Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Schemes and themes.
The Texans have the biggest schematic change in the division as they become a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips. They are talking like they are fine at defensive tackle with Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell, but no matter the spin they could definitely use an upgrade there. Still, they are better off at that spot than outside linebacker, where there aren’t bodies. The Texans need a couple of guys who are athletic and durable enough to rush the passer effectively. Connor Barwin is recovering from injury and being converted from defensive end. If they don’t get a good rush from the guys who wind up in those slots, Mario Williams will work yet again with insufficient help.
Athleticism trumps all at a lot of spots for the Colts. So whenever they address the offensive line, don’t look for a lumbering, mauler type. Those players will come in as better pass-protectors than run-blockers. Although Indianapolis would be wise to try to add some size, it’ll have to come in the form of linemen who move well. The same holds true for defensive tackle, a spot where they can upgrade and take some pressure off other areas. A strong safety who can thump will also have to be smart to be of aid in the back end and it would be a huge bonus if he can also run well. With Reggie Wayne beginning to get up there, there may be a premium on a threatening receiver who understands the sorts of precise and reliable routes Peyton Manning needs.
Jack Del Rio is talking about simplifying the defense, which needs a rush end to complete the line, a couple of playmaking linebackers and help at safety. I think the Jaguars have enough flexibility that they can tailor what they do to the talents of the guys they find for those spots. It’s a bad year for safeties in the draft, and indications are the team will draft one and find a veteran. As a well-rounded rookie may be tough to find, the Jaguars need one who’s especially good as a pass defender or a run stuffer and then work around that talent. A reliable deep threat who can alter coverage would allow offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to open things up, which would be smart evolution.
New coach Mike Munchak concedes the Titans won’t be able to change much schematically given the labor impasse and considering the strengths of the best players the team already has. That gives the Titans a certain freedom to simply draft good players at spots where the team should replenish or upgrade. There will be some subtle changes -- like a move to play the defensive ends over the tight end or tackle instead of super wide. That calls for more rugged players at the spot who can be more effective bottling up the run, so we may see a guy who fits that bill brought in to join Derrick Morgan and William Hayes.