Assigning Odds to Every Potential Houston Texans 1st-Round Pick
All the speculation surrounding the Houston Texans first-round pick is due to the fact they get to choose the very first player. This may leave the field wide open to them, but it doesn't make a decision any easier. If the 2014 draft had a prospect who approached the acclaim of Andrew Luck, assigning odds to the Texans’ potential selection would be a slam dunk.
Because that level of confidence is lacking, a little historical perspective might help narrow down the probabilities. A quarterback has been taken No. 1 in 10 of the last 14 drafts, which would indicate either Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel will be the first name called.
But the presence of a defender who may be a “once-in-a-generation talent” makes this draft class different from any other in recent memory.
Jadeveon Clowney offers some exceptional tangibles that are counterbalanced by a confusing set of intangibles. The question for NFL prognosticators of every type is whether Clowney’s speed and size are enough to compensate for his unproductive junior season and doubts about his commitment to the game.
An added complication is the possibility the Texans could trade out of the top spot. The key determinant is whether Clowney or one of the quarterbacks is so desirable to another team that sacrificing additional draft choices is worth the cost.
Odds will be assigned based on Houston both retaining the top overall pick and moving down to accumulate more players in the lower rounds.
The three organizations that have been mentioned most often in negotiations for the No. 1 pick are the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons, who all pick in the top six. The Buffalo Bills were in the mix, according to Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report, but their first-round spot at No. 9 is just not as attractive.
For a team to trade up, draft capital and the desperation to use it are prerequisites. St. Louis and Cleveland have the capital in the form of two first-round picks apiece. Atlanta has half the capital with just the sixth pick in the first round but are anxious to upgrade its pass rush.
The Rams, with the second and 13th picks, are probably not in the market for a hotshot pass-rusher like Clowney since they already have a great young one in Robert Quinn and an established veteran in Chris Long.
If head coach Jeff Fisher really has his heart set on replacing the overpaid and underproductive Sam Bradford at quarterback, he has two shots at drafting a new one and no incentive to cut a deal.
The Browns give the appearance of a franchise in chaos except on the defensive side of the ball, where they re-signed safety T.J Ward and free agents Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby. There has not been a Pro Bowl quality quarterback in Cleveland since Bernie Kosar way back in the days before the late Art Modell moved the original outfit to Baltimore.
Browns general manager Ray Farmer has the fourth and 26th picks, but no one knows which quarterback he might have in his sights. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com told Adam Lefkoe of the B/R Team Stream back in February that Johnny Manziel was the likely target.
In an online chat with Browns fans on April 6, Cabot was convinced Derek Carr would be taken at No. 4. She said that might all change after Manziel has his private workout for Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine over this coming weekend.
While Matt Ryan will be the Falcons quarterback for years to come, it is their defense that needs the most attention. OurLads.com lists defensive ends Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Babineaux, along with outside linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann as the team’s main pass rush components.
That depth chart qualifies as desperate when it comes to putting pressure on opposing passers. Atlanta needs Clowney even more than the Texans do, but how far will it go to acquire him?
Not very far if history is our guide. Only three times in the last 30 years has the first overall selection been traded. Michael Vick was the target of the last swap of its kind in 2001, when the San Diego Chargers traded the first overall pick to Atlanta for the Falcons’ first-round choice at No. 5 in addition to a third-rounder plus a second-round pick in 2002.
The Texans might open to a similar deal, except all the picks would have to come in this year’s draft. The depth in this group of prospects is too good to gamble on who might be available in 2015.
He is still the odds-on favorite to be the first man called out of the green room on May 8. That would make Clowney the first defensive player summoned first since Mario Williams in 2006. Clowney would be only the second defensive player in the last 20 years to lead off the proceedings, the other being one of the all-time busts, Dan Wilkinson, in 1994.
John McClain of the Houston Chronicle finally hitched a ride on the bandwagon, placing Clowney at the top of his mock draft for the first time. There are still some holdouts proclaiming their loyalty to Bortles: Todd McShay of ESPN.com, Chris Burke of SI.com, and Eric Galko of Sporting News.com.
Most of the news pertaining to this soon-to-be-rich man was less than complimentary.
NJ.com, fast becoming the premier site for unattributed NFL dirt, quotes an unnamed NFC executive:
He’s spoiled, and he’s lazy. He’s never worked hard a day in his life, now all of a sudden you’re going to give him a bunch of money and expect him to work hard. I don’t see it.’’
An anonymous scout told Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report that Clowney’s decision not to hold any more private workouts was “gutless.” This could be nothing more than an attempt to lower his draft stock, which has been on the rise ever since the combine back in February.
The ACL injury suffered by Clemson guard Brandon Thomas no doubt influenced the decision to shut it down. Clowney may be open to one more light workout with “…no heavy lifting. Nothing that will risk injury.” Just like LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger worked out in helmet and pads a la Manziel, this decision could be precedent setting.
