“I guess I’ll start the way I typically do and just talk about the preparation a little bit. I’ve said often that I think the thing that you have to have in order to just give yourself a chance to have a successful draft is really good preparation and I just want to applaud the efforts of our group again. I think we’ve done an outstanding job. I think the process is a lot smoother now because we’ve got really good communication between our coaching staff and our scouting staff. I think everybody understands what we are asking them to do in their particular roles. That, in my opinion, has given us an excellent chance to have a great draft. I’ve been very pleased with that part of it.
I do want to personally and publicly acknowledge and thank a couple of men who are going to ride out into the sunset at the end of this draft. Some men who have been very, very valuable to me in my role as they have functioned in their roles. Those three gentleman are (Senior Personnel Advisor) Bobby Grier, (National Scout) Ed Lambert and (College Scout) Bob Beers, who will all be retiring at the end of this year. Ed Lambert’s a guy who a long time ago, when I was a young college football coach at the AFCA Convention and I didn’t know a soul, he is sitting in a hallway in the convention lobby and I didn’t know anybody. Here’s an established coach who is sitting with Jim Caldwell and a bunch of guys. He invited me to sit down and at that point I kind of knew that I had a chance. Ed’s been with us obviously for a very, very long time. I started with him in Denver. I just appreciate his wisdom and knowledge. Bob Beers was another guy who was with us in Denver who was just an old, gruffy football coach who’s done an outstanding job of evaluating and identifying talent for us. And then Bobby Grier. Bobby has not been in the building over the last couple years, but I call Bobby the ‘Oz’ because I would go and see him and tell (Executive Assistant) Rita (Daniels), ‘If somebody is looking for me, I’m in the back of Bobby’s office.’ He’s like the Wizard of Oz. He’s been a valuable resource for me in the role and learning how to be a GM. Just his help and his perspective as it relates to just so many different things that come across my desk on a day-to-day basis. I just want to thank all those men and just make sure that they understand and know how valuable they’ve been to my career.
With that, I will open it up to questions.”
What is the process of the draft like now, less than a week away?
“It’s a good time. I feel really good about this board actually. Like I said, the preparation has been excellent. At this point in time, this is a little bit earlier in the process with respect to this press conference then I typically do, but the values have been set. The board is set, but that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t lots of conversation happening internally with respect to ranking and just making sure that we have all the information that we need on these guys. I feel good about this particular draft and this board in the sense that I think that there’s depth throughout each round and throughout rounds one through seven at most positions. From a strategic standpoint, that’s what we’ll spend the next few days doing. Making sure that we know exactly how we have them ordered and make sure that we know everything about them. But I feel like this, last year for example, as it relates to strategy, I felt like the draft might fall apart a little bit in the fourth and fifth round, in the sense that I didn’t think that we had enough players who were rated in those rounds and I didn’t want to get to the fourth or fifth round and start to have to take players that we had rated as sixth and seventh rounders. So, strategically we looked at that and we said, ‘Okay, lets leverage those picks and lets move up in the earlier part of the draft so that we can get some players that we really feel good about.’ We did that. We were able to execute that and we moved up and took B-Mac (ILB Benardrick McKinney). We moved up and took (WR) Jaelen (Strong). That’s what we’re doing now. We’re looking at everything that we’ve got. We’re making sure that all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed and strategizing at this point as to what we think, what we need to do to execute on draft day.”
What are your thoughts on the wide receiver class in this year’s draft? Do you think it’s strong and talented with guys like Will Fuller, Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell and Josh Doctson?
“Yeah, I agree with you with respect to your analysis of the group. I think it’s a strong wide receiver class. I think I’ve said this – I said it in Indy, I think the quarterback class is a good class. I think the wide receiver class is a good class. There’s some defensive ends/outside linebackers. There’s several positions in this draft that we think there is depth throughout. I tend not to talk individually about players, but I will agree with you about that. There’s some good players in this draft at that position and several.”
How much better do you feel going into the draft after bolstering the team in free agency?
“I feel great about that. We have said and we have adopted and I hope practiced the philosophy where we don’t draft based on need, right? I think you’ve got to evaluate independently of that. Then I think you’ve got to have the discipline to exercise that philosophy as the draft happens. But to have a football team that I really feel good about right now today, at virtually all the positions - to have that type of football team, I think it really gives us a chance to go and grab some guys who can make plays with the ball in their hand or who can go make plays on the ball, who can impact the football game. That’s what we intend to do.”
Wade Phillips once said that Bobby Grier really pushed hard for the team to draft DE J.J. Watt. Do you remember that discussion and Bobby’s role in drafting J.J.?
“Listen, there’s a lot of talk about who picked J.J. We all picked J.J. J.J. was a great pick, he wasn’t the only great pick that we’ve had in that room. As it relates to who had a stronger voice in any one particular pick, I don’t necessarily remember that part of it. I don’t even really think that’s important as much as I think it was a consensus in the room that he was the guy to take and I’m glad we took him.”
Could you talk about the significance of the 40-yard dash and has the importance of it changed?
