Board set, Texans approach draft with “no glaring needs”

The Texans’ draft board is set. All that remains is seeing how the chips fall beginning on

Thursday with the first round, where the Texans have the 26th pick, and executing their plan.

At his annual pre-draft press conference on Tuesday, general manager Rick Smith applauded the work done by the Texans’ scouting and coaching staffs during draft preparations.

“This is such a subjective process, what we try to do is do as much as we can do to put ourselves in positions to make good decisions,” Smith said. “Our processes are in place now and I feel so good about them, and I think longevity helps us because we’ve got people who have worked with us in the system long enough that I just really feel good about where we are and how we’ve stacked this board and just the process.

“So the culmination, obviously, of a lot of work over the last year, I think we can fully expect that it will be a very successful weekend for us. I’m thankful to the guys who have put in all the work and I think we’ve vetted this board about as thoroughly as we’ve vetted a board, and I feel very prepared as a group going in.

“We’ve met this morning to go over scenarios and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow, but really, the work’s done. The board is set. We’re excited about adding some players that will come in and hopefully impact our football team.”

Smith said the Texans “took a significant step” toward their goal of winning a Super Bowl last season. They went 10-6 and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs before losing to the Baltimore Ravens on the road in narrow fashion.

Every first-round pick in Texans history has started as a rookie, but that could change in 2012.

“We are coming into the draft where we feel like we have a good football team and there are no glaring needs,” Smith said. “Certainly, we feel like we’re in that position, but I still think you have to look for impact players. Maybe the early contribution won’t be as significant for some of them, but you still want to go out and find the best players available that fit your system and speak to some kind of need on your football team or can make some kind of contribution to your football team.”

So what are the Texans’ needs heading into the draft?

“If you look across our football team, the first thing I think you would think about [is] on the offensive line, losing a couple starters, via free agency in one case [right guard Mike Brisiel] and then a termination in another case [right tackle Eric Winston], but we’ve got to look at the offensive line group,” Smith said. “I’ve said at the Combine earlier that I think we can probably help ourselves at the wide receiver position with maybe adding some youth and adding some speed there, and then depth in the linebacker corps. You can always add pass rushers. You can always add corners; I’ve always said that.

“We’ll do what we always do. We’ll stay true to our board. We’ve assessed a value that we think these players have at their particular positions, and the way that it falls is the way that we’ll pick them.”

Smith declined to discuss specific draft prospects, as he does every year. He did say on Tuesday that there is depth in this draft at wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker.

Smith also said the Texans are further along in their evaluation of 3-4 defensive prospects from last year, when they switched from evaluating 4-3 players in the middle of the scouting season after Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator.

“One thing about this defense is you need linebackers,” he said. “You need depth at linebacker. You need as many guys as you can find that can rush the passer that are athletic. It helps you on special teams. I do believe that our special teams units were improved last year, and part of that is a function of a 3-4 defense. We’ll continue to bolster those groups and continue to try to find players that fit that system and can come in and help us.”

Going back to the offensive line, Smith repeated another familiar refrain of his from this time of year: The Texans don’t stack their draft board based on need.

“We’ve got good players on our football team already that we think can step in there,” Smith said. “(Rashad) Butler is a guy that played at a very, very high level when he had his opportunity, and it’s been very limited, but he started four games for us and played at a pretty high level. (Antoine) Caldwell has starting experience. Last year, even our seventh-round pick had the opportunity to be a swing tackle in . That’s really good experience that he was able to get.

“We’re not at a point where we’re at a total deficit anywhere on our football team, but we do think that there are some players in this draft that can come in and provide depth and help us.”

Twitter.com/NickScurfield

2012 Path to the Draft: Offensive Tackle

*This article is part of our 2012 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply

A position-by-position look at the 2012 NFL Draft (April 26-28), featuring exclusive analysis on potential Texans draft picks from and of the

Path to the Draft: |

State of the Position ()
The Texans have one of the best young left tackles in football in . The 2008 first-round draft pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but it would be a surprise if the Texans don’t lock him up long-term. A second-team All-Pro in 2011, Brown likely has plenty of Pro Bowls in his future.

The Texans released starting right tackle Eric Winston before the start of free agency. Winston had been in the starting lineup since 2006, so the continuity of the line will obviously take a hit in his absence. But the Texans are confident in , who was the backup swing tackle behind Winston and Brown for the last three seasons. A third-round pick in 2006, Butler has been with the Texans since 2007 and started four games at left tackle in 2010 when Brown was suspended.

Entering his second season, could compete with Butler for the starting right tackle job. Newton was a seventh-round pick from Arkansas State in 2011. The athletic big man was the Texans’ third tackle for most of the season after Butler suffered a season-ending triceps injury in September.

“Butler has started some games in his career,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said in March. “We think a lot of our young kid, Newton, but I’ll be honest with you, this thing’s gonna be wide open. We’ve got some good football players. We’re not giving any job to anybody, and they’re gonna have to go earn it. It’ll be very competitive.”

Several draft sites have right tackle pegged as a top priority for the Texans in the draft, but that assertion is ill-founded.

