Interview with Justin Melo of The Draft Network | Houston Texans Targets

The 2021 NFL Draft is officially one month away and there is no better way to kick off the countdown than by interviewing the interview god himself, Justin Melo! He may be a Titans fan and covers them for Broadway Sports, but his overall football knowledge is off the charts and I admire his evident work ethic.

Justin is an extremely accomplished writer who covers the NFL Draft for The Draft Network. He has a killer "Draft Networking" series where he talks to seemingly every single prospect in the draft, providing readers with valuable insights into players who will see the NFL.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JustinM_NFL and enjoy his Interview series at The Draft Network as his grind is something to truly be proud of.

Why Football?

Jordan: "I've got to say, your interview series is probably the most impressive thing I've followed in terms of the draft, I mean you've got consistency, quantity and quality."

Justin: "I've been interviewing a lot of prospects this year, pretty much dropping at least one interview every single day from now until the NFL draft."

Jordan: "It's been crazy to see your work, it really has, I admire your grind. Like you said it's every single day, and have you ever had an advent calendar for Christmas, because that's what your work has been like!"

Justin: "(Laughs) I have!"

Jordan: "(Laughs) yeah it's exactly like that. You (as a reader/follower) know it's coming, you know there's something to look forward to each and every day and it's always a hit. You're always able to connect with the player and make them comfortable and ask really in-depth questions."

Justin: "I appreciate it and I think you just gave me an idea man (laughs), I think next year I need to sell an advent calendar for interviews man. Every single day you get a new interview, that's the plan, from now until the draft, it's actually up to 10 interviews a week now so, more than one a day (laughs)."

Jordan: "That's awesome man, I love to see it (laughs). Alright, so I've been really curious to hear your answer since I learned you're also Canadian, but whenever people learn that I'm Canadian, they always want to know how I got into the Texans and football. So, I'm gonna turn the tables and ask you now, what really sparked your interest in getting into the NFL and football?"

Justin: "I really just started watching it as a kid. I grew up in a big sporting household, my whole family are big sports fans, but funny enough I became the biggest football fan. I have people who are big hockey fans of course, big baseball, big basketball, I mean you name it. And I'm a fan of every sport, sports were always on in my household, but for whatever reason I gravitated towards football, more than anything. Started watching the game when I was about, maybe eight or nine years old and just haven't looked back since."

Jordan: "That's awesome man, it's pretty similar for me as well. In my household, I'm an only child but me and my dad would always have sports on - basketball, football, hockey, even golf. And then I played football in high school, loved it ever since then and the first game I ever watched of the NFL, funny enough, was the Texans vs the Titans. I have no idea why they were on primetime TV in Canada (laughs) but ever since then I fell in love with the Texans. How about you, how did you fall in love with the Titans particularly?


Justin: "Yeah, funny enough the first game I ever watched was the Super Bowl that they lost to the Rams. I probably should've took it for a sign that I was in for nothing but despair from that moment on but that was the first game I watched.

Again, I was a kid so not a whole lot of rhyme or reason but I went into that game going, I hope the Titans win this game. Blue was always my favorite color, I loved the logo, I know I was probably one of few at the time, but I loved the logo, I loved the color scheme.

And then it was easy to fall in love with that team, you know, that experience was a bit of a fluke but then I started watching guys like Steve McNair and Eddie George and it was just so easy to root for that team. So that's kind of where my Titans fandom began.

Jordan: "Oh yeah you guys had some stars, some athletes, and it was kind of like that for me too with the Texans. At least in the beginning when you're new to the sport, it's about star power. For me, watching Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, those are two guys who are prime athletes at their positions and they can do crazy things, which at the time seemed unreal. So I definitely know where you're coming from in that regard.

Justin: "No doubt!"

NFL Draft/Process

Jordan: "So with the NFL draft that's sort of become your specialty and I'm curious if you could speak to how you got so involved with it and maybe your process and what goes into evaluating prospects?"

Justin: "Yeah so the NFL draft for me is just the most exciting part of football, you know. Watching these kids in college and scouting them, and that's kind of why I started the interview series. I wanted to get to know them on a more personal level. I thought, the NFL draft is becoming more and more popular every single year and I kind of want to find my own way to exist, and create my own arena if you will.


And I thought to myself, what can you do in order to make yourself standout, you know there is a lot of great scouting out there, there really is. And I do all that stuff, don't get me wrong, I've watched tape on 250 players this year already, and I'm still going, I don't plan on stopping now (laughs). So I do all that stuff but there's so much of it out there, so I came up with the interview series to be unique. I'm in about year 5 of the series and it's gotten bigger and bigger every year.

