Wide receiver among Texans’ first-round possibilities

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

INDIANAPOLIS – Coming off the first playoff season in franchise history, the Texans have few, if any, glaring needs.

That doesn’t mean they’re resting on their laurels.

“You go back to the drawing board again, no different than you did every year before,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It’s a very honest assessment of where we are, where we feel like we’re strong, where we think we need to improve.”

Free agency begins on March 13. The 2012 draft is a month later, and the Texans are widely expected to target a wide receiver with the 26th overall pick. Outside linebacker would become a priority if the Texans don’t re-sign unrestricted free agent .

“I think the wide receiver position is a position where we might strengthen our team,” Smith said. “You can never have enough corners; I know I always say that. Pass rushing is a premium. I mean, it’s pretty standard. We look for guys that make plays, that impact the game. We can never find or have too many players that impact the game, whether you’re talking about a pass-rusher or guy who can take the ball and make a play with the ball in his hands.”

With missing nine games last season and quarterbacks and landing on injured reserve, the Texans’ leading receivers were tight end (54 catches, 677 yards) and running back (53, 617).

Wide receiver had 39 catches for 474 yards in 15 games. had 31 catches for 512 yards (16.5 average) in 16 games with a career-high 10 starts.

“It was a very difficult time for us not only losing our quarterback, but losing Andre,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I thought Kevin Walter and Jacoby played very well for our football team. But I do think it’s important that we continue to develop young players. That is one position where we can do a little better job from that standpoint.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Kevin. I think he’s a solid two in this league and has been for me since I’ve been in Houston. And I think Jacoby made some strides last year as well. You’re always trying to get better, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that at that position.”

This year’s draft class includes several wide receivers who could be options for the Texans late in the first round, including LSU’s Rueben Randle, Baylor’s Kendall Wright, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Rutgers’ Mohamed Sanu.

“It looks like there’s quantity,” Kubiak said. “There’s a lot of guys, a lot of good players. You’ve got to go find those guys late in the draft. Obviously, the guys early in the draft, everybody kind of knows who those guys are, but you’re able to find some good guys late in the draft at that position. So we’ll have to do our homework. We’d like to add some playmakers to our offensive football team, and obviously that would help.”

Johnson, Walter and Jones are all 6-3, but Kubiak said he doesn’t look for wide receivers with specific physical dimensions.

“I think there is a certain size where you may struggle outside a little bit, (but) I’ve seen some great players that are 5-10,” he said. “You talk about (Carolina Panthers receiver) Steve Smith. I was at the Pro Bowl and watched him on the other side of the ball and what he did to us during the season. He’s a great player, not a big guy and can play anywhere. I think you’re looking for great players. You go do what they do best. I don’t think size eliminates guys.”

Whether the Texans go wide receiver or another position – such as outside linebacker, cornerback or somewhere along the defensive line – in the first round, Smith said they will look for the best player available.

“We always do,” he said. “We stay true to our board, and that’s not a philosophy that we’re going to alter because I think it gives you the best chance to have success.

“If you assess value and you follow the value of your board and don’t stretch for need, because I think that’s where people make mistakes, we’ve not done that before, and I would suspect that we stay true to that philosophy and not do that in the future.”

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Pass rushers aplenty at 2011 combine

*This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.

INDIANAPOLIS – The Texans are in the market for pass rushers, and there were plenty to be found on Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Defensive ends and outside linebackers, including top talents like Texas AM’s Von Miller and North Carolina’s Robert Quinn, filtered through Lucas Oil Stadium for measurements and media interviews throughout the day.

Miller (6-2 ½, 246) led the nation with 17 sacks as a junior defensive end. He became a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2010 and had 10.5 sacks, earning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker and consensus first-team All-America honors.

Some projections have Miller going as high as the third overall pick to Buffalo, so he might be long gone by the time the Texans pick at number 11. But he’d be a happy man if he ended up in Houston.

“It’d be great to play for the Houston Texans, an hour away from Aggieland,” he said. “There’s a strong Aggie following all over the world, but particularly in Houston. I’ve got a lot of friends up there. It’s an hour away from College Station.

“I know a lot about the Houston Texans. They have Coach (Reggie) Herring; he was at Texas AM for like two weeks. Coach Wade Phillips with the 3-4 defense. Coach (Gary) Kubiak, a great Aggie.”

As talented and accomplished as he is, Miller showed off a humble side on Saturday.

“First and foremost, I’m going to be a great teammate (in the NFL),” he said. “I’m a team guy. That’s how I play football. I’ll be a rookie; whatever those guys want me to do, I’ll be happy to do it. Just find my way, find my role, whatever it takes to get on the field.”

Quinn (6-4, 265), a 4-3 defensive end at North Carolina, is another top-10 pass-rushing talent. He didn’t play in 2010 after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA for accepting illegal benefits from an agent. He apologized on Saturday for making a “selfish mistake.”

Quinn had 11.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2009.

“I feel like I’ve got a never-ending motor,” he said. “I feel like I’m the fastest guy on the field, and I try not to let nobody’s hands get on me. I try to make sure no one will be able to block me. That’s the type of player I want to be.”

The 2010 suspension wasn’t the only adversity Quinn has overcome. As a senior in high school, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and doctors told him that he wouldn’t be able to play sports any more.

“At one point, they told me I should’ve been brain dead,” he said. “It was just heartbreaking. It was kind of my ‘Boobie Miles’ moment. When I looked up at my mom and they told me I wouldn’t play sports again, I became that big old baby, busted out in tears… But it didn’t slow me down. Four years later, I’m still going.”

Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith (6-4, 263) is another player who’s been mentioned in mock drafts as a potential first-round target for the Texans. Smith said he had interviews scheduled with 28 teams this week.

Smith entered the draft as a redshirt sophomore. He set a school record for sacks with 11.5 as a redshirt freshman in 2009, but a broken bone in his leg kept him out of three games in 2010. He had X-rays on the leg on Saturday and said that it checked out fine.

One of the biggest challenges for players like Smith in switching to a 3-4 would be dropping back into coverage. Smith is embracing the idea of converting to outside linebacker.

“I would like it,” he said. “I love playing on two feet. The little bit I did at Missouri, I liked it. I’ve done a lot of work with it since I got out of college. When I was in college, I was comfortable when I was doing it.”

Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (6-4, 263) of Purdue also is a projected first-rounder. A three-year starter and team captain for the Boilermakers, Kerrigan is the Big Ten’s all-time leader in forced fumbles with 14. He said that he has gotten an equal amoutn of interest from 3-4 and 4-3 teams.

Like Smith and other top hybrid prospects, Kerrigan has worked on dropping into coverage from the 3-4 outside linebacker position during his training for the combine. And like the other top prospects, he said all the right things about potentially switching positions on Saturday.

“Whatever a team wants, I’ll be willing to play, whether it’s a 3-4 linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end,” he said.

The Texans are looking for the former. Should they target a pass rusher with their first pick, they’ll have a deep group of talented players from which to choose.