2014 NFL Draft: Odds for Top Candidates to Be No. 1 Pick

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IMay 7, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Odds for Top Candidates to Be No. 1 Pick

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Being the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft is a distinguished honor that carries a gargantuan amount of weight and expectations. And with the 2014 iteration commencing on Thursday night, it's time to review the candidates and odds for the No. 1 overall pick.

    There have been numerous hits and misses throughout the years on the draft's top pick. For every Peyton Manning (1998) that authors a Hall of Fame career, there's a JaMarcus Russell that crashes out of the league (2007). Just because a player is selected first overall doesn't guarantee a successful NFL career, and in some cases (Russell especially), it doesn't even assure a mediocre one.

    As such, it's vital that the team selecting out of the top slot is absolutely certain that the prospect it chooses will help win games and eventually claim a Super Bowl title.

    Currently, there are five primary candidates that could potentially be selected first overall by the Houston Texans, and in this column, we'll examine them all. They were chosen based on their standing in my roundup of expert mock drafts, as all five players appeared throughout the top five selections.

    Despite being mentioned several times in that piece at the top of the draft, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins didn't make the cut here, as he hasn't been mentioned as the No. 1 overall pick in any prominent mock draft. Conversely, Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has, so he merited inclusion here.

    I'll tell you why each player is an option for the No. 1 overall pick by examining their on-field talent, potential off-field foibles and what the experts are thinking and saying. I've also assigned odds for each player ending up as the top selection, based on the expert mock draft projections and recent news trickling down the NFL grapevine. 

    There's one heavy favorite (hint: he's pictured above), but every prospect listed has a chance to hear his name called first.

    Ahead is a review of the candidates and a listing of their odds to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    Odds: -400

    The odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Houston Texans, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was a force to be reckoned with at the collegiate level.

    Clowney compiled 24 sacks in his three seasons as a Gamecock and displayed a level of brutality and physicality rarely seen in the college ranks. He married that brute force with electrifying speed, running a 4.53 40-yard dash at February's scouting combine. His hit and forced fumble (which he also recovered) of Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl will go down as one of the most memorable plays of recent years.

    But he's also had his detractors tear him down and scrutinize him during the draft process, and I compiled the negative comments here.

    Despite all the backlash, Clowney has still been the unanimous No. 1 overall pick by the expert mock drafters.

    If they indeed selected him, the Texans would be able to pair Clowney with stud defensive lineman J.J. Watt to form an outstanding one-two pass-rushing punch. And since the Texans play in a division where Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is set to dominate for years to come (the AFC South), being able to unleash a potent pass rush is of paramount importance.

    Texans owner Bob McNair recently gushed over Clowney, telling FOX 26 in Houston (via Mark Berman of MyFoxHouston.com):

    You take a guy like Jadeveon Clowney. He's obviously the best player in the draft, but he's a defensive end. He's not a quarterback. If he's a quarterback and the best player it's easy, but that's not the case. So can that defensive player have a greater impact on the success of your team than one of these quarterbacks? It's not a sure thing that he is.

    The only quote that really matters there is McNair saying Clowney is "obviously" the best player in the draft. That's high praise indeed from the man who ultimately writes the checks.

    And Clowney recently told The State in South Carolina (h/t Jeff Reynolds of CBSSports.com) that he spoke with Texans general manager Rick Smith "two or three times last week."

    Even if the Texans trade out of the No. 1 overall pick, as Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio suggested they might, it has to be assumed that any team that moves up to the top of the draft will be doing so for the right to draft Clowney, so that wouldn't change his potential odds.

    The only reason Clowney's odds aren't higher is because of recent scuttlebutt indicating that the Texans are considering passing on him, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Media (via Dan Parr of NFL.com), and that NFL.com's Gil Brandt told Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he expects University of Buffalo defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack to be drafted before Clowney.

    But with all of that said, Clowney is still the presumptive No. 1 overall pick and the heavy favorite to be selected in that slot. The smart money is on his name being the first one read by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Buffalo DE/LB Khalil Mack

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Odds: +350

    University of Buffalo defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack has completed a meteoric rise from virtual unknown to potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, as detailed brilliantly in this column from Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey.

    Mack accumulated 28.5 sacks in his college career, including 10.5 in an outstanding senior campaign that caught the eyes of NFL teams and draftniks everywhere. His performance against Ohio State in the 2013 season opener put him on the map, as he compiled 2.5 sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown.

    And unlike South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Mack hasn't been on anyone's radar due to potential character concerns and questions about work ethic.

    Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei wrote an excellent piece about why the Houston Texans should select Mack over Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick and included this quote given to him by a front-office man: "The miss factor is very slim with (Mack). And the ceiling is very good. He's not raw, even though his level of competition was not great. He's a refined player. There won't be a big learning curve."

