- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
First, let's not overreact to New England blowing out the Texans on "Monday Night Football."
Houston still controls its own destiny when it comes to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and remains tied with Atlanta for the best record in the league. Things could certainly turn out differently if these teams meet in the playoffs, especially if the game is in Houston.
Still, as is the case with every organization, the Texans have holes on their roster and must identify emerging needs if they are to remain one of the top teams in the league going forward.
Here's a look at their current need areas, some of which were exposed by the Patriots, and how they might address them through the 2013 draft.
The Texans have platooned Ryan Harris and 2011 seventh-round pick Derek Newton, who missed the New England game with a knee injury. They put more faith in the left side of the offensive line, running in that direction in most key situations and primarily running left in the second half against the Patriots. Drafting a right tackle who can win the starting job would help bring more balance to the ground game.
Houston doesn't need a traditional mauling right tackle, but rather one with the lateral quickness and mobility to excel in its zone-heavy scheme. Central Michigan's Eric Fisher (Grade: 91) would be a great fit and an excellent value at the end of the first round. Problem is, Fisher probably won't be on the board when the Texans pick.
Tennessee's Dallas Thomas (Grade: 89) is a more likely option. Thomas has primarily lined up at guard this season, but has plenty of experience at tackle and is an effective positional blocker who sustains once locked on.
Andre Johnson continues to play at a high level, but he turns 32 in the offseason. Kevin Walter will also be 32 when next season begins, and he's been plagued by inconsistency. Rookie fourth-round pick Keshawn Martin is more effective out of the slot than on the outside, and while Lestar Jean and 2012 third-round pick DeVier Posey have upside they won't prevent the Texans from going after a playmaker on the outside.
Adding a receiver who can take the top off the coverage would make it tougher for teams to load up against the run, and create space for Johnson and the Texans' tight ends after the catch.
Houston would hit the lottery if Baylor WR Terrance Williams (Grade: 84) slides to it at the end of the second round. Williams has been incredibly productive this season, and has the speed and frame to stretch defenses at the next level.
If Williams is off the board as expected, the Texans could go with former Washington State WR Marquess Wilson (Grade: 78) or Tennessee Tech's Da'Rick Rogers (Grade: 75). Both have character issues that need to be investigated further, but the risk may be worth the reward given their skill sets.
There's a lot to like about the Texans' trio of Owen Daniels, James Casey and Garrett Graham. The problem is a lack of depth. New England has shown that a team that runs a lot of multiple-tight end sets can't have enough depth at the position, and Graham missing the Patriots game hurt his team. In addition, Daniels turned 30 this year and the other two aren't great deep threats.
Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner (Grade: 70) makes the most sense as an option. His slightly below-average production at Ohio State and what's shaping up to be a strong tight end class could cause him to slip to the end of Day 2, but Stoneburner has the speed, body control and hands to give the Texans another receiving option at tight end. He also has the potential to develop into an adequate blocker. Another name worth mentioning is Auburn's Philip Lutzenkirchen (Grade: 72).
Shaun Cody is a steady starter and backup Earl Mitchell has filled in well when called upon. In addition, Houston ranks second in the league in rushing yards per game allowed. However, Cody is scheduled to become a free agent, Mitchell lacks ideal size for the position and the Texans are in the middle of the pack in terms of yards per carry allowed.
At 6-foot-4 and 322 pounds, Tennessee Martin's Montori Hughes has the size and quickness to excel in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme. Hughes' ability to occupy multiple blockers would help free up Houston's inside linebackers, and his ability to push the pocket would make it tougher for quarterbacks to step up to avoid the Texans' stable of talented edge rushers.
Arian Foster signed a long-term deal in the offseason, 2010 second-round pick Ben Tate is an excellent backup and No. 3 back Justin Forsett provides quality depth. Still, there are reasons Houston could still target a back on Day 3.
Foster's yards-per-carry average has dropped each of the past two seasons, and his heavy workload is reason for concern. Tate has had problems staying healthy and Forsett lacks ideal size for a primary ball carrier.
Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead (Grade: 54) could slide to the end of the fifth round, and the Texans would do well to land him there. While he has average speed and power, Burkhead has the vision, quickness and toughness to produce in the Texans' scheme.
Steve Muench looks at the top draft needs of the Houston Texans, including at wide receiver and running back.