Who Are the Experts Predicting to Texans in the First Round of NFL Draft?
Now that pro day workouts are winding down, it is time for the predictions of the NFL draft experts to take over. The “draftnik industrial complex” (a tip of the hat to Bleacher Report’s Andrew Garda for that one) can start churning out mock drafts based largely on opinion as opposed to 40-yard times and the smokescreen quotes of head coaches and general managers.
The Houston Texans still hold the first pick, though Adam Schefter has reported the “Falcons are first team known to be willing to go up.” Dan Kadar, NFL draft editor of SB Nation, concurred by writing “If the Atlanta Falcons want South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, general manager Thomas Dimitroff may have to trade with the Houston Texans for the top choice.”
Greg Bedard of MMQB must think the Texans will hold on to the top spot. As far as draft day goes, Bedard believes “The Rams, who own picks No. 2 and No. 13, might hold the key to unlocking the drama.”
Let us proceed as if the Texans will keep their preeminent position in a draft that has a wealth of talent but only one preordained superstar. Just who that superstar is will be evident as the votes pile up for the No. 1 overall selection.
Jadeveon Clowney: Matt Miller, Jesse Reed
Blake Bortles: Andrew Garda
The post-combine mock draft by Miller put Bortles on top. Upon further review of actual game video, Bleacher Report’s top draft expert concluded “he absolutely terrifies me.” Bortles needs to make numerous improvements to become a starting caliber NFL quarterback. Miller likened his footwork to that of Blaine Gabbert, the most damning comparison that can be made when analyzing contemporary passers.
Miller touts Clowney as a “once-in-a-decade talent” and thinks “waiting to select a quarterback at the top of the second round is the best way for Houston to get impact, value, depth and the most possible potential from their top two picks.”
Bortles still has enough potential to intrigue Garda:
While he has a smooth release and can make every throw, he doesn’t have elite arm strength and his mechanics need some work. Ultimately, though, scouts saw more of the good than the bad near the end of UCF’s season…and they walked away impressed with him and his decision to throw in Indianapolis.
The biggest selling point for the 6’5”, 232-pound quarterback is he looks the part, more so than the spindly Teddy Bridgewater, who Garda still calls “the top quarterback in the NFL draft.”
Reed sees Clowney as a player who can help fix the biggest problem with the Texans defense last season. The only pass-rush came from J.J. Watt and the departed Antonio Smith, and if Houston could “rush the passer from multiple spots on the line, (that) would give the Texans the ability to dominate the defensive side of the ball once again after a difficult 2013 campaign.”
Blake Bortles: Todd McShay
Jadeveon Clowney: Mel Kiper
The last mock draft from McShay was in March, just after the NFL combine. His assessment of Bortles was fairly standard, stating “He has the prototypical size and mental makeup that Houston is looking for, and my guess is that his weaknesses -- consistency and ball placement -- are things that Texans coach Bill O'Brien thinks he can fix.”
The connection between O’Brien and Bortles’ coach at the University of Central Florida, George O’Leary, was emphasized by McShay. While the quarterback’s deficiencies can be seen by anyone on video, O’Leary can be brutally honest about his leadership and work habits with a man he hired as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech back in 1995.
Kiper acknowledges the Texans have to draft a quarterback, but has them taking Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. If Houston is going to have to develop an NFL-quality QB from raw material, why not wait and grab someone with a release like Dan Marino?
A chartered member of the “draftnik industrial complex,” Kiper is convinced Clowney is too good to pass up:
Quarterback is obviously a big need, but I'm simply not willing to forgo the high likelihood of stardom for Clowney -- at a critical position no less -- for the risk associated with taking one of the available quarterbacks so high. Romeo Crennel and Bill O'Brien are smart enough to find a way for Clowney to be effective -- and he will be special.
"Find a way to be effective” is code for someone who does not have a definitive position in a 3-4 defense. Can Clowney be a three-down contributor from the start, or will he have to be developed into a hybrid player that performs equally well on the line and at linebacker?
