The Houston Texans were truly a roller coaster ride last season. After starting the season 5-3, Houston proceeded to lose four consecutive division games to drop to 5-7 and end the promise of what looked to be the year they could break into the playoffs. The Texans were finally able to finish over .500 thanks to a season-ending four-game winning streak but fell short of a Wild Card berth to the Ravens and Jets, who also finished 9-7. Both teams won at least one playoff game while the Texans were forced to sit and watch the postseason from home.  The Texans needed to fill a few holes in the draft if they wanted to take advantage of the prime years of quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andre Johnson, who led Houston’s top-ranked aerial attack last season. After losing cornerback Dunta Robinson to the Atlanta Falcons the Texans were left with Glover Quin, Jacques Reeves and Brice McCain as their top corners heading into the 2010 NFL Draft, which Chris Tripodi breaks down.

The team had a huge need at cornerback; enter Kareem Jackson. Houston took the 5-10, 196-pound Alabama cornerback with the 20th overall pick to replace the departed Robinson, who was a first-round pick himself in 2004. Jackson is a talented and physical player who excels in coverage as well as in run support. He is physical jamming receivers at the line, stays with them down the field and reads their eyes well to defend the pass. Jackson also has good closing speed and the hands to create turnovers. Despite a 4.4-second 40-yard dash time, Jackson doesn’t possess great top-end speed and is prone to losing the location of the ball in relation to his opponent. The upside is there for Jackson to become a shutdown corner in the NFL and he may be thrust into a starting role right away considering the Texans current stable of corners.

Part of the reason Houston finished the season’s with the league’s top passing offense is due to their lack of a steady running game. Second-year back Steve Slaton endured a serious sophomore slump. His yards-per-carry dropped from 4.8 to 3.3 and the 15 pounds he gained in the offseason seemed to do him more harm than good in 2009. His fumble issues were also cause for concern as was a neck injury that ended his season after 11 games.

Slaton is now seen by many as a complimentary back rather than a workhorse, which the Texans were hoping for him to be last season. As a result, Houston used their second-round pick on Auburn running back Ben Tate who, at 5-11, 220 pounds with a 4.43 time in the forty, is a tantalizing combination of size and speed with starting potential at the NFL level. His motor has been questioned at times and he will need to put together a full 60 minutes of football to reach his true potential. Tate is both aggressive and patient in following his blocks, finding cutback lanes and showing the burst to hit the hole before it closes. He’s strong enough to pick up yards after initial contact and fast enough to run away from defenders, falls forward to finish his runs and uses an effective straight arm to extend plays. He also has the potential to develop as a receiver but Slaton should continue to be Matt Schaub’s first target out of the backfield.

Having already addressed issues in the secondary and the backfield, the Texans drafted Arizona defensive tackle Earl Mitchell in the third round. A converted tight end, Mitchell showed off his athleticism in his two years as a starter in the middle of the Wildcats defensive line with 12.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks as a senior. He plays with good leverage, has excellent speed (4.75) for an interior lineman and should fit well in Houston’s one-gap defense as both a run stopper and pass rusher.

Houston had a pair of fourth-round picks thanks to a trade with Kansas City, moving down nine spots from 93 to 102 and picking up an extra fifth-round pick as well. With these picks, they drafted Miami linebacker Darryl Sharpton and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham.

Sharpton should provide depth behind DeMeco Ryans in the middle of the Houston defense and could contribute on special teams as well. However his upside is limited as a small linebacker (5-11, 252) who struggles in coverage and diagnosing plays.

Graham is a reliable pass catcher who lacks the speed to beat defenders downfield and the strength to be an effective blocker. He has solid hands and an ability to find the soft spot in zone defenses, but is nothing more than a second tight end at the next level. He gives the Texans insurance for Owen Daniels, a key cog in their passing attack who will be coming off a season-ending knee injury.

Fifth-round pick Sherrick McManus doesn’t have the speed (4.5) or recovering ability to start at the next level, but has enough route-recognition ability and ball skills to be an effective nickel or dime back and adds depth to a position of need in Houston.

Shelley Smith is an athletic guard prospect who needs to work on his balance, a tendency to bend at the waist and an inability to finish blocks and stay healthy. The skill set is there for Smith but he needs a lot of things to go right in order to stick in the NFL.

Trindon Holliday was the Texans’ second sixth-round draft pick and his 4.26 speed makes him a very exciting player in the return game. But at just 5-5 and 166 pounds, that seems to be his only niche in the NFL. He’s Darren Sproles without the running ability, but he is a dynamic player who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Houston could even get creative and use him on screens and reverses to add more weapons to an already high-powered offense.

Pittsburgh tight end Dorin Dickerson was the Texans ninth and final pick in this year’s draft. At 6-1 and 226 pounds he is too small to play tight end, but could be effective working in motion. Dickerson has excellent receiving skills and the potential to be a productive pro player. You will be hard-pressed to find a better fit for this type of player than the Texan offense.

Grade: (C+) Jackson is a terrific prospect at a position of need for Houston, while Tate and Slaton could give the Texans a solid thunder-and-lightning backfield combination to compliment their potent passing game. The Mitchell pick in the third round shows Houston’s determination to fill positions of need early in the draft and the rest of their picks should provide them with depth behind key players, particularly drafting two tight ends after Daniels’ season-ending injury in 2009. Holliday and Dickerson are very intriguing late-round picks with the potential to have a big impact on the Houston roster in their respective roles. The Texans did a good job picking up extra picks later in the draft by moving down a few slots in rounds two and three, while still being able to grab the players they coveted.