Texans general manager Rick Smith spoke to the media Wednesday about the upcoming NFL Draft. Following are his comments.
(Opening Statement) "I'm excited, I'm thrilled. I'm actually looking forward to this weekend. I am confident that we are going to an extremely productive NFL draft this weekend. We have worked extremely hard in preparation for that. To me, that is the only way that you can go in to something with confidence, is if you feel like you have a good preparation phase of it. I think you can go into any endeavor when you feel like you're prepared, and I certainly think we are very prepared. We have worked hard—our college scouts, pro scouts and coaches. Our whole organization has worked extremely hard to get us ready for this weekend and I know that we're going to help our football team.
"I think that we have already helped our team so far with free agency and some of the acquisitions, and I think all the acquisitions that we have made have been positive for us. Certainly starting off with (WR) Andre Johnson and getting him to agree to a contract extension and locking him up for a number of years. We felt good about that. And that gave us an opportunity, salary cap-wise, to go and do some things and be a little bit more aggressive than what we initially thought we were going to be able to do. Certainly adding (RB) Ahman Green was huge for us in our running game and later on what (FB) Vonta Leach, matching the offer sheet from the New York Giants and locking up a good, young player who came in and produced for us last year, particularly at the end of the season. We felt good about that. We feel good about our running game and obviously re-signing (RB) Ron Dayne, so our backfield is good.
"And the trade for (QB) Matt Schaub, I think really sets our team up for success in the future and we're certainly excited about that. As well as (T) Jordan Black, we have made some acquisitions in the linebacking corps. I think what we have done in free agency really takes a little bit of pressure off us from the draft in the sense that we don't feel like we have to go get any particular player. I think we have added some quality depth and the draft obviously is another opportunity for us to do that. That is really how I view the draft.
"I want to spend a little bit of time talking about my approach to the draft and really what that means. I believe, just like a lot of people believe, that you build through the draft. But what exactly does that mean? When you hear people saying 'You build through the draft,' what exactly does that mean? To me, it's a process. I want to spend a little bit of time talking about our process, how we do it, how we organize ourselves and how that all culminates at the end of this week and how, in some respects, it doesn't just end this weekend.
"I was talking to a good friend of mine yesterday and we were talking about here in Houston, we are a hotbed of research and development. Just up the street from here, we have major, major research happening with MD Anderson and the Baylor College of Medicine and there are so many organizations in the city that spend millions and millions of dollars on research and development and trying to find new technology and new medicines, new cures. Our draft preparation in a lot of respects is very similar to that: it's all about research and development. We have to research players and we're trying to find a way to add quality players to our team and develop our football team. All the way back to May of last year, our college scouts have been out and gathering information. That is a critical piece to the pie. What is also important is that you take that information and it guides you to a decision. It's great to have information and gather a bunch of information and research and find out as much as you can about players and school and schemes and how players have been in their respective schools, but if you don't take all that information and it guides you to a particular decision, then its all for naught.
"So one of the things that we did when we first came in last year is that we took a look at our information systems. We had a pro system over here and we backed out of that and you go to a college system over here and you back out of that, and nothing was really tied together. So one of the first endeavors that we took on was to put a personnel system in place that ties the college scouting process with the pro scouting process with the salary cap process, so you're not segmented and everything is together. Absolutely, this weekend, the work that (director of college scouting) Dale (Strahm) has done with the college scouts and our coaches have done and what we have done in this last month and meeting every day for hours and hours, I think that that is going to give us a great chance of making good choices this weekend.
"But it doesn't end this weekend. It also says now that we've got these systems tied in place and when I go into our computer system and I pull up a player in August, when that first wave of cuts happens, the first thing I'm going to do when I go into a room with (associate director of pro scouting) Bobby Grier and the pro scouts, the first thing we're going to do is look at what the college scouts said about the kid. That is all tied to our system now. What did the college scouts say about him? What kind of kid was he in college? So everything that happens from the guy's entrance into this league up until the time he leaves will be tied into our system. And that is what I mean in building through the draft. It's obviously building on draft day, but its also using all the information and research that we have spent hours and hours and a lot of money on to make sure that we use that information as players matriculate through their pro careers. With the process that we have in place and with the quality evaluators and our coaches and everything that we've done, I really feel good about that. I'm excited about what we're going to do.
