If and when free agency hits the NFL, the Houston Texans won't have nearly as much work to do as they did before the 2011 NFL draft. That's because the Texans, whose biggest needs were clearly on the defensive side of the ball, spent six of their eight draft picks on defense, including the first five picks. The offense is sitting pretty so they don't have nearly as many question marks there but a struggling defense now has some youth interjected.
Let's take a look at what the Texans addressed in the draft and where they go from here.
Needs addressed in the 2011 NFL draft: The Texans are moving to the 3-4 defense which usually means you need a couple of 3-4 defensive ends as well as outside linebackers. They hit on both those positions with their first two picks in DE J.J. Watt and LB Brooks Reed. Watt will be a stout defensive end while Reed will transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. The Texans also hit on their secondary, which was torched at times last year, with CB Brandon Harris at the end of the second round. Those were among the Texans biggest needs and they found help early in the draft.
Remaining needs: Well, the needs are the same, even with the 2011 NFL draft. The Texans possibly drafted the future at defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback but this team is ready to win now. I'm not sure how much the defense can improve in one year with just rookies so they would be smart to add a few veterans to move the team in the right direction this year. They could still use a proven nose tackle, a starting cornerback and another safety, as well as any available veterans with 3-4 experience.
Options in free agency: SB Nation's Battle Red Blog has a lot of opinions on the Texans and free agency.
On nose tackle:
Wade Phillips is adamant that Shuan Cody and/or Earl Mitchell can play NT in his system; that's all well and good, but I'd feel much more comfortable if the Texans signed a veteran wide-body (Pat Williams?) to man the position for a year or two.
On cornerback and safety:
The Texans also still desperately need to upgrade their secondary, Brandon Harris and Shiloh Keo notwithstanding. Any of the free agent corners of note--and I mean ANY of them, not just Nnamdi Asomugha-- would be a huge upgrade to what the Texans trotted out there last season. Signing a veteran to start at corner is non-negotiable. And while it may be a pipe dream, adding Eric Weddle to patrol the back end of the secondary would be an incredible boost to a horrific secondary.
The Texans are an interesting case because they could be a very scary team if their defense was even average. In 2010, it was way, way below average and their record reflected that. Get this team a couple of one-to-two-year veterans with 3-4 experience, and continue to bring the young guys along, and this team could have a competent defense, which makes them instant contenders in the AFC South.