This is the 27th of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects each team should consider in the 2013 NFL Draft.
General manager Rick Smith enters the draft looking for a wide receiver, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, nose tackle and safety.
The Texans have nine picks, including four among the top 95. It's not likely that Smith will move up from the 27th spot.
Since Smith became in charge of the draft in 2007, he hasn't traded up in the first round unless he has traded down first. He hasn't been shy about trading down.
In his first six drafts, Smith has selected a defensive player in the first round five times. The only exception was Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown in 2008. Before Brown, the last time the Texans took an offensive player in the first round was receiver Andre Johnson in 2003. Needless to say, Johnson and Brown have worked out quite nicely. At some point, Smith will use his top pick on another offensive player, and this season would be as good as any.
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The Texans need a receiver to start opposite Johnson. After releasing Kevin Walter, who started the last six seasons, for salary-cap purposes, they're left with Keshawn Martin (fourth round in 2012) and Lestar Jean (undrafted in 2011). Martin is more suited as a third receiver who can play in the slot. Jean, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, has flashed but has never shown the kind of consistency the coaches are looking for in a starter.
Receiver isn't a strong position as far as prospects available in the top half of the first round. There are questions about all of them. But there is value for teams picking at the bottom of the first round and the first part of the second round.
If Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson and West Virginia's Tavon Austin are gone, the Texans could be left with a group that includes Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins, California's Keenan Allen, Baylor's Terrance Williams, USC's Robert Woods, Tennessee's Justin Hunter and Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton. Allen's stock is falling after he ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.7s at his pro day and a report said he failed a drug test at the combine.
The Texans need a player who has a chance to produce as a rookie. Hopkins, Williams and Woods have the most starting experience.
Hopkins (6-1, 214) plays faster than his 4.52 time at the combine would indicate. He's a three-year starter who improved every season. As a junior last season, Hopkins had 82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had 13 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns against LSU in a bowl game.
Hopkins and Woods would seem to be the most likely player for the Texans at 27 unless a higher-rated player drops into their laps.
Courtesy of team reports published by The Sports Xchange.
Houston Texans 2013 draft picks: 27, 57, 89, 95, 124, 160, 195, 201, 233
Primary needs: WR, OT, OLB, S, QB
General manager: Rick Smith (seventh season)
Five draft picks that clicked:
-- DE JJ Watt, 11th overall, 2011
-- OLB Brian Cushing, 15th overall, 2009
-- OT Duane Brown, 26th overall, 2008
-- TE Owen Daniels, 98th overall, 2006
-- WR Andre Johnson, 3rd overall, 2003
Five players who should be on the Houston Texans' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (41, 5)
Although he'll never be the biggest or fastest wide receiver on the field in the NFL, Hopkins has professional savvy to create separation and create with the ball. “Nuke” set several school records, including career touchdown grabs (27), at Clemson and produced consistent numbers each of the last three seasons. Hopkins takes pride in his route running and changes gears well, using his vision, awareness and acceleration to create room to work with his competitive and physical attitude. He also plays like he wants the ball more than anyone else on the field with reliable hands to locate and pluck. Hopkins would give the Texans a reliable outside threat opposite Andre Johnson and a potential future replacement at the No. 1 spot.
OT Kyle Long, Oregon (55, 8)
Incumbent starter at right tackle Derek Newton is coming off major surgery on his patellar tendon and the Texans are searching for his long-term replacement. Long only had four career starts at Oregon and all came at left guard, but he has the athleticism and skill-set to potentially kick out and hold his own on the edge. He was a top baseball recruit at Florida State, but struggled off the field and left the team and the sport. Long played football at the JUCO level for two seasons before transferring to the Ducks in 2012 where he steadily worked his way onto the field, lacking obvious experience. But with his bloodlines (son of Hall-of-Famer Howie Long), teams will be willing to gamble on his NFL long-term upside.
OLB Jamie Collins, Southern Miss (66, 6)
Collins bounced between positions before finding a home at the “Bandit” DE/OLB hybrid spot as a junior and produced big numbers as a pass rusher the last two years (39.5 tackles for loss). He is a rangy athlete and makes plays all over the field with his quick, active closing burst once he smells blood. Collins is a better athlete than polished football player right now, but the athletic tools are intriguing to develop at the next level and potentially be an impact edge rusher.
ILB Nico Johnson, Alabama (157, 7)
Although he was never anything more than a rotational linebacker in Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, Johnson brings an intense demeanor to the field to be a physical run stuffer in the middle of the defense. He has good-enough size and strength, but his limited athleticism shows in coverage and will struggle to match up with running backs and tight ends in coverage. Johnson has some limitations, but is a physical thumper who will add depth in the Texans' 3-4 scheme.
S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State (63, 3)
A highly decorated three-year starter, Thomas had an All-American senior season with a NCAA-best eight interceptions. He is always around the ball with the skill-set to line up in man coverage, doing an excellent job tracking and elevating downfield with the ballskills to finish the interception, wanting the ball more than the receiver. Thomas is a liability against the run which will limit his pro potential, but he is an active ballhawk in pass coverage and would give the Texans some youth in the secondary.