Scouting the Draft for a Mario Williams Replacement
This is an installment from State of the Texans feature Columnist, Mike Kerns.
Even before the eventual departure of Mario Williams to free agency, it is always said of a Wade Phillips 3-4 defense that one can never have enough linebackers. Be it inside or outside, you can’t have another situation like last season where Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed were playing virtually every snap and giving the trainer with the oxygen masks a workout after every play.
With this logic in mind combined with this little event known as the NFL Draft right around the corner, my “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE” frame of thinking has evolved to the point of hating any mock draft I see which has the Texans taking an offensive player in the first round. What can I say? Offense is always the sexy pick with the running backs and the wide receivers, but after the defensive renaissance that finally reigned down in Houston last season, I’m in favor of continuing to build upon that and turn this defense from good to brutal.
So here are a group of prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft that I could see the Texans targeting to add to their fierce pass rush attack this season. For individual player breakdowns on some of these guys, be sure to check out Patrick’s Draft Profile series.
In Mercilus, you have a guy who broke out in his junior season for the Fighting Illini with 57 tackles with 22.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. This, of course, has led many to proclaim him a “one year wonder,” but if you watch his film, you know that isn’t the case. His speed and athleticism were unforgiving to opposing offensive tackle’s and quarterback’s last season and he could be in the Texans rotation from day one. In a Wade Phillips scheme, Mercilus would absolutely rake. Rumors have his stock rising as of late, and it’s becoming hard to imagine him being on the board when the Texans hit the clock at 26. But keep hope alive, right?
If Mercilus is indeed off the board by 26, it is more than likely that a guy like Perry could have fallen through the cracks. This is far from a poor consolation prize, as Perry has been long thought to be top 20 talent in this draft. As a redshirt junior, he totaled 54 tackles with 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and two passes batted down. However, after showing up to the combine at a thick 271 pounds, it’s hard to imagine him standing up in a 3-4. But people said the same about Mario and he looked okay doing it in his limited 2011. If Wade makes the pick and thinks he can do it, I’m inclined to believe him.
Curry is something of a question mark to me. I’ve seen him mocked as high as the late 20’s to the early third round. While everyone was covering Coples, Upshaw and Ingram at the Senior Bowl, Curry raised a lot of eyebrows with a strong showing that boosted his stock higher than his 2011 season that saw him accrue 77 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, three blocked kicks and seven forced fumbles. Even though he is a bit heavy at 265, if he is available in the second round when Houston is up, I could see this being the pick rather easily.
Branch was a fabulous athlete and speed player at Clemson, but routinely thought of as 2nd or 3rd round talent until his impressive combine and pro day showings shot him up into most scouts’ first round grade. He had a strong senior season and totaled 77 tackles with 17 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Except for Mercilus, Branch could be the best fit in Wade Phillips scheme in this draft.
Lewis is exactly the kind of prospect the Texans look for; high motor, high character, high performer. In only 10 games as a junior, he totaled 59 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, five passes batted down, one forced fumble and one interception. However, his academics kept him ineligible for the Sooners’ bowl game last season which has been listed as a “red flag” against him. But I think most will overlook that and love to add a guy with a mean streak like Lewis has when he can play any linebacker position on the field. Including Wade Phillips, who would probably be standing on a table in the war room demanding him to be the pick, should he fall to the third.
Another one that has been listed as a middle round guy, until Mayock randomly throws him up as a 1st round prospect the other day. As much as I respect Mayock, I’m not buying it. But I would buy him being a Texan possibly. In 2011, McClellin recorded 50 tackles, seven sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, one forced fumble and a blocked kick. Playing over many of the front seven positions at Boise St. kept his sack totals low, but that is the kind of guy defensive coordinators love to have at the next level.
When it looked like Massaquoi was headed towards a 2nd round grade, his poor combine showing put a sock in that one real quick. His slow 40 time and low bench press total outweighed his 2011 season that saw him compile 52 tackles with six sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss. The knock against him was that his big games only came against smaller schools and he underperformed against the Clemson and Auburn types. But Wade Phillips likes him some players from Troy. Keep an eye on this one.
Even though many think he would fit better in a 4-3 defense, the fact that the Texans actually had a meeting with him at the NFL Combine tells me that Wade Phillips disagrees. He fell off a little during his senior season from his prior year but still tallied 84 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and one sack. His speed, size and athleticism will have him on several team boards during day three if he is still on the board by then.
There are several other guys in day three I could talk about, but by then it’s such a crapshoot that I’m not going to waste either of our time by talking about them. But I fully expect the Texans to take at least a pair of pass rushers in their eight picks at the end of this month. Will any of them turn out to be as good as Mario Williams? Unlikely. But who is really expecting that? Remember how good this pass rush was without him in 2011 and now imagine adding a Mercilus, Perry or Branch into the mix and tell me that doesn’t make you smile. Thought so.