National Football Post Analysis (, for HoustonTexans.com)

DAY 1 OFFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 1.26

1. Jonathan Martin, Stanford (6-6, 304): A first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2011, Martin’s got the NFL size, length and overall athletic skill set, but he’s not a natural anchor player and doesn’t strike us as a guy who is ever going to be real physical at the next level. Martin can mirror in space, but struggles to stick through contact and isn’t real heavy-handed. Looks like a finesse tackle who will get over-drafted because of athletic talent, but is going to have a hard time keeping the edge clean at the next level.

2. Mike Adams, Ohio State (6-8, 320): Adams is a talented football player with a big frame, long arms and natural movement skills. He bends well and if he can put it all together and continue to improve his footwork, Adams could certainly mature into a starting caliber left tackle in the NFL. He parlayed a solid senior campaign into second-team All-Big-Ten selection honors at the offensive tackle position last season.

DAY 2 OFFENSIVE TACKLE OPTIONS AT 2.26 AND 3.13

1. Mitchell Schwartz, California (6-6, 318): Schwartz displays solid athletic ability, but looks better suited to play on the right side in the NFL vs. less speed. A nice mid-round-type draft pick who could eventually fight for playing time, Schwartz is at his best in the run game where he does a nice job sitting into his three-point stance, keeping his base down and generating a good snap through the hips into contact. Doesn’t waste much motion getting upright off the ball, stays down, possesses a strong lower half, runs his legs through contact and gains solid leverage with his hands.

2. Zebrie Sanders, Florida State (6-6, 307): A natural athlete who displays good bend, Sanders struggles at times with power and makes too many linemen look like good pass rushers off the edge because of it. He needs to get stronger to have a chance at the next level, but he is a well-built, athletic-looking tackle prospect with a long set of arms and a naturally thick lower half. Sanders showcases natural range out of his stance in the run game and fires off the ball low, but does waste some motion into contact winding his arms and can be slow to gain leverage.

DAY 3 OFFENSIVE TACKLE OPTONS AT 4.4, 4.26, 5.26, 6.26 AND 7.26

1. James Carmon, Mississippi State (6-7, 320): A former interior defensive lineman with a massive frame and impressive coordination for his size, Carmon is a JUCO transfer who started 10 games last year at left tackle. Displays intriguing body control/athleticism for a player his size. However, Carmon’s pad level is the key as he struggles to keep his base down and doesn’t play with consistent leverage into and through contact.

2. Nate Potter, Boise State (6-6, 300): Potter—in our assessment—is a poor man’s version of former Boston College LT Anthony Castonzo. He exhibits the ability to get around and seal on reach blocks and looks comfortable through contact on the move as well. Potter may currently lack the type of power to really drive NFL-caliber defenders off the ball, but he’s sticky through contact, understands angles and does a nice job staying engaged through the play.

Jones, Butler among free agency question marks

Whenever the lockout ends and free agency begins, the Texans have several key players who could become unrestricted and free to sign with any team.

Some, like All-Pro fullback , will be unrestricted no matter what. But there are others, like wide receiver and tackle , whose status is up in the air.

Jones has played four seasons, Butler five. Both would be restricted under last year’s free agency rules, which required six seasons for a player to become totally free. They’d be unrestricted if the threshold returns to four seasons, which recent speculation suggests might happen.

Regardless, Texans coach Gary Kubiak said that re-signing players like Jones and Butler will be a priority.

“It’s real important, because they’re a big part of our team,” Kubiak said last week at Reliant Stadium. “And everybody is going into this free agency period (the same way) – whenever it does happen, if you lose players this go-round, you’re not only losing them but you haven’t had any offseason to replace them. So you’ve got a double-edged problem right there. So maintaining the nucleus of the football team is a big, big priority.”

Jones or no Jones, many Texans fans want to know if the team will sign a top-flight number two receiver to pair with .

Well, Coach?

“I would tell the people that ask that question that if you put Jacoby and ’s numbers together last year, they add up to about 102 catches and 1,200 yards, and that would be the best number two receiver in football,” Kubiak said. “I like our two players. I think they’re both damned good players.”

Jones had his best season last year with 51 catches, 562 yards and three touchdowns, although he also had several critical drops. He stepped up in the final three weeks with 17 catches for 235 yards, including his first-career 100-yard game against the Denver Broncos.

Butler plays a vital role as the Texans’ backup at both offensive tackle positions. He started four games at left tackle last season when was suspended, during which time the Texans went 2-2 and Butler drew rave reviews from the Texans’ coaching staff.

Two other Texans in free agent-limbo are defensive end and quarterback . Both have played five seasons. The Texans placed tender offers on them, Jones and Butler in case they end up being restricted.

Leinart, the Texans’ third-string quarterback in 2010, has said that he’s hoping for a chance to start somewhere. Anderson, who had four sacks in 11 games last season, could join a talented outside linebacker group that includes , and .

Those players might be tougher to re-sign if they’re unrestricted, but a four-year unrestricted rule also would result in a bigger pool of free agents from other teams. The Texans have studied the potential free agents time and again in meetings this offseason, evaluating and ranking veteran players much like they do with draft prospects.

“Obviously, we’re guessing from a standpoint of exactly who’s going to be free, but we think we have a pretty good idea,” Kubiak said. “We’ve got our priority list and we’re ready to go, because it’s going to be a small window when they do get the deal done. There’ll be a small grace period and we’ll be at it.”