starks, DE Jared Allen and RB Michael Turner with the choices we sacrificed for Babin.
Round 4 (122nd overall)
Texans Pick: Glenn Earl, S, Notre Dame
Bob’s Pick: Rashad Washington, S, Kansas St.
Reality Check: We all know about Earl’s pros and cons. It seems the fourth round was the proper place for him. This choice was acquired the previous year from Indianapolis. Washington has been in the Jets’ secondary for three seasons but has had far less playing time than Earl who has benefited from minimal competition for his job.
Round 5 (159th overall)
Texans Pick: traded to Jacksonville for their sixth round (175th overall) and seventh round choices (210th) overall.
Reality Check: Casserly completes the hat trick of trading with all three division rivals, sending the Jaguars the fifth-rounder they got from Tennessee for two choices later in the draft. Casserly must have realized he needed some depth after coming away with just three players in five rounds.
Rounds 6 and 7
Texans Picks: Round 6 (170th overall) Vontez Duff, CB-KR, Notre Dame Round 6 (175th overall) Jammal Lord, S, Nebraska Round 6 (200th overall) Charlie Anderson, LB, Mississippi Round 7 (210th overall) Raheem Orr, LB, Rutgers Round 7 (211th overall) Sloan Thomas, WR, Texas Round 7 (248th overall) B.J. Symons, QB, Texas Tech
Bob’s Picks: Round 6 (170th overall) Maurice Jones, ILB, South Florida Round 6 (200th overall) Chad Pugh, DT, TCU Round 7 (211th overall) Jammal Lord, RB, Nebraska Round 7 (248th overall) Patrick Kabongo, DT, Nebraska
Reality Check: Mostly training camp fodder, not worth much discussion. The Texans received comp picks in both rounds, the last of the freebies the league offered the fledgling franchise. The only player to survive all of this is Anderson who is a special teams talent and backup linebacker. Casserly and I both took Lord but with different aims. I wanted the former Cornhusker QB to try out as a change-of-pace back instead of a free safety. I’d still like to have seen that tried.
Overall Assessment: Typically, I’ve compared my mock drafts to Casserly’s on a pick-by-pick basis but that was made difficult this year because of Casserly’s draft deals. In summary, Casserly found three defensive starters and one reserve while I found one defensive starter and a lot of unrealized potential. I do still disagree with the Babin trade (and have since the moment it was announced), not only because it amounted to a 4-for-1 swap but because it announced a change of approach from building depth for the long-term to winning now – a decision that caused a complete implosion in just 20 months.
Bob Hulsey reminds everyone that after all these wasted picks in the last two rounds, the Broncos chose our present backup quarterback, Bradlee Van Pelt.
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