The Untouchables

January 6, 2004
The Untouchables

by Keith Weiland

The NFL playoff season has arrived, so for the second-year Texans that means only one thing: unbridled draft talk for the next four-and-a-half months.

Please try to contain your excitement. You’ll need a slow burn on this one to make it through.

Read My Lips
The Texans have made little secret of restocking the talent pool on defense with this upcoming draft, hoping to give Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio some fresh blood for next season. In fact, the team has made so many public overtures about the need to assemble impact players for the defense that one could come away with the impression that every player name called out next April will be to Fangio’s benefit.

That’s not to say though that the 2004 draft won’t be without its intrigue. Until draft day arrives, we won’t know for sure whether the front office will go all out and draft defense. Better yet, the discussion ought to be wide open as to whether they should be so exclusively focused on the defense, especially in the first round.

The needs on defense are certainly justifiable if they went donkey and punched a straight “D” ticket. The Texans defense ranked 31st in the league last year. They were equally inept in pass defense (31st) as they were in stopping the run (31st).

Injuries were partly to blame. Losing both 2002 Pro Bowlers in CB Aaron Glenn and DE Gary Walker to injury was devastating to the squad, as was the loss of DT Seth Payne. Even if all three starters return healthy, the defense still has enough holes to double as a colander. If the team decides to go all defense with each of its picks, so be it.

Or, what I mean to say is… so be it a mistake if better players on offense are skipped.

The well-worn draft theory of always selecting the “Best Player Available” (BPA) counters the short-sighted plan to fill any pressing needs on draft day. The franchise is still at least a year away from having enough of its roster filled with quality players to solely focus on drafting specifically for a positional need.

Oxymoron: NFL Job Security
Since the offense has received the lion’s share of attention over the past two years, it appears as though it should be the defense’s turn on draft day. While another year of development for the young talent on offense will no doubt help, we shouldn’t be deluded. This is not a juggernaut, especially not one capable of overcoming injury.

Matured teams – those in the upper quartile of the league expecting to go deep in the playoffs – have the better depth to draft an impact player at a need position with a first round pick. Job security for most head coaches and general managers is too tenuous to not look for a first round pick that will make a quick impact. Just ask offensive coordinator Chris Palmer about his quick two-year stint as Cleveland’s first head coach.

It’s this reason why the Buffalo Bills’ selection of an injured Willis McGahee was such a surprise last year. While Gregg Williams and his staff might not have survived the 2003 season anyway, things could have been different if the Bills selected a player in the first round healthy enough to actually play.

My, That’s a Big ‘But’
But the job security of Dom Capers and Charley Casserly really isn’t in any sort of jeopardy. Even in the unlikely scenario where the team backpedals and fails to match 2003’s win total in 2004, neither of Capers nor Casserly figures to lose a job over it.

Just like a year ago though, the 2004 version of the Texans’ BPA draft plan comes with its own built-in exceptions. Last April, quarterbacks were off the board until the third round, as they should be once again this spring. That kickers and punters are off the board too should be a moot point as well.

The BPA exceptions then become a little less clear when considering other positions to mark as untouchable. The Texans have struck gold at wide receiver and running back with last year’s additions of Andre Johnson and Domanick Davis. Having youthful second-round backups like WR Jabar Gaffney and RB Tony Hollings already in the fold, the Texans could easily look the other way at those two positions on draft day and not be criticized.

It should be tempting, however, to consider adding one of the talented wideouts from this draft class. At the tenth pick, someone like Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams, or Reggie Williams will slip and be available. If one was drafted to play opposite Johnson, the Texans would possess quite an unstoppable pair.

And while the offensive line has cut down the sacks (which weren’t their entire fault in 2002 protecting a rookie quarterback), passing up Iowa’s Robert Gallery or Arkansas’ Shawn Andrews, assuming they’re still available at the Texans’ pick, in favor of keeping the status quo at tackle would be like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Back to the Future
No one knows what future may hold. An unforeseen injury, not unlike any of the ones suffered by the defense in 2003, could befall an offensive starter and send the team spiraling downward.

The Texans shouldn’t forget that they are in a unique position, one they should take advantage of now. The ability to follow a BPA draft plan guilt-free ought to be a luxury for need-laden teams like the Texans. It’s one of the few perks they get for being an expansion team just two years into existence.

Top Ten List
Senior Bowl week is coming, so keep your eyes and ears open as to whom the Texans scout. The team coached a squad last January, parlaying the opportunity into an extended draft workout to evaluate first day players like Bennie Joppru and Seth Wand.
(* indicates underclassman)

Robert Gallery    

1. Robert Gallery, LT, Iowa. 6′” 317. Gallery is the real deal as a left tackle prospect. If he’s somehow available when the Texans pick, they should waste no time getting this card up to Tags.

Vince Wilfork    

2. Vince Wilfork*, DT, Miami. 6’2″ 345. A double-team waiting to happen in the NFL. Nice quickness for a big man. Maybe too big? Nah, just wait until he gets into an NFL weight training program.

Sean Taylor    

3. Sean Taylor*, FS, Miami. 6’3″ 225. Arguably the best athlete in the entire draft, assuming he declares. Taylor is the type who has enough athletic ability to make an immediate impact, too.

Shawn Andrews    

4. Shawn Andrews*, RT, Arkansas. 6’5″ 371. A punishing run blocker who would be the long-term answer at right tackle for the Texans. Weight is a minor concern, but he’s light on his feet.

Randy Starks    

5. Randy Starks*, DT (DE), Maryland. 6’4″ 312. Plays smaller than he’s listed, but that’s a back-handed compliment to his pass rush ability. Another athletic freak, he can stuff the run and tackle too.

Tommie Harris    

6. Tommie Harris*, DT (DE), Oklahoma. 6’3″ 287. Harris would make for a fearsome end in a 3-4 system. Plenty strong to take multiple blockers, he has the necessary quickness to rush the passer.

DeAngelo Hall    

7. DeAngelo Hall*, CB, Virginia Tech. 5’11” 201. Speed kills, and Hall has plenty of it. If allowed, he could be a back-breaker on returns as well. Hall may shoot up boards when timed at the Combine.

Marlin Jackson    

8. Chris Gamble*, CB, Ohio State. 6’2″ 180. An instinctive player who could just as easily be a big-time star as he could be a big-time bust. Raw and easily fooled, Gamble’s still worth the, um, gamble.

Chris Gamble    

9. Will Smith, DE (OLB), Ohio State. 6’3″ 265. A great pass rusher who should be able to make the switch to OLB in the 3-4. Can take the best angles, stand up the runner, and drop into coverage.

Karlos Dansby    

10. Karlos Dansby, OLB, Auburn. 6’5″ 230. Rangy athlete who tops a decent list of linebackers in this draft. If selected by the Texans, might he push Kailee Wong to the inside?

Keith Weiland has one thing to say to those who do not approve of his methods: You’re not from Chicago.