In most NFL drafts over the years, the prestige of being the first overall pick makes that selection the most talked about option in the draft. Oftentimes we know who it’s going to be, but sometimes it’s a mystery, and the mystique over who it might be makes the process even more delicious. Whoever gets taken No. 1 has a heavy burden to carry.
The 2014 NFL draft is similar in the fact that the first overall selection will carry a lot of weight, and we’re not sure yet who the Houston Texans will pick on May 8. There’s the normal pomp and circumstance surrounding this year’s first pick, but the importance of being No. 1 isn’t nearly as buzzworthy as what could happen with the second pick in the draft.
After Houston makes its selection at No. 1 (more on that in a moment), the next 10 minutes as the next pick is made will be the absolute turning point in the draft. The second pick in this year’s draft isn’t just important because of the talent that will be there. This pick could shake up the draft and eventually alter the course of multiple franchises.
Rarely do we see one pick in the draft identified as a make-or-break point, especially a pick as early as No. 2. But, because of the number of teams that could potentially trade up and own that pick, factored in with the notion that those teams could target this pick to draft such a wide variety of different players, the No. 2 overall pick is the most important pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
The No. 1 Pick
The Texans own the right to make the first selection in the 2014 draft. No one is sure who will be taken, but the general idea is that there are two different ways Houston can go.
Houston will likely either take former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or one of the top three quarterbacks: former UCF star Blake Bortles, former Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel or former Louisville passer Teddy Bridgewater.
There are two less likely options for Houston to consider as well.
Former Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack has been shooting up draft boards. NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock went on KFAN FM 100.3 at the NFL combine in February and said if he had the choice, Mack would be the No. 1 pick.
He's explosive off the edge, he's tough, he's twitchy, he's got a little edge about him.
[Mack] dominated Ohio State like nobody I've ever seen dominate them.
You talk about a kid like [Jadeveon] Clowney, who's just got superhuman abilities, versus this kid, and if I had a choice between the two, I think I'm taking Mack.
There’s an outside shot Mack could be the guy the Texans pick. There is also some thought that a team might move up to No. 1 in a trade to take Clowney. But more than likely, Houston will make the pick and it’ll be Clowney or a quarterback.
Houston’s selection will greatly affect what happens at No. 2.
The No. 2 Pick
It’s important to look at the first few picks of the NFL draft at this point. After the first pick, every team in the next 10 spots has at some point been rumored to be interested in moving up.
|2||St. Louis Rams (from Redskins)|
|7||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
The St. Louis Rams, because of their 2012 trade with the Redskins where Washington moved up to draft Robert Griffin III, own the No. 2 pick in the draft. The scenarios of what might happen with this second pick are mind-boggling.
“I think they’re always open,” Rams general manager Les Snead told Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about his willingness to trade down this year. “I don’t want to sit here and go — guess what, we’re trading back no matter what. You’ve always got to prepare for if you’re there and nobody wants to trade.”
If the Rams choose not to trade down, they could stay at No. 2 and go in a number of directions.
Who the Rams Could Take at No. 2
If St. Louis kept the second pick in the draft, the Rams probably wouldn’t take a quarterback. Sam Bradford hasn’t turned into the elite quarterback the Rams had hoped for when he was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, but there’s enough talent and upside there to keep St. Louis from picking a quarterback early.
With Robert Quinn and Chris Long attacking quarterbacks from both sides of St. Louis’ defensive line, a pass-rusher isn’t high on the Rams’ wish list. The duo combined for 27.5 sacks in 2013 and were both in the top 11 4-3 defensive ends in pass-rush productivity, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Quinn was the best 4-3 pass-rusher with 19 sacks, 21 hits and 51 quarterback hurries (91 total pressures). Long finished 11th with a combined 63 total pressures.
Even though Quinn and Long provide plenty of pass rush, if Clowney were to fall to No. 2, the Rams might take a look. Would any quarterback be safe if St. Louis could find a way to get all three pass-rushers on the field at the same time? And even if the trio rotated, how much more productive could they all be on fresher legs?
If Clowney was selected first overall, the Rams could still stay at No. 2 and take one of the top offensive tackles or former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The Rams have spent time with Watkins and former Auburn tackle Greg Robinson.
The more popular option for the Rams is for them to trade the No. 2 pick and move down in the draft. Who might come calling?
Just as important as who might be interested in the No. 2 pick if the Rams traded it is why. It’s the combination of who and why that makes the second overall pick so exciting and important.
The three most popular reasons a team might trade up to the No. 2 spot is to get Clowney (if the Texans pass on the defensive end and take a quarterback), to get Watkins or to grab a quarterback.
If Clowney is taken by the Texans, that obviously closes the door on one of those options. But it may open the door slightly for a different scenario. With Clowney gone at No. 1, there wouldn’t be as many suitors calling the Rams for a pass-rusher, but there still may be a few teams that could call with the idea of moving up to take Mack.
