Too Far Down the Rabbit Hole

Too Far Down the Rabbit Holeby Keith

Let’s face it, by this time of year we’re all starting to get a little too much like Alice.You know – Alice – that impish girl from the Lewis Carroll prose. The one so bored with the real world that she decides to make up her own nonsensical one, chasing a tardy rabbit down some bottomless gorge.Well, this period of tedium between the bowl season and the NFL draft is when we chase down our own rabbit holes, contorting our sense of reality along the way. Non-football activities, such as 40 times, cone drills, and Wonderlic scores, meant to help talent evaluators compare like apples and confirm what they’ve seen on film, instead serve to occupy the doldrums and spark our creative and sometimes counter-productive impulses.We’ve created our own veritable Wonderland of whimsy and “DRINK ME” potions. We pick at the minutia, we poke at the smoke, and we ponder the improbable. Those exhaustive four months are enough to drive anyone mad, March hares and tea-swilling hatters included.So, forget for a moment your preconceived notions regarding the current state of the Houston Texans. Wipe away those thoughts that burden you regarding their needs and strengths. Misplace those names and schools next to the college players set to be drafted in April. Pass whatever the Caterpillar’s puffin’ to the left-hand side and avoid the smokescreens.It’s clean slate time. If one were to rank the prototypical players on a team’s wish list to build the ideal NFL roster, it would probably include the following:

  • Franchise Quarterback
  • Shutdown Cornerback
  • Pass Rushing Fiend
  • Gamebreaking #1 Wide Receiver
  • Mr. Everything Linebacker
  • Pancaking Left Tackle
  • Every Down Running Back
The franchise quarterback is the consensus choice to helm that wish list, just as it was for Houston last spring. Rightfully so, but the next choice on the list is cause for considerable debate. Usually it comes down to the pass rusher and the cornerback.Maybe it’s because these two are the hardest to find at a premium level. Or maybe it’s because they cause the most match-up problems for opposing offenses. Whatever the reason, the corner and the pass rusher are likely the favorites as second and third on our wish list.So let’s put this back in to today’s context. Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs and Kansas State’s Terence Newman are generally regarded as the top pass rushing fiend and the best shutdown corner, respectively.Both players performed at All-American levels on the field in 2002 and caught the fancy of onlookers at the combine. Both players should also be high on the Texans’ draft board, yet each comes with question mark or two specific to the home team’s current situation.So why aren’t Suggs and Newman at the top of the Texans’ board when wideout Charles Rogers probably is?Suggs played defensive end in college, not linebacker, the position he would be asked to play in head coach Dom Capers’ 3-4 defensive scheme. It could be too much of a gamble at the third overall pick to draft a player out of position, though a good defensive-minded coach like Capers would know how to accentuate his skills and downplay his deficiencies.Suggs’ pro day workout, however, didn’t help matters. Showing off lackluster forty times and pulling a hammy isn’t necessarily the stuff of legends.Newman would be a nickel corner for the Texans, at least in the short term. Pro Bowler Aaron Glenn just signed an extension, and Marcus Coleman picked up his performance in the second half of the 2002 season. Both appear firmly entrenched as the 2003 starters.Taking Newman shouldn’t qualify as unnecessary depth, despite the plethora of needs the team has at virtually every other position. Given the volatile nature of today’s cap-driven rosters, however, Casserly and the Texans expect for their first round pick to provide a more immediate impact as a first day starter.Newman’s age is also of concern to some. A very not-so-merry unbirthday awaits him each day because he will be a 25-year old rookie, with the emphasis on the “old.” Most rookies will be three, four, and in some cases, five years his junior, expected to hit their primes by Newman’s elder age.So maybe there are valid concerns on both 2003 prototypes, but a team with just one season under its franchise belt shouldn’t consider either of them if they do not affect the value of the prospect over the next five to six seasons. This team should be built for the long haul, drafting the best available player based on expectations for the life of the contract he signs.Lest we forget though, in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately version of the NFL, there are no guarantees that even Capers and Casserly will even be around when the 2003 draftees begin hitting their strides a few years down the road. So drafting an impact player could cloud decision-making.Don’t believe me? Go down the hall and knock on Chris Palmer’s door. He only had two seasons in Cleveland. Capers wasn’t around for much longer in Carolina. And these were expansion teams, too, just like our Texans.Perceived needs can be filled with later picks in the draft, not vice versa. Teams ought to draft star players in the first round, regardless of position, even moreso when they possess a top-five pick. Hopefully the Texans won’t find themselves sitting this high on draft day in the future, so making the most of it now would be a wise course of action.If you pass on Suggs, do so because you think he’s unpolished, undisciplined, or unable to collapse the pocket at the next level. Don’t pass on him because of some silly non-football measure, one that fails to capture how devastating his first step at the snap of a football can be.If you pass on Newman, do so because you think he can’t play aggressive, can’t play the ball, or can’t play the run. Don’t pass on him just because he can’t crack the first team in year one or because he’ll be old for a rookie.Or pass on both if Charles Rogers is the only true, prototypical player in this draft.By doing so, the Texans will steer clear of those rabbit holes we fancy and walk away from the 2003 draft smiling like the Cheshire Cat.Keith Weiland is diabolically opposed to whimsy.