During the next several weeks, NFLDraftScout.com will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2013 NFL draft in a series called "Finding the Fits." The goal of the series is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.
Houston Texans' Best Fit: OT Brennan Williams, North Carolina, 3rd Round, No. 89 overall
Defensive end J.J. Watt might have emerged as the biggest star in Houston, but the success of the Texans still rides on their ability to run the football.
Since being hired, head coach Gary Kubiak has relied on the zone-blocking system that he learned in Denver from Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs. The scheme calls for highly athletic offensive linemen capable of beating defenders to a spot, rather than simply mauling opponents once in close quarters.
At 6-foot-6, 318 pounds, Williams might not look the part of a typical zone-blocking offensive tackle, but looks can be deceiving.
Based largely on his untapped potential, Williams entered his senior season at North Carolina earning first-round grades from some scouts. While rough around the edges due to the fact that he'd played behind some talented linemen at UNC, the massive and highly athletic Williams was improving as he gained experience. Some predicted he'd ride a strong week at the Senior Bowl into the first round. Williams, in fact, was well on his way toward the best season of his career before tearing his labrum against Duke on Oct. 20. The injury (and subsequent surgery) ended any chance of Williams competing in Mobile, and he slipped off the radar of some as talent evaluators focused on the rest of an extraordinary crop of offensive tackles.
While other needs were perceived by outsiders as more pressing, the Texans certainly recognized their need for help at right tackle. Incumbent starter Derek Newton is recovering from major knee surgery, and the club's primary backup, veteran Ryan Harris, has only been active for all 16 regular-season games twice after the Broncos made him the 70th pick of the 2007 draft.
Williams will have to improve upon his fundamentals, but he played in a zone-blocking scheme at North Carolina and boasts a combination of size and athleticism that Newton and Harris, frankly, cannot match. At worst, he has the upside to warrant development as a primary backup at both tackle positions. With some fine-tuning, he could emerge as a quality complement to left tackle Duane Brown, giving Houston one of the more athletic sets of tackles in the league.
Honing in on Houston (Other thoughts on the Texans' 2013 draft class):
Generally speaking, the teams that see a huge impact from their rookie classes aren't very good. The Texans, however, are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and might see several first-year players win starting jobs.
The Texans marched out to an 11-1 record over the first three months of the 2012 NFL season but finished the year losing three of four, including a disappointing divisional-round loss to New England.
Along the way, a number of chinks in the Texans' collective armor were exposed, including a troubling lack of depth at linebacker, offensive tackle and receiver.
General manager Rick Smith told the media before the draft that he'd never reach to fill a need. Smith didn't, according to NFLDraftScout.com's rankings, but appears to have played the draft beautifully, addressing each of the team's primary concerns with players of value.
Perhaps their most obvious concern -- finding a reliable pass-catcher to flank Andre Johnson -- was filled by taking Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins in the first round.
Some clubs look to the draft for virtual clones of their best players. With Hopkins, the Texans added a receiver whose strengths should complement Johnson, not necessarily overtake him as the club's primary option.
While Johnson recorded a career-high 1,598 receiving yards in 2012, his four touchdown catches matched his rookie season in 2003 as the lowest 16-game total of his career. Johnson remains one of the league's best vertical threats, but he's not as explosive out of his breaks or as a leaper as he once was, making the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder a less-than-dominant red-zone target.
Enter Hopkins, who finished second in the nation with 18 touchdown receptions in 2012, largely due to his sharp routes and unique combination of core strength and long arms, which help him make tough grabs even with defenders closing in on him.
Swearinger is far from elite in coverage, and Montgomery will be making the transition to outside linebacker after starring as a 4-3 defensive end for LSU. But both play with the aggression to help transform a defensive unit that, while incredibly productive in 2012, was still perceived by some to be a bit soft.
While the two SEC standouts could improve Houston's toughness, the Texans could also receive some surprise impact from a host of undrafted free-agent running backs.
Arian Foster's perch as one of the league's top runners is secure, as is Ben Tate's role as the chief backup, but Houston was surprisingly busy signing highly regarded backs following the draft.
Former Pittsburgh standout Ray Graham is a particularly nice fit in Houston's zone-blocking scheme due to his burst and vision. Dennis Johnson is also a nice schematic fit and is a terrific returner. Neither, however, is a guarantee to beat out Cincinnati's George Winn or Notre Dame's Cierre Wood, each of whom were given draftable grades by other clubs and also have the traits to be successful in this RB-friendly offense.
-- The Texans' 2013 draft class:
1st Round -- No. 27 overall -- WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
2nd Round -- No. 57 overall -- S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
3rd Round -- No. 89 overall -- OT Brennan Williams, North Carolina
3rd Round -- No. 95 overall -- OLB Sam Montgomery, LSU
4th Round -- No. 124 overall -- OLB Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
6th Round -- No. 176 overall -- OT David Quessenberry, San Jose State
6th Round -- No. 195 overall -- WR Alan Bonner, Jacksonville State
6th Round -- No. 198 overall -- DT Chris Jones, Bowling Green
6th Round -- No. 201 overall -- TE Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
-- Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:
RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
RB Dennis Johnson, Arkansas
RB George Winn, Cincinnati
RB Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M
Read more about all of the Texans' picks here.
Read all of the Finding the Fits series here.