2010 Path to the Draft: Linebacker

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Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran could be an option for the Texans in later rounds.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the Texans organization. The article is part of our 2010 Path to the Draft coverage presented by FOX Sports Houston.

The 2009 linebacking corps for the Texans was a strength of the team. Middle linebacker and team captain DeMeco Ryans turned in another Pro Bowl performance, finishing 11th in the league with 123 total tackles. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing was second in the AFC with 133 tackles, and he added four sacks and four interceptions as well.

Cushing held down the strongside starting spot, and weakside starter Zac Diles wound up with 62 total tackles in helping the Houston defense finish 13th overall in the NFL.

Texans General Manager Rick Smith is enthusiastic about the ballclub's future, in large part because of the Cushing/Ryans combo.

"I'm excited about DeMeco and Brian and our defense," Smith said at a press conference he attended with the pair. "These two guys that flank me here are going to lead this organization to some heights that we all want, and I'm excited about that."

The Texans have picked a linebacker in each of the three drafts Smith has overseen as GM, with Diles in the seventh round in 2007, backup Xavier Adibi in the fourth round in 2008 and Cushing last year in the first.

Analysis from the National Football Post
In an exclusive for HoustonTexans.com, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post examine the quarterback group as it relates to the Texans and the 2010 draft.

Synopsis:

If there's one spot on the gridiron that the Houston Texans stack up well against the rest of the league at, it's the linebacker position. However, linebacker is a position where you can never have enough depth. The size and speed of these players translates well to the kicking game, as most linebackers on the depth chart are asked to contribute in several phases of special teams. With more pressing needs on both sides of the ball, we don't expect the Texans to go after any linebackers early on in the draft. However, we do see the possibility of Houston using one of their five picks between the fourth and seventh rounds on a linebacker.

Here are four players the Texans could target during next week's NFL draft:

1. Stevenson Sylvester, Utah: An explosive athlete (6-2, 230) who displays the footwork and initial burst to quickly click and close on the ball underneath and make plays in pursuit, Sylvester runs well for the position and does a nice job dissecting plays in front of him. He showcases good instincts, consistently is able to find the ball and generates good power on contact as a tackler. Sylvester does a nice job breaking down in space and is an efficient open-field tackler. He looks like a guy who could certainly carve out a niche as a weak-side/run-and-hit linebacker at the next level.

2. Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas: Muckelroy (6-2, 235) showcases a good initial pop on contact, does a nice job keeping his pad level down and generates power from his lower body when taking on blocks. He doesn't do a great job using his hands and looks content to simply take on blocks in the hole. He fails to extend his arms and stack and shed. Muckelroy displays active feet when reading his run/pass keys and exhibits good range and initial burst when asked to close on the ball. He closes quickly and is at his best attacking the line of scrimmage and running as a straight-line athlete. He's an intriguing athlete because of his range and power, but he doesn't use his hands well and isn't fluid vs. the pass game.

3. Rennie Curran, Georgia: Curran (5-11, 228) showcases a great first step and makes his way toward the ball carrier like an absolute missile. He exhibits impressive range and delivers a powerful pop as a tackler. The former Bulldog plays with natural leverage and does a great job exploding through his hips and driving his legs on contact. Curran breaks down well in space, is a guy who redirects quickly and showcases the body control to consistently take proper angles toward the ball. He always keeps his feet under him and never seems to be overextended when trying to change directions. He does a nice job dropping his pad level on contact when run at but struggles shedding blocks once linemen get into his frame. He changes directions cleanly and looks comfortable in zone coverage.

4. Austin Spitler, Ohio State: An instinctive middle linebacker (6-3, 234) who possesses a good feel in coverage and knows how to find the ball, Spitler does well adjusting to the throw and possesses the ball skills to reel in the interception. But he isn't natural when asked to redirect and lacks the kind of footwork and overall fluidity to cleanly get out of his breaks. Spitler has a tendency to get grabby when asked to play on an island and is much more comfortable in zone coverage where he can read and react. He exhibits a passion for the game and is a natural leader on the field. He's a guy whose teammates respect and rally around him.

For more from the National Football Post, follow @JoeFortenbaugh and @WesBunting on Twitter*

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