HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Texans lost defensive end Mario Williams and Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans in free agency. Surely they will look to the draft for some help on defense?
Not so fast.
Houston used six of its eight draft picks on defensive players last year and since 2004, 12 of its 14 picks in the first two rounds have been additions on defense.
This year, they may shift the priority to the offensive side of the ball even after losing two standouts like Williams and Ryans. The simple reason is need.
The Texans went 10-6 and won their first division title last year, despite playing much of the season without five-time Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson. Tight end Owen Daniels was Houston's top receiver in 2011 (54 catches for 677 yards) and All-Pro running back Arian Foster was second (53 catches, 617 yards).
Receivers Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter were inconsistent while Johnson sat out nine games with hamstring injuries. If Houston opts to use its first-round pick at No. 26 on a big-play receiver, coach Gary Kubiak said there's a deep pool of talent to choose from to give quarterback Matt Schaub more options.
"Obviously, it looks like there's quantity," he said. "There's a lot of guys, a lot of good players. I mean, you've got to go find those guys late in the draft. Obviously, the guys early in the draft, everybody kind of knows who those guys are but you're able to find some good guys late in the draft at that position. So we'll have to do our homework. We'd like to add some playmakers to our offensive football team and obviously that would help."
The needs may be different this year, but general manager Rick Smith says the team's approach to the draft is the same.
"First of all, coming off the season that we came off, and having the success that we had for the first time for an organization," Smith said, "you go back to the drawing board again no different than you did every year before. It's a very honest assessment of where we are, where we feel like we're strong, where we think we need to improve. And when you look at those areas, I think the wide receiver position is a position where we might strengthen our team."
Smith did say the Texans may be looking for a pass rusher after Williams, the team's career sacks leader, signed a six-year deal with Buffalo. Still, Houston ranked sixth in sacks (44) in 2011 even with Williams sidelined for much of the year with a torn chest muscle.
Smith said the Texans are always looking for players who can pressure opposing quarterbacks.
"Pass rushing is a premium. I mean, it's pretty standard," Smith said. "We look for guys that make plays, that impact the game. We can never find or have too many players that impact the game, whether you're talking about a pass-rusher or guy who can take the ball and make a play with the ball in his hands."
The Texans may also be on the lookout for offensive linemen after losing right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston in free agency. Antoine Caldwell is tabbed as the new starter at right guard, and Rashad Butler is slated to take over Winston's role. Derek Newton, a seventh-round draft pick last year, will back up Butler.
Smith said the Texans won't necessarily base their picks solely on need. Houston took Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt with its first-round (11th overall) pick last year, and Watt made an instant impact, making 5 ½ sacks and 59 tackles in Wade Phillips' 3-4 alignment.
"If you can pick a player at the corresponding spot that is a position of need, that's a home run," Smith said. "So you don't go into the draft saying 'I've got to get this. I've got to get that,' because, in my opinion, if you do that, you are inclined to reach and take a player that doesn't meet the value.
"It's not that you don't select players in positions that you need. The key is that they have the corresponding value at the point where you are picking and if you do that, and you can hit a player at a position of need at the value spot, then you are good."
The Texans have eight draft picks in all, with two in the fourth round. Smith wouldn't rule out making deals to change position, though he acknowledged those moves come with inherent risk.
"Those moves, as you know, are expensive," Smith said. "You've got to make sure that if you're going to do something, whether you're talking about moving up 10 spots or however far, you've got to make sure that you've got a player that's worth whatever the value is of the move."
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