It was a rough season in Houston last year, going from two consecutive playoff appearances to two wins. Long-time coach Gary Kubiak was fired, and a new regime headed by Bill O’Brien was given the reins. In the draft this year they really added some power in the trenches. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the #1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, and rightly so. I’ll discuss both of their third round picks: tight end CJ Fiedorowicz & defensive tackle Louis Nix III.
ROUND 3, PICK 65
C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
Fiedorowicz was one of my favorite tight ends in this class; he performed well both on the field and at the Combine. He’s 6’5″ and 265 lbs, ran a respectable 4.76 40, and benched 25 reps. He’s the same height and weight as the Jets 2nd-round pick, Jace Amaro, with similar workout numbers across the board. The biggest difference between the two is that Fiedorowicz actually plays tight end, whereas Amaro is more or less a slot receiver– a gigantic, smooth-route-running slot receiver, but a slot receiver nevertheless. I know everyone is drooling in anticipation of seeing some great in-line blocking, so I’ll cut to the chase.
Fiedorowicz isn’t going to dazzle you with his route tree, but he does show ability to get open in tight spaces and make some tough catches. His go-to move, outside of the usual seam and drag route, is this little number I’ll call his shimmy move, where he plants his left foot at the top of his stem, follows it quickly by doing the same with his right, and flashes out towards the sideline. It’s not mind blowing, as I said, but it works. He’s a tough guy, as you can see here, where he wades through some traffic (while avoiding a jam from the linebacker) and gets blown up after catching the ball. But, hey, if you’re going to get destroyed, it makes a hell of a difference if you catch the ball, and he does.
He’s a very effective red zone player in both aspects of the game. First, as a receiver: On this play you see him run a delayed corner fade where he engages the defensive end and pushes him upfield momentarily before leaking out towards the back pylon. It’s a well-orchestrated play by Iowa, and all it takes is one false step by the defense for Fiedorowicz to high-point the ball and bring it down for six points. Second, as a run blocker, he can be relied upon to seal off the defensive end and making way for the runner. Let’s watch more, as run blocking is where he really shines.
You’ll consistently see his ferocity in the running game. On this play, Fiedorowicz takes on the opposing linebacker and drives him ten yards downfield. Sure, the runner is tackled for a mere two-yard gain, but Fiedorowicz keeps pushing his man even past the sound of the whistle. No harm, no foul. Here, he takes the 15th overall pick, Ryan Shazier, and does the same thing. And, for good measure, let’s end on a passing play where he positions himself perfectly to hedge off the defensive back away from the receiver.
ROUND 3, PICK 83
Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame
College football fans will be well aware of the man who dubs himself “Irish Chocolate.” Louis Nix’s personality is as big as his belly; all you need to know is that he’s 6’2″, 331 pounds, and he’s not winning any 40-yard dashes. His task in Houston will be very simple: Occupy blockers, so that J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the rest of the Texans defensive front can get to the quarterback, and plug up the middle in the running game. He gritted through a torn meniscus in 2013, and his play suffered as a result, so we’ll look at a few of his 2012 plays from the Oklahoma and Stanford games instead. Your enduring memory of Notre Dame’s season may be Eddie Lacy running over Manti Te’o on his way to the end zone in the National Championship, over and over, but before that game, Notre Dame fielded an all-time great defense that season, and Nix played the biggest (literally) role.
On most of the plays in these games, Nix is double-teamed, and he consistently gets a stalemate at the line in both the running and passing game. Very rarely does a double-team run block result in Nix getting moved backwards; I only recall seeing it happen once. While Nix does not have the have the type of speed which results in sacks for himself, his burst off the line in 2012 is awe-inspiring. Watch this play, where his first several steps are faster than every single player on both teams, resulting in pressure on the quarterback. This tends to be the result when Nix is not double-teamed; on this play against Stanford, he similarly uses his burst to push the pocket, and his pressure forces an interception. You simply cannot afford not to double-team Nix. He can also clog the throwing lanes by batting down passes at the line, much like J.J. “Swatt” is famous for doing.
As you might imagine, Nix’s burst off of the snap can make running the ball a chore for opposing teams. On this play, Nix quickly swims over the center and gets in for a tackle. At first glance, this next play might look ordinary– Nix makes a run tackle. Look again, and you’ll recognize that Nix’s momentum is moving him to the right of the play, allowing the center to use his position to shield Nix from the run. But as the quarterback takes off, Nix simply tosses the center to the ground and sprints out to his left to make the hit. That smarts, doesn’t it? Last, but not least, take a look at what happens on this play where Stanford pulls a guard and attempts to run away from Nix. By the time the handoff occurs, Nix is already four yards behind the line of scrimmage, with a full head of steam, and is able to bring down the runner for no gain shortly thereafter.
So, these were, of course, his highlight-reel plays. As I said earlier, most plays end with Nix in a stalemate with a double-team. For a smaller defensive tackle, expected to penetrate upfield and sack the quarterback, this would be a problem. Nix’s role in Houston is simply to occupy blockers. They already have the best defensive lineman in the world in J.J. Watt, who occasionally commands triple-teams. With the #1 overall pick, the Texans selected Jadeveon Clowney, widely considered the best defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers. Consider the scenario where both Clowney and Nix are as good as advertised: while I am certainly not knowledgeable enough to think of a scheme to stop them, I am not sure anyone has that blueprint.
The Texans decided with this draft to establish dominance at the line of scrimmage. With the selections of Jadeveon Clowney, Xavier Su’a-Filo, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Louis Nix III all within the first three rounds, I believe this has been accomplished. Nix has health concerns, as I mentioned; he will need to return to his 2012 form in order to be a dominant force, as he just didn’t make the same impact in 2013. Fiedorowicz needs to add a few more routes to his repertoire before he can become a dangerous threat in the passing game. I believe he has the necessary tools. Now comes the work.
Not many of us at Zone Reads thought much of Tom Savage when he was rumored to be an early-round selection, but it turns out that talk was all smoke and mirrors, as the Texans picked him late in the 4th round, which is fine. I believe Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback next year, and while he’s not a player likely to win games with his arm without help, I do think he’s a player that doesn’t necessarily condemn the team to another losing season. Texans fans should be optimistic with a new regime in town and the talent acquired in this draft class. I certainly am.