AFC South: Aaron Williams
Wade Phillips is wielding his influence and the fans who fill Reliant Stadium have cause to feel pretty good.
The team has added a big, quick, play-making end at No. 11 in Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt; a speedy pass-rushing strongside linebacker in Arizona’s Brooks Reed at No. 42; and a well-rounded, if short, corner in Miami’s Brandon Harris after trading up with New England to No. 60.
I like it. It’s enough to help me get over missing out on Aaron Williams or Rahim Moore.
I still think they undervalue safety. But perhaps they’ll chase Eric Weddle or Melvin Bullitt if there is a conventional free agency. Perhaps Harris will allow for Glover Quin to move to free safety.
Yes, they’ll be mentioned as a potential suitor for Nnamdi Asomugha. I don’t see the free agent purse opening wide enough to fit that stack of bills through. I don’t think you can go wrong adding him, though at some point you have to draw a financial line.
Who would have thought after two rounds it might feel as if a move of that size might not be necessary for the Texans to get good enough on defense to win.
Some nuggets on Harris from KC Joyner of Scouts Inc. from this piece :
- In an 11-game sample of his 2010 season, Harris gave up only nine completions in 36 attempts.
- He gave up a 3.7 overall YPA, a 3.8 vertical YPA (on passes 11+ yards) and a 4.1 stretch vertical YPA (20+ yards).
- Aaron Williams, CB, Texas -- The best free safety option in the draft is still available, but is unlikely to last to 42nd. Houston should trade up for him. If the Texans like him at cornerback, then they could move Glover Quin.
- Rahim Moore, S, UCLA -- The best college safety in the draft. A notch below Williams, but a guy who would help upgrade the secondary.
- Justin Houston, DE, Georgia -- He’d be an outside linebacker in the Texans' 3-4. Houston in Houston would reduce the chances of confusion.
This draft is rated as exceptionally weak at safety. UCLA’s Rahim Moore is rated the top player at the position, and I’ve had a couple insiders tell me they don’t even think he can be an opening-day starter.
Texas cornerback Aaron Williams is rated by many as a player who could comfortably flip to safety, and he could be drafted by a safety-needy team with an eye on that switch.
But he’s unlikely to last until 10th in the second round, 42nd overall which is Houston’s second pick.
The Texans may move Glover Quin to free safety if they fare better at adding a quality corner than a quality safety.
“I keep hearing conversations on how football has changed now with so much passing and so many teams throwing the ball so much,” Houston general manager Rick Smith said at Monday’s pre-draft news conference. “You do need safeties that have cover ability, especially if you want to try to bring pressure [with blitzes] because you have to have guys that can cover those third wide receivers in the slot or the athletic tight ends that everybody has and employs.
“The transition from corner to safety, as long as you have a guy who is physical and who will tackle and has some football awareness, then you’ve got a chance. The guys that are out there that are just fast and can cover and really have tunnel vision, they don’t make good safeties because obviously you have to have a guy that understands what you’re asking everybody to do in the context of the whole defense. He has to be a smart guy and a guy who can tackle. If you’ve got that, then you have a good chance of getting a guy that can transition.
Beyond Williams, four other corners who might be moved to safety are Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson, Jalil Brown of Colorado, Chris Culliver of South Carolina and Chris Rucker of Michigan State.
Here is some interesting stuff on Williams and Moore from Doug Farrar.
We spent three days last week emailing back and forth and compiling a mock put together by eight divisional bloggers. John Clayton stood in for the NFC East.
Perhaps we add some different insight to the speculation. Perhaps we echoed prevailing wisdom. (I can raise my hand on that, as you will see.)
At any rate, we know we’re mostly wrong, and we’re eager to write names in draft slots in ink instead of pencil when things kick off Thursday evening. Here’s hoping this helps tide you over.
