When a team gets swept by the Jacksonville Jaguars, it's time to start looking at draft picks.
Following a 27-20 loss to the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football, the Texans are 2-11 and currently looking at the No. 1 pick in this spring's NFL draft. For a team with playoff aspirations, it's a disappointing season any way one looks at it, and it's possible the pick could be made with a whole new general manager, head coach and focus in place.
Frankly, the seven-point loss isn't even representative of the embarrassing play the Texans have put forth as of late. Thursday, the Texans benched their starting quarterback, Case Keenum, again—turning to Matt Schaub to be burned for the umpteenth time.
While many entered 2013 believing the first overall pick would be a given—though no one thought it would go to Houston—it's worth noting that the Texans might actually have a bevy of options to consider between now and May.
Is Teddy Bridgewater the Best Consolation Prize Since Andrew Luck?
To be honest, this is a slightly awkward time to write this column.
Some of the luster had come off of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, with many wondering if he was the top quarterback in the class. While the discussion early on in the season featured Bridgewater vs. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota had entered the conversation as of late.
Until Mariota decided that he was heading back to school.
Oh, and while Houston spent Thursday night losing in Jacksonville, Bridgewater spent that exact same time frame over on ESPN ripping apart Cincinnati—making a number of ridiculous plays (like this) to showcase why exactly he's the top QB in the class (Mariota or no Mariota).
What does Bridgewater bring to the table?
Before the season, one NFL scout told me that Bridgewater is one of the cleanest quarterback prospects he's ever seen, noting great throwing mechanics and crisp decision-making. He has good athleticism, even if he's not a track star—in terms of speed, think more Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill than Washington's Robert Griffin III.
Bridgewater elevates the play of those around him—something the Texans offense has not had.
Financially speaking, Schaub is the Texans quarterback for the foreseeable future, whether they actually want to play him or not. Due $10 million next year, that number is fully guaranteed. After that, the numbers just get bigger, and those are numbers that Schaub will likely never see. Yet, it wouldn't be the worst move to bring the 32-year-old back for one last hurrah.
I mean, not worst...but still pretty bad.
Keenum doesn't have the same financial ties that Schaub has, but he's the more exciting prospect of the two passers. Once upon a time, a significant segment of the Texans fanbase believed Keenum to be the quarterback of the future, though it's likely some of that luster has come off. Keenum has baseline arm strength and athleticism and could, conceivably, mature even further with an offseason of starter's reps to gain chemistry with his supporting cast.
More importantly, Keenum would thrive around an offense built around his skill set, as the Texans have found at least short-term success using some of the air raid concepts that made Keenum such a dangerous college passer.
The question, though, is not if Bridgewater is a better option than Schaub or Keenum, however. Bridgewater wins that "what if?" scenario every single time. No, the question is whether or not the Texans fall in love with another prospect so fervently that the idea of living with Schaub or Keenum for one more year becomes palatable.
Pairing Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt Could Be Magic
If the luster came off Bridgewater, it was acid-washed off of Clowney.
To the media, who expected Clowney to come in and dominate every single play on his way to being the first defensive Heisman Trophy winner since former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, any time Clowney wasn't sacking the quarterback was a disappointment.
At times, it was nonsense, as Clowney was clearly impacting the game—drawing double- and triple-teams, while still finding ways to apply pressure in the toughest conference in college football—but the inability to collect gaudy stats left many unimpressed.
In short, many want every single play from Clowney to be identical to his famous hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith.
OK, so Clowney isn't going to do that, but has he really dropped off the radar?
In short: No, not even one bit.
Speaking just last week, an NFL decision-maker told me that his team still has Clowney ranked very high. Could an awful pre-draft performance at the combine change their minds? Sure, but this executive has already invested a lot of time into Clowney and sounded relatively resolute for this time of year.
Another NFL source told me that Clowney could have absolutely stunk up the joint this season, but he would have been a top-five pick on junior-year tape alone. I even brought up Clowney's former teammate, Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery, to point out that that kind of precedent—at least to some degree—has been set, and the reply was "absolutely, only even better."
Putting Clowney (6'6", 250 lbs) across from J.J. Watt (6'5", 290) would be an absolute terror for defenses. Notable too, it would give the Texans a load of flexibility. Clowney could convert to edge rusher—Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus is 6'4", 255. Watt and Clowney could also be a good enough tandem to convince the Texans' defensive staff (whoever they are come next season) to convert to a 4-3 defense. Or, maybe it gives them the horses to run a hybrid front with great pressure from a number of angles.
