We are down to the final three days before the first round of the NFL Draft, and we are just now beginning to drift into the part of the draft calendar where guys begin inexplicably rising up draft boards (Todd Gurley) or plummeting (Vic Beasley's somehow not being a first round pick in Mel Kiper's latest mock draft) based on merely existing and little else.
It just makes me think back to last year when, for some reason, the NFL thought it would be a good idea to have the draft in the second weekend of May. This meant we had an entire extra week of baseless speculation and faux chess moves. If the 2014 NFL Draft were a piece of toast, it would've been black, burnt, and charred.
I am thankful those days are gone. By the time Thursday rolls around, the 2015 NFL Draft should be ready to pull out of the proverbial toaster perfectly browned and ready to go. And when the Texans pick at 16th (assuming no trades), and again at 50th and 82nd on Friday, their decision making process will likely be regulated by the following key questions:
6. How do the respective health situations of Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing effect the Texans draft strategy? Let's start with Cushing, who will be two years removed from his second traumatic injury to the same knee. The expectation (hope?) is that Cushing will be closer to the player he was before the second injury, not further from it. This is important for two reasons -- 1) Cushing's cap figure ($7.9 million, $13.6 million in dead money) is ridiculously onerous for a guy who has to come off the field regularly on passing downs, and 2) he should hopefully have a full, productive training camp. That said, from a draft standpoint, inside linebacker should be a position the Texans aren't afraid to fill if their board falls that way, especially considering that the other inside linebackers the last few years have all been scrap heap veterans (Joe Mays, anyone?), street free agents (Mike Mohamed) or undrafted free agents (Justin Tuggle, Max Bullough). As for Clowney, let's weave him into the next question....
5. What are they thinking on Whitney Mercilus' fifth year option for 2016? It's crazy to think that a position manned by two recent first round picks (including a number one overall pick) is the odds-on favorite to be the position that is called with the 16th overall pick, but that's where things are right now. All of the news on Clowney has been encouraging, but he hasn't really tested his surgically repaired right knee yet. Mercilus' situation is just as tricky, but for totally different reasons. He's been sporadically productive as a pass rusher and improved as last season went on. The team must decide by May 3 (the day after the draft is over) whether or not to pick up Mercilus' fifth year option, which would keep him as Texans property thought 2016 at around $7-8 million for that season. There's no position on the team that has a bigger delta between ceiling and floor than outside linebacker -- you could either have a healthy Clowney/motivated Mercilus/first round rookie combo OR have gimpy Clowney/same ol' Mercilus/some-other-round rookie. Yikes.
4. Do we really know if Xavier Su'a-Filo can play? I understand the reasons why they let Chris Myers go, even if I don't totally agree with the move. $8 million is a big cap number for a 34 year old center when you have a fourth round pick (Ben Jones) from a few years ago still on his rookie deal ready to take over. But make no mistake, the Myers move was less about Ben Jones and more about having to get last season's 33rd overall pick Xavier Su'a-Filo onto the field as the starting left guard. There's very little that Su'a-Filo put on film last season that suggests he's ready to take on the starter's load at that position. If the Texans use a pick in the first three rounds on a guard or center, we will know how they feel about his progress.
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3. Is there a long-term plan beyond this season for Arian Foster? I know the Texans won't be taking a running back in the first round, although I am staunchly on the record that I think Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley would be outstanding selections at 16, either one. I think the Texans need weapons that scare opposing defenses, and I don't really care what position they play. If they do take a running back with one of their top three picks, what does that tell us about Arian Foster's future? Conventional wisdom would deem a high pick at running back the first sign of a transition plan away from Foster, however, if drafting a plus-player at running back allows the team to lighten Foster's load AND use his unique tools in the passing game more split out or in the slot, in some ways doesn't it strengthen Foster's position long-term, as opposed to running him into the ground for another season? I think Arian Foster is far more likely to be back in 2016 having had, say, 16-18 touches per game in 2015 than if he had over 25 touches per game.
2. The depth at wide receiver is still a huge issue, right? In short, yes. It's a major issue. The release of Andre Johnson, from strictly a talent standpoint, is obviously one reason, however, the total whiffs at the position in the 2012 draft (Martin, Posey) have been a killer. There's nothing either 2012 drafted receiver does offensively that remotely scares an opposing defense. Receiver is a deep position in this draft, which means it's likely to be where the Texans look in the second or third round.
1. What if a quarterback unexpectedly falls in the first, second, or third round? Barring Jameis Winston shoplifting over the next three days (+450 odds in my personal sports book), the only quarterback who could "fall" in the first round is Marcus Mariota, and there's no way he gets to the 16th pick. If he falls past 6th someone will move up to get him long before the Texans pick. He's just too good a prospect. (On the one percent chance Mariota did fall, though, the "Would the Texans take him?" question is fascinating. The answer seems easy, but Bill O'Brien seems ridiculously choosy when it comes to quarterbacks.) After those two, the next best prospects are probably Bryce Petty, Brett Hundley, and Garrett Grayson. My hunch is that the Texans wouldn't take any of them in the second round, and they may all be gone by the 82nd pick, but if one of them falls?