X Mocks the Spot

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April 19, 2007
X Mocks the Spot

by Bob Hulsey

Like a bad dream that never finishes, so are the Draft Day stories of the Houston Texans. This will be the first spring in franchise history without Charley Casserly at the helm and hope springs eternal that the new bosses can assess and acquire talent better than the old ones.

Coach Gary Kubiak had a hand in last year’s draft which took place before the hiring of General Manager Rick Smith. The result was the Texans’ best draft to date although, for many, passing on the opportunity to select Reggie Bush or Vince Young leaves a bitter taste in their mouths. All six of Houston’s picks saw the field last year and one (second-rounder DeMeco Ryans) was simply outstanding. The others, including top choice Mario Williams, gave glimpses of their potential if they develop properly.

The trade with Atlanta to acquire QB Matt Schaub dropped the Texans two spots in the first round and cost them their second-rounder for this year and next. It is absolutely essential that the Texans get an impact player in the first round since their next choice won’t come until the 73rd pick.

For my sixth annual Chance Pearce Memorial Mock Draft™, here’s the cards I’d take to the podium.

The Schaub trade makes any thought of trading back up in the first round too expensive. If an offer came to trade down and involved getting a second-round choice, I’d have to give it serious consideration. A chance to improve two needs instead of one would surely be tempting. But, before I deal, there are two guys I’d want to take at #10 if they fell to us.

The first is Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson who would not only give the running game the franchise back it has never had but would soothe a lot of raw emotions that haven’t recovered from the Williams pick last year.

As much as I was against taking Bush last year, that’s how much I am for taking Peterson this year. He has the size and toughness to produce inside and still has the speed to take it the distance. He also has the vision and cut-back ability to excel behind a zone blocking scheme. Ahman Green was a nice pickup but he’s 30 years old and was rode pretty hard at the Frozen Tundra Corral. Having Green and Peterson would give Kubiak some insurance against injuries and a fresh back whenever one needs a rest. It also means Schaub has a constant weapon in the backfield to take pressure off him.

The only knock on Peterson is a series of injuries he suffered at Oklahoma but none were to vital joints or ligaments. He could be as good as Eric Dickerson if everything works to plan.

My problem is that Peterson might go as early as Cleveland’s pick at #3 and I hate to forecast selections that drop well below value. My other top choice at #10 is more likely to be there so, Dr. Ron, write this down.

1. (10th overall) Patrick Willis, MLB, Mississippi

At first glance, this sounds absurd. Ryans was terrific as the middle linebacker. Why should we upgrade the only position on the team that doesn’t seem to need it?

Hear me out. I could tell you that Willis is Ryans-on-steroids but that might leave the wrong impression. Willis is a bigger, thicker version of Ryans who, like DeMeco, makes plays all over the field and has great instincts. Even before his Pro Day time of 4.37 in the 40 came out (a time I have trouble accepting, by the way), I knew this guy could and will flat out be a beast out there like the Bears’ Brian Urlacher.

The one part of Ryans’ game that worries me is that, at 235 lbs, he lacks the heft to impose his will in the middle. The thicker Willis can do this and has room to add another 10 pounds to his 240 frame and be highly effective. Even if 4.37 was a mirage, Willis at 4.45 is going to knock your socks off.

Mike Nolan of the 49ers was wowed by Willis during Senior Bowl Week and, when asked to compare him to Ryans who he coached in Mobile the year before, he said Willis was the more impressive of the two.

Ryans would be moved to the weakside linebacker spot held by Morlon Greenwood where he can be used more on blitzes and stunts, giving opponents someone else they have to gameplan against besides Williams and reducing (not eliminating) the need for a speed rusher at the other end of the defensive line from Mario.

With some combination of Ryans, Willis and the take-your-pick buffet of Greenwood, Kailee Wong, Danny Green or Shawn Barber on the strongside, the Texans would finally have a unit the rest of the NFL can envy rather than exploit.

