General Manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rick Smith
Pre-Draft Press Conference
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
(Transcribed by Brett Maikowski and Omar Majzoub)
(opening statement) "I'm excited and happy to see you all. I've got some markers in this process. Yesterday, we met with the doctors and the trainers. This morning, I met with the security
department. With the final medical meeting yesterday, the final security meeting today, and then this meeting with you all, those markers all signal that it's getting close, so I'm excited about that. I always like to start by applauding the efforts of our group. This year is no different. In fact, this year—maybe it is a little bit different because we had a transition with our department. Mike Maccagnan, obviously, was named general manager of the New York Jets, so in the middle of our process we had to switch gears and we elevated Jon Carr to the director of college scouting role. Jon leading the department has done an outstanding job in that transition. I'm very pleased with the efforts that he was able to produce, as well as Brian Gaine. We elevated Brian Gaine as well to director of player personnel. The combination between the two guys and we hired a young man by the name of Matt Jansen, who was here before and had left and gone to the Baltimore Ravens. We brought him back in the role of college scouting coordinator. Those men and their efforts in terms of organizing the department and managing that transition from Mike to what they were able to do in those roles was really fantastic. All of our college scouts did a great job this year in terms of evaluating this draft class. The coaches did an outstanding job, as they always do, of coming in after the season and getting to know the group. We sent some coaches out this year- a little bit different in the process. We always tweak our process. We're always looking at the way that we do things in an attempt to improve. We looked at the process and one of the things we implemented this year was we sent coaches out to some pro days. We think that was something that was beneficial for us. I think we've done a really good job and a thorough job, as it ought to be, and an exhaustive job in getting as much information on these prospects in this draft class as possible. I think we've got a really good feel for how we feel about them and where they rank and how they're valued. I like our board and I like our process. As I stated, I'm excited and I'm ready to go. Thursday can't get here quick enough. With that, I will take your questions."
(on how things have changed in the second year working with Head Coach Bill O'Brien) "It's been really good. We are exponentially better. I don't know how you value that, but just from the standpoint of familiarity and understanding what we are looking for as a scouting department relative to that communication with the coaches. That's been much better this year. I think we have done a better job of articulating our vision for each of these players. We've got an idea of what the player will do when he comes into our group. We've really identified those roles that the player will come in and fill. I think from that perspective, just the communication has been so much better than last year. It's been great to work with Bill. Bill is an excellent partner. I've really enjoyed working with him over the year and we are into the last real phase of any part of the year where it's his first time. We've in effect been through everything together now that you typically in a colander year will experience. It's really good to be in this process with a year of experience with him and I think we're better for it."
(on if the team has decided to pick up the fifth year option on OLB Whitney Mercilus) "We're having those conversations and we're still contemplating that. What I will tell you about Whitney is this: Whitney is very similar to two players that you saw addressed in free agency, whether we're talking about a first-rounder with Kareem (Jackson) or a seventh-rounder with Derek Newton. These are young players that we feel like are still on the rise, that are getting better, that have a role on our football team, that are good teammates, that work hard, and that we see their level of play continuing to ascend. Whitney falls in that category, so he is a guy that we would absolutely love to continue to have here. That's something that is our intention. Whether or not we pick that up really is not as important as the fact that we want him around for a long time."
(on S D.J. Swearinger and the trade rumors about him) "I understand there is a report out there, but here's the deal. First of all, we make it a practice not to discuss negotiations publically, whether that's with an agent and a player or with another team with respect to trade opportunities. Those kinds of conversations are happening this time of year. There's a lot of information and misinformation out there and a lot of conversations that can be construed or interpreted a certain way. What I will tell you about D.J. (Swearinger) is he's a really good football player for us and he did a nice job last year in a role in our third down packages. He was really, really productive for us and we expect that he will do that again. I think D.J.'s abilities are even such that he can play a little bit more, even in the backend on some of the first and second down stuff. He really found himself a niche last year in some of our sub-packages, but I think he's also capable of doing some other things for us as well."
(on this year's wide receiver class in the draft and how it compares to the 2014 class) "I know that's a lot of the talk. It is a good class. There are several receivers and they're all different kinds. Whatever your flavor is, I think you can pretty much find it in this draft, whether you're talking about the big, tall, long guys that can run or the shorter, smaller, quick guys or the slot guys. There are a lot of different types of receivers in this draft class that are good and productive. How they compare to last year's group, we'll see once they get into this league, but it's a good group of players."
Take a look at DeVante Parker's football career at Louisville.
(on the process of picking between two players while on the clock if they are both are ranked high) "First of all, anytime you're on the clock and you have multiple players that you like, it's a good situation to be in because it allows you the opportunity and affords you the opportunity to maybe even move back if you've got multiple players up there. You can contemplate moving. But really at that point, if you've got equal players at a value that you find yourself, then you look at your roster. Then at that point, it's like we've talked about a lot of times when you talk about not drafting for need, but if you've got positions on your roster that you're either light at or that it's a position of need, and you've got two equal players and one of them fills that need then, obviously, that's the player that you would typically go with unless there are intangible things about one of the guys. Sometimes you just have conviction on players. If you've got a conviction on a certain player and even if he is not a position of need, and you're sitting there and you've got equal value on the guy, but you've got a real conviction about a certain player versus the other player than you'll go with your conviction."
