2012 Path to the Draft: Defensive End


*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

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State of the Position ()
The Texans have two standout defensive ends in and , but they could add more depth at the position in the 2012 draft.

Smith, a team captain, made his first Pro Bowl in 2011 with a career-high 6.5 sacks. Watt, a first-round draft pick from Wisconsin, was a rookie sensation with 5.5 sacks, 56 tackles, a team-high 7.0 tackles for loss and four passes defensed. He also had 3.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown in the playoffs.

The only other defensive end on the roster at this point is . A three-year veteran out of Michigan, Jamison had 19 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble last season. The Texans have not re-signed veteran defensive end , who has been with the team since 2006.

National Football Post Analysis (, for HoustonTexans.com)

DAY 1 DEFENSIVE END OPTIONS AT 1.26

1. Michael Brockers, LSU (6-6, 306): Extremely athletic for his size, Brockers arrived at LSU as a 255-pound linebacker prospect who bulked up and eventually made the move to the defensive line, where he played 27 games over the last two years, notching two sacks. He might be a little raw and could have used some more work at the college level, but Brockers is an NFL talent with “plus” upside who can come in and play vs. the run at a high level right away. Should get looks at both the three and five-technique spots and in our minds has the ability to become one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL down the line.

2. Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State (6-4, 295): Named second-team All-SEC in 2011, Cox recorded 56 tackles and five sacks for the Bulldogs last year and has been shooting up draft boards in recent weeks. We think his best spot might be as a 3-4 five technique (which fits Houston perfectly) who is able to penetrate and make plays off the ball. Cox is raw and needs to learn to play with his pad level lower. However, as a potential five-technique, he’s a guy who has the skill set to earn a starting role.

DAY 2 DEFENSIVE END OPTIONS AT 2.26 AND 3.13

1. Jared Crick, Nebraska (6-6, 285): After recording 19 sacks and 143 tackles over 28 games from 2009-2010, Crick’s production fell off last season after injuries limited him to just five games. He’s a tall, leaner defensive tackle/end with a long set of arms, but lacks ideal girth in the lower half. Crick is instinctive, gets off the snap count on time and does a nice job finding the football vs. the run. However, at 6-6, he struggles with his pad level.

2. Tyrone Crawford, Boise State (6-4, 276): Crawford racked up 13.5 sacks in 25 games at Boise State and forced a career-high three fumbles last season. He possesses good size for the position with a naturally longer set of arms. In addition, the 22-year-old coils up into his stance well, comes off the ball low and does a nice job extending his hands into contact as a run defender. We like his skill set and think he’s going to develop quickly at the next level. Crawford isn’t there yet, but as a prospect he has some real upside and displays the kind of blue-collar pass rushing mentality that we like.

DAY 3 DEFENSIVE ENDS OPTONS AT 4.4, 4.26, 5.26, 6.26 AND 7.26

1. Dominique Hamilton, Missouri (6-5, 305): A four-year contributor who played in 46 total games and is coming off a career-high three sacks in 2011, Hamilton is a tall, long-armed defensive tackle/end prospect with a thick but athletic-looking frame. He plays the run much stronger than his body type would indicate and he’s got a burst off the snap while playing with good leverage. Hamilton has the frame to add 15 to 20 pounds and looks like a 3-4 five-technique at the next level who could start.

2. Malik Jackson, Tennessee (6-5, 270): Jackson was a four-year contributor at Tennessee who appeared in 46 games and recorded a career-high 56 tackles in 2011. He displays impressive athletic ability and when he gets his hands up off the line. Jackson can consistently keep himself clean while working like a bear in pursuit. Showcases great range off his frame for the position and demonstrates a good motor to go along with it. He’s a great-looking athlete, but has some real work to do from a technique standpoint due to the fact he was playing out of position at Tennessee.

2011 Season in Review: Defensive Line

A position-by-position look at the Texans’ 2011 season

Season in Review: | | |  |

The Texans’ defensive line was part of a defense that ranked second in the NFL (285.7 yards/game) in 2011, including fourth against the run (96.0). Much of the pressure generated by Wade Phillips’ 3-4 front started with outstanding play from defensive ends and .

