Dale Strahm just finished his fifth draft as the Texans' director of college scouting. It was the most defense-heavy draft of his tenure in Houston, with six of eight picks being spent on defensive players for new coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme.
Strahm, who was a college coach for 31 years, said that it was organizationally one of the best drafts he has been a part of in his 13 years as an NFL scout.
"We had outstanding leadership from Gary (Kubiak) and Rick (Smith)," he said. "I mean, we were really focused on our class, addressing our needs, having a priority of exactly what was going on. So that focus and that leadership brought us to the stage that we ended up with: Getting quality football players that were high-motor, high-effort, bring a work ethic, bring explosion, bring a want-to attitude to our program, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We're really excited about our class."
Strahm and his team of scouts – assistant director of college scouting Mike Maccagnan, national scout Ed Lambert and six regional scouts – began their draft preparation last May. Halfway through the scouting season, they had to switch from evaluating 4-3 players to 3-4 players when defensive coordinator Frank Bush was replaced by Phillips in January.
"Your personnel changes drastically," Strahm said. "We needed to have more linebackers. We needed guys that could power rush and speed rush, guys that could drop in coverage, guys that could play in space, guys that can attack down the line of scrimmage, that type of thing. So philosophically in our scouts and our staff, we had to change some of our views and really what were the parameters of certain guys that we were looking at."
Strahm said that there were a few key traits that Phillips was looking for in his players.
"He wanted guys that are first of all athletic, number one, and number two – and I think this is a great, great point – is production," Strahm said. "Is he productive? You know, guys come in different packages, but… is he a productive football player? Is he explosive? Does he have a motor? Is he athletic? Can he bend? Can he run? Can he get off blocks? Can he make plays in space? When you get down to the fundamentals of it, you're looking for certain characteristics at a position, and our defensive staff with Wade leading our troops is very aggressive – get after their tail, be explosive, play hard, never stop coming, never stop giving up. It's exciting for us."
Here's a pick-by-pick scouting review from Strahm of the Texans' 2011 draft class:
J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin First round (11th overall)
Strahm: "Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Two-year starter. Great passion. Full motor. Very productive. That's what we love about this kid. I mean, he had 8-10 batted balls down, blocked field goals. Has both power and quickness. He's got great toughness. He's got very strong hands. He can force the action. He's got good instincts as a rusher. He knows when to push, to come back off. Was an outstanding team leader at Wisconsin. Tremendous upside with this guy and his motor. Very, very happy to have him. A 6-6, 295-pound kid that actually started out as a tight end. I mean, his story's awesome. He's supposed to go to this school, and he goes to another school, and that coach gets fired, and he goes to another school and he walks on. He works so hard in spring practice he immediately earns a scholarship. I like those kind of kids that are lunch-pail kids. They're not privileged to anything. They've got to fight and scratch and claw to get where they were. And he took that talent, he took that work ethic and made himself an All-American and a first-round draft pick. I just love his work ethic and motor. This guy plays full speed regardless of whatever he's doing. He could be eating, it's full speed. He probably sleeps full speed. He's a great pick for us."
Brooks Reed, LB, ArizonaSecond round (42nd overall)
Strahm: "Almost the same. He's from Tucson, Arizona. Three-year starter. Outside linebacker, great motor and range as a player. He's got (special) teams ability that really excites us, because he can run, he can change direction. He's got lateral quickness. Very active as a movement player. He can run what we call the rim as an outside rusher. Can be very disruptive. He's got great closing quickness to the ball or to the runner – both. Has both power and speed on the rush off the end. Very strong tackler, and another guy that's very productive, and his motor goes all the time as well. I mean, these two guys (Reed and Watt) are two peas in a pod."
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami Second round (60th overall)
Strahm: "Great move by our general manager positioning ourselves to be able to draft this young man. He's a coach's son; his dad was on the staff at Miami. Two-and-a-half year starter. Has great hands. Got very, very good ball skills. Plays with great awareness. Has good anticipation in regards to the passing game. He's got quick feet and hands. Got a good short burst to the ball, which is what you want. Very good football IQ. Understands route concepts, which is very important, and he, too, is a very productive football player. He knows a lot of our players who are on the team, and he fits, and he is the kind of young man that we would like in our program. Outstanding. Very confident guy, and that's what you want."