Analysis: The Panthers are aware of upside and downside with Newton. But a team that has to compete in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman for the foreseeable future realizes it has to get a franchise quarterback to have a chance in the NFC South. Time to take the big leap on Newton. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The Broncos are thrilled to see Carolina go with a quarterback, allowing them to pick from the entire defensive board. Denver goes with Dareus because he's a perfect fit and he's ready to instantly impact the NFL's worst defense. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: The Bills have a great opportunity to land a potential franchise quarterback and don't plan on drafting in this territory again. GM Buddy Nix repeatedly has said the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter means it's the perfect time to draft a quarterback and let him grow. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: Drafting a receiver this high is risky, especially when quarterback Carson Palmer is talking retirement. So there's nothing wrong with going safe and taking arguably the best player in this draft. (James Walker)
Analysis: It's tough to second-guess the Cardinals under this scenario with the top two quarterbacks off the board. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs outside pass-rush help and fresh legs at linebacker. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: I think the Browns should go defense with Robert Quinn and Nick Fairley still available. But our AFC North readers voted for Green when making our mock draft board. He gives quarterback Colt McCoy a legit No. 1 receiver. (James Walker)
Analysis: The 49ers have needs in the secondary, too, so Prince Amukamara could be an option. Quinn was suspended for last season and previously returned from surgery to relieve pressure associated with a benign brain tumor. The question on Quinn is whether the 49ers' medical people would sign off on him. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: A DT with Fairley's power and feet can impact the entire defense, and the Titans need a big transformation on that side of the ball. Still, the gaping hole at quarterback means they may look to maneuver. If they love Jake Locker, it's even possible they'd take him here. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: Jerry Jones may be tempted to trade down, but the revamping of the offensive line is long overdue. Smith has the best upside of any tackle in the draft. (John Clayton)
Analysis: Even though Mike Shanahan will be looking to improve his defense with the first pick, it's going to be hard to pass on a fast wide receiver and the second-best non-quarterback offensive player available in the draft. (John Clayton)
Analysis: The Texans are out of range for Miller and Quinn, who'd be huge additions. Trading down to a team that wants a quarterback here and landing an OLB later in the first would be ideal. I think they address the front before the secondary, and Smith can rush from the outside, helping the whole D. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: A team desperate for a quarterback can't wait for one to fall to them in the second round. Without a third-round pick, trade-up options are limited. Sometimes you just have to jump. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: A speedy playmaker in the back end would enhance the Lions' defensive rebuild. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: With the top two receivers gone, the Rams get arguably the highest-rated defensive lineman available at this point. Watt has the versatility to play more than one position. He would give Steve Spagnuolo welcome depth on the line, upgrading and diversifying the rotation instantly. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Dolphins' interior line has been chaotic for the past three years, and Pouncey is a versatile player who can line up at center or guard. If the Dolphins truly are sold on Ryan Mallett, they might make a splash by taking him here because they don't have a second-round pick to use on a quarterback. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: GM Gene Smith made it clear recently that Kerrigan is hardly the only "Gene Smith guy" who could be available here. But Kerrigan's résumé, college captaincy and work ethic make him a fit considering an edge pass-rusher should complete the defensive line reconstruction. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: If he's still on the board here, the Patriots likely won't be deterred by Bowers' knee injury. Bill Belichick always is searching for value and isn't afraid to draft injured players and give them time to heal. The Patriots drafted Brandon Tate in the third round in 2009 even though he was healing from reconstructive knee surgery. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: The Chargers are thrilled the Cal pass-rusher is on the board. The intense, high-character Jordan is one of the team's top-rated pass-rushers. He should give this team an instant spark. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Like the Cowboys, the Giants let their offensive line get too old. Even though Mike Pouncey would have been tempting to take at this spot if he were available, the Giants need a tackle more than they do a guard. (John Clayton)
Analysis: The Buccaneers have a huge need for a pass-rusher. Houston's the best on the board. Time for the Stylez G. White (4.5 sacks last season) era to end. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The Chiefs are relieved Tampa Bay didn't take Wilkerson. He is a versatile player who will fit in with this defensive line and should help this young defense continue to improve. (Bill Williamson)
