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.”

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GM Smith, Texans preparing for month of draft meetings

There were all-star games in January, the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February and pro days and pre-draft visits in March.

For general manager Rick Smith and the Texans’ coaches and scouts, next week is when the fun begins in their preparation for the 2011 NFL Draft.

“Everybody will convene next week here in Houston for our draft meetings,” Smith said on Wednesday in his office at Reliant Stadium. “That’s when we get hunkered down and down in the bunker and really try to assess our board.

“Our board is set. We’ve got the preliminary board set, but now for the next month, we’ll spend the next month really, really studying our board and these players and assessing the value and making sure that we’ve got them pegged the right way so that we give ourselves a chance to have some success on draft day – on the three draft days.”

The April 28-30 draft is fast approaching. The first round, in which the Texans have the 11th overall pick, is four weeks from today.

Smith said that the Texans’ draft board won’t change much between now and then.

“(That’s) because the bulk of our evaluation, and we believe that this is the right approach, is based on football, the resume that he’s put on the field,” he said. “And so that is the major portion of it: What kind of football player is he? And that evaluation has already obviously been done.

“All of the ancillary things that happen color the picture, I guess is a good way to put it. Whether you’re talking about an all-star game or whether you’re talking about a pro day or the Combine or a visit, all those things help color the picture. But we know what these guys are at this point in terms of what they are as men and as football players. And so (the board) does change a little bit, but not significantly.”

Each NFL team can invite up to 30 players to their respective facilities for pre-draft visits. The Texans are looking for the same things in those visits that they were looking for at the Combine.

“You’re either checking something out medically or you are just wanting to spend a little bit more time and get a little bit better feel,” Smith said. “If you don’t think you’ve got a good feel on a particular player, then you bring him in and spend a little more time. It’s just, at that point, to validate something that you think you already know, or to clear up any kind of medical issues.”

Draft prep has been business as usual for the Texans, but there is an elephant-in-the-room-sized caveat this year. Because of the lockout, there likely won’t be a free agency period before the draft. Free agency usually begins in the first week of March, allowing teams to bolster their rosters with veteran players.

Smith reiterated on Wednesday that it hasn’t affected how the Texans have set their draft board, and it won’t affect their strategy on draft weekend.

“We’ve said for years that you don’t draft for need,” he said. “If you get a need position in the draft, then that’s great. I think that it is a little odd and it’s backwards that typically you’ve filled your team, at least some of the positions of need, via free agency. But this year being a little bit different, it doesn’t change our approach with respect to how we approach the draft and filling the needs on our team.”

It’s no secret that one of the Texans’ biggest needs is in the secondary. Not only did they finish 32nd in passing defense in 2010, they released starting free safety Eugene Wilson and have not re-signed starting strong safety .

Safety might not be as pressing of a need as cornerback because the Texans could move to free safety. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week that the only way they would do that is if they felt good enough about the rest of their corners, since Quin is currently the best of the bunch.

Smith, who played safety at Purdue and was an assistant defensive backs coach with the , is confident that Quin could thrive at safety.

“If you turn the tape on even from last year, he played in the nickel, so he’s played in the slot,” Smith said. “He’s played inside, and what you see right off the bat is a guy that will go in and tackle and be physical. That’s obviously one of the prerequisites for the safety position different from the corner position, and he’s demonstrated the ability to go in and do that. He’s obviously got the range because he’s playing out on the edge at corner now, so you know he’s playing fast enough and has the cover skills to go inside and play.

“So that combination of physical tools, and then he’s smart. All of those things are attributes that typically equal a good safety.”

To move or not to move Quin is a question for later. For now, Smith will work with the Texans’ coaches and scouts to tweak their draft board over the next four weeks.

Smith has enjoyed collaborating with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips over the last three months as the Texans have studied players who might fit their 3-4 defense.

“It’s been great,” Smith said. “Not only Wade, but (linebackers coach) Reggie Herring has come in and so has (defensive backs coach) Vance Joseph, and those guys have a real thorough understanding of what players look like in this system. We’ve been able to communicate that effectively to our scouts in my opinion, and I think we’ll be ready to roll before the draft.”