There are a number of different options in the draft when it comes to pass-rushers. But there are only two that are considered elite-level options from Day 1 in the NFL. If Clowney goes to the Texans, Mack could become a more sought-after commodity.
Who Might Trade Up for Clowney?
Any team with a bucket full of future draft picks to deal could consider trading up for Clowney; he’s an otherworldly talented athlete who could turn into one of the best pass-rushers of this generation.
Any team, from anywhere in the draft order, could consider this move. We’ve seen options from the outlandish to the insane.
The most frequently talked about option has been the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons have a desperate need for a pass-rusher, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff has never been shy about trading up in the draft to grab talent. In 2011 the Falcons moved up to grab wide receiver Julio Jones and then moved up again in 2013 to get cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Clowney even expressed his wish for the Falcons to trade up and draft him.
"I wish they could trade up for me," Clowney told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. "But I hope I don’t fall to No. 6. I like Atlanta – a lot. They’re pretty good. They’ve got some guys from South Carolina on the team, also. And it’s close to home."
Other suitors could be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are also in dire need of pass-rush help, and even the Detroit Lions.
Lions doing more homework for a possible trade into the top 5, this time hosting Jadeveon Clowney: http://t.co/zhCHoY4Q4Z— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) April 14, 2014
Clowney visited with the Lions on Wednesday and sparked an intense conversation littered with questions. Why would the Lions, who hold the 10th pick in the draft, waste their time and one of their 30 in-house visits on Clowney, who will be long gone by No. 10?
That question quickly turned to anticipation, as Kyle Meinke of the MLive Media Group posed the question: “Can you imagine a defensive line that featured Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah ... and Jadeveon Clowney?”
Who Might Trade Up for Watkins?
It doesn’t matter who the Texans take at No. 1 for some teams, because they have their sights set on Watkins.
With the chance that the Jacksonville Jaguars take Watkins to replace suspended receiver Justin Blackmon, any team that wants to ensure they get the best wide receiver in the draft should move up to No. 2.
When the Buccaneers traded Mike Williams to the Bills for a sixth-round draft pick on April 4, that move created a huge need at wide receiver for the team; a need it may address in the first round.
The Bucs could wait until they pick at No. 7 and take former Texas A&M standout Mike Evans, or they could move up in a deal with the Rams and pair Watkins with Vincent Jackson to create an imposing one-two punch at receiver.
An even more dynamic duo would be created if the Lions traded up for Watkins and put him out on the field with Calvin Johnson. Quarterback Matthew Stafford would have to consider himself the luckiest guy in the NFL if that happened.
Marcus Thompson II of the San Jose Mercury News wrote that the answer for the Raiders in the first round is Watkins. Thompson wrote this article with the idea that Watkins would be available when the Raiders picked at No. 5. That might not be the case any longer. If Oakland wants Watkins, and it definitely needs a receiver, it will have to move up to get him.
Who Might Trade Up for a Quarterback?
The early portion of the draft is riddled with teams that need a quarterback. In the first 11 picks, six teams—Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Minnesota and Tennessee—could pull the trigger.
There’s a problem though. There are only three quarterbacks projected to go in the first half of the first round. Whichever team wants to make sure it gets a quarterback is going to have to trade up to get him.
The Texans won’t have to trade up. If they pass on Clowney and address their need for a passer, they’ll have the pick of the litter. If that happens, and a quarterback falls off the board at No. 1, St. Louis’ phone will ring off the hook.
Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater all have first-round grades, although Manziel’s is questionable depending on whom you ask and Bridgewater’s stock may be dropping because of his predraft workouts. With a quarterback going first in the draft, there would only be two first-round options left for the remaining quarterback-needy teams.
During the “Cleveland Browns Daily” show on the Browns’ official website, the hosts debated whether or not Cleveland should move up from its spot at No. 4 to get the quarterback it wants.
The Vikings could be another option to move up to get a quarterback.
If Bortles is the No. 1 quarterback on Minnesota’s draft board, and the Texans take someone other than Bortles (Clowney, Mack, Bridgewater or Manziel), Minnesota might move up from No. 8 to grab the former UCF star.
Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel are likely not the long-term answer for the Vikings. Bortles could come in and challenge immediately for the starting job or carry a clipboard for a season and learn the Vikings’ system and figure out the speed of the NFL in backup duty.
Jacksonville, Oakland and Tennessee are also in a rough spot at the quarterback position.
The Jaguars sit at No. 3 in the draft and have other options if two quarterbacks are taken ahead of them. The Raiders traded for quarterback Matt Schaub, lessening the need to use their fifth pick in the draft (or move up) on a quarterback. With no third-round pick and many needs besides the quarterback position, Tennessee might not be suited for a move up in the draft.
There are a great number of options for the second pick in the draft. From which team will eventually make the pick to which player will eventually be selected, the questions surrounding this pick make it one of the most exciting predraft conversations around.
Because of the fortunes that could be won or lost, and the direction any trade could steer two NFL franchises in (the Rams, if they trade the pick, and their trading partner), the No. 2 overall pick in the draft is the most important selection on the board.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.