"I can't obviously sit here and tell you exactly what is going to go on, but I will do on Saturday is come in and announce and tell you the player that we picked, the two or three or however many we do and I'll tell you all about him at that point. But the process is so fluid; we don't know what we're going to do. We certainly have talked through contingency plans and we have talked through scenarios and mock drafts and all types of things that we can predict, but that process is unique in and of itself and its going to be exciting. That is why everybody pays so much attention to the draft. I'm looking forward to it."
(on what would be needed to trade down in the draft) "I think that there are a lot of ways that people value draft picks and how you move back and forth. You hear a lot about the chart. I think what is important, if in fact you are in a position to move, and I certainly don't know if we're going to be in that position or not, but if we are, I think what you do is you look at all of your different mechanisms, for lack of a better way to put it, that you use to create value. And if we're in a situation where we feel like we can add value to our team by adding picks, we'll do so. If we're in a situation where we have an opportunity to do that and we feel like we can add value to our team by selecting the player that is available, we'll do that. Again, I don't know how that is going to play out, but we certainly will be open to all possibilities."
(on the group of players who could be available at pick no. 10) "People are always asking compare this draft to the other drafts. Is this a weak draft? Is this a strong draft? I don't think you can necessarily do that. I think you evaluate them individually. I think that, one, when you do look at the history of drafts, I think if you talk to people, a lot of folks might agree with me in the sense that once you get past 15 or 16, from the 16th pick or maybe as late as the 20th pick to the middle of the second round, people will have varying values on those players. It's almost as if you might be able to get the same player at any of those picks. I do certainly think that there will be several players at that spot that we'll have options about whether we want to take him. I think we'll have a spirited discussion whether or not to take a player at that pick, because I think we can add value to our football team at that pick. But I do think that there will be or may be a possibility to move back and acquire more picks and still get a good player."
(on if he would prefer to address one particular position in the first round) "I think that we have done what we needed to do via free agency that we don't have a particular position that we have got to go get in the first round."
(on getting a second receiver outside of the first round) "When you talk about this draft and positions that have depth to them, I do think that the wide receiver might be a position that we could add a player later on, in the third or maybe even the fourth round that we'll be able to get a quality guy that can come in and compete for that position. I think that André Davis is going to help us. I think the speed that he brings to the game will help. (Texans head coach) Gary (Kubiak) has talked a lot about (WR) Kevin Walter and how he feels about him and how he feels like he can be a better player, and he will be. But I do think we need to address that position at some point."
(on improving the pass rush in this offseason) "I think one of the things that you're not factoring into the equation that I put a lot of stock in is the addition of (defensive line coach) Jethro Franklin and (senior defensive assistant) Frank Bush working with the defensive linemen that we have already. I think we're going to be a better group with those two guys working with them. I think (DE) Mario Williams as a healthy player this year will be better and create more pass rush. But I don't think, that is an area obviously that we have looked at."
(on what goes into the decision process to trade down) "I think we spent a couple of hours yesterday going through mock drafts. I wrote down about four or five different scenarios that could possibly come up. We talked through those yesterday and I solicited opinions from everybody, from Gary to all the coaches to Dale Strahm, and let everybody talk about what they would do if we were in that particular situation. And we'll do very much like that on Saturday, is that if something comes up, I will gather everybody together and we'll talk about what the possibilities are and get everybody's opinion and then at the end of the day huddle up with Dale and Gary and make a decision."
(on running things by owner Bob McNair) "He has been in some of our meetings and certainly he is very involved that way. One thing I will say about him is that he has hired us to do a job and he allows us to do that job. And to the degree that we keep him informed, I talk to him every day. I enjoy his perspective and I solicit his opinion about things. But, he respects what we do and so I'll inform him of course of what is going on, but that decision will be with us."
(on analyzing prospects during interview process) "These guys are coached up from the time that their senior seasons end, at camps and workouts and the agents do such a good job of preparing them. Again, that is one of the evaluation tools. You kind of have to read in between the lines a little bit. But that is where the research comes. The work that our scouts do. And that is one of the things that Dale did when we first sat down with our college scouts, he said that there are two things that you have to get when you go into a school, the mental and the character. If you don't walk out with anything else, you better come out with a good understanding of what this kid is character-wise and mentally. So you don't just rely on a 15 minute interview."
(on drafting the safety position) "I'll address a little bit of that question with respect to the 'value positions.' I think years ago, the safety position and the offensive guard position, you would argue that people don't spend money on offensive guards and they don't spend money on safeties. That's not necessarily true anymore. I think that if you can add an impact football player at any position on your team nowadays, you do that. I played safety, so I'm a little biased to safeties and I might put a little more stock in them than most people do. But I don't think it's any different than any other position, I guess is what I'm saying. If you have a guy and you value the guy at the pick where you are, I don't think you shy away from taking the kid in the first round or the seventh round."
