Which Prospects Are Still in Play for the No. 1 Overall Pick in 2014 NFL Draft?

Ryan Riddle@@Ryan_RiddleCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2014

USA Today

Nobody really has any idea what these teams are going to do come draft day on May 8. The Houston Texans have the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft for now, but that can all change with the right trade partner. However, trading this pick is easier said than done.

With most of the pro days and predraft events behind us, we now have a bit of a narrowed-down idea of which prospects are still at play for top billing. But before we determine which prospect will be taken, we must first figure out what team will be doing the taking.

After all, that team might not be the Texans.  

Bleacher Report NFL insider Dan Pompei offered up some interesting insight earlier this week:

Word from the NFL meetings is the Texans are trying hard to deal the first pick in the draft. They want to move down and acquire extra selections. Sources say they might have a trade partner in the Bills, who appear interested in moving up. It is unclear who the Bills would want in a trade-up scenario. Some believe they would move up for a quarterback. They also could make good use of an offensive tackle such as Greg Robinson. And it would be something to see them pair Mario Williams with either Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack.

This possibility sounds odd when you consider (1) the Bills spent a first-round pick on EJ Manuel a year ago and 2) there doesn’t seem to be a definitive No. 1 prospect worth moving up for.

With that said, Greg Robinson could fill a need and be somebody the Bills are interested in, but is he really worth the cost of moving up eight spots? I’d be surprised if anything materializes from this interesting rumor.

The most pertinent information to extract from this gossip is that the Texans are probably trying to move out of the first overall pick. This makes complete sense. Houston likely has not been able to figure out which of these quarterbacks will be the best pro and would rather hedge their bet by loading up on additional picks.

The problem here is selling the top pick in the draft is often too difficult to do most years—especially when there isn’t a clear-cut favorite.

This means the Texans are probably going to be making this pick whether they want to or not.

So let’s find out what this team is thinking with the first pick.

According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel are all being “seriously considered” for the top pick in the draft.

With all-world talent at defensive end in J.J. Watt and a Pro Bowl stalwart in Duane Brown to guard the QB’s blindside, it would seem quarterback will be the focal point of the Texans' top overall pick in May.

Keep in mind this tweet was sent out well before Bridgewater left a bad taste in our mouths at the March 17 pro day. 

I’m willing to bet he was just underwhelming enough to be withdrawn from consideration for the top pick. Bridgewater might still be on the Texans' radar; he just won’t be the first player taken in this loaded draft class.

So who does that leave as the most plausible options for the top pick in the 2014 draft?

The signs and whispers from the media all seem to point to quarterback.

Johnny Manziel

At the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, newly hired head coach Bill O’Brien was asked to expound on his opinions about Johnny Manziel’s style being sustainable in the NFL. Here was his response, per Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com:

If you watch some of his games, obviously he's a very exciting player when he breaks the pocket and he runs. But if you watch the Ole Miss game, he came back and he threw from the pocket in that game. If you watch him, he's going to be able to do a lot of different things. It's sustainable.

In the interview, O’Brien also dispels the notion that Manziel’s height is a concern. He cites character, toughness, accuracy and intelligence as the biggest elements toward their quarterback evaluation process.

Manziel (6’0”, 207) is a quick, exciting quarterback who won the Heisman trophy as a freshman while at Texas A&M. In terms of production, no quarterback in college over the last two seasons had better numbers than Johnny Football.

According to ESPN.com, Manziel posted the highest QBR (adjusted for strength of schedule) out of the draft-eligible prospects. For those wondering what QBR is, per ESPN.com“This is a number for a quarterback between 0 and 100 that captures efficiency associated with throwing the ball, running the ball, drawing penalties, and avoiding sacks and turnovers.”

In all my years of watching football, I’ve never seen anyone play the game quite like Manziel. He may not have the ideal measurables, but his competitiveness and ability to make plays with relentless effort and uncanny instincts are certainly worthy of the top pick in the draft.

But in typical predraft fashion, not everyone agrees with Manziel as the top pick.