(on if recent off-field issues can cause the team to re-evaluate prospects) "Your opinions about these men are not going to change in the next couple days. However, you are always, until the draft starts, still assessing information and gathering information. When incidents like what's happened over the last couple days with that young man (Missouri DE Shane Ray) occur, I don't know that they dramatically change your opinion about him, but it's certainly another piece of information that needs to be and should be considered."
(on reviewing prospects medical history and how comfortable he feels with that information) "First of all, I've got as much confidence or degree of confidence that I could potentially have in our medical staff. It starts with Geoff Kaplan, our head athletic trainer and our director of sports medicine, and Walt Lowe, our head doctor, and Dr. (James) Muntz is outstanding as an internist. I think that the information that we get, whether it's a player who attended the combine and has gone through that process or players that we bring here in town that necessarily don't go to the combine and then we have our physicals here. I have a high degree of confidence that we are getting good information and that it's thorough and that we have an idea of what these players medical conditions are. I feel great about that. I do think that a part of the process- these players understand how important that is. There are enough opportunities for us to evaluate and get the information that we need with respect to their medical histories that do give us that confidence."
Take a look at Todd Gurley's football career at Georgia.
(on prospects coming off ACL surgery and how the team feels about them) "I mean, I don't at this point like to talk too much about individual players. But from the standpoint of just generally speaking, ACL surgeries are pretty routine these days. Certainly, there are examples of guys who have come back and played at high levels. One of the things that goes into the evaluation process, a lot of times just depending on where a guy is in his rehab process, guys don't get back from ACLs for a year plus, so you may not see the same caliber player a year out from the surgery but then two years out from the surgery he may be back, or even better than he was before. There are instances where guys come back and they're playing at high levels that first year. It varies. It varies from case to case. Certainly, I don't let one instance effect another instance. You got to look at them independently. I think if you do that, if you look at them independently, and you evaluate the information in that particular case, it gives you an opportunity to make a good decision."
(on OLB Jadeveon Clowney and his status) "I'll let Bill (O'Brien) really handle the injury updates, but everything I have seen this offseason I have been encouraged and impressed with. He's doing well. All the reports that I've gotten are very positive. Yes, we expect that he will be a major contributor to our football team this year."
(on if the team feels comfortable with their group of offensive tackles after resigning Derek Newton) "I think I've said a lot of times that two positions you can never have too many are corners and tackles because it's just the way that this league is. I do feel really good about having him back in the fold. When you go back and look at the tape, Derek played at a high level last year. In addition to his play out on the edge, we had some injuries inside and he went inside and played guard. Really that versatility was something that was really good to see. I wasn't really sure that he could do that, but he was able to go in and function and really play at a high level inside as well. That was important thing for us and I was happy that we were able to get him back. Again, another young player, another ascending young player that we get to keep and that's what this weekend is about. This weekend is about identifying players in this draft that we think have a role and we've got a vision for them and understanding that's the way that we will build this roster and build a championship team, by having success Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and then those guys becoming the players that we think that they can become and then you keep those guys around. That gives you a chance to have some depth on your roster as well as success."
(on Florida State OT Cameron Erving) "I'm going to flip you back to my answer with respect to individual players, but what I will say is he is a versatile player, very versatile. He's played maybe all five spots on the offensive line. If you remember, one of the things we talked about and emphasized a lot last year was versatility throughout the roster, so players who could come in and do different things for your football team, whether it's a guy who can play inside at guard and outside at tackle, or a guy who can play both guard and center, or if it's a safety who has coverage ability and can maybe play some corner and safety. Guys who can do more things, as well as special teams, those guys are the guys that we're looking for. Guys that are intelligent, that work hard, and that are versatile. Those are the kind of players that were looking for."
(on evaluating a prospects impact on special teams and whether that counts as versatility) "I think that question is really specific to specialists. So maybe there's a spot on your team for a returner if a guy is dynamic enough to hold a roster spot if he is just a return guy. I think generally speaking what I'm talking about are guys who are good football players at their position who can do multiple things for your football team. The ideal scenario, for example, is maybe the corner who can also return punts or the wide receiver who can return punts or the running back who can return kickoffs as well in terms of in the return game. If a guy's dynamic enough and we think that he can change the field position, then we certainly have done that in the past and we will carry return guys. But really you're just looking for versatility throughout the football team."
