Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Draft philosophy
Coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith have had their moments and hit on some stars. But they’ve failed to do as well when filling the guts of their roster. Enter Wade Phillips, the new defensive coordinator whose opinion on defenders with the ability to fix things is expected to carry a lot of sway. The needs are clear at outside linebacker, safety and cornerback. The team has said Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell are sufficient as nose tackles, but surely it has to consider an outsider. Look for the Texans to lean on defense, unless they give in to what appears to be an overwhelming temptation to draft a tight end. They want to draft with a best-player available mentality, but need can sway them.
Bill Polian’s reduced administrative responsibilities allowed him to focus even more on the draft and planning for all possible scenarios coming out of the lockout. He is a best-player-available drafter who has not had a big home run at the top for a while. Typically the Colts put a premium on the sort of skill player who can be a part of the best supporting cast for Peyton Manning. Does Polian decide that at this point in time, a pricey offensive tackle is needed for that cast? Offensive tackle and defensive tackle are issues, but Polian has never taken a player at either position in the first round during his tenure in Indianapolis. Blue-chip skill players often carry the day at the top.
The Jaguars head into a the third draft of what they consider to be a four-draft rebuilding process. They have found some very good pieces under general manager Gene Smith's steady hand. He likes guys who played a lot in college and were team captains -- resume lines that are becoming increasingly popular for many teams. Todd McShay said Smith prefers high floors to high ceilings, and it’s an effective way to think following a regime that busted far too many times. Smith’s fifth, sixth and seventh rounds haven’t produced a lot yet, so that’s an area where we can look for improvement.
Jeff Fisher is gone. New coach Mike Munchak and his staff will certainly have input and influence. They have coached the scouts on adjusting some personnel for system alterations. But more power resides upstairs now than it has in recent years. General manager Mike Reinfeldt is heading into his fifth draft in the post. He’s got a new right-hand man in Ruston Webster, the team’s vice president of player personnel. Reinfeldt is a consensus builder with a veteran scouting staff. They have fallen in love with some big workout guys with mixed success -- Chris Johnson was a big hit, Jared Cook is still up in the air and Chris Henry was a failure. Last year’s draft put a huge premium on smart guys and it’s a trend that is likely to continue.