    Helping Mack's cause are two pieces of intel from the columns of Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Last month, King wrote that a source revealed that Texans general manager Rick Smith prefers Mack to Clowney, he and included a quote from NFL.com's Gil Brandt in his latest piece saying that Mack will be drafted before Clowney.

    It's likely that the only chance Mack has to be the No. 1 overall pick is if the Texans stand pat and select him over Clowney. If a team were to trade up to the top spot, the assumption would have to be that they were doing so for Clowney.

    But Mack's ascent up draft boards might not be done just yet. The odds are better than expected for him to be the top player selected on Thursday night.

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Odds: +500

    Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is perhaps the most polarizing figure in all of college football, and it'd be easier to acquire a date with Jennifer Lawrence than to accurately predict where he'll end up on Thursday night.

    Manziel dazzled in his time at College Station, and he is one of the most exciting college football players of all time. Despite standing just less than six feet tall, Manziel scored an outrageous 93 combined touchdowns (63 passing, 30 rushing) in his two seasons as the Aggies starter, and after the 2012 season, he became the first player in college football history to win the Heisman trophy as a redshirt freshman.

    But it's not all smiles and lollipops for Manziel, who has had his share of off-field concerns, which I compiled here.

    Despite those issues, Manziel has the kind of electric personality that people gravitate toward, and there's no doubt that he'll inject confidence and swagger into whichever team he joins.

    The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and according to ESPN's Adam Caplan (via Rotoworld), team owner Bob McNair "loves" Manziel, which is a definite feather in Manziel's cap.

    Manziel also sparkled during his pro day in March, prompting Texans coach Bill O'Brien to say (via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle), "I saw every throw I needed to see. He was very impressive.”

    And late last month, McClain, a prominent Texans insider, also wrote that he expects the team to choose between Manziel and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall selection.

    At this point, however, the derby for the draft's top slot appears to be a two-horse race between Clowney and University of Buffalo defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack, with Clowney installed as the heavy favorite. Mack's odds simply must be stronger than Manziel's.

    But that doesn't mean that the Texans can't or won't shock the world and tab the local kid to be the new face of their franchise. It's just not one of the two most likely options.

Auburn OT Greg Robinson

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Odds: +600

    On the heels of an outstanding career at Auburn and a magnificent performance at February's scouting combine, offensive tackle Greg Robinson has been shooting up draft boards, and he comes in with the fourth-best odds to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

    This quote from ESPN's Todd McShay (via Joel A. Erickson of AL.com) says it all about the 6'5", 332-pound Robinson: "There's nobody in this year's draft, or last year's draft, or in the last eight drafts, that has the power that (Robinson) has. He's the most dominant point-of-attack player in the offensive line that I've ever evaluated."

    Bleacher Report's Matt Miller installed Robinson as his top-ranked offensive tackle in the draft.

    Speaking back in March to Brandon Marcello of AL.com, Robinson said this about potentially being the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Texans: "I've just been hearing a lot of things and it's a possibility that I can go No. 1 but I don't know. As far as (Jadeveon) Clowney and all the rest of them, I don't really know what they've been doing and which coaches like them but it's fair game really. You never know."

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported last month that the Texans were "weighing all options" with the top pick, and they did indeed host Robinson for a pre-draft visit.

    Robinson still has to mature as a pass protector, and it's feasible that he could kick inside to guard as a rookie before eventually protecting a quarterback's blind side. But his immense physical talent and raw ability will surely land him in the top five, and he has an outside chance to be the draft's top selection.

UCF QB Blake Bortles

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Odds: +700

    Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles had a marvelous junior campaign, as he tossed 25 touchdown passes, rushed for another six scores and led the Knights to a 12-1 record and thrashed Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.

    And in accomplishing those feats, he established himself as a contender to be drafted with the No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans.

    Back in March, Bortles shined at his pro day, and Texans coach Bill O'Brien was a fan, saying, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, "I was very impressed. He made every throw I wanted to see, and he showed good footwork.”

    He possesses ideal size (6'5", 232), has a strong right arm and reminds of a young Ben Roethlisberger with his ability to scramble and move in the pocket. He was the fourth-ranked quarterback in the draft by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, and Miller wrote this in his scouting report:

    Bortles has as much raw potential as any quarterback in the draft. The downside is that betting on quarterbacks to develop is risky. If Bortles were to never improve his mechanics and decision-making, he wouldn't be an acceptable NFL starter. Some team will bet on their ability to develop prospects and discern true upside, though, and that's where the most exciting part of his game comes from. 

    The Texans would definitely be rolling the dice with Bortles, but as Miller writes, his upside is tremendous.

    If the Texans do select a quarterback, it would likely be Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, leaving Bortles with the fifth-best overall odds to be the No. 1 overall pick.

    All combine results via NFL.com.


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