Best of all, Willis is the most bust-proof of any player this side of Calvin Johnson. He’s a hard worker of outstanding character who has overcome family adversity and plays with a mean streak as well as a sense of dedication. On the late Eddie Robinson’s "marry-my-daughter" scale, he’s a "9" if not a "10". Like Peterson, Willis has had some injuries in college but he played through them showing the toughness you want for the middle man.

I wouldn’t be outraged to see us take OT Levi Brown (Penn St.), DE Jamaal Anderson (Alabama), CB Leon Hall (Michigan) or DT Alan Branch (Michigan) with the tenth pick but Peterson and Willis are the two I feel most confident about putting on the field.

2. (39th overall) Traded before the draft to Atlanta for QB Matt Schaub

This goes back to my comment about needing the #10 pick to be "bust-proof". Remember 2005 when Casserly dealt his second and third round choices for Phillip Buchanon and took the underwhelming Travis Johnson in the first round? The 2005 season was a disaster off the field before it was a disaster on the field. 2007 needs to be different and it starts with getting somebody on Draft Day who plays like a star. The Schaub trade puts added pressure on Smith and Kubiak to get the first pick right.

3. (73rd overall) A.J. Davis, CB, North Carolina State

The Texans could choose any of 50 different people here and make sense of it. They need help at cornerback, safety, wide receiver, defensive line and offensive line that could all be addressed in the third round. Davis is a smallish corner who is fluid in coverage but lacking in run support.

Just about anyone taken here will have some upside and some warts. I’m not really high on anyone expected to go in this round and most of the guys at the need positions have several guys in a group (CB, WR, OT, S) where one is probably just as good as the next. Therefore, unless someone I like unexpectedly falls to us, I’d be willing to send this pick to someone who would give us a 2008 second-rounder or give us an extra fourth and fifth selections in exchange. San Francisco and New Orleans, both with multiple fourth-round picks, would be ideal trading partners in the latter scenario.

4. (107th overall) Adam Koets, OT, Oregon State

We simply don’t know what the answer is at left tackle for the Texans this year but having one more option is not a bad thing. All it would take is one tackle (Charles Spencer, Eric Winston, Jordan Black, Ephraim Salaam) that can get through the season to start finding answers. The downside of taking Levi Brown in the first round would be the investment spent if Spencer turns out to be back at full health. Taking Koets in the fourth wouldn’t be as heavy a price and he can be hidden on the practice squad for a year while he bulks up which he’s going to need to do if he’s a long-term solution. If none of the four options pan out, Koets can be pressed into service. He should be okay in pass blocking but he’s not much of a run blocker at this point. Some scouts also question his passion for the game.

5. (144th overall) Daniel Sepulveda, P, Baylor

I suspect the Texans will take a running back in the Bronco mold here instead if they haven’t nabbed Peterson. I’d bet Kubiak would be even more eager to take Colorado PK Mason Crosby than Sepulveda if he wanted to draft a kicker but somebody else will have probably taken Crosby by this point.

I was once in Chad Stanley’s corner but he has decreased his punting average and left too many opponents in good field position. Although an answer can probably be found after the draft, taking a local kid with a cannon leg is as good a value here as taking a chance on any number of backups and special teamers.

6. (183rd overall) Uche Nwaneri, OG, Purdue

Like an offensive lineman who packs a punch? Nwaneri broke the jaw of a teammate who had insulted him during an offseason workout and was suspended for a year because of it. He’s a raw talent who has the agility for the zone blocking scheme and the toughness to hold off oncoming rushers. He needs work in run blocking, having come from a school with wide splits that passes a lot.

7. (218th overall) Patrick Bugg, WR, Eastern Kentucky

This 6-5 pest could be difficult to swat in the red zone. Expect him to generate a buzz.

Bob Hulsey doesn’t play a draft expert on television – or anywhere else. He’s just one of the millions who do mocks for fun and fury.

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