2014 NFL Draft: Pros and Cons of Every Potential Top Overall Pick
The 2014 NFL draft is still a few weeks away. However, the Houston Texans, who currently own the draft's No. 1 overall pick, are already on the clock.
Unless the team decides to trade the top pick away, the Texans will have their choice of every single player in this year's class. While there are several talented players with the potential to change a franchise among the group, only a few are truly worthy of becoming the top overall pick.
Over the next few pages, we will examine these select few and weigh the positives and negatives each brings to the table.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is an athletic freak of a pass-rusher who would have a major impact for the Texans or any team willing to trade up for him.
Clowney can be an absolute terror on the football field, both as a pass-rusher and a run defender. He possesses the rarest of athleticism and could become one of the game's best overall defenders once he finds a way to refine his technique.
The defensive star ran an obscene 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, along with an impressive 37.5" vertical jump and 124" broad jump. On top of that, his pro day was so impressive that it prompted draft analyst Mike Mayock to simply call him a "special, special talent."
All of this suggests Clowney has the speed and explosiveness to impact virtually every defensive play. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has essentially described him as a once-in-a-generation type of player.
There are really few questions about Clowney's physical ability and talent on the field. The only doubts surround his work ethic and motivation, especially after he only registered three sacks in 2013.
According to The Times of Trenton writer Mark Eckel, some personnel executives believe Clowney's lack of motivation will be enough to cause him to be a bust in the NFL.
"He’s spoiled, and he’s lazy," one unnamed personnel man said. "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."
Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has the look and skill set of a prototypical NFL quarterback. His raw talent will likely be attractive to any team in need of a quarterback, including the Texans.
Bortles has ideal size (listed at 6'5" and 232 pounds by NFL.com) and adequate arm strength, which is why he is in the conversation to go No. 1 overall despite his small-school status.
He has used his talent to produce on the field, passing for 6,640 yards and 50 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He tossed only 16 interceptions in that same span, which suggests he has a solid grasp on the concepts of pass placement and ball control.
While Bortles does possess adequate athleticism, he is mostly regarded as a dropback pocket passer. Coincidentally, that appears to be exactly the type of quarterback new head coach Bill O'Brien will want for his offense, according to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland.
Bortles is relatively raw, with only two years as a full-time collegiate starter on his resume. He might have benefited from another year of college and will likely benefit from spending a season or two developing on an NFL sideline.
There are also some questions about the level of competition Bortles faced at Central Florida. The fact that he operated primarily out of shotgun and will need to improve working under center is another concern.
Rotoworld's Evan Silva surprisingly has Bortles dropping to the Texans in the first pick of the second round in a recent mock draft. Though he may eventually become one of the more successful quarterbacks out of this class, Bortles appears to be a developmental prospect and a bit of a reach at No. 1.
Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson is strong, athletic and talented. He would be an attractive first-ever pick for Bill O'Brien because of his potential to anchor an offensive line for the next decade.
Robinson is the offensive equivalent of Jadeveon Clowney in that he is a physical monster at the point of attack. Robinson is a big-bodied mauler (6'5", 332 pounds), yet he is surprisingly quick and explosive.
He ran a very respectable 4.92-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and produced an impressive 113" broad jump. He has elite run-blocking potential with the athleticism and savvy to develop into a cornerstone pass-protector as well.
NFL Media analyst Charley Casserly recently compared Robinson to Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.
"Even though Robinson is behind Williams as a pass-blocker, I think Robinson still has the ability to pass block right now and probably has a bigger upside because of his size and strength," he said, via NFL.com's Daniel Kim.
Like Clowney, Robinson is still a relatively raw prospect. With only two collegiate seasons under his belt, he will need to refine his technique at the pro level.
This is especially true in pass protection, where Robinson can struggle at times. He certainly has the ability and raw talent to improve in this area and develop into a premier blindside protector. However, shaky pass protection should be a genuine concern for any team looking at left tackles at the top of the draft.
