Just a few days ago, I graded three of the Houston Texans offensive picks in the NFL draft and determined the team did a very good job with their first three picks. However, now it’s time to dissect how the Texans faired on the other side of the ball in the 2016 draft. For the past several seasons now, the Texans’ identity has been wrapped up in its defense, and for good reason. The Texans ranked third in the entire NFL last season in total defense, trailing only the Super Bowl winning Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. Anchored by one of the greatest defensive players of all time in JJ Watt and formidable groups at linebacker and defensive back, the Texans’ problem last season was not the defense. However, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel still wanted to field some depth for his “Bulls on Parade” defense. With that said, we take a look at the picks.
5th Round: Safety KJ Dillon (West Virginia)
Since the Texans felt the offense took priority in this year’s draft, they waited until the fifth round to select a defensive player. With that pick, the Texans selected KJ Dillon out of West Virginia. Dillon was largely overshadowed by his teammate Karl Joseph (first round pick by the Oakland Raiders), but caught NFL scouts’ eyes with an impressive senior season. Earning second team All-Big 12 honors, Dillon racked up 55 tackles, two interceptions, and eight pass breakups in his senior season. In his two seasons as a starter in Morgantown, Dillon benefitted from playing across from Joseph, but never played second fiddle to him. In fact, in his junior season Dillon tied the team lead with three interceptions and also compiled 62 tackles.
Dillon’s most impressive traits as a safety are his athleticism and instincts at the position. According to NFL scouts, Dillon shows great range in the defensive backfield and the athleticism to high point the ball in the air against big wide receivers. He plays with an instinct that a lot of safeties lack, reading his keys well and firing to the where the ball is, even in run support. In addition, Dillon can line up out wide against small slot wide receivers and take them out of the play entirely with his strength. As you’ll see in his highlight video below, Dillon also shows he can come up in run support and make timely, solid hits. The biggest concerns with Dillon are his tackling technique and sometimes stiff movement in coverage. While at West Virginia, Dillon had multiple instances where he was called for pass interference because of slow movements in “turn and run” pass coverage. Dillon also consistently missed tackles with poor form and not tackling through the ball carrier. Some scouts believe this may prevent him from being a starter in the NFL, but Dillon could fix his tackling technique with more weight on his frame. While Karl Joseph may be the better prospect from West Virginia, Dillon could certainly turn into a solid player on the back end for the Texans. He is a value pick for the fifth round. Look for Dillon to start the year on special teams and work his way into the safety rotation.
5th Round: Nose Tackle D.J. Reader (Clemson)
With their second pick in the fifth round, the Texans addressed depth at the nose tackle position by snagging Clemson defensive lineman, D.J. Reader. Standing at 6’3″, 327 lbs., Reader has monster size and comes in physically ready to handle the challenges of the NFL. The apparent heir to Vince Wilfork at the nose tackle position, Reader comes to the NFL with skins on the wall, shining in big college football games including Clemson’s playoff run against the likes of Oklahoma and Alabama, where he shined.
Reader’s story is a little different than most draft prospects. His father passed away during his senior season, and he temporary left the Clemson program at the beginning of his senior year. After talking to his family, he returned in October and recorded 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss (TFL) in the shortened season. Prior to his senior year, he shined as a reserve in his sophomore and junior seasons, combining for 70 tackles, 7.5 TFL, and 4.5 sacks. A team captain of the Clemson defense, Reader’s play can’t be solely defined by tackling stats. He played a vital role in the Clemson defense with his leadership and plugging holes with his size that allowed his teammates to clean up tackles. Like Wilfork, Reader will benefit the Texans defense by simply using his leverage and strength to push back the line of scrimmage and plug holes. His tackling stats may not be All-Pro level, but his value goes a long way on the defensive front. The biggest complaints against Reader are that he doesn’t record many tackles and fails to disengage tacklers and get to the ball carrier. Reader will have time to develop at nose tackle and will learn from one of the best in the business, Vince Wilfork. With this pick, the Texans snagged a physical beast who possess the tools to take over the starting spot at nose tackle in the near future. Drafting Reader in the fifth round, the Texans got an outstanding value pick.
With the these two picks, the Texans got some very valuable players. Only time will tell how they fair in Romeo Crennel’s defense.
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