Analysis: Yes, there are good offensive line options here and Bill Polian could pounce on Nate Solder or Gabe Carimi. But the Colts are rarely in range of a top interior defensive lineman and Liuget's penetration means he helps the rush and the run defense. (Paul Kuharsky)
Analysis: The Eagles have spent a lot of time investigating Smith's character and determined he's too talented to let pass. The Eagles need cornerback help, but if Smith is gone, they will look at a right tackle or right guard. (John Clayton)
Analysis: The Saints don't need an immediate star. But he can be the heir apparent to Will Smith and contribute in a defensive end rotation for a year or two before becoming the main piece of this defensive line. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: The players taken 22nd through 24th could appeal as well. Some locals will groan if the Seahawks pass up Jake Locker, but Ingram represents the value pick. Seattle wants to trade down. GM John Schneider was with Seattle in 2000 when the team drafted another Alabama back, Shaun Alexander, in the first round. (Mike Sando)
Analysis: The Ravens love drafting monsters on their front seven, and Heyward would be a good value at No. 26. He has an NFL pedigree and adds another threat to get to the quarterback. (James Walker)
Analysis: The Falcons would really love to get a pass-rushing defensive end, but the board is pretty empty. They can fill that need whenever free agency starts. For now, they'll switch things up and look for an "explosive" player on offense. Baldwin is a huge receiver and could be the perfect complement to Roddy White. (Pat Yasinskas)
Analysis: Another value pick for the Patriots if Solder still is on the board. The Patriots must stabilize their offensive line. Left tackle Matt Light went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season but is a free agent and will turn 33 in June. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: Looking to trade down, the Bears are stunned to find one of the draft's top tackles still available. Carimi is an immediate starter. Thanks, fellow bloggers. (Kevin Seifert)
Analysis: The Jets' primary needs are to improve their pass rush and along the defensive line. Ayers can rush the passer and help in coverage. That kind of versatility makes it easier for Rex Ryan to deploy his tricky, aggressive defensive tactics. (Tim Graham)
Analysis: Steelers catch a break with both Williams and Miami cornerback Brandon Harris still on the board. Williams' versatility and physicality give him a slight edge, and he fills the team's biggest need at corner. (James Walker)
Analysis: With Ayers off the board, the Packers continue their succession plan at offensive tackle. It's a luxury afforded to the Super Bowl champions. (Kevin Seifert)
Collectively, Troy Nolan and Dominique Barber of Houston and Don Carey and Courtney Greene of Jacksonville have five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble in 31 career starts.
They are nice guys with some promise, but it’s hard to tab any one of the four as a star in the making.
As Houston and Jacksonville head toward a draft where the safeties are not highly regarded, it screams the question:
How can teams trying to catch Manning’s Colts playing in an increasingly quarterback-driven league be so poorly stocked as such a critical position?
It’s hard to figure.
At least the Jaguars have taken a big swing, missing badly on No. 21 overall pick Reggie Nelson in 2007, a feeble tackler who tended to take terrible angles. He was traded to Cincinnati before the 2010 season. Jacksonville was also the first team to have Bob Sanders in for a visit after he was cut by the Colts in February, but he ultimately lined up to go to San Diego.
Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio talked of his desire to add “that guy,” whether he came in the form of Sanders or not.
The Jaguars’ last homegrown safety of influence before Nelson was Gerald Sensabaugh, a fifth-rounder in 2005 whom the team let walk to Dallas as a free agent after the 2008 season and who’s scheduled to be a free agent again.
The team simply asked too much of young guys last season. Carey moved to safety from corner. He had never made calls before, but he was usually responsible for adjusting one half of the pass defense once it lined up, a tall task in games against the likes of Manning and Matt Schaub.
“Even when you crack down on your film study, when you get to a game it’s still very frustrating because they kind of know what you’re going to do in certain situations,” Carey said. “You try hard to hide your coverages; it’s a real chess match.”
Carey said he can’t worry about who’s brought in, he just needs to work to get better. General manager Gene Smith still sees Carey as an “ascending” player. Del Rio said Carey needs “technique clean-up.”
“Will he ascend to the starter we need him to be?” Del Rio asked. “I don’t know that. I think the jury’s still out.”
For a team that wants to build through the draft, Houston has devoted virtually no resources to the safety position. Of the 76 draft selections the Texans have made since they got off the ground in 2002, they've spent eight on safeties, but only one as high as the fourth round.
They relied on veteran castoffs the past few years but released the ineffective Eugene Wilson and made it known the one-dimensional Bernard Pollard will not be re-signed.
One personnel man told me recently that the state of the positions in the league is average, that this draft is thin at the spot, that the options are better at free than strong and that teams may look more than ever to try to convert corners.
Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com thinks these five corners could wind up being NFL safeties: Aaron Williams of Texas (second round), Marcus Gilchrist of Clemson (third), Jalil Brown of Colorado (third or fourth), Chris Culliver of South Carolina (fourth) and Chris Rucker of Michigan State (fourth or fifth).
Many teams are increasingly blurring the lines between the roles and ideally like to have two players who can both run and cover and step up to play the run.
Teams like the Texans and Jaguars would surely be pleased, however, to have one player with a talent on each end of the safety spectrum who could serve as an upgrade and help reduce the stress on the cornerbacks.
Houston may move Glover Quin to free safety, but then it will be playing its best cornerback out of position.
How much could better play from the safeties help a group of young corners that really struggled in 2010?
“I think it’s significant,” Texans general manager Rick Smith said. “I mean you’re looking at a former safety. So I value the position significantly.”
Both Texans coach Gary Kubiak and the Jaguars’ Smith have said they hope to add a veteran at the position as well as examining the draft options.
“You’d always like to have a veteran at the safety position,” Gene Smith said. “Playing safety is like playing quarterback, and you’d always prefer to have a veteran at quarterback. You don’t always have the luxury of being in that position, but that would be a good area to get a veteran player.”
A guy like San Diego free safety Eric Weddle, who could buy a real secondary ownership stake by signing with Houston or Jacksonville, should be an attractive option if he reaches the market. And he or Indianapolis’ Melvin Bullitt could help one of the incumbent kids or a rookie grow into a role quicker. Signing him could also help weaken the division’s top team.
Their values, when free agency arrives, should be high no matter who’s been drafted.
Even if the Colts re-sign Bullitt, they probably will be looking for safety depth. And while Tennessee maintains faith in free safety Michael Griffin, it should be looking for a player to challenge slipping veteran Chris Hope.
That’s just four teams in need of six players at the position in a draft where ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay thinks Rahim Moore of UCLA may be the only guy in the draft capable of stepping in as an opening-day NFL starter.
“He’s a really good player, great angles, ball skills,” McShay said. “The thing that keeps him from being elite is he’s not fluid in man-to-man coverage. But he has good range and is very instinctive.
“After that there is a big drop-off. Jaiquawn Garrett from Temple is a good player, but not elite. Ahmad Black from Florida is a great athlete, quick, and hits hard for a small guy, but he’s really small. DeAndre McDaniel from Clemson is so overrated.”
Those are hardly two paragraphs that will get Texans and Jaguars fans excited.
They may have an entirely different effect on Manning and the quarterbacks slated to throw against those teams if and when we get kickoffs this fall.
Next April's pick, now: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
A fluid talent out of Texas, expect to hear more about a guy who helped make Earl Thomas' job easier in that secondary.
My thoughts: He’s hardly alone in thinking cornerback is a concern, but if the Colts stay healthy, they are three deep with Kelvin Hayden, Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey. And a lot of teams would love to be three deep.
The question mark: I thought the Jags could have really used the addition of a guard through the draft or free agency, though that's an area that most good offensive coordinators or line coaches can capably mask. But the third-biggest need wasn't addressed at all.
My thoughts: Guess he doesn’t care for Justin Smiley, acquired by trade from Miami, or Kynan Forney, a reserve last year who is getting a serious look inside.
The question mark: …The Texans averaged just 92 yards a game on the ground, bad enough for 30th in the league. Some of that stemmed from poor guard play. The Texans drafted Shelley Smith in the sixth round, but they could still struggle to balance the offense in 2010 if their interior line play isn't better. The addition of Tate may help from a physical standpoint, however.
My thoughts: They feel like they have sufficient interior options with free-agent addition Wade Smith, Antoine Caldwell going into year two and Mike Brisiel returning from injury.
Crucial influx: We knew Tennessee would likely go with a pass-rusher in the first round, particularly after the departure of Kyle Vanden Bosch. But in Derrick Morgan, you also have a guy with an immensely versatile game. Few players in college football last year -- maybe nobody -- proved as effective against the run while still maintaining an ability to consistently pressure the quarterback. I don't think Morgan has the ceiling of a player like Jason Pierre-Paul, but there [are] zero hints that he could be a bust.
My thoughts: Titans faithful have to like to hear all that about Morgan, but they are hoping he won’t be all dinged up as he has been in OTAs when he participated very little.