After Watt, no one on the Texans defense is really stepping up this season. Linebacker Brian Cushing is usually that guy, but he's been hurt two years in a row. Adding another phenomenal pass-rusher like Clowney could put this defense back over the top.
Anthony Barr Could Finally Give the Texans the Edge Rusher They Covet
Some (not many, but some) feel as if one prospect brings more to the table than either Bridgewater or Clowney. That prospect is UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
As of Dec. 4, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had Barr ranked No. 4 overall on his big board. So, that high in the draft, it wouldn't be unheard of for a team to have the rankings differently, or to simply reach for the player they covet—as elite prospects like this don't come along very often.
Barr is a little smaller than Clowney at 6'4", 250 lbs, but he's got a ton of athleticism and has drawn comparisons to Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. He would be a more natural fit as an outside pass-rusher for Houston, which is a premier building-block position.
The argument could be made (and will be made) that stacking Barr behind Watt would create just as much havoc as placing Clowney across from him. Remember, too, that the Texans have gone to this well a number of times, coming up relatively empty. Mercilus, Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and Mario Williams were all supposed to be that dominating edge rusher that the Texans have just never had.
Realize, for a moment, how odd it is to get the production that the Texans get from the 3-4 defensive end position. Now, consider what they could do if they were also getting the production that 3-4 defenses expect out of their stud outside linebackers.
Somewhere, each opposing AFC South quarterback got shivers just thinking about it.
With Mercilus and Reed currently occupying the first slot in the depth chart, one might assume the cupboard is too stocked to add another high pick. However, Reed can (and has) played inside linebacker, while Mercilus has shown far-too-streaky play—especially as a pass-rusher—to disqualify selecting an upgrade at such an important position.
Again, this move gives the Texans not only a better player to stick in the starting 11 on defense, but also a bit of flexibility, depth and another elite athlete who can put some teeth back in a Texans defense that doesn't seem to scare anyone like it should with a player like Watt on it.
To further the Von Miller comparison—once, many in both scouting circles and media circles thought that Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was the better prospect over Miller. A few years in, Dareus has been a fine player, but it's Miller that has proven to be the singular prospect of the two. A high-ranking former personnel man sung Barr's praises and evoked the comparison to Dareus and Miller to how people may one day look back at Clowney and Barr.
If the Texans fall in love with the idea of Barr in one of their jerseys, he could be awfully tough to pass on.
Jake Matthews Gives the Offensive Line a Nastiness They Lack
Back to the offensive side of the ball, things get a little interesting.
2013 was "The Fatty Draft," where an insane number of offensive linemen were taken as teams realized that their investments in that core position had been lacking in recent years. Moreover, teams have started to accept the truth that left tackles don't mean what they once did—at least not in relation to the rest of the line.
Quick-passing shotgun offenses with multiple-receiver sets means that the right tackle often has just as much to do with protecting the edge as the left tackle does. For some quarterbacks, having that pressure right in their face creates even bigger problems than from the "blind side."
Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo took a look at this last season in a column titled, "Are Left Tackles Overvalued?" The Jacksonville Jaguars have pointed to Palazzolo's work as a reason they felt comfortable drafting Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall and putting him at right tackle. Though, he now plays left tackle with Eugene Monroe now in Baltimore.
Could the Texans see something similar in Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews?
Matthews may be a better tackle prospect than any of those in last year's class. Although he decided to go back to school, some felt he could have challenged for a top-five spot in 2013. Instead, he now sits solidly atop the 2014 class with little to no competition.
He clearly has the pedigree. His dad, Bruce, is a Pro Football Hall of Famer who spent most of his career in, wait for it, Houston! His cousin is Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, and many more in the family have played football collegiately or in the pros.
As they say, he comes from good stock.
The thought of a hometown kid has appealed to Houston before—remember quarterback Vince Young? Matthews is a better prospect than Young, however, with a higher floor than the mercurial quarterback and an equivalent ceiling.
Left tackle Duane Brown isn't going anywhere, but right tackle has been a black hole for the Texans. Drafting Matthews could send up a signal to the rest of the league that they're not going to be pushed around any longer. It would also significantly aid running back Arian Foster, who (when healthy) was getting hit in the backfield far too often.
A lot can happen between now and the draft. I know that. You know that. The Texans know that. As of right now, however, it seems almost as if the Texans can't lose as long as they nab one of these top prospects. It's clear, though, that they have an awfully big decision in front of them.
At least they have options.