(on if having three quarterbacks on the roster precludes the team from taking a quarterback in the first three rounds) "No, it doesn't preclude us from doing anything. No, not at all. It's a quarterback league. I think our quarterback position, as we stand today, is better than it was a year ago. I do think that the addition of Brian (Hoyer) was another important free agent acquisition and contract that I was very happy that we were able to get done because I watch him in this building. Just the competitive environment in the quarterback room, it's going to be fun to watch. Both those guys, when you talk about Ryan (Mallett) and you talk about Brian, they are competing every day. I think that it's an important year for Tom (Savage) as much as it's an important year for any of these guys. I talk a lot about the jump from year one to year two has to be exponential and I've expressed that from time to time because it's important. They understand the rhythm of the season. They understand how different pro football is from college football. They understand the demands. They have hopefully stabilized their life structures and have all those things in place. Some of the distractions that occur and happen to them as rookies, those things are alleviated. It's at this point that all those first to second-year players ought to be so much better and we expect that they make that jump. We're looking for that from Tom as well. However, that does not preclude us from taking a quarterback."
(on if he looks at depth at the position and players that he could get later in the draft when considering the best player available) "Well, no, I think you're talking two different things. If you're talking about the best player available, it's independent of your depth chart. If we're in an ideal scenario that was painted a little bit earlier and you're sitting there and you've got multiple players – let's just make it even better than what was described – you've got multiple players at a certain value in a round, then it's at that point that you can look at the depth of the draft, you can look at the depth of your football team, make good decisions that way. A lot of that is anticipation and that's some of the things we're doing now at this point. I've come out of the bunker now and kind of peeking my head up a little bit trying to figure out what are other people thinking about this draft class so that you can anticipate and make some of those decisions the right way where you give yourself a chance to maybe get multiple players."
(on if picking at 16 gives him that flexibility) "Yeah, I like 16. There's going to be a good player or two or three there for us to take, so it will potentially give us an opportunity to move back because I like our board. We probably have on average maybe a couple more players than typical that are rated in the first round. We never have 32 guys that are rated as first-round picks. We may have a few more guys this year rated as first-rounders. What I've discovered over the study over these last few days is I've really started to look at the board in its entirety is that it is a good spot, 16 is a good spot and it may give us an opportunity to make some moves."
(on the significance of adding a running back at some point in the draft) "Yeah, this is another – I was asked about the wide receiver group – I think the running back group, there are some good running backs in this draft as well. Again, it's one of the things that I've enjoyed about this process is we have a vision for the various roles and positions on our football team. There are different types of running backs. They're just like I described the different flavors of the wide outs in this draft; there are different types of runners. There are three-down guys, there are third-down guys, there are first and second-down guys, big power-type guys. We like them. Throughout the balance of the draft, there are good running backs as well."
(on what you look for in the pre-draft visits) "It's either one of two things. It's either a guy that did not attend the Combine and so you need to get a medical on him, you need to sit down a visit with him personally and get a feel for who he is as a man or it's guys that have been to the Combine that you need further study and further conversation or further medical study on. It's difficult at the Combine to really get to know a guy in 15 minutes. We have a process and we have a rhythm to those meetings and we try to get as much and gather as much information as possible. Sometimes you just can't. Our scouts do a great job of the background stuff. I think we have a good feel for a guy when he walks in the room. But if you can't vet through all the things you need to vet through, sometimes you bring those guys in. It's a good opportunity to really get to know the guy. He gets an opportunity to sit down with the coaches. You get him up on the board, you understand his football knowledge. It just gives you a better sense of who he is and a better idea of can he execute the things that you're going to ask him to execute when he comes into your building?"
(on if there is a scale of where you take a guy in the draft when considering his talent and character issues) "That's an interesting question. That whole idea, it's a fluid answer. Effectively, what you are trying to decide is if you are comfortable with a player in your organization, in your building, in your program. If you make the determination that he's not the kind of guy that fits into your group, then it doesn't matter where you take him. If he doesn't fit as a one, he wouldn't fit as a seven. There are some situations where there's a risk/reward conversation that's had where it's maybe too much of a risk early but then it's not so much a risk later. So there are two different things that you're describing. One is a guy that you say, 'Hey, we don't think that this guy fits our group. We're not going to add him to our group.' And that's a no. There's another risk/reward conversation that you have and maybe we would take the chance on the guy here but we wouldn't here. Those are the kind of conversations."
(on turning DE J.J. Watt's roster bonus into a signing bonus and what that allows the team to do in acquiring more players) "Well when we wrote the contract, that was something that was always, we were always going to do that when we wrote the contract originally. That wasn't something that we did in an effort to create more room. In effect, it did that but it was designed to do that from the time that we did it in the first place. Just as it relates to adding free agents, we will always continue to augment this roster and make it better. If there is an opportunity for us, whether it's via trade, whether it is to add a street free agent, whether it's to add an unrestricted free agent that's still out there, we will always look for ways and opportunities to increase the talent on the roster. The first opportunity post-draft is obviously the college free agents process. We just had a meeting in organizing that process. That's an important process because it can be a little bit chaotic at times because everybody's in the marketplace at the same time and everybody's competing for the same group of players, so you've got to be organized that way. We're working through that and developing that plan. Then after that, we've got a rookie minicamp and we've got our OTAs and we'll keep evaluating the roster and the guys that we bring in. If there are chances for us to go out and improve and get better players, then we'll do it."
Texans analyst and radio sideline reporter John Harris unveiled his top 100 prospects for the NFL Draft. (Photos courtesy of AP)