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Harris: Draft speaks "volumes"

Posted May 12, 2014

Analyst John Harris breaks down the Texans 2014 NFL Draft.

It’s inevitable. Each and every year, the NFL’s annual player selection meeting reaches an end. It feels like we’ll never get to that point, but it happens every single year.

Then, when it’s over, I look up and wonder…okay, what do I do next? I’m basically lost with what to do with my time. I studied these draft prospects for years, but truly started grinding on analysis back in early June.

June of 2013, mind you.

But, this “day after” has a much different feel, to be honest. The Texans 2014 draft class spoke volumes as to the direction of this organization. That direction started truly taking shape on Thursday night and continued on into Saturday. What did we learn? Glad you asked.

These aren’t your older brother’s Texans

Back during the 2000s, there were two games that I always mentally circled on the NFL calendar. The Ravens v. The Steelers. They met two times a year and will do so for as long as the NFL exists. But, what made those games so special was not just that the two teams battled for conference supremacy.

They hated other.

That football hatred made for some of the best football we saw during that time. But most importantly, we all knew that the game wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Guys got hit. Hard. Every play.

It was football the way us old-schoolers wanted it to be. Both teams copped to the fact that they brought just a little extra to each and every tackle and hit. They played at a physical level that other teams just couldn’t match. Those of us distraught with how the league was transforming into a pass happy, pseudo-finesse league knew that a Ravens/Steelers matchup brought us back to the primal aspects of football.

Not to mention, their dominance proved the old adage that the most physical teams always took home the nicest trophies. Even more so, teams dreaded seeing the Ravens and/or Steelers on the schedule because it was going to be a brutal 60 minutes. They’d be feeling that game long into the following week, physically and mentally.

The ability to overpower teams physically and get in their heads mentally because teams didn’t want to face THAT on Sunday afternoon gave those two teams an undeniable advantage.

So, how does any of that relate to the Texans in 2014?

To answer that question, we must first look at what the Texans were. I’d never call an NFL team soft or finesse, but the Texans reputation throughout the league wasn’t one that elicited fear of being physically manhandled for 60 minutes. Many thought the zone blocking scheme exacerbated that reputation, regardless of how erroneous those thoughts may have been.

That all changed after this draft was over.

The Texans draftees are big, fast and physical, stressing the big, fast and physical parts. UCLA G/T Xavier Su’a-Filo was the best run blocking interior lineman I studied. Iowa TE C.J Fiedrorowicz was the best Y (in-line, tradition) tight end on the board and clearly the best run blocking tight end in this draft class.

Notre Dame NT Louis Nix is 330 pounds, give or take a few biscuits, and when healthy, he’s the best nose tackle in this class and it’s not even close. Auburn FB Jay Prosch was so highly thought of as a blocker that Auburn ran nearly its entire offense behind him. I saw him bury linebackers at the Senior Bowl, but more importantly, I HEARD it. You can hear physical players and teams; you don’t need to see them.

And, I haven’t even mentioned the guy that went number one who’s pretty good, too. I seem to remember a hit that he had that more than proves my point.

All ten selections may not make the team and it’s a near impossibility for all ten to be here two or three years into the future. But, that’s not the point. Teams around the league took notice of what Rick Smith and Bill O’Brien did throughout this draft. You coming to Reliant/NRG Stadium this year? Gear up, buckle up and ice up…it’s going to be a long day. I like that. A lot.

Presto change-o

Months ago, after Bill O’Brien’s first press conference, I did an out of town radio interview and was asked how I thought the Texans would be different under O’Brien’s leadership. The first thing that hit me was the word “versatility”. For the next five months (yeah, it was a long off-season), I stressed to anyone who would listen that the Texans wanted versatility in, well, everything.

As a start, examine the players they drafted. Su’a Filo can play guard and/or tackle. Fiedorowicz can put his hand in the dirt or be on the move as an H-back. Nix can play two gaps over the center’s head or be a penetrating one-gap tackle. Vanderbilt’s Andre Hal can play on the perimeter or move inside to the slot corner position.

But, the versatility the Texans can display with personnel groupings, on each side of the ball, is now outstanding. The Texans can line up in the same formation on two different plays and have completely different personnel in the game, providing two completely unique looks.

They can play three tight ends in passing situations and play three tight ends in short running situations. They can play a traditional 3-4 defense on one play, leave the same personnel on the field and line up in a 4-3 look on the very next play.

When O’Brien said that the Texans would be able to adjust week to week, he wasn’t joking. The versatile pieces they added allow him to stay true to his word.

A chip the size of a dorito

Johnny Manziel isn’t the only player to have a chip on his shoulder the size of a dorito. That fact hit me when our Texans Radio crew caught up with Vanderbilt’s Hal on Saturday just after he was drafted. He was expectedly emotional but when asked about potentially being passed over as a high school recruit and then lasting until the 216th pick in the seventh round, a switch flipped.

He talked openly about teams passing on him in college and then what the team had done at Vanderbilt in his last three years. He’s lived a football life doing nothing but trying to prove himself to his coaches, his teammates and his opponents. That rang true in the five minutes we spoke with him.

Pitt’s Tom Savage worked in construction in the 1,000 days he spent away from the game. Three schools, two transfers and some steel-toe boots are in his past, but go ahead and doubt him, he’d love for you to do just that.

O’Brien spent five years of his coaching career around the one player that has the biggest chip on his shoulder and that player carries that with him wherever he goes. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tom Brady what six quarterbacks were selected in front of him in the 2000 NFL Draft. He knows them by name, rank and social security number and that slight stokes his success to this day 14 years later.

This class strikes me the same way.

“Doesn’t work hard”
“Been away from the game”
“Was only a three-star recruit in high school”
“Didn’t start in college”

Just keep fueling the fire, people.

Will this class be the best in Texans history? Well, we can have that discussion years from now, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that this organization NEEDED this draft class in the building. It’s a start and a good one at that.

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