NFL Draft 2014: Breaking Down Top Contenders to Go No. 1

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IFebruary 5, 2014

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Blake Bortles #5 of the UCF Knights following the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against the Baylor Bears at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Some years there is a player like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck who sits atop every team's draft board.

Then there are years like this one, where there are bound to be many questions regarding which player will be the first off the board. 

As it is now, the Houston Texans own the No. 1 selection, but that certainly doesn't guarantee they will be making the first selection.  

As Tania Ganguli of ESPN noted, Texans owner Bob McNair is open to trading the No. 1 pick. If it is the Texans, don't expect the pick to be anyone but a quarterback: 

Of course, the Texans could deal the pick, which is something owner Bob McNair is not opposed to, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter:

Obviously, if they trade the pick it will change the outlook on which player would go No. 1, but any way you slice it, I don't see anyone outside of the next four going with the first selection. So, let me break them down. 

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 23:  Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Louisville Cardinals throws the ball during the game against the Memphis Tigers at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is ready for the NFL. No other quarterback in this class had as much responsibility while running an NFL-style offense than Bridgewater.

The 21-year-old is well beyond his years when it comes to handling audibles and reading the defense.

In a column on Monday Morning Quarterback, Greg A. Bedard offered up this look into Bridgewater's responsibilities this past season:

Bridgewater has vast responsibility at the line of scrimmage. First there is the kill system. Two or three plays are called in the huddle. Depending on the defense, Bridgewater has the ability to “kill” the first play, and run one of the others. It’s solely Bridgewater’s decision.

Bridgewater also has an audible system at his disposal, with the same goal as every good NFL system: stay out of bad plays. If the play Watson has called has little chance of success against a particular defense, Bridgewater can change the play entirely at the line of scrimmage.

Finally, Bridgewater redirects the offensive line protections by either identifying the middle linebacker in man-to-man protections, or directing the slide one way or the other in zone.

For my money, this should make Bridgewater the first overall selection if the Texans hold the pick. Bridgewater doesn't have the most arm talent in this class, but he does have good accuracy and solid arm strength. Still, his experience, maturity and production make him the safest pick of all the quarterbacks. 

If recent reports are true, however, the Texans don't share my sentiment: 

Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

So, I suppose this is a good time to discuss Blake Bortles.

There is no denying he is an intriguing prospect. He is 6'4" and 230 pounds. That is excellent size for a quarterback and on top of that he has good mobility.

His ability to run out of tackles and extend plays has drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Bortles came from a pro-style offense, and he put up big numbers. He didn't face the stiffest of competition, however, which makes it difficult to tell how he will hold up to an NFL rush. 

He has the size, poise and mobility to survive that rush, but he also has questionable mechanics and a slow release. 

Still, that slow release won't hurt him when he trucks a defender and moves into the open field to survey the field for a big play. 

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Johnny Manziel has also reportedly gotten the attention of the Houston Texans:

CBS' Gregg Doyel goes as far as to say that the Texans' interest in Bortles is a smoke screen "or it's stupid."

Manziel's scintillating ability on the field can't be questioned. The young man has an unteachable instinct to avoid the rush, and then he has the legs and arm to make big plays. 

Gil Brandt was quoted by Peter King in MMQB as saying Manziel is "a better version of Fran Tarkenton." 

That is lofty praise indeed. Tarkenton retired as the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. 

Would Tarkenton's body have been able to take the abuse of today's NFL, however?

At just over 6'0" and 200 pounds, Manziel may not be able to hold up to the rigors of the NFL. Still, the Texans, or whichever team drafts first, very well may decide that his upside is more than worth the risk. 

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Onto the lone non-quarterback on the list! Considering the above tweet stating the Texans' desire to draft a quarterback, it is a long shot that Clowney would go first. 

If a team wanted to trade up to get Clowney, it could now feel confident by targeting the second pick and still expect the uniquely gifted Clowney to be available. 

All of that said, I'm not going to rule out Clowney going No. 1. He is just too freakishly dominant for that. 

Clowney has the explosion that teams covet in elite pass-rushers, but he is so much more than that. This South Carolina prospect stands 6'6" and 274 pounds. This gives him the strength to slide inside on the defensive line. 

The bottom line is that Clowney is the most physically dominant player in this class, and it's not all that close. 


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