But in terms of my scouting process I'm a film guy more than anything, but I think you would be silly to not incorporate the testing numbers, to not incorporate the senior bowl to not incorporate things that I may hear around the league based on personality and attitude so I try to bring that all together. It's not like I have a specific system, I don't like to box myself into anything, I try and take all the information available to me to create my scouting reports and grades.

But for sure, film is king for me, I'm not someone who's going to ignore the testing, I think it's a really important aspect of it, I just do my best to not overreact to it. If you see a guy who runs faster or slower than you thought he did or his agility times were better or worse than you thought they'd be, kind of use that to revisit the film and now you have that and see if things line up. So in short I try and use a little bit of everything but I'm definitely a film guy.

Jordan: "Yeah man in terms of process, I feel like you're echoing my exact sentiment and something I've learned over the years. I'm a film junkie through and through as well, and when I first started evaluating prospects that would hold majority if not all of the weight, in terms of grading and whatnot.

But, with athletic testing, senior bowls and all that, you're given more information that helps you figure out who these guys are, and how they'll translate to the next level. So it's incredibly important to include every single variable available to you, in your analysis and evaluation because it can help improve your "hit-rate" per se.

Justin: "Absolutely, I think you're right on that."

Jordan: "With your ability to talk to all these prospects, you've been able to help fans of every team in the league, track who their team is meeting with and interested in. So, you've been very helpful to me in seeing which positions and which types of players at those positions the Houston Texans are interested in.

With that said, let's get into some of those guys this year. Looking at the guys on my list, the main pattern is these long, athletic, versatile DBs who primarily play CB, but also have experience all throughout the secondary.


Trill Williams, DB, Syracuse

*Justin's interview with Trill can be read here

And first up, let's talk about Trill Williams out of Syracuse. It was impressive to see someone with his size at 6'2, 200lbs play outside CB, nickel CB and safety. How do you think he wins at the next level and what would you say his best position is, or you think that most NFL teams will want him to play at?

Justin: "Yeah when it comes to Trill Williams the first thing that jumps out to me is the size. He's 6'2, I believe he's around 210 right now, that's last I heard. So he's bulked up a little, he's added some muscle to his frame. And on tape this is a guy who wins based on his physical traits. He's incredibly long, he's very athletic, he's got great range, just a terrific set of skills and he knows how to use them.

In terms of his best position, I mean you said it, he's played everywhere, Syracuse lined him up on the outside of both sides of the field, he wasn't exclusive to one side. They lined him up in the slot, he got some reps at safety. And throughout the process what I've heard is NFL teams are going to view him differently and that's normal.

He may interview with one team that sees him as an outside corner and others might see him as a safety, it really just depends on the scheme and his ultimate landing spot. For me personally, I think he's an outside corner. I want to take advantage of the physical gifts, I want to take advantage of the length.

Jordan: "Yeah, I'm exactly with you on his evaluation, watching him, he looked huge on film, he looked bigger than Ifeatu Melifonwu, the other CB on Syracuse that gets a ton of love. And as you said with him, it's going to be all about scheme fit. So for the Texans, I think he's the perfect outside CB in Lovie Smith's presumed Tampa 2. You need those bigger, longer cornerbacks and he's got experience in that system at Syracuse as well. So I think that's how they're going to view him and with the guys we're talking about today, that archetype of defensive back is exactly what the Texans seem interested in.


Benjamin St. Juste, CB, Minnesota

*Justin's interview with Benjamin can be read here

So the next guy is Benjamin St. Juste, he's another really fun player to talk about, he's also a Canadian and he's another huge defensive back. 6'3, 200 plus pounds with 33" arms, but In my opinion he's got really great movement skills for someone his size, which is rare to find. He sort of reminds me of Ahkello Witherspoon coming out of college in that way.

He's also got solid ball production with 10 PBUs in 10 games in 2019, showing he knows how to use his length at the catch point. He's really one of my favorite, maybe round 4 cornerbacks, somewhere around that range, but yeah, he's a fun player and I would love to hear your thoughts on his strengths and weaknesses to his game.

Justin: "Yeah you said it, big guy, the arms, the wingspan it's all there. It popped up at the Senior Bowl where he's able to get his hand in there at the last second and break up some passes. Now, where I worry and question him is, there's a big difference between the receivers you see in college and the ones you see in the NFL. Is he quick enough, can he flip his hips, can he keep up, in and out of the breaks with the receiver. That's where I really have some question marks on him.

