When Wade Phillips said the Texans needed defensive players on Thursday after the first round of the draft, he wasn't kidding.
The Texans followed their first-round selection of J.J. Watt with four more defensive players in their next four picks. In Arizona linebacker Brooks Reed and three defensive backs, including Miami cornerback Brandon Harris, they drafted a major influx of talent for Phillips' 3-4 defense.
"I think we're significantly better," Texans general manager Rick Smith said after the draft.
After the Texans ranked 30th in the NFL in defense and 32nd against the pass in 2010, they used six of their eight picks on defensive players. Among them were a defensive end, two outside linebackers, two cornerbacks and a safety.
"We were able to address some needs, and specifically on the defensive side of the football," Smith said. "That was one of the goals and one of the things we were really trying to get accomplished.
"I think one of the things that you will notice about all of the players that we took is that they are all high-motor, high-character guys. Football is very important to them. They're tough, tough-minded, disciplined players. I think that's going to benefit our team as a whole and our organization as a whole."
That mold of player started with Watt (6-5, 290), the Wisconsin defensive end whom the Texans drafted 11th overall. Smith said the Texans entertained the idea of trading up or trading back in the first round, but they stood pat because they "felt extremely positive" about Watt.
"He adds a dimension to our defense," Smith said. "I talk all the time in here about finding playmakers and guys that add dimensions to your football team. I think several of the players that we've picked over the last few days add a toughness and a competitive, get-after-your-butt type of intensity. It certainly started with J.J., and it continued throughout the couple of days."
Reed (6-3, 263) was another pick for the front seven at 42nd overall in the second round. The Texans have only 60 sacks as a team since 2009, which ranks 27th in the league.
"With Brooks, we were holding our breaths," Smith said. "There were a lot of rumors on Friday that New England might take him with the first pick of the second round. We made some calls and tried to feel the situation out and what it might take to get up.
"At the end of the day, when they didn't take him, we sat there and were so happy he was on the board when we were able to pick. And all the things he has relative to the characteristics that J.J. brings, he brings the same: temperament, playing fast, explosive player, all those things from a pass rush perspective."
After drafting Reed, Smith made his first of two draft-day trades to move up back into the second round and select Harris. The Texans gave up a third-round pick (73rd overall) and fifth-round pick (138th overall) to acquire the New England Patriots' pick at No. 60 overall.
"We felt like Brandon was a tad bit better than all the rest of the corners left on the board, so we felt like we needed to make the move to get back to the second round to pick him up," Smith said. "He's a fiery football player from Miami – he's got all the confidence you need at the position and is a very versatile player and can play inside and outside."
The Texans made another trade in the fourth round, this time moving down from the 105th spot to acquire extra picks. Smith packaged that pick with a sixth-rounder (178th overall) to acquire a fourth and two fifths from the Washington Redskins.
With the first two of those picks, the Texans drafted Virginia Tech cornerback Roc Carmichael (fourth round, 127th overall) and Idaho safety Shiloh Keo (fifth round, 144th overall).
Smith said that the Texans had a second- or third-round grade on Carmichael. He called Keo a "diamond in the rough," citing his intangibles, football instincts and ball skills.
Asked to single out one player they're excited about aside from the first two picks, Smith and Texans head coach Gary Kubiak both singled out Keo, who also can return kicks.
"I love this guy's football IQ when I watch him play, diagnosing routes, formations and what's fixing to happen," Kubiak said. "He has great hands. If the ball is close, he's going to make the play and has the ability to take it back to the house; makes big hits in games that are difference-makers for football teams."
With the final pick acquired from the Redskins, the Texans took North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates (fifth round, 152nd overall). A four-year starter at North Carolina, Yates was the first offensive player drafted by the Texans in 2011.
Kubiak said he was surprised that Yates' name never came up in pre-draft speculation about the top quarterback prospects.
"This kid had a nice four-year career, and he played his best as a senior," Kubiak said. "He also overcame adversity at North Carolina. I just like everything he stands for. He is basically running our offense there at North Carolina. He walks in and he's going to know what we're doing. He reminds me of Matt (Schaub) a great deal. He's got a great play clock in his head. I just think we're very fortunate.
"Rick and I were sitting there talking in round five and couldn't believe he was still on the board. This kid has a chance to be a 'one' in this league if he keeps moving forward. It's a great pick for us."
The Texans wrapped up their draft with two picks in the seventh round – Arkansas State offensive tackle Derek Newton at No. 214 overall and Rice linebacker Cheta Ozougwu at No. 254 overall, the Mr. Irrelevant pick.
The flood of new defensive players has given the Texans newfound flexibility with Mario Williams, who's expected to be the cornerstone of Phillips' defense. The Texans have yet to settle on a role for Williams, who has 48.0 sacks since he was drafted first overall in 2006.
"Mario is the piece to the puzzle defensively that gives us the flexibility," Kubiak said. "He's the guy that we didn't have to lock in at an end or lock in at the WILL (weakside linebacker). Mario can play with a hand up. Mario can play with a hand down. As soon as we get this football team in here and Wade starts working with the group we got, then we will make that decision. The options we have for Mario are wide open."
More than anything else, that might end up being one of the most important developments of the Texans' 2011 draft. **
HOUSTON TEXANS 2011 DRAFT CLASS
|1||11 (11)||J.J. Watt||DE||6-5||290||Wisconsin|
|2||10 (42)||Brooks Reed||OLB||6-3||263||Arizona|
|2||28 (60)||Brandon Harris||CB||5-10||191||Miami (Fla.)|
|4||30 (127)||Roc Carmichael||CB||5-10||192||Virginia Tech|
|5||13 (144)||Shiloh Keo||S||5-11||219||Idaho|
|5||21 (152)||T.J. Yates||QB||6-3||219||North Carolina|
|7||12 (214)||Derek Newton||OT||6-6||314||Arkansas State|
|7||51 (254)||Cheta Ozougwu||LB||6-2||255||Rice|