Smith, a team captain, set a career-high with 6.5 sacks and made his first Pro Bowl. The “Ninja Assassin” had at least half a sack in each of the first five games of the season. He had 25 tackles (19 solo), 5.0 tackles for loss and one forced fumble overall. Smith ranked fourth among all 3-4 defensive ends in sacks and tied for fifth in tackles for loss.

Watt, a rookie from Wisconsin, had a Pro Bowl-caliber season after being picked 11th overall in the draft. “The Milk Man” had 56 tackles (49 solo), 5.5 sacks, a team-high 7.0 tackles for loss and four passes defensed. He ranked fifth among 3-4 ends in tackles, third in tackles for loss and tied for eighth in sacks. Watt had 3.5 sacks in the playoffs, tying three other players for the NFL postseason lead, and returned an interception for a touchdown in the Wild Card round against Cincinnati.

Nose tackle had 23 tackles (16 solo), one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss in his third season with the Texans and seventh in the NFL [He also hosted the popular Texans TV show ]. Third-year pro rotated with Cody and had 27 tackles (14 solo) and one sack.

Third-year defensive end had 19 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble in a reserve role. , a fifth-year defensive end, had 12 tackles (six solo) in 10 appearances.

Defensive Line in Review
Starters: DE: Antonio Smith (16 games 2 postseason), J.J. Watt (16 games 2 postseason), NT: Shaun Cody (16 games 1 postseason)

Newcomers: Watt (first-round draft pick)

Injuries: Smith (shoulder, late in season)

Notable number: 2: 100-yard rushers allowed by the Texans in 2011 (Daniel Thomas, 18 carries for 107 yards, Week 2; Ray Rice, 23 carries for 101 yards, Week 6), including playoff games. The Texans limited their opponent’s leading rusher to less than 65 yards in 14 of 18 games and kept 10 of 18 opponents to 100 team rushing yards or less.

Season highlight: Wild Card playoff game vs. Cincinnati – Watt picked off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and returned it for a 29-yard touchdown late in the second quarter of the first playoff game in franchise history. It gave the Texans a 17-10 lead, ignited a sold-out Reliant Stadium crowd and sparked a lopsided 31-10 victory. Watt also sacked Dalton for a seven-yard loss on the final play of the first half.

Quotable: “Antonio’s a vital part of this defense. He’s a really good pass rusher and we try to put him in positions where he can get one-on-one, and the time’s he’s been one-on-one, he’s really done well… He’s an all out player. He plays as hard as you can play every play.” – Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on Sept. 29, on Smith

“I have trained in the temples of Shaolin, where I have mastered my art of ninjitsu. I can walk – I can even speak without you even knowing I am speaking.” – Smith on Oct. 4, on his “Ninja Assassin” persona during an

“I studied all week on that formation and as soon as it happened I dropped back into my zone and just put that guy on Revis Island. Or Cody Island.” – Cody on Nov. 6, after he intercepted Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on a two-point conversion attempt in the Texans’ 30-12 victory in Week 9 at Reliant Stadium

“Let me tell you, you turn on the film and this kid played one hell of a football game. Unbelievable game… It was off the charts, now. He’s been a big-time player all year long, and he plays with great energy.”- Kubiak on Dec. 23, on Watt after he was called for several penalties in a 19-16 loss to the Colts at Indianapolis

 “Like a Lycan wolf ninja – like a ninja who been bit by a werewolf and then he’s still a ninja but then transforms to the wolf come game time. And the wolf is the dog. And y’all know I got the dog, too.” – Smith on Jan. 2, on what kind of “ninja” was in store for the playoffs

“I came around and I really was trying to put my hands up, get in the way of the passing lane, and it happened to kind of stick. I realized I had the ball, so I was running to the end zone just trying not to fall down… I scored and got mauled by my teammates and the stadium went absolutely nuts. That was unbelievable.” – Watt on Jan. 7, after his pick-six against the Bengals in the Wild Card victory

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Five things to watch: Texans vs. Jaguars

Here are five things to watch when the Texans (4-3) take on the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) at Reliant Stadium in Week 8. The Texans are 7-5 all-time in their Battle Red jerseys, including 4-2 against Jacksonville.

