Who knows if Taylor Mays would have lasted to #15 – or if the Texans even would have drafted him. All I know is, that after a brief time of being locked in to a defensive tackle as our top pick, I had become enamored with Mays, and he had shot to the top of my want list – similar to the way Matt was hot for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last year. Well – that was more like LUST, and my desire for Mays hadn’t gotten that far. Yet.
So who do I pin my hopes on now? At this early stage – pre-NFL Combine, and with little to go on other than highlights and internet words – it’s USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. Judging from what I’ve read, he’s only slightly more likely to fall to us than Brian Orakpo, so for now, until I’m convinced otherwise – I’m on that bandwagon.
Two big problems with this pick are 1) it’s not our biggest need position and 2) some guy named DeMeco Ryans is doing just fine as our current middle linebacker.
Problem 1 – LB is not our biggest need.
Bigger need 1: Defensive Tackle
So far, I don’t see a defensive back, end, or tackle that is as close to a sure thing at his position as I think Maualuga is. If Alabama DT Terrence Cody changes his mind and enters the draft, he might be a guy I gravitate toward. Unfortunately, as you read this right now – I guarantee that guy is murdering the first of a dozen donuts. By time you finish reading this – he’ll be on his way to the donut shop for another dozen. I know we want a big space-eater, but this guy is is approaching planet status.
Boston College DT B.J. Raji is another intriguing tackle… but his commitment to football has been questioned, and he is apparently known to take plays off. I don’t know a lot about the guy, but hey – Mario Williams was a guy who people accused of taking plays off, and he’s turned out pretty well. Again – Raji’s not a guy I think will be a sure thing hit.
Bigger need 2: Defensive End
Florida State DE Everette Brown is another intriguing prospect, but he might be better-suited to be a rushing linebacker in a 3-4… I’m not sure he’s a guy who could hold up to the run so well in a 4-3. At this point, I’d be fine with him as a Texan, but again – not convinced he’s a sure thing.
Georgia Tech DE Michael Johnson is a guy who looks great on paper. He’s got elite speed, and from what I can tell in my limited viewing of his performances – a very explosive first step. He strikes me as the kind of prospect who doesn’t get people overly excited, but turns out to be better than a guy or two who gets selected before him. He’s definitely a DE I want to learn more about, and I’ll be very interested in how he grades out at the Combine.
Bigger need 3: Safety
Taylor Mays is gone, and there isn’t another safety who does anything for me in the first round. A lot of us already agree that as of now, Missouri Safety William Moore is just too steep of a drop-off from Mays… and as far as the other secondary position, with all the money tied up in Jacques Reeves and (hopefully) Dunta Robinson, there’s no cornerback I would jump on at #15 unless Ohio State’s Malcolm Jenkins were to miraculously drop.
Back to Maualuga
I’ve seen several USC games over the past two seasons. Over and over, the guy who jumped off the screen more than anyone else was Rey. The guy is a natural-born playmaker. I’ve never seen a college linebacker who absolutely DESTROYS a screen like Maualuga. He has great, but not elite speed – yet he closes on ball-carriers about as fast as I can ever remember seeing. That shows that he’s also got great natural instincts. He might be the most NFL-ready player in the entire draft.
The other thing I love about this guy, is that almost all of his shortcomings are a result of his ridiculous aggression. The guy is such a freight train, that it gets him in trouble. There have been times where he’s so zeroed-in on delivering a bone-shattering hit, that he doesn’t wrap up and his target slips by. Eh, it happens when you have a guy who brings the pain like Rey does.
He played at a big-time program, he remained consistent throughout his entire time in college, and he never had any durability issues. I see no reason why he couldn’t step in and be as successful a rookie as Patrick Willis or… DeMeco Ryans.
Problem 2 – DeMeco Ryans is our MLB.
DeMeco played his college ball at OLB, but he’s been a Pro-Bowl selection and a Rookie of the Year winner playing in the middle in his three years as a pro. The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” clearly applies here. Ryans is obviously one of the top MLBs in the NFL… but hear me out.
In his third season, Ryans played hurt for almost the entire year. He was still effective, but just wasn’t his old self until late in the season. There’s a lot of wear and tear on his body, and part of that is because the Texans defensive tackles have been so bad. Blockers often get to the second level, forcing him to make plays on ball-carriers that on many other teams would be made by guys on the defensive line.
Ryans doesn’t miss plays, much less full games. He is, simply put, a warrior… but he’s logged a TON of snaps in his short career. If the Texans were to move him back to his original position outside, it would no doubt free him up to be more of a playmaker and a pass-rusher. That’s not really disputable… we know Ryans could play OLB just fine and would probably excel at it… the argument is, again – the old adage as previously stated.
Along with Mario Williams at his position, there isn’t a spot on the defense that is in better hands than DeMeco at MLB. But if you could get a guy who could potentially be as good as DeMeco or better, why not pull the trigger? A starting linebacker corps of Ryans, Maualuga, and Adibi would be absolutely SICK.
The other potential advantage is that now the younger, less battle-worn Maualuga could step in at MLB and take the abuse while we continue to (sigh) improve the defensive tackles and d-line as a whole. It could potentially keep DeMeco slightly more healthy, and maybe even extend his career a little bit.
Gary Kubiak is open to moving DeMeco
In his final radio appearance of the season on 610AM (scroll to The Gary Kubiak Show on 12-29-08), co-host Matt Jackson asked Kubiak if he would be open to moving DeMeco back to the outside. This is typically the kind of question that Kubiak doesn’t give a straight answer to, but I was surprised when he replied:
“I think you play your best three and if you have to move those guys around, you do what you have to do. Could DeMeco play outside? I don’t have any doubt that he could.”
A man can dream, can’t he?
So there it is. My case for Rey Maualuga. If only he would drop to us, I would be jumping out of my skin if the Texans landed him. If he puts on a stellar performance at the Combine, this probably becomes a pipe dream. If the early Mock Drafts are to be believed, it might already be one… but really, we shouldn’t totally rule anything out until at least after the Combine.
If Rey isn’t there, the same kind of scenario with Taylor Mays/William Moore plays out. James Laurinaitis is a nice prospect, but he’s no Rey Maualuga. If Rey is gone, I probably fall back to taking the best DE available… but for now, Rey is my guy.
I’m interested in three pieces of feedback from you:
1) Your take on DeMeco moving to the outside IF and only IF Rey fell to #15.
2) At this early stage, who is your #1 want for our first round pick?
3) Which DE prospects would you be happy to nab at #15?