“I think the 40 gives you – we all want to know how fast a guy can run because there’s one thing you can’t coach and that’s speed. The 40-yard dash is an important element to some of the ancillary things that we use to evaluate these players. The most important thing is play speed though. Because there are guys who can run a 40-yard dash, and who train for the combine and do all those techniques and all those things that these speed coaches and places are teaching these guys to do, so they can run a fast 40 but they don’t play that fast. There’s two different speeds that we look at. We try to estimate how fast a guy plays. Then we want to know how fast he can run a 40. Just straight out, how much speed does he have? But there are guys who run 4.48 who play at 4.48 that guys that run 4.3 that they don’t play that fast. It’s a part of it, but it’s not the only thing.”
Has it ever come up to ask players to run in uniforms?
“No. We’ve had a lot of conversation and talk about some of the things that we do at the combine and how we are evaluating. Some of those drills may be antiquated and we’ve actually had some discussions about how to update those drills a little bit. But I don’t think that it’s realistic to expect that we’ll have any kind of race or run that will include any kind of pads or anything like that.”
Are there a lot of defensive lineman in this draft who can play in a 3-4 defense, talking mostly about defensive ends?
“Yeah and that’s always a conversation in some respects, its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes guys that can play defensive end in a 4-3 or play defensive end in our system, or are you projecting that guy to be an outside linebacker in our system? If he’s an outside linebacker, is he a guy that can be a pass rusher on third down? Maybe he can go put his hand down. There’s a lot of versatility in a lot of those players. A lot of it just depends on what you’re going to ask the guy to do. That’s one of the things that I really feel good about, our process to this point. We’ve got really specific ideas as to what these guys will do when they come into our building and come into our scheme. That comes from a lot of conversation and a lot of emphasis on making sure that, as we evaluate from a scouting perspective and a coaching perspective - we make sure that we’re specific about what the guy is going to do when he comes into our building. That gives us a chance to really take players and be real clear about what they’re going to do when they walk into the door.”
How do you utilize those 30 visits you get with college players before the draft?
“They’re multiplistic in use. Some of them are guys that weren’t combine guys that we don’t have any real medical data and information on and we want to get our doctors to put their hands on the guys. If we’ve got draftable grades on some of those guys, we’ll bring them in and make sure that we get the medical piece covered. Just that we’re being thorough. Some of them are recruiting visits for guys that we don’t think are going to be drafted that we’re talking to. We’re saying ‘hey, look, this is what we see for you. If we take you, here’s what you’re going to do. If not, then maybe we can compete for a free agent opportunity.’ Some of them are just needing additional information. We’ve had multiple opportunities to talk to these players, whether it’s at All-Star Games or interviews or at the combine or scouts going on campus and talking to them. Sometimes you don’t get enough and you need to bring them in. I’ve said a lot. I would describe this process as exhaustive because it has to be because it’s so important. You’ve got to make sure that you leave no stone unturned with respect to your preparation so that on draft day you know what you’re getting and there are no questions that you need to ask while you’re sitting there on the clock.”
Where do pro days fit into the draft process?
“Again, another important ancillary data point that we use in the whole process, but a very important one just like the combine is very important, but the bulk of the evaluation is when you turn the film on and you watch the guy and what kind of football player he is. That’s the most important thing. We harp on that, the playing personality and the resume that the guy puts on film is by far the most important thing that we look at, but then you’ve got to look at 40 time, you’ve got to look at the medical piece, you’ve got to look at what he does at the pro day and do you see progression. I’m big on careers, I like guys that have had careers, so do you see the guy continuing to improve whether you saw the kid at an all-star game, and I don’t like to call them kid, but you saw the young man at an all-star game, then you saw him obviously first in the season but then at an all-star game and then you saw him at the combine, you see him at the pro day. Do you see progression, is he continuing to get better? Because I tell these guys all the time when they come in for the visit. One of the things that I talk to them about is it’s an interesting time in their lives where most times you don’t get to the level of success that these guys have gotten to if they’re not goal-oriented. The fact that they’re goal oriented, one of the problems with that and me included, is goal-oriented people are very ambitious, they’re very driven, and so when they set a goal and they reach the goal, what do they do? They set another goal. There are not a lot of times in your life when you get to really be in some real gratitude and thankful for all the work that you’ve done and what’s about to happen for it, so I talk to them about that perspective, but then I also remind them that as soon as the draft is over the next week there’s a rookie minicamp and they go right back to the bottom and the grind starts again. So you want to make sure that you see progression through the course of the spring so that when the guy shows up at rookie minicamp, he is what you think he is.”
What do you consider a good batting average for a draft and how long does it take to really know whether you had a good draft?
“I kind of let you guys do the batting average kind of thing and the success thing. I think it takes about two to three years, there are some guys that – when you take a guy in the first round, the expectation is, especially when you’re in the upper half of the first round, there’s some impact that you want, right? Then as you move through the balance of the draft, one of the ways that we define how you take a guy or where you grade a guy on a grading scale is what you think his success rate is going to be in the league. So if you take a guy in the first round in that upper half, you expect him to make an impact pretty quickly. The back half you expect him to be an impact player and a starter, then the second round even thinking about a starter, then the third round - so there are descriptions that we use. For the entire draft, I think it takes some time, two, three years to see, but there are some guys you want to see some immediate impact on. I think it’s a complicated question but it varies from where you take the guy.”
