Texans executive vice president/general manager Rick Smith talked with Drew Dougherty of Texans TV for the second of our "Draft Pass" series of exclusive interviews with the team's top decision-makers after the 2012 NFL Draft.
Drew Dougherty: Let's start with the first pick, Whitney Mercilus. What impresses you most about him on the field and then off the field?
Rick Smith: Well, first of all, on the field, he's a tremendous talent. He's an explosive pass rusher, obviously 16 sacks last year. He's got a knack for knocking the ball out. He's got nine or 10 forced fumbles. From a skill set perspective, he has got a great height/weight/speed ratio, will be a great addition to that outside linebacker trio now that we have with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed, and so we're excited about getting him, obviously. Off the field, as it relates to practice, meetings, weight room, he's a guy who works extremely hard. That's a characteristic that was important to us last year as well as this year. I think if you look at this entire draft class, it's made up of men that football's important to them – t they're passionate about it – and certainly Whitney's that way.
DD: During the draft weekend, you make a trade. You made one before going in as well, so you had more picks in the third and the fourth rounds. You really addressed the wide receiver spot and the offensive line spot with four of those five picks. Let's start with those wide receivers. What's most impressive about them, and where do you see them fitting in initially?
Rick Smith: Well, DeVier has height, weight, speed. He's a 4.4 guy. He's over 6-1, and explosive. The thing about him that we really like is he's got a really nice catching radius. He's got good hands. He's been a deep threat for Ohio State. And then Keshawn was one of my favorite guys watching. He's another guy, a 39-inch vertical jump, another 4.4 guy. Not as big as DeVier, but equally explosive. Has made a lot of plays with the ball in his hands, and we expect that he'll do that and obviously have some return ability as well. And you mentioned the trade back. We were sitting there in the second round and we had a number of players that we really felt good about in the third and fourth round, and so we worked to see if we could get out of that and were fortunate enough to be able to pull off a deal with Tampa where we moved out of the second, of course, picked up an additional third-round pick and an additional fourth-round pick. So I liked the move, but then I liked the players that we got, particularly those three players in the fourth round, starting with Ben Jones, who's played in a big, big conference, obviously, started almost 50 games there, was a leader of their group and their offensive line as well as their football team. Has some versatility for us that maybe even a guy who can swing between the guard and center spot on gameday if he evolves the way we think that he can. But just a tough, aggressive player. You like watching him on tape because he finishes. He can do some of the things that we ask our guys to do, and so that was a good one. We talked about Keshawn, of course, and then the last pick in the fourth round, Jared Crick from Nebraska, another guy that football's important to him. Very passionate guy. Had a better early part of his career than the latter part and then obviously he missed several games last year with a pec injury, but we think that he will be able to come in and, very similar to what I described with Whitney with the rotation at outside linebacker, we think he'll come in and fit into the rotation at defensive end and be a productive player for us.
DD: This time a year ago, many people probably would have been surprised that a player like Jared Crick would be available at that spot. He had 9.5 sacks the year after playing with Ndamukong Suh. Does he remind you of anybody in particular?
RS: He's 6-4, 280 pounds. And so he's not as big as J.J. (Watt) is. J.J.'s a big man. He's 6-5, 295 pounds, 290, so he not the same body type, but his playing personality is very similar. So that's why I think he'll come in and he'll be able to fit right in with that group.
DD: How about offensive lineman Brandon Brooks from Miami of Ohio? Have you seen anyone his size move as nimbly as he does?
Rick Smith: That's what is unique about him. When you look at him, you think power guard. Even when you look at his measurables, you see the height and weight. But the thing that separates him is his initial quickness. He did run a 4.9, which is incredible when you consider how big a man he is. He's got the first-step quickness, the lateral ability, the ability to get up on the second level. The things we're going to ask our guys to do, he can do. He just happens to be close to 350 pounds.
DD: Fifth-round kicker Randy Bullock evidently had an impressive workout here. What goes on in those workouts, and what did you see?
Rick Smith: He did. Obviously, what we try to do is try to simulate as many kicks that he's going to have to make at our level, as well as kickoffs and extra points. He did a great job. He's got a big leg. He's kicked in some huge games and won some games for Texas A&M. He's a local guy, so being a part of our organization is something he wanted. I just think it's a good fit. Probably the most important thing for a kicker, in my opinion, outside of the leg strength explosiveness in his hips, is mental makeup. He is a mentally tough young man, and he's going to need to have that at this level.
DD: What did you like most about Nick Mondek? He seems like a really athletic guy.
Rick Smith: He is athletic, and he's a bit underdeveloped at this point. He was a former defensive lineman. When you talk about the ratio of height-weight-speed and you put his measurables up, it compares very favorably to some guys who have played in this league for a very long time. When you look at what our offensive linemen are charged to do, he's got the ability to do those things. We like to get guys with the arrow pointing up. We think all these guys have the arrow pointing up. We certainly think he's one of them. I think with some good coaching, and I'd take our offensive line coaches against anybody's in the league, and I think they'll be able to get it out of him.
DD: Those three draftees help bolster competeition on the offensive line.
Rick Smith: Absolutely. That's what we try to do across the board. We're going to try to always get as many good football players in the room, on the field, and let the competition sort itself out.
DD: What undrafted rookie free agents should fans keep their eyes on?
Rick Smith: I'll say this, and I should've said it before: (director of college scouting) Mike Maccagnan and the job he did with the college scouts was just incredible. Then as the pro scouts, and (director of pro personnel) Brian Gardner and his group came along, and obviously Gary (Kubiak) and the coaches, as they entered the process, I just thought the entire group did a tremendous job of working. That part of the draft can be chaotic, but I thought they did a great job of organizing it, between Mike and Chris Olsen, our vice president of football administration, of getting everything set up for that process. So the minute that the draft was over, when Mr. Irrelevant's name was called, we got on that process. Because it was so organized, I really feel good about the group of college free agents that we signed. There were a couple of guys that we had draftable grades on. The young man from Oregon, the safety (Eddie Pleasant). We even contemplated drafting him. There's a nose tackle from BYU (Hebron Fangupo) that we had really good grades on. The wide receiver from North Carolina (Dwight Jones). There's some guys in this mix. Obviously, we took a quarterback that's not too far from here (Case Keenum). So we have a group of players that we really felt great about. They will bolster that competition that you just talked about. I'm looking forward to training camp.
DD: You mentioned the process. Can you clear this up? Some people might think the process begins in late January, but this is year-long, right?
Rick Smith: It absolutely is. In fact, in two weeks, there is a national meeting that we start on next year's class. It's a year-long process. Obviously, you're watching college football, so you're aware of all the guys as their careers progress. But really, in earnest, as it relates to this class, we will actually start on the 2013 draft in two weeks.