NFL Network’s Kurt Warner believes Manziel has not had a large enough body of work in college to justify going so high, via NFL.com. Apparently Warner believes some athletic freak from South Carolina should be the Texans' pick.

Jadeveon Clowney

In the same Bill O’Brien interview cited earlier, the head coach seemed eager to get an up-close look at Clowney during his April 2 pro day.  

Texans owner Bob McNair said Clowney is a “remarkable physical specimen who comes around once every 10 years,” via Josh Katzowitz of CBSSports.com. McNair also added that he believes Clowney is a better athlete than Mario Williams, who was the team’s first overall pick back in 2006.

Jadeveon Clowney measured in at 6’5”, 265 pounds, with 35-inch arms and 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash. That type of speed injected into such a massive frame is downright scary.

In 36 games at South Carolina, Clowney had 24 sacks, most of which were him fighting off chip blocks and double teams. He also posted 47 tackles for loss during that span of time and was a constant force of disruption for opponents.

Here are some of my notes from his tape review:

Loves the swim move. Amazing quickness. Sudden and explosive. Some minor questions about his toughness arise. Does not have much of an arsenal with rush moves. Tends to be repetitive with his moves and relies primarily on his athleticism and quickness to beat blocks. Needs to improve variation of hand tech. Good functional strength and anchors well against the run. Displays fast closing speed in pursuit or when hunting down a quarterback. Shows impressive leg drive and the strength to collapse a pocket with a bull rush.    

As much as I love Clowney as a player, I wonder about where he would fit in their 3-4 defensive front. As athletic as Clowney may be, he is largely unproven and could be too large to play outside linebacker and too lean to anchor the line opposite J.J. Watt.

This presents a considerable conundrum for Houston. So much so that it was partly the reason the Texans parted ways with the previously mentioned Mario Williams a few years earlier. Like Clowney, Williams simply didn’t fit in their defensive scheme which, despite his immense talent, made him expendable.


Blake Bortles

The front-runner for the top spot seems to be Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, who helped his case in the sweepstakes by putting on an impressive show at his combine, showing the leadership and confidence under pressure teams look for in their franchise quarterback.

Though raw and at times inconsistent, Bortles is the QB prospect with the highest upside in this draft, displaying prototypical size (6’5”, 232) and the arm strength to make any throw with relative ease.

Bortles also displayed the toughness and poise to carry his team on his shoulders while competing against much more talented opponents. This form of leadership is something NFL executives covet, and rightly so.

He completed 67.8 percent of his passes in 2013 while passing for 25 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

Bortles has a bright future as an NFL quarterback but may require a few years to really make the transition and become efficient enough to take over games. If his potential is fully realized he may end up being the best prospect in this draft.

With that said, I see more potential for a bust in Bortles than I do with the other two prospects mentioned. For this reason, I would not advise the Texans to draft prototypical size and potential over a guy with unparalleled instincts and intangibles.  

I know McClain sounds pretty convinced that the Texans are only going quarterback here, but keep in mind the aforementioned tweet is from March 6, and a lot can change from then until the draft.

Considering nobody views Manziel or Bortles to be on a par with an Andrew Luck-type prospect, some feel Houston would be crazy to pass on Clowney for a quarterback. The Texans could take Clowney and see if Bridgewater or Manziel miraculously slides to them at pick No. 33, or they can trade back into the first round and snag their quarterback. 

This is a risky move if they hope to acquire either Manziel, Bortles or Bridgewater. Though there is a chance they can slide, it seems the more reasonable expectation is that they will be gone midway through the first round.

If the Texans are unable to trade out of the first pick, which is likely the case, they’ll be forced to decide between taking a potential franchise quarterback or one of the most physically gifted prospects in years. 

Being able to have their cake and eat it too might be a possibility without a trade scenario, but it won’t involve the big three names at quarterback.

At the end of the day, I think the pick the Texans need and the pick I would pull the trigger on is Johnny Manziel.

Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and currently writes for Bleacher Report.

For more draft discussion follow him on Twitter


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