Roc Carmichael, CB, Virginia TechFourth round (127th overall)
Strahm: "Roc's from Clinton, Maryland. Two-year starter, captain. Great movement skills. Quick; got great quickness. Got a burst to close with long speed. I was there for pro timing day and I've seen this kid play now for the last four years. I've watched his growth and his development; it's been outstanding. He's got very good ball skills. He's got loose hips, which is what you want in transition. He's got quick hands and feet. I think in high school he ran a 10.5 100 meters. Pro day, I timed him in a 4.4 at almost 190-some pounds. He's a top cover corner with very good high-end speed. Very high-character young man. Our staff felt that we had a second-round grade on him. Him being there in the fourth round was very, very productive for us."
Shiloh Keo, S, IdahoFifth round (144th overall)
Strahm: "Three-year starter, very productive. Got (special) teams ability. This guy, he doesn't know what it is not to hit somebody. Probably if he was in the lunch room, he'll probably knock somebody over. He has punt return ability; very quick. High motor, short stroke. He's got what we call 'body shock' when he hits you. It's like a fighter: A lot of guys can throw a punch, but a real champion knocks you out. Well, this guy's got that knockout punch about him. Very active player, great hands, plays faster than timed speed. A lot of physicality about him. Very good lateral quickness with balance. Big upside. Great intensity. High-motor guy. It's almost like I'm stuttering or repeating myself, and I'm not, but those four guys are all of the same kind of mode that we were looking for. They're all a little different in their own way, but they're also very special in their own way. I love (Keo's) instincts. Great football IQ, and he understands football is a contact game."
T.J. Yates, QB, North CarolinaFifth round (152nd overall)
Strahm: "Awesome young man. He's from Marietta, Georgia. Three-and-a-half year starter, captain, natural drop-back mechanics. Got very good size at 6-3, 220 pounds. Trained in a pro-style offense. A lot of the tape work that he's done in his career has been off of our quarterback and our system. Great, great leader. A quiet leader in that he's more of a leader by example, about fighting through tough things. Not as vocal, but he'll get out there and the team tremendously follows him. He's got deep-ball ability, understands the passing game, very bright. Got great game management skills, which we really like. Led the team to eight victories this year, and you say, 'Well, what does that really mean? He should, shouldn't he?' Well, you have to remember they had nine kids drafted off that team, and a lot of those kids didn't even play this season. So there's a lot of turmoil, and that's when you really find out about somebody. When stuff's falling all around you, how can you stand in the heat and take the battle and find a way to win? Well, this young man did that. Has got a big upside. He's got a short learning curve. He fits our offense extremely well. Has a great play clock in his head. Big upside with this young man."
Derek Newton, OT, Arkansas StateSeventh round (214th overall)
Strahm: "Transfer from Hinds Community College in Jackson, Mississippi. Two-year starter. Very, very athletic. I mean, a terrific athlete. Shows first-step quickness. He's got lateral range as a blocker. He can accelerate as a run blocker, which means he can run. Will need continual development, better strength overall, because he's a huge guy, almost 6-5, 315 pounds and can run really well. So we see a big upside with this young man because of his physical capabilities. I believe… we'll give him a chance to go (at tackle) and then because of a need factor or something like that, get a feel for how he can adjust to things and how quick he can pick things up, then potentially he could maybe move inside. He's that kind of athlete."
Cheta Ozougwu, LB, RiceSeventh round (254th overall)
Strahm: "Four-year starter. I love the story; he's right here in town. A great passion for the game. A very gifted athlete. *Very *gifted athlete, now. High-motor guy. He's got very good playing strength. He's got great initial quickness, and that's the same kind of guy that can run the rim. This guy could bring a lot of special teams value to us as well. Solid recognition skills. This guy has a big upside. He's almost 6-2, 250 pounds and can run. Will need some development and need a little bit better football strength, but athletically, it's exactly what you're looking for. He can drop in coverage, he can play in space and he can put his hand down and rush the passer. So those three things, that's what you're looking for in an outside 'backer, so that's what he brings. And he'll just grow every day. We have a saying around here, which we really love about all these players; it's that, 'If you're green, you're grown, and if you're ripe, you're rotten.' So we don't want any ripe football players. We want green players so that they can get better every day."