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Path to the Draft: Texans defense breakdown, needs

Posted Apr 24, 2013

A positional look at the Texans’ roster on defense and potential need level at each spot heading into the 2013 NFL Draft.

The 2013 NFL Draft begins on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT. Here’s a position-by-position look at the Texans’ roster on defense and potential need level at each spot heading into the draft:

DE
On the roster:
J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith, Jared Crick, Tim Jamison, David Hunter, Keith Browner
Details:  
Watt is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year and has three years left on his rookie contract. Smith, a 31-year-old Pro Bowler and team captain, is in the final year of his contract. Crick showed promise last season as a fourth-round rookie from Nebraska. Jamison was the Texans’ third end before tearing his Achilles in October. Hunter ended last season on injured reserve with a broken toe.
Need level (1-5 scale): 2
Draft prognosis: Defensive end is a clear position of strength for the Texans, but they could draft one as early as the first round to start building for the future.

NT
On the roster: Earl Mitchell, Terrell McClain, Ra’Shon Harris
Review: Mitchell, who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, is primed to take over as a starter. He rotated for the last three seasons with Shaun Cody, who has not been re-signed. McClain played sparingly as a reserve last season, while Harris spent the year on IR.  
Need level (1-5 scale): 4
Draft prognosis: The Texans have not drafted a nose tackle since Mitchell in the third round in 2010. It’s not an every-down position in Wade Phillips’ defense – Cody and Mitchell combined to play 61 percent of the defensive snaps last season – but seems likely to be addressed at some point in the draft, possibly in the early rounds.

OLB
On the roster: Brooks Reed, Whitney Mercilus, Bryan Braman, Delano Johnson
Review: Reed, a second-round pick in 2011, enters his third season as a starter on the strongside. Mercilus, a first-round pick in 2012, is primed to take over on the weakside after recording six sacks as a rookie. Former starter Connor Barwin left in free agency for the Philadelphia Eagles. Braman is one of the Texans’ best special teams players but has played little on defense in two NFL seasons.
Need level (1-5 scale): 3
Draft prognosis: The Texans have used a second-round pick or higher on an OLB in three of the last four drafts. They could do so this year with the idea of moving Reed to inside linebacker, or they could add one later to bolster the unit and compete for a rotational third spot.

ILB
On the roster: Brian Cushing, Darryl Sharpton, Tim Dobbins, Cameron Collins, Mike Mohamed
Review: A position decimated by injuries in 2012. Cushing tore his ACL in Week 5. Sharpton started the season on the PUP, and he and Dobbins were placed on IR before the playoffs. All three should be healthy for next season, including Cushing, the defensive captain who’s in the final year of his 2009 rookie contract.
Need level (1-5 scale): 4
Prognosis: It seems unlikely the Texans would draft an inside linebacker in the first round because even if he starts, he’d only be a two-down player next to Cushing. But expect this position to be addressed in the first few rounds after everything that happened last season.

CB
On the roster: Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Brice McCain, Brandon Harris, Roc Carmichael
Review:
The Texans’ top-three corners are set with Joseph, Jackson and McCain. Joseph is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowls, Jackson has made big strides in the last two seasons and McCain, the Texans’ nickel corner, was re-signed in March. Harris and Carmichael have played sparingly since being drafted in 2011.
Need level (1-5 scale): 2
Prognosis: Texans general manager Rick Smith always says a team can never have enough cornerbacks, so you can’t rule out the Texans drafting one in any round. The most likely scenario would be a mid-to-late-round pick.

S
On the roster:
Ed Reed, Danieal Manning, Shiloh Keo, Eddie Pleasant
Review:
Reed, 34, is a nine-time Pro Bowler who signed as a free agent in March. Manning, 30, has started 29 games since signing from the Chicago Bears in 2011. Keo was a special teams captain in 2012 but played sparingly on defense. Pleasant spent most of the season on the practice squad after going undrafted out of Oregon.
Need level (1-5 scale): 3
Prognosis: The Texans use three safeties in nickel, and they don’t have an established third safety on the roster. With Reed and Manning both in their 30s, Houston could use a high pick on a safety to play right away and potentially start down the road.

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