Right now, the odds are better that even the Texans will hold on to the No. 1 pick and select the defensive end from South Carolina. If they trade down, it means another team wants Clowney enough to swap first-round spots and offer at least two extra picks in return. Rick Smith and Bill O'Brien will then go for one of the top three quarterbacks or Khalil Mack.
If the Texans hold on to the first pick: 60 percent
If the Texans trade the first pick: zero percent
There must be a mock draft somewhere out there that has Manziel or Bridgewater as the selection for Houston. The majority list Clowney or Bortles.
The case for Bortles goes like a playlist on repeat: good size, adequate arm, shaky mechanics, his head coach and the Texans head coach are buddies, Central Florida beat Penn State 34-31 in 2013, etc.
The bottom line is you can’t coach height, and at 6’5”, Bortles is the only one of the top three quarterbacks who fits the physical stereotype of an NFL field general. Bridgewater may have a higher football IQ and better accuracy with his passes. Manziel may be an electrifying playmaker with the ability to turn a lead into gold with the ball in his hands.
Bortles will have to prove he can take a pounding and pick up the system at a rapid pace. He will also unlearn such bad habits as throwing off his back foot and not squaring up his shoulders when he finally settles on his target.
Dan Graziano of ESPN.com, in an article titled “Don't envy Texans' draft situation,” made an insightful observation about the emotions inherent in trying to resurrect your franchise when there is no standout quarterback available:
We don't know what the Texans are going to do with that first pick on May 8, but whatever they do is going to leave them with a sick feeling in their collective stomach. At the end of this draft, as at the beginning, they are still going to be wondering whether they have the answer to their most important question.
Somewhere in the Texans office complex there is a cabinet stocked with Tums, Maalox, Prilosec and every gastrointestinal remedy available. Because that feeling has been part of the daily grind ever since their brain trust started evaluating this quarterback class.
If the Texans hold on to the first pick: 30 percent
If the Texans trade the first pick: 25 percent
Manziel and polarizing go together like peanut butter and jelly. What, you say it’s like peanut butter and chocolate? Well, that’s Johnny Football for you.
His dazzling pro day no doubt set him apart, but not in the way he expected. Being unconventional may draw the attention of the public, but NFL coaches and scouts are not fans of the unconventional.
Unconventional is the equivalent of unpredictable. While that may help Manziel pull plays out of his backside in an SEC game, it wreaks havoc with the business-like approach of the professional arena.
Bortles will be expected to refine the way he sets up and throws the football, a minor modification that requires a minimum of coaching and lot of repetition by the quarterback. Manziel will have to fight his natural urge to scurry out of the pocket whenever he feels pressure, and not turn his back to the defense until he finds a piece of open field to do his thing.
This may be an unfair assessment of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s ability to adapt. Anyone who has watched Drew Brees or Russell Wilson will say their lack of height forces them to find space in which to operate, but that has not hampered their effectiveness.
But neither of those Super Bowl winners has attempted to trademark their nickname. That is the sort of distraction that most coaches would prefer to avoid.
Mock drafts should be mocked when their praise or criticism gets out of whack. Such as when Matthew Fairburn of SB Nation has Manziel going to the Arizona Cardinals at No. 20. Or Eric Galko of SportingNews.com drops him to No. 26 and into the clutches of the Cleveland Browns.
It would be unfair to place all the blame on Fairburn or Galko for putting such a unique talent so low on the totem pole. All they are doing is trying to think like the people who actually make these business/personnel decisions.
The Texans were never truly in pursuit of Manziel at the top of the draft. When a team has a new coach, the first overall pick and is trying to come back from a 2-14 season, that is some serious business.
However, if O’Brien is serious about drafting two quarterbacks, there is a outside chance Johnny Football can play closer to home.
If the Texans hold on to the first pick: 0 percent
If the Texans trade the first pick: 25 percent
A 3-4 defense does not usually employ 266-pound defensive ends. They can try to convert them into an “elephant,” which is a combination of outside linebacker and defensive end.
This is the “Willie McGinest” role that has been frequently discussed for Clowney. McGinest had to make the same transition from college that is being asked of Clowney: go from playing in a three-point stance all the time to occasionally playing in a two-point stance as well. It can be quite a change, having to learn pass coverages and chasing running backs down from behind.
On the off chance the Texans trade out of the first pick and lose out on Clowney, they are still going to need an outside linebacker. If they still have a pick in the top six, Mack would be a fine consolation prize.
Mack excelled at tackles for loss, tying the FBS record with 75 for his career. While he did not play against the highest level of competition, that instinct for penetration can be harnessed into pass-rushing skills off the edge.
NFL Media analyst Charles Davis feels Mack is more suited to the Texans defense than Clowney:
Yes, he is a better fit. If you take a Jadeveon Clowney and are thinking about making him that hybrid outside linebacker, in addition to rushing the passer that he does so well, you're taking away some of his gifts. That's not what he does best.”
If the Texans hold on to the first pick: 10 percent
If the Texans trade the first pick: 50 percent
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