[EDITOR'S NOTE] With the help of some of my esteemed Texans blogger colleagues, I’ve thrown together a quick series called “Draft Debate” where two bloggers “tangle” in semi-debate style about two potential first round picks of my choosing.
The first debate will pit Tennessee DT Dan Williams (represented by Matt Campbell of Battle Red Blog) against Texas FS Earl Thomas (represented by Rivers McCown, also of Battle Red Blog and FromMomsBasement).
The hope is that each debate goes three “rounds”. An opening statement from each side, a rebuttal to the opening statements, and then a closing statement from each. In reality, I’m asking a lot from these guys so if we don’t get all the way through, it’s no big deal… but it will for sure generate some conversation, and give you some hardcore draft talk to read through. At then end I will let the readers/commenters decide who “won” the debate – not based on the player YOU want, but on the quality of their arguments.
One other thing I want to make clear – I set out to challenge both Rivers and Matt in this way: BOTH of them are playing Devil’s Advocate in this debate. If both were available on April 22, Matt presently prefers Earl Thomas, while Dan Williams is at the top of Rivers’ list (as long as Joe Haden doesn’t fall). I think you’ll find that both participants make a better argument for each player than a lot of people who actually PREFER them as the top pick. That’s why they get paid the big bucks over at BRB.
Blogger: Matt Campbell
Representing: Tennessee DT Dan Williams
Roughly three years ago, when I launched the now-defunct DGDB&D, I had three pet issues. First, defend the Mario Williams pick and try to quiet the people who were pointing to his 4.5-sack rookie season as proof that he was a bust. Second, point out just how ridiculously horrid Petey Faggins was. Third, wonder aloud why the Texans refused to draft, sign, or trade for a real nose tackle.
In short order, Mario made his case for me, and the only people who still think we should have taken Reggie Bush or Radio are the kind of manatees who think Reggie is a feature running back or who ban people from their blogs for things written elsewhere. (*cough* overly sensitive fascists *cough*) As for Petey, I think the infamous play in Atlanta where he managed to get flagged for defensive holding…and again for pass interference pretty much sealed the deal there, though Richard Smith continued to let Petey play in what I can only assume was an attempt to make my head explode.
For whatever reason, though, the post-Richard Smith-era Texans brass did not address the need for 320+ pounds of weightspeed sandwiched between Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye. Rather, they continued to push the “we like smaller tackles” stupidity, and then pointed to the Best Defense In Texans History ™ as evidence that their strategy worked. Yes, it worked…in the same way that landing a U.S. Airways flight in the Hudson River worked; everything might have turned out ok in the end, but that doesn’t mean a better result could not have been reached. Which, of course, is where Dan Williams comes in.
By now, we all know the numbers on Williams, so I’ll only briefly recap: 6-2/327, 5.19 40, 1.75 10-yd dash, led all SEC DLmen in tackles (61) playing in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme (which, of course, Bush has bastardized at least to the extent that he thinks both tackles should play one-gap responsibilities). I’ll leave discussing Thomas’ numbers to Rivers.
By way of a tortured analogy, consider our defensive line and our secondary as classic rock bands. The former would be Derek and The Dominoes (with Mario obviously as Eric Clapton), and Dan Williams would be Duane Allman. The latter would be Little Feat (with Bernard Pollard as Lowell George), and Earl Thomas would be Paul Barrere. Huh? Here’s what I mean: while Derek and The Dominoes were very good prior to Allman’s brief stint, it was with Allman that they became fantastic; Allman wrote the guitar riff on Layla and was featured all over Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs, and that time period is pretty much all anyone remembers of DaTD. Conversely, Little Feat had no commercial success prior to Barrere’s arrival, and it was Barrere’s talents as a swing/jazz/funk guitarist that made songs like Dixie Chicken happen. Thing is, Allman made a good band (that already featured a superstar) transcendent because the raw talent Allman brought to the mix was exactly what DaTD needed to go to the next level; the talent was there, and Allman was the piece that made it work. Barrere was a very good technical guitarist, and Lowell was a good frontman/writer, but the ability wasn’t there throughout the group (think Texans’ current DBs in Frank Bush’s Zone of Amazing Impotence) for Barrere (or any guitarist) to take them to the level of DaTD.
Taking the analogy one step further, Shaun Cody & The Undersized Sucks would be the animatronic house band at Chuck E. Cheese’s, only if one of the robotic mice occasionally caught fire and burned a small child.