Jordan: "Yeah that's understandable, I think when you stack up all the cornerbacks like St. Juste, all the bigger, longer cbs in that projected range (around the 4th), your Keith Taylor's, your Israel Mukuamu's, when you compare all those guys, I think St. Juste's movement skills look pretty good. But hey, that's the beauty of the process, everyone sees things a little bit differently and we get to gloat on Twitter when we're right or get ratio'd when we're wrong (laughs).


Joshuah Bledsoe, DB, Missouri

*Justin's interview with Joshuah can be read here

Now lets move onto a player who was very versatile in college and that’s Joshuah Bledsoe from Missouri, another, sort of hybrid DB. He did a lot for that defense, playing the nickel role and also some box safety. In your interview with him he talked a lot about playing nickel and his ability to cover there, which is such an important position in the NFL. But the Texans just signed Desmond King to man the nickel, so with Bledsoe, do you think he can play that safety role as well, and do you think he's better as a box guy or back deep?

Justin: "I do like Bledsoe at nickel best, I also like him in the box quite a bit. We haven't seen him play as a single high frequently but this is a guy that, when you turn on the tape of him, I'm sure you've watched the game that he had against Alabama and talk about making a statement. He was terrific in that game and that means something to scouts, when you can watch a guy play against Alabama and look as good as he did. So this is a guy that really intrigues me, he's someone that I would take in the round three range because those matchup guys, they're so important nowadays."

Jordan: "Exactly exactly yeah I like his film too, you know he's going to be a tone setter for your defense and you can never have enough DBs who can cover and tackle.


Shane Simpson, RB, Virginia

*Justin's interview with Shane can be read here

Alright, let's move on to our next guy the Texans have showed interest in and that's RB Shane Simpson out of Virginia. He was a super productive player for them, he racked up 5000+ all purpose yards with around 2000 of that coming on special teams.

He's a fun player on the field for sure, now the question marks with him come with his age, he's a bit older at 24, and then his injury history. He's had multiple serious injuries and it's gonna be tough this year for teams to do all the medical examinations that they usually can, so you can see talented RBs like Simpson fall a bit to late day 3. But, talk to me about Simpson and what do you see with him on tape that makes him so productive?"

Justin: "Well for me, Simpson, I think he's got great burst, I think he runs the ball with great vision. But the question with him, and these are discussions I've had with people around the league - they wanted to see him run. Scouts wanted to see him run, they wanted to make sure he was over the injury, several injuries really, he had that ACL tear, MCL tear and he decided to take up his extra year of eligibility, he's in his sixth year.

So it was very important for him to show that he is healthy and he played 10 games for Virginia this year and keep in mind it was a step up in competition for him. So I think he proved a lot of things, even at his Pro Day I think he ran in the 4.4 range so it'll be interesting to see where he lands because I think he's a guy who could be a steal."

Jordan: "Yeah, definitely, I think his athletic ability is the first thing you see on his tape. He can be a good one cut runner in zone offenses and I liked his receiving ability, he seemed to have really soft hands. Every year you see these day 3 RBs, usually multiple of them, always outperform their draft position so, depending on where he ends up, I agree with you I think he could be something.


Isaiah McDuffie, LB, Boston College

Let's get to the last guy for today and that is Isaiah McDuffie, linebacker out of Boston College and he's an interesting prospect because he was a former RB, and when he came to BC he was initially a safety, but then transitioned to LB. So, where do you think he fits best at the NFL, is it indeed LB and what can he bring to an NFL team?"

Justin: Yeah I think you're definitely right, I think WILL LB probably makes the most sense for him. This is an undersized guy who's really athletic, he's got sideline to sideline speed, he plays with a lot of urgency, really enjoyed watching him play at Boston College. I do wonder how he fits at the next level because one thing with him is, he didn't always get better. That's kind of the knock on him throughout this process, now, I think he's definitely a core special teamer, did that for Boston College and I did an interview with him, haven't dropped it yet but I will in a few weeks and I remember that was a good one."

Jordan: "Awesome yeah the Texans have really gone after a specific archetype of LB in free agency and it's exactly how you've described McDuffie, so I understand our interest in him. We've already got 18 special team aces at LB, why not add another (laughs)."

Concluding Thoughts

The NFL draft is going to help shine a light on what Nick Caserio and the coaching staff look for in terms of players' skillsets. We can already tell they value size, length and versatility in the secondary, athleticism and special teams ability for LBs, and vision, burst and receiving ability for RBs. I'm super pumped to see how the draft turns out and to bring more content to the site. Scouting reports, position rankings and mock drafts are already here, with plenty more to come.

If you've made it this far you have no reason not to follow Justin on Twitter: @JustinM_NFL and check out his great work. You can follow me on Twitter: @Texans_Thoughts as well, to keep updated with my draft thoughts!