Passing on a quarterback is difficult when you don't have one. Quarterback is not only the most important position in football, but the most important position in any sport. Unfortunately for the Houston Texans, there isn't a quarterback available worth taking with the first overall pick.
No prospect is a sure thing but even the top quarterbacks in this class have far too many question marks to be considered the top overall player.
Blake Bortles was very inconsistent with his accuracy in college, and his mechanics were often sloppy. With Teddy Bridgewater there is reason for concern regarding his durability and arm strength. Johnny Manziel too often abandoned pass plays and ran after he felt pressure or his first read wasn't open. In a strong quarterback class that trio would be considered middle to late first-round prospects at best.
With no quarterback worthy of being the top pick, the Texans' choice becomes very easy.
If quarterback is the most important position in football, then the left tackle assigned to protect him and the pass-rushers at defensive end or outside linebacker assigned to harass them have to rank second and third, respectively. Jadeveon Clowney is not only the top overall prospect in the 2014 NFL draft but may also be the best pass-rushing prospect in a decade.
Some critics point out a position change from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Texans' 3-4 scheme as an issue, but Clowney will be asked to rush the passer 90 percent of the time so I don't think the conversion will be an obstacle. DeMarcus Ware and Aldon Smith had to make the same transition when they were drafted; it won't be difficult for an athlete the caliber of Clowney.
Other critics bring up the work ethic angle, but I dare those critics to find me one player who gives 110 percent on every play. With up-tempo offenses becoming more and more common, defenders are often asked to play 80 to 90 plays a game; every one takes a few plays off. Even the great J.J. Watt who is the poster boy for hustle and work ethic has probably taken off the occasional play.
Stats don't always tell the full story. Did Clowney's sack total drop last season? Of course, but what the stats don't show was how opposing offenses game planned against him. Having to face double-teams, triple-teams, slide protections, running backs and tight ends chipping and being run away from nearly every play would cause every defender's sack and tackles for loss totals to drop.
Texans' star J.J. Watt faced that same issue last year when opposing offenses focused their entire game plan on slowing him down. Watt's sack total dropped from 20.5 in 2012 to 10.5 last year, but no one could credibly suggest that Watt is suddenly a lesser player.
For a great breakdown of the work ethic myth surrounding Clowney, please read this article from the Battle Red Blog featuring a scouting report from Jayson Braddock.
The Texans desperately need another pass-rusher on their roster. After Watt, who led the team in sacks in each of the last two seasons, the second-best individual sack total on the team in both 2012 and 2013 was just seven.
With two premier pass-rushers on the field, one of them will have a one-on-one situation on most plays. If the offense decides to dedicate four blockers to double-team both Watt and Clowney, then that would obviously open up opportunities for other pass-rushers to make an impact.
Rob Rang of CBS highlights the strengths of Clowney's game:
Exceedingly rare combination of size, explosiveness, strength, speed and technique. Times the snap well and possesses true explosiveness out of his stance to cross the face of the left tackle. Exceptional burst off the snap with lateral agility and an array of pass rush moves.
Simply too quick for trap blocks, consistently flashing into the backfield to beat oncoming blockers (as in the case of the famous Michigan tackle for loss, forced and recovered fumble). Good flexibility to dip around the tackle's reach, turn the corner sharply and close on the quarterback in a flash.
Uses his hands well to fight through blockers' attempts to corral him, demonstrating refined hand placement and impressive strength. Does not rely on his outside speed rush, complementing his burst with an equally effective interior rush due to a terrific swim move and very good lateral agility.
Clowney will primarily be a stand up pass-rusher in the Texans' defense, but they will line him up at end with his hand in the dirt on occasion. When the Texans go to the nickel package, they'll slide their defensive ends over to defensive tackle and line up the outside linebackers at defensive end.
No matter where he lines up, Clowney will be a disruptive force.