Bleacher Report featured columnist Cian Fahey recently provided an excellent breakdown of Robinson and suggests that his play on the field "isn't worthy of a top-five pick."
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is one of the draft's most polarizing prospects. He brings the talent and the excitement level to energize a franchise, though his unorthodox style of play does carry concerns.
Manziel is a playmaker and a winner. While he has drawn attention for his scrambling (2,169 yards rushing over the past two seasons) and ability to create plays on the fly, Manziel is a vastly underrated passer.
He possesses above-average arm strength and accuracy. He completed 69.9 percent of his passes last season and 68 percent as a freshman in 2012. His passer ratings in 2012 and 2013 were 155.3 and 172.9, respectively.
Dynamic both on and off the field, Manziel seems custom-made to become the face of a franchise. He may be especially popular in Houston, which is about an hour-and-a-half away from College Station.
While Manziel's ability to scramble is an asset, it might also be a liability at the pro level. He will likely have to find a way to alter his game and run less in the NFL, especially due to his size.
Manziel lacks the ideal measurables for an NFL quarterback. While his height might not necessarily be a limiting factor (listed at just over 6'0"), his slight frame may. At just 207 pounds, he doesn't appear built to withstand repeated hits from NFL defenders.
Manziel told the Houston Chronicle that he thinks Russell Wilson has paved the way for shorter quarterbacks. "I think he's kicked the door wide open," Manziel said. "You're seeing more guys being successful avoiding that first wave of pressure—get out and do things outside the pocket."
However, if Manziel cannot be a disciplined player inside the pocket, he could become a very real injury risk in the NFL.
Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack is by far one of the most dominant defensive players in this year's class and legitimately rivals Clowney as a blue-chip prospect. His versatility as an edge player may even make him a better fit for Houston's 3-4 scheme.
Mack is strong, quick (4.65-second 40 time) and explosive (40" vertical jump). This makes him perfect as an edge-rusher in the NFL.
However, Mack is a complete linebacker with the versatility to play inside or outside if called upon. He produced 100 total tackles and 10.5 sacks in 2013 alone, and his production did not dip against top-level competition. He had nine tackles and 2.5 sacks against Ohio State in Buffalo's season opener.
At 6'3" and 251 pounds, Mack has the size and the athleticism to thrive at the next level. If the Texans are not sold on Clowney, trading down and grabbing Mack could be another option.
While Mack did produce against big-name competition, there will be questions about his ability to make the transition from the MAC to the NFL. His production doesn't seem quite as impressive coming against the likes of Miami University and Bowling Green.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on The Dan Patrick Show that Mack is the most sure thing in this draft. Yet fans may see taking a Buffalo player over the likes of Clowney and Manziel as a reach.
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is one of the most impressive offensive playmakers in this draft and presents tremendous value, even at No. 1 overall. However, he may be more valuable to a team willing to trade up than the Texans, who spent a first-round pick on DeAndre Hopkins a year ago.
Watkins is a true No. 1 receiver and a downfield threat capable of changing the course of a game with a single play.
He amassed an impressive 14.5 yards-per-reception average in 2013 with a long of 96 yards. This is testament to Watkins' ability to stretch the field and make things happen after the catch. He ran the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.43 seconds at the scouting combine.
For any team lacking a legitimate No. 1 wideout, grabbing Watkins is a no-brainer. However, Houston is still leaning heavily on Andre Johnson in that role. Still, Watkins is one of the safer picks in the draft, according to Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller, and worthy of going first overall.
At 6'1" and 211 pounds, Watkins is far from the biggest receiver in this draft. There are a few questions about his ability to dominate physically at the pro level.
Along with the fact that the Texans may see more value in another position, this is why Houston may not consider Watkins a true candidate at No. 1.
The Texans are only a year removed from being a playoff team. Adding a franchise-caliber quarterback, a dominant pass-rusher or an elite lineman may get them back in the postseason picture faster than a receiver who would have to share the field with Hopkins and Johnson.