Every team would like to have the No. 1 selection in the draft. Except the team that has it, that is.
Without an Andrew Luck falling from the heavens, it can get complicated. And it appears to be somewhat complicated for the Texans this spring.
Blake Bortles? Teddy Bridgewater? Jadeveon Clowney? Khalil Mack? Johnny Manziel? Greg Robinson? Sammy Watkins?
Here are some of the factors Texans general manager Rick Smith has to consider as he ponders one of the most important decisions of his professional life.
By far the Texans' biggest need also is the most important position in the game: quarterback. They traded Matt Schaub and are looking at journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as their opening day starter unless they find someone better in the draft.
They could use a 3-4 outside linebacker as well. But they can get by at that position without adding an immediate starter.
"The Texans have boxed themselves in," one longtime front-office man said. "They have no quarterback, so they have to look real hard."
I liked what Mike Holmgren told Peter King in his MMQB column about teams that don't have a quarterback. "You've got to take one," Holmgren said. "You've got to, unfortunately."
For the Texans, drafting a quarterback is just a matter of when—but they can't wait too long.
The presence of Bill O'Brien
One of the primary reasons Bob McNair hired O'Brien to be his head coach is O'Brien's understanding of the quarterback position. O'Brien worked magic with Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg at Penn State.
O'Brien's presence might mean the Texans feel as if they don't have to force a QB pick. But Smith will want to give O'Brien the specific hunk of clay that is most appealing to him. If O'Brien thinks there is a second-round quarterback he can have success with, it may be most beneficial to wait 32 picks. "Are the quarterbacks they will be able to get in the second round that much different?" asked an NFC talent evaluator. "My guess is they take a quarterback in the second."
NFL teams have to be careful with this line of thinking, though. Coaches can only do so much. Tom Brady played exceptionally well under O'Brien, but it is worth noting that before O'Brien ever worked directly with Brady, the Patriots quarterback had already won three Super Bowls and an MVP award.
With the first pick in the draft, teams want as close to a sure thing as possible. So the more bust potential a player has, the less desirable he may be to the Texans, regardless of how much potential for greatness the player has.
Many scouts believe Clowney is the most gifted player in this class and has more potential for greatness than any other prospect. But many also are in agreement that he has potential to bust.
"Can you trust Clowney?" the longtime front-office man said. "He can do anything he wants to. He's Julius Peppers or Jevon Kearse. But Clowney never had to work for anything. There aren't many great ones with his mental makeup. I question if Clowney has the fierce competitiveness that all the great ones have. I don't see it."
Clowney raised expectations going into last fall, and then failed to meet them. "I can't remember a guy who has underperformed quite like him," a college scouting director said. "What he did last year was concerning."
The NFC talent evaluator said he would take Clowney with the first pick if he had it. "He didn't finish every play, but he did finish a lot of them," he said. "There is a bust factor. But isn't there one with the quarterbacks? No quarterback is worth the first pick."
Manziel and Bridgewater don't have prototypical quarterback bodies. Teams are concerned about Manziel's playboy lifestyle and ability to stay healthy. His playing style would require a flexible coaching plan. Bridgewater's arm strength is average. So there is bust potential with both of them.
"I love Manziel," the longtime front-office man said. "But you can miss big with him."
The players in the discussion who are the safest picks are probably Robinson, Mack and Bortles. "The worst you probably get with Bortles is another Schaub," the longtime front-office man said.
There are indications O'Brien is willing to show flexibility in his offensive system based on the talents of the quarterback. But would he be willing enough to photocopy the Texas A&M playbook? That's what it might take to maximize Manziel.
It may be easier for O'Brien to work with a quarterback who has less than ideal measurables, like Bridgewater, than it would be for him to work with a completely unconventional quarterback, like Manziel. Bortles would fit any scheme.
On the other side of the ball, Mack would be the best fit for the Texans' biggest need—3-4 outside linebacker. He has done it before, and done it well. That is not to say Clowney would not fit. "Clowney can do anything," the NFC talent evaluator said. "But putting him in a 3-4 is a slight projection."
Depth in subsequent rounds
The net gain of a pass-rusher in the first and a quarterback in the second probably is more attractive than a quarterback in the first and a pass-rusher in the second. The drop-off between the top three quarterbacks and the fourth or fifth quarterback is much less significant than the drop-off between the best two pass-rushers and the rest.
But Smith has to take them one at a time.
His best play, assuming there is interest, undoubtedly is a trade down. If a team wants Clowney, the Texans can drop from the second through sixth picks and still end up with a high-quality player who fills a need. And they wouldn't necessarily have to exact a ransom in return.
A trade down can provide multiple solutions for the Texans. Now all they need is a partner.
