What the Texans Want to See from Each Top Prospect at the NFL Combine
The Houston Texans entered the 2013 season with high expectations, being labeled as a Super Bowl favorite by some after back-to-back AFC South titles.
However, the season was an absolute catastrophe, and after 14 straight losses, the Texans now hold the rights to the first pick in May's NFL draft.
There are a number of candidates to be the first overall pick in May, from favorites such as quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Blake Bortles of Central Florida to dark horses such as Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.
The NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis later this month will be an invaluable tool in that regard, allowing the Texans to refine their draft board with workouts and interviews.
With that in mind, here's a look at what the Texans will be watching when this year's best pro prospects take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Arm Strength, Accuracy and Footwork
Unless you've been on the International Space Station for the past two years, you probably know who Johnny Football is.
In fact, even the astronauts know who Manziel is.
His mobility and ability to make something out of nothing captured the imagination of college football fans everywhere.
He also caught the attention of the Texans, especially given the inherent marketing bonanza that would accompany drafting the in-state star.
However, like most draft prospects, Manziel has a blemish or two.
No, not his size. We get it. He's short. So is Russell Wilson, and after Wilson hoisted the Lombardi Trophy earlier this month, he struck a blow for vertically challenged signal-callers everywhere.
As Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout put it, Manziel has a "tendency to fall off his throws, even when standing flat-footed with no pressure. In falling away rather than stepping into his throws, passes lack consistency [and] accuracy."
Assuming that Manziel throws at the combine, it's important for him to remember all that stuff his coaches have told him about stepping into his throws.
With all that said, don't hold your breath. As Derek Harper of CBS Sports reports, Manziel has already set a March 22 date for his personal workout, which is often a precursor to passers begging off in Indy.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Dedication and Passion for Football
The NFL Scouting Combine isn't just about poking and prodding players or putting them through the paces in drills.
Teams also sit down with players in interview sessions, during which NFL clubs grill them about both their collegiate past and professional future.
After punctuating a dominant 2012 season with the hit heard around the world against Michigan in the Outback Bowl, he entered 2013 as the prohibitive favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Things didn't go as planned. He was hampered by a number of minor injuries last year, and his statistical production suffered as a result.
In fact, some pundits wondered aloud if Clowney was sandbagging, speculating that the 6'5", 274-pound junior was "mailing it in" rather than jeopardize his big payday by getting hurt.
For his part, Clowney isn't hearing it. The youngster didn't hesitate when asked by The Dan Patrick Show (per Will Brinson of CBS Sports) who should be picked first overall by Houston.
"I just think I should be the No. 1 pick taken overall in the draft," Clowney said.
Clowney has also pledged to put up great numbers in Indy, but in all honesty you'd be hard-pressed to find a person who challenges his physical qualifications.
He's a freak.
However, if the Texans are going to eschew drafting a franchise quarterback, Clowney will have to convince Houston he's in it for the long haul.
If he can assuage concerns about his dedication, then the idea of pairing him with J.J. Watt is appealing—unless you're an opposing quarterback.
Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
Mechanics and Footwork
After the two-headed disaster that was Matt Schaub and Case Keenum in 2013, it's no secret that the Houston Texans need a quarterback.
According to John McClain of The Houston Chronicle (h/t Bleacher Report), the early leader is Central Florida's Blake Bortles.
The 6'3" junior, who topped 3,500 passing yards in 2013, has risen from relative obscurity to vie to be the first overall pick this year, despite a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee.
Bortles has the prototypical size that NFL teams look for, and he's more than capable of making the throws required of an NFL starter.
Lownes wrote this about the QB: "Footwork and throwing mechanics occasionally break down for stretches at a time, affecting his accuracy and velocity."
Granted, the throwing drills at the combine and UCF's pro day offer a limited sample size, but they still will provide him an opportunity to put his best foot forward in the race for No. 1.
Get it? Best foot forward?
I'll be here all week, folks.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Size and Athleticism
It wasn't that long ago that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was considered the odds-on favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
There's a lot to like besides the football-sounding name. Bridgewater is probably the best pocket passer in this year's class, and Bleacher Report's Ryan Lownes called the 6'3" junior the most pro-ready quarterback in 2014 while comparing him to Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers:
What he lacks in prototypical size, he more than makes up for with exceptional pocket movement, poise and accuracy. He may not be an ideal fit for a vertical offense that wants to aggressively push the ball downfield, but he is equipped physically and mentally for any scheme.
However, Lownes also wrote, "Some scouts will knock him for his size. Many suspect he may be closer to 6’2” and is built narrowly for a quarterback with fairly small hands. He may not fit minimum specifications for some NFL teams."
Simply put, Bridgewater does everything pretty well, but he doesn't do anything exceptionally well. There's no cannon arm or electrifying scrambling ability.
He can do nothing about his size, but by shining in workouts, he can show some sizzle to go with the steak.
That may be all it takes for his mysteriously lagging draft stock to bounce back and for the Texans to take a much longer look at the All-American.
Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
A Perfect Combine
Make no mistake: One of the four players mentioned previously in this article will certainly be the first name called by Roger Goodell at Radio City Music Hall in May.
It will probably be a quarterback.
However, a few pundits believe the Texans will at least entertain an "outside the box" option.
In the opinion of Russ Lande of Sports On Earth, one such option is Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack:
In today's pass-first NFL, elite pass rushers are the hardest players to find besides quarterbacks, so they always go high. He will be competing directly with Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr to be the first defensive end/pass rusher selected, and if he performs well over the next three months, I believe he has a chance to be the first one selected.
The 6'3", 248-pounder was a breakout star in 2013, notching 100 tackles and adding 10.5 sacks, but questions about the level of competition he faced in the MAC make his performance at the combine more important than any other player on this list.
For him to seriously enter the conversation to be the first overall pick, he would have to kill it in Indy. Strength in the bench press. Speed in the 40-yard dash. Agility in the cone drills. Poise and football acumen in the interviews.
Mack may be a long shot, but it wouldn't be the first time a player shot up draft boards after a big showing in Indianapolis.