Brandt: Johnson the top WR in NFL

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Bill Baptist

HoustonTexans.com's Nick Scurfield interviewed NFL.com's Gil Brandt during Brandt's recent visit to Houston for SIRIUS NFL Radio. Brandt served as vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys from 1960-89, helping Dallas to win two Super Bowls and grow into one of the most successful franchises in American sports.

Brandt was a pioneer in developing many scouting strategies that today are commonplace throughout the NFL. He has spent the last eight years as NFL.com's main personnel guru and offers insight and commentary on all aspects of players and teams.

In the second segment of this two-part interview (see Brandt interview: Part 1), Brandt covers Matt Schaub's quarterback play and Mario Williams' candidacy for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He also tackles a favorite hypothetical question of Texans fans: Who is the best wide receiver in the NFL, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson?

Nick Scurfield: What are your thoughts on quarterback Matt Schaub? He's had great numbers when healthy, but he just hasn't been able to stay healthy.

Gil Brandt: I'm a big Schaub fan, and I have been for a long time. I knew what he did at Virginia; the guy completed almost 70 percent of his passes. That's hard to do against air. If he's healthy, that's a big plus. But I do think this: I think they have two quarterbacks here now that are backup quarterbacks that have experienced success in the National Football League. One (Rex Grossman) took a team to a Super Bowl. And (Dan) Orlovsky, I think, is one of those guys who has unlimited potential. I think that Kubiak will bring out that potential and you'll have a good football player.

{QUOTE}Nick Scurfield: Steve Slaton surprised a lot of people last year, leading all rookies in rushing as a third-round pick. Do you think he can match that success this year and beyond?

Gil Brandt: Well, I told him that it might have surprised a lot of people, but it didn't surprise me. And the reason I say that is because I'm involved in picking the Playboy All-American team every year, and Steve was one of our players in his junior year. When you see what he can do – we do a lot of things at that event such as all kind of athletic events, playing ping-pong and shooting baskets and doing all of these things – he's a superior athlete with great quickness. And I think that when you have that, you have something special.

I think he learned a good lesson in that he put on 8-10 pounds (as a junior in college) because people told him he had to get bigger and heavier, and he lost that Tony Dorsett-like quickness that he had in his second year at West Virginia when he did so well. He still had a good year, but by the standards that he'd set the year before, it was just average.

Can he come back and do what he did last year? I think he can, and I think he can better it, but it's dependent on what the offensive line does. Last year, your offensive line was intact for every game. I think that he can become more of a factor in the passing game. He has to learn to run better routes. That is a learning position, and I think Chick Harris will teach him how to do it.

Nick Scurfield: Another running back whose name has been generating some buzz is Arian Foster. What do you think he can contribute, and were you surprised that he went undrafted?

Gil Brandt: I was surprised that he went undrafted, yeah. He did not have a good senior year, but nobody in Tennessee did last year. He came in and was really a starter at Tennessee as a freshman. From what I saw out there today, he ran pretty good. That creates a little more depth, although I do think that Ryan Moats has a chance to be a player. Chris Brown, if he can stay healthy, has a great chance to do well.

Nick Scurfield: Andre Johnson dominated the regular season last year. The Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald dominated the playoffs. Who is the best receiver in the NFL?

Gil Brandt: Well, I had an opportunity – and Larry Fitzgerald will probably shoot me for this – I had an opportunity to pick either one of them in my fantasy draft and I took Andre, and I told Andre because of him I finished first in our fantasy football league. So I guess that answers the question.

Nick Scurfield:So it's Johnson?

Gil Brandt:Yes.

Nick Scurfield: Gary Kubiak has said that he thinks Mario Williams can take another step forward and contend for the NFL's defensive player of the year award. Is Mario in that echelon of players?

Gil Brandt: If you go back and look, I think I was one of the few people who that didn't criticize the choice of not taking Reggie Bush. He's a young guy that's just learning how to play football and learning how to cope with playing with smaller players, because he got by (in college) and didn't have to do so many things. He had double-digit sacks last year, starter in the Pro Bowl, but I think the biggest thing is the fact that (Antonio) Smith is here and that Barwin is here. I think Barwin is going to cause more attention, and I think it makes Williams a better player. As far as I'm concerned, he's pretty good, but I think he's just reaching his potential.

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To download the audio version of this interview from the Texans' Podcast Central page, click here.

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