*This article is part of our 2012 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply
A position-by-position look at the 2012 NFL Draft (April 26-28), featuring exclusive analysis on potential Texans draft picks from Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post
Path to the Draft: WR | G/C | OT | TE | RB | DE | NT
State of the Position (@NickScurfield)
Outside linebacker could be a top priority for the Texans in the 2012 NFL Draft as they search for a third player to complement Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed.
The Texans want three outside linebackers in their rotation on gamedays. They ranked second in the NFL in defense last season with Barwin and Reed playing practically every snap after Mario Williams was injured in Week 5.
"Pass rushers are premiums," Texans general manager Rick Smith said at the Combine in late February. "You need as many as you can get, so we were fortunate in the sense that both of those guys were healthy the entire year [in 2011] and we had some production from both of them. But you can never have too many pass rushers. You can't."
Barwin had a team-high 11.5 sacks in 2011. He tied for the league lead with 9.5 sacks over the final eight games. Reed set a team rookie record with 6.0 sacks and had 3.5 more in the playoffs, tying for the most in the NFL.
Barwin (2009) and Reed (2011) were both second-round picks. Barwin is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Texans have young players behind them in Bryan Braman, an undrafted rookie in 2011, and Jesse Nading, who's entering his fifth season.
It wouldn't be a shock to see Smith use another second-rounder, or even a first, on an outside linebacker who could bolster the rotation and possibly compete for a starting spot. As he said at the Combine, you can never have too many pass rushers.
DAY 1 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER OPTIONS AT 1.26
1. Shea McClellin, Boise State (6-3, 258):McClellin racked up 16.5 sacks and three interceptions over the last two seasons as part of a four-year career at Boise State that featured appearances in 49 games. A versatile, explosive athlete with a mighty motor who knows how to reach the quarterback, McClellin possesses a solidly put together frame with a strong upper body which maximizes his length into contact. He's a productive pass rusher with a big motor, good skill set and can get after the quarterback in a number of ways. Looks like a potential starter at the next level.
2. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2, 244): Lewis is coming off a career year at Oklahoma that featured 59 tackles, 5.5 sacks and one interception in just ten games. He possesses an impressive physical/athletic skill set, a "plus" motor and a real passion for the game. However, we aren't sure he's ever going to be a top end pass rusher in the NFL. But as a 6-8 sack guy over the long term who can help out on special teams and give you all he has play in and play out, we think Lewis warrants a second round grade with the potential to possibly sneak into the first round.
DAY 2 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER OPTIONS AT 2.26 AND 3.13
1. Andre Branch, Clemson (6-5, 260): A big body who recorded an impressive 10.5 sacks and 77 tackles in 14 games for the Tigers last season, Branch is a tall, long-armed DE/OLB prospect with an athletic looking frame, good girth through his mid-section and the size to get even bigger. Displays natural flexibility to keep his base down and sit into his stance and possesses a good initial burst off the edge with the ability to consistently threaten the corner.
2. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia (6-3, 245): A prospect who has been gaining a lot of momentum over the last few weeks, Irvin amassed a ridiculous 22.5 sacks during his 26-game playing career at West Virginia. He's a natural pass rusher and despite lacking ideal size, Irvin possesses an athletic build and can really coil up and fire out of his stance. Take note that he's former high school wideout who dropped out of school because of his involvement in the street life. He got his GED in 2007 and attended junior college in 2009, instantly dominating the competition as a pass rusher. Irvin ended up being Scout.com's number-two ranked JUCO prospect.
DAY 3 OUTSIDE LINEBACKER OPTONS AT 4.4, 4.26, 5.26, 6.26 AND 7.26
1. Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh (6-2, 250): Having registered 18.5 sacks over his last 26 games at Pittsburgh, Lindsey was one of the more dominant pass rushers in the Big East conference this past season. He's a good athlete with a compact frame who knows how to get after the quarterback in a number of ways, but isn't dynamic in any one specific area. Doesn't look like a playmaking type pass rusher, but his lateral quickness will give him a shot as a rush backer at the next level.
2. Sammy Brown, Houston (6-2, 240): Coming off a 14-game campaign at Houston that consisted of 13.5 sacks and 93 tackles, Brown is a late-round prospect worth keeping an eye on. He may be a bit on the short side at 6-2, but Brown looks bigger because of his longer set of arms. A highly productive pass rusher who has come a long way since being a JUCO transfer, Brown has a feel for getting after the passer, exhibits a good burst and closing speed around the edge and is an intriguing 3-4 prospect.