Blake Bortles: Bryan Fischer
It was March 20 when Jeremiah last updated his mock draft, about midway through the pro day schedule. What occurred at the University of South Carolina pro day on April 2 probably cemented his judgment: “The buzz is building for Blake Bortles to land in this spot, but I'm holding to my belief that the Texans will take the best available talent and that's Clowney.”
Jeremiah brought Willie McGinest on as a guest for The Path to the Draft to explain the “McGinest role,” i.e., “a versatile player who does lot of different things in a lot of defensive fronts.” The prototypical “elephant” defensive end went on to say, “Romeo Crennel kind of crafts his defenses according to his (player’s) talents.”
This role would have Clowney play outside linebacker on some downs then have him put “his hand in the dirt” on others. It would also require learning when to drop into coverage, stay home to seal the edge on running plays and how to use his hands and foot speed to beat offensive tackles to the punch.
The quarterback prospects do not impress Brooks, who sides with Kiper on where the best of them should be drafted: “With the 2014 draft loaded with Pro Bowl-caliber position players and full of question marks at quarterback, I believe we could see more teams pause before selecting a developmental prospect at the top of the draft.”
Brooks linked to an article by Albert Breer that took a second look at the 2011 quarterback class of Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. The clear parallel to 2014 is whether the questions about the current trio of Johnny Manizel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater have teams too spooked to take them very high.
Matt Smith titled his mock draft 4.0 of April 3, “Bortles in free fall” and dropping him to the 26th selection. Bryan Fischer is still on board with Bortles: “Tough to pass up a talent like Clowney, but Bortles has the physical tools to develop into a franchise QB.” That key word “develop” means different things to different people. Texans fans want to know: What is Bill O’Brien’s definition?
Blake Bortles: Rob Rang, Dane Brugler
Jadeveon Clowney: Pete Prisco, Pat Kirwan, Will Brinson
For a high school history teacher who moonlights as a draft expert, Rang appears incapable of incorporating the skills of his day job into his hobby. He leads off his draft analysis by misstating the impact of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career: "Trading away Matt Schaub and signing veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is respected for his willingness to mentor young quarterbacks, are the latest indications of the Texans' plans. Bortles' perceived upside and O'Brien's offense make the UCF product the logical fit for Houston."
Which young quarterbacks is Rang referring to? What magic did Fitzpatrick work with Trent Edwards or Tyler Thigpen during his four seasons with the Buffalo Bills? The lone season he spent with the Tennessee Titans did not lead to a quantum leap in Jake Locker’s capabilities. If Rang can’t get that straight, his prediction for the Texans could be just as far off.
Will Brinson seems to think Charlie Casserly is still arranging the draft board in Houston:
We saw a similar conundrum for Houston back when they faced a decision between Reggie Bush, Vince Young and Mario Williams. The world thought they were crazy for taking Williams at the time but it was absolutely the right decision. The Texans need a quarterback (once again) but Clowney's the guy.
It was Casserly and not the current GM Rick Smith who made the Williams pick. Using a minor coincidence in draft classes as the basis for who the Texans will select is a stretch, to say the least.
John McClain has been covering professional football for the Houston Chronicle since 1977. You would think that a wily veteran like that would be too jaded to succumb to the charms of an Aggie quarterback who doesn’t even break the 6-foot mark.
It took the four days McClain spent with Manziel while training at George Whitfield’s Athletix quarterback camp to break through that crusty exterior. In the video above, the beat writer for the Houston Texans says nothing about his exploits on the field. Instead, he talks about how Manziel dealt with people, had left behind the Johnny Football persona and being worthy of selection as the top pick in the draft.
One article in the four-part series dealt with the preparation for his pro day at Texas A&M, which turned into a prime example of how football has become entertainment as much as an athletic competition. Mike Zimmer, head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, characterized the event as a “sideshow.” No one can say it was not designed for maximum effect, from the blaring rap music to Manziel wearing helmet and pads.
The bigger question comes down to whether the iconoclastic quarterback can be just as spectacular when he is not in charge of the show. New Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine asked:
The thing with him is, can he play in structure? His plays are made when he gets out of structure. I don't think there is any reason to think that he can't.
That would be the next step in the evolution of the most polarizing and compelling player to come out of college football of this generation.