All of that said, here’s the main reason we should take Williams over Thomas – an improved pass rush will force ALL of our defensive backs to cover for a shorter period of time. That’s the part that I think the pro-Thomas (and the pro-CB) camps overlook. We’re not talking about two sides of the same coin, where either player will improve the pass defense similarly. With Thomas, you take away more deep threats and have better coverage on slot receivers, but you are still giving QBs plenty of time to look elsewhere. With Williams, you force the QB to throw before his receivers have time to create separation and find weak spots in the zone. Or, stated differently, Williams improves your pass rush and, by extension, your coverage on all WRs; Thomas improves your coverage on one WR, but (unless we are assuming that the majority of blown coverages were the fault of our FS last year) does very little to help your pass rush or to take pressure off other DBs.
Would I be happy if we took Earl Thomas? Of course, because he’s a helluva player. Would I be happier if we took Dan Williams? Definitely, because he’s a helluva player who can make our entire defense better by shoring up what has been a weak spot since 2002. I don’t think there’s much of a choice to be made here.
Blogger: Rivers McCown
Representing: Texas FS Earl Thomas
Matt Stevens, Eric Brown, Will Demps, Brandon Harrison, CC Brown, Von Hutchins. These are some of the many names that have stood atop the safety depth chart for your Houston Texans since they first took the field in 2002.
To put this politely and succinctly, there aren’t any Pro Bowlers on that list. And yes, I know that Demps miraculously made it as an alternate one year. Safety is a position of evolving importance in today’s NFL. You used to be able to hide a not-so-good cover player deep and gamble that he’d be relatively ignored, but with the popularization of three wideout sets and spread attacks, you can no longer get away with hiding weak links like John Busing without them coming back to bite you. The Texans have never spent a high pick on a safety. The highest they’ve gone is the fourth round, and well, they’ve gotten what they’ve paid for so far. Years of dumpster diving other teams last minute cuts for passable safeties have taken their toll on the Texans pass defense, which has never been better than average. Bernard Pollard looked excellent last year, but the Texans weren’t sure enough on him to lock him up long-term immediately. Eugene Wilson has looked decent when he’s been healthy, but Will Demps looked decent in his “Pro Bowl” year too, and he came right back and stunk up the joint the year after. Why exactly are we sold on Wilson’s ability to be healthy or solid for the long term?
Enter Earl Thomas. Thomas, a redshirt sophomore who will only be 21 at the start of next season, is the ultimate combination of productivity and youth.
He tied for second in the NCAA in interceptions last year, with 8. Project that, plus his 2 as a freshman, out to his two remaining years, and he’d likely finish with at least 20 interceptions, which would put him in the conversation for the most in NCAA history. Additionally, he found the goal line two times, which is another trait that seems to be unique and repeatable for defensive backs, as has been proven by players like Darren
Sharper. When I think of the best defenses in the NFL, over the past five or so years, the two teams that immediately come to mind are the Steelers and the Ravens. While these two teams normally feature terrific pass rushes, they also feature a pair of big-play safeties in Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. Thomas has exactly the same pedigree that these two do; a playmaker with top-notch instincts stuck in a body that makes you wonder why he’d be a first rounder. While getting a nose tackle should also be a key concern for the Texans, I think it can be argued that Thomas is a much more unique player than Dan Williams and thus much more worthy of being the pick at #20.
Williams had a terrific 2009 season, and no one can take that away from him. However, playing for a great defensive coordinator like Monte Kiffin, who knew exactly how to motivate and use him, was a big factor in him having that great year. Williams is a kid with shaky intangibles whose dedication to the game and team can be questioned based on his first two years and his inability to stay in shape. Would it be nice to have an elite three-down nose tackle who would help free up the pass rush? Absolutely. But this could very well be a case of projection, where something that the BRB “braintrust” has wanted for so very long is projected onto a player who is simply not worth the hype. Williams is a good prospect, but he’s got his share of flags. Thomas doesn’t have any flags. The only thing you could question with him is the importance of his position, and safety has clearly become a bigger deal in today’s NFL than it was in the past. If you take Williams, you’re taking a risk. If you take Thomas, you’re taking the sure thing.
Amazing work. Love it. Thanks SO MUCH to Matt and Rivers. Look for their rebuttals coming up soon, and check back for yet another debate – Kyle Wilson vs. Ryan Mathews!