1. Rookie welcome: Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert is the first of three rookie quarterbacks the Texanns will face in the next eight weeks. Drafted with the 10th overall pick, Gabbert became the Jaguars’ starter in Week 3. He has a 1-4 record and has completed 48.3 percent of his passes with 810 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 69.4 rating.

Expect to see plenty of pressure from Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense on Sunday. Gabbert has been sacked 17 times in five starts, and the Texans are tied for fourth in the league with 19 sacks. Defensive end leads the Texans with 4.5 sacks. Linebacker and defensive ends and all have two sacks apiece.

Barwin moved to the weakside last Sunday, swapping with Reed, who moved to the strongside. The result: Reed notched his first-career sack, and Barwin had an active day that included two tipped passes at the line of scrimmage.

2. All about MJD: Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew leads the AFC and ranks second in the NFL with 677 rushing yards, carrying a Jaguars offense that ranks last in total yards (252.4) and passing yards (128.4) per game and 31st in scoring (12.0 points).

The two-time Pro Bowler has averaged 107.3 yards from scrimmage, almost half of the Jaguars’ total weekly output. He has been a model of consistency this season, with at least 84 rushing yards in every game and an average of 4.6 yards per carry.

Since becoming a starter in 2009, Jones-Drew has two 100-yard rushing games in three tries against the Texans. He averaged 98.3 rushing yards (4.2 per carry) with five rushing touchdowns in those three games, all Jaguars victories. The Texans rank seventh in the NFL in rushing defense this season after limiting Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to 18 yards on 10 carries last week.

3. Texans ground game: With All-Pro wide out yet again because of a hamstring injury, the Texans will rely on their running game to move the ball on offense.

ran for 115 yards and 119 had receiving yards last week, becoming the 32nd player in NFL history with 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game. He was the eighth player to accomplish the feat in the last 10 years.

Foster had averaged only 3.2 yards per carry in the previous two games and said he just now feels he’s getting into football shape after an early-season hamstring injury. He and backup , who has three 100-yard games this season, will be a handful for a Jaguars defense that ranks sixth overall (299.7 yards per game) and 10th against the run (103.4).

4. Spreading the wealth: Johnson will miss his fourth consecutive game this week. The Texans have gone 1-2 in his absence, using a wide variety of receiving targets along the way.

Foster, tight ends and and wide receivers and have all had 75-yard receiving days in the last four weeks. Foster has two 100-yard receiving games, including a 119-yard effort last Sunday. Quarterback completed passes to seven different receivers last week.

Underscoring just how important Johnson is to the offense, it took three-and-a-ahlf games after his injury for someone to pass him as the Texans’ leading receiver. Daniels now has 27 catches for 355 yards on the season, just ahead of Johnson’s 25 catches and 352 yards.

5. Replacing Manning: Sunday’s game will be the Texans’ first of at least four without free safety , who fractured his left fibula in Week 7 at Tennessee.

Third-year safety will replace Manning in the starting lineup. He’ll be backed up by , who was signed this week and will likely play on third downs in nickel situations. Rookie safety and rookie cornerback also could see time at safety.

Nolan, a third-year pro, has played in every game this season. A seventh-round draft pick in 2009, he had 10 interceptions in two years at Arizona State and three interceptions last season. Kubiak likes the progress he has made under first-year Texans defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.

Manning has been a big part of the Texans’ improved pass defense this season, helping them improve from 32nd in the league in 2010 to sixth this season. The sixth-year veteran has two interceptions and 32 tackles since signing from the Chicago Bears as a free agent.

Manning also ranks sixth in the league with 27.4 yards per kickoff return. Cornerback , Demps or wide receiver Jacoby Jones could return kickoffs for the Texans. Jones or Demps could return punts.

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