What does it say about Art Briles and Baylor that they’re supposed to have the most players drafted from any of the Texas schools?
“Here’s what I would say, as important as this process is for us, equally important for college football is the recruiting process. It is the life blood of college football, so what it says to me is clearly Art and his staff are doing a great job of recruiting and developing players. He’s a heck of a football coach and they’ve got a great program, great facilities. We had a big presence at their pro day, and you’re right, they’ve got a lot of good football players and I think that will continue because I think he’s an excellent recruiter and I think they do a good job of developing players.”
In recent years, the Texans haven’t had seventh round picks. Is this a strategy to go after the undrafted kids early?
“I don’t know if that was by design as much as just a function of movement. We have two sixth round picks this year but, you’re right, we don’t have a seventh. That was just a function of making some moves during the course of the year to get our football team better. It’s not by design that we don’t have them. If we had a seventh pick or multiple seventh round picks, it wouldn’t affect how aggressive and how organized and how important the college free agency process is. It’s hugely important, because as you know we’ve talked about the fact that in the salary cap era, you have to have the draft and college free agents round out your roster and you want good football players. We put a lot of emphasis on that, we put a lot of time and effort on that. That part of the process, really (Director of College Scouting) Jon Carr, (Vice President, Football Administration) Chris Olsen and those guys, the big stuff where (Director of Player Personnel) Brian Gaine and myself and the coaches, we’re doing a lot of the front, the top of the board, but that free agency process - and those guys do a lot of work, and they get with the coaches and we’ve got a pretty detailed process that we use to pair coaches and scouts together and that’s organized. It has to be, because if you can hit on one or two of those guys, and we did last year, that’s really, really - it’s impactful for your team.”
How important was exercising the fifth-year option for WR DeAndre Hopkins for you guys?
“D-Hop is really, really emerging into one of the better wide receivers in the league and you’re right, we exercised the option so this isn’t his last year. He’s got another year under his contract. I just think that when you look at the way we’ve built our football team, and it starts with the draft obviously, but we want to keep those players and I think we’ve done a decent job of doing that, so he certainly is one of those guys that we’re going to keep around here for a long time hopefully. He’s working hard.”
Why did you waive QB Brian Hoyer when you did rather than keep him around later to see if you can get a pick?
“Well I think I probably could have gotten a pick, honestly, but I think in fairness to him - this was an organizational decision. Everything that we do and when we do it, we have multiple conversations about it and while there may have been some value there for us organizationally, we just felt like it was the right time to do it, and not just for him but for us as well. It was just the right time we felt organizationally and so we made the move.”
How much do you enjoy the local day where those guys come work out?
“That’s a huge, huge thing for us. We’ve got so many good football players here that have some local tie and we’ve had some success finding guys in that particular workout setting. I think they enjoy it, we enjoy it, it’s a time for us coaches to get out on the grass again and kind of work in a somewhat team-like setting, we organize it that way, so that’s fun. I enjoy watching that and just enjoy getting to know the young athletes from around here.”
There are several players in the draft with medical issues, are you hesitant to take them because of the Texans history with OLB Jadeveon Clowney and his medical history?
“No, I mean everything is individual. We’ve got an outstanding medical staff. Our doctors and trainers do a great job of identifying and grading the players and giving that information to us. We’ve got good information and good feelings on all the guys and their medical grades. We’ll take some guys off the board, we’ll understand the risk of some other guys and so nothing that we’ve done before impacts that.”
Should speed not be as big a part of the process in evaluating players?
“Well, it’s like I said. You can’t coach it, but if a guy can run fast but he can’t play football, it doesn’t make sense to have him on your football team, you know what I mean? There is some benefit to speed and certainly you want guys who can play ball and play fast and all those things, but you’re right. You can’t overvalue one particular characteristic whether that is size, weight, speed, whatever. You can’t overvalue it and speed is the same thing. There’s some things that you can get away with if you can run. You’ve also got to be able to change direction, you’ve got to be able to think, you’ve got to do all those other things that encompass a good football player.”
What’s your favorite Prince song?
“Gosh, I was thinking about that yesterday. I don’t know, I’ve got so many. I would tell you the whole Purple Rain album I liked. That’s why I’ve got the purple socks on for Prince today.”
Do you think last year was one of your better draft classes?
“I don’t know if it was one of the better ones. What I will tell you is I think it’s indicative of what we described a little bit earlier in the sense that what I think we’re doing at this point in the process is so good from the standpoint of evaluating what the guys role and vision is for our team. For example, I’ll give you a guy, (WR) Keith Mumphery, I think we maybe even took some criticism because nobody really knew about him because we were the only team to go and work him out, but we had a specific vision for what he could do for our team, and he came in and he fulfilled that role. That to me is why you look at our last couple drafts, what we’ve been able to do is really hone in on these guys and have a clear vision of what they will do when they walk in so they have a chance to play early.”