• UCLA pass-rusher Anthony Barr visited the Cowboys last week and was quoted on the Cowboys website saying he thinks defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli wants him to play right defensive end. If the Cowboys made Barr their first-round pick, he would have to play defensive end in their 4-3, but the truth is the Cowboys have yet to conclude if they are completely comfortable with Barr as a down lineman. Their initial evaluation was that Barr would be best as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but they have been revisiting that of late. The Cowboys are not alone in being perplexed by Barr. Some evaluators believe he has to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 in order to be maximized. Others think he has the length and athleticism to develop into a 4-3 defensive end in a scheme like the one Marinelli uses in Dallas. The problem is Barr never has played with his hand down, and no one knows if he will be able to learn to shed a blocker and make a tackle from a down position. The Cowboys are trying to determine if Barr has the capacity to put more weight on (he weighed 255 at the combine).
• Teams looking for size in the draft have been intrigued by two players from Tennessee, but the draft stock of both offensive tackle Antonio Richardson and defensive tackle Daniel McCullers could be affected by knee problems. Richardson has the ability to be a second-round consideration, and McCullers could be a fourth-round consideration based on his potential and body of work. Each has rare size. Richardson is 6'6", 326 lbs. McCullers is 6'7", 348. But the issue is if teams are going to feel comfortable with how that size will affect knees that already are problematic. Richardson also has hip issues. Both players have being downgraded by some teams.
• At one point, Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson had a chance to be chosen as high as the second round of the draft. For that to happen, he needed a strong postseason. But that has not happened. He did not play well at the Senior Bowl and was not impressive in interviews. Then he cut his pro day workout short, allegedly because he was ill. At this point many NFL teams are looking at Henderson as a late-round pick at best.
One of the worst-kept secrets of the upcoming draft is teams are planning to pounce on running backs in the fourth to sixth rounds. Part of the reason is there aren't many running backs who justify higher picks. And part of the reason is teams believe they can make a running game work with a runner who either is not complete or has some average in him.
Front-office men believe about seven running backs will go in the first 100 picks, which is the first three rounds. And then the run on runners will begin. Here are the running backs who could comprise that run, categorized by factors that could prevent them from going higher. It is worth keeping in mind that each of these players has redeeming qualities that could give them true value at the NFL level.
Lack of top-end ability: Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky; Alfred Blue, LSU; David Fluellen, Toledo; Tyler Gaffney, Stanford; Marion Grice, Arizona State; Rajion Neal, Tennessee; Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina.
In the cases of Andrews and Fluellen, speed is the issue. Andrews ran a 4.82 40-yard dash at the combine; Fluellen clocked in at 4.72.
"Andrews was productive, but that can be misleading," one scouting director said. "He lacks top end speed."
One veteran scout said Fluellen "won't make many long runs."
The scouting director expressed surprise with Gaffney's 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine because he said he did not play that fast. Grice, who is coming off a broken fibula, recently ran a 4.68 40-yard dash.
Lack of size: Dri Archer, Kent State (5'8", 173); Devonta Freeman, Florida State (5'8", 206); LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (5'7", 195); De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (5'9", 174); James White, Wisconsin (5'9", 204).
These backs are too small to be considered workhorses or three-down players. But some of them have special abilities. Archer's spectacular combine workout, which included a 4.26 40-yard dash, saw him rise up many boards.
"Playing through injuries is a potential issue with him," one talent evaluator said.
A front-office man noted Perkins is put together well but said durability is a potential issue.
Thomas needs open space to be effective, which is why many teams are considering him a wide receiver, not a running back.
Freeman and White are more short than small, but the fear is they don't have the bulk to take an NFL pounding.
"Freeman is powerful, and he plays bigger than he is, but a lot of people think he's just a gadget back," a national scout said.
Another said White has short legs, short arms and small hands. Blitz pickup is a concern with White and Freeman.
Small school: Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern; Terrance West, Towson.
Going against lesser talent made these backs a little difficult to project. Complicating matters for McKinnon is that he is a converted quarterback who played in an option-style offense.
"I think he's a diamond in the rough," a national scout said. "He has some juice to him."
West has risen on some boards and could be chosen before the fourth round.
Off-the-field concerns: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona; Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State; James Wilder Jr., Florida State.
Carey was charged with misdemeanor assault against his pregnant girlfriend. The charge was dropped. He also has a suspension in his past. Wilder has a history of questionable judgments and run-ins with the law. Crowell also had some missteps that resulted in his dismissal from Georgia.
• An unnamed NFL executive referred to Jadeveon Clowney as "spoiled" and "lazy." Some suspect that shortly thereafter, the executive started calling around to see if he could trade up to acquire him.
• When an oyster is subjected to an irritant, it produces a pearl. This must be the Giants' hope with Tom Coughlin and Josh Freeman.
• Perhaps the Dolphins' new analytics department can figure out how one plus one never equaled two in the Richie Incognito affair.
Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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