(on if 2007 is a weak draft class for safeties) "I don't know I would agree with that—I'm not going to yay or nay you on that. I'm going to respect your opinion as you said that when you phrased the question. I don't disagree or agree with that. I'm just talking in general, because obviously I don't want to tell you too much specifically about what I think about the position. I will say this: I don't mind taking a safety early, and I think you can find them late as well."
(on the status of T Charles Spencer's injury and its effect on Houston's draft plans) "I think we have to, and we have as an organization, approach our offseason with the opinion that we can't count on Charles. He's working extremely hard. I'm extremely optimistic for him and for us because I think what you saw in a limited amount of time last year is that this kid can be a really good football player for us. So I certainly hope he can come back, but we can't count on that. We've got to operate and assume that he's not, and so we have been doing that throughout the course of the offseason."
(on how his approach to the draft differs from what was done when he was in Denver) "Again, this goes back to when I was first hired last year. What we tried to do was we tried to take the best elements of what we did in Denver and the best elements of what was already done here and merge those things, and then also get information from other folks that came in from other clubs and what other people are doing, and maybe innovative ideas I may have had or Gary might have had or Dale may have had about the process. So we certainly have done things in similar fashions in some respects that were similar to what we did in Denver, but we're doing things the Houston Texans way. That's what we've created and that's the way that we've approached this thing, and that's really why I feel so good about Saturday and Sunday, because I feel extremely positive about our approach and our preparation for the weekend."
(on if he's nervous about running a draft for the first time) "Am I nervous? I suspect that I'll get butterflies. I would hope I get butterflies. It's like performing. But again, I'm approaching this and I have approached it the same way I did when I played or when I've done anything in a competitive environment or performance-wise. I think you walk into it with confidence when you have worked it and are prepared, and I don't think that you can do that unless you are. And that's why I think I'm harping on the fact that I am prepared. I do feel good and I feel confident about our ability to make good decisions this week."
(on the effect of the new NFL personal conduct policy on draft decisions) "I do think the commissioner has done a good job of addressing that issue in light of some of the recent things that have happened. I don't know if it is going to greatly impact anything that we do significantly, because it's always been an issue. Like I said earlier, that's one of the things that we absolutely have to know about is character. That's something that we value, and that starts with our owner. Our organization has always been one that emphasizes character and adding quality people and human beings, and people who are going to add something to the community and be good citizens and play good football. I don't see that greatly changing how we do our business."
(on the effect of having an experienced scout like associated director of pro scouting Bobby Grier on staff) "It's immeasurable. One of the things that I've tried to do in this process is that it's a democratic process in the sense that everybody has a voice, and I have solicited that. I actually involved Bobby and (assistant director of pro scouting) Miller (McCalmon) and (pro scout) Rob Kisiel in the draft process significantly more than what they had been involved in the past. In the past it was segmented where they were the pro scouts and they may have had the opportunity to come in and watch a little bit of the meetings, but I actually had them grade college players—a significant amount of college players—so that they could have a voice in the meetings and be participants in the meetings so that we could draw from their knowledge. It's been great, especially for a guy like me in this seat for the first time. The Bible says wise men seek wise counsel, and I do that."
(on the status of DE Anthony Weaver) "He will be healthy in training camp. I haven't really talked with (head athletic trainer) Kevin (Bastin) specifically about Anthony Weaver, so I can't stand up here and give you his absolute point where he is right now, but he'll be healthy and we're counting on him to be."
(on how the athletes in this draft class compare to athletes in past classes) "I suspect that over the last few years, it seems like sitting at the combine, for example, when certain groups run—when the DBs run, when the wideouts run—there are more guys running 4.3 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) than ever before. I think that would be the first thing that comes to mind when you ask a question like that. So maybe guys are getting faster; I don't know, I'd have to go look at that and see. But I just know that sitting up there, you're looking at your watch, guy after guy after guy is running sub-4.5, you know, 4.4 to 4.3. That would be something that maybe is a little different than in years past."
(on identifying players who play as fast as their 40 time versus players who merely test well) "You do. You've got to look at that and you have to caution yourself with becoming enamored with a guy because he runs and jumps and tests well. The bulk of the evaluation is the body of work that the guy does on the football field. Scouts, we do it every year, though. We get enamored with a guy because he runs fast and he jumps high, but you've got to caution yourself about that because the bottom line is how good a football player he is."