The winds of change that swept through Houston last year swept out the longest-tenured coach in the Texans’ short history, as well as their quarterback. With the 2014 NFL Draft upon us, and the Texans holding the #1 overall pick, it’s time to see what those very same winds will sweep in.
If the legions of Texas A&M fans that reside in greater H-town have their way, those winds would sweep in Johnny Football, most likely seated on a chariot of gold emblazoned with dollar signs, rubbing his thumb and forefingers together, while triumphantly puffing on a hookah pipe.
I’m betting against that happening for several reasons (though that chariot would be fantastic). First of all, NFL evaluators have become justifiably dubious of the notion that having a “need” at the quarterback position automatically means that you need to draft a QB in the first round. To illustrate this dynamic, I give you the 2011 NFL Draft; in that year the Panthers, Titans, Vikings, and Jaguars entered the draft with serious needs at the QB position, and the belief that to address those needs, they had to pick QBs in the first round. The result? Of those clubs, only one has exercised their fifth-year option on the quarterback they drafted. That team being, of course, the Panthers with Cam Newton. Blaine Gabbert was traded from the Jags to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick, Christian Ponder got the no-confidence vote from the Vikings’ brass, and Jake Locker is at the outset of a make-or-break year with the Titans.
Conversely, the two best passers in the 2011 class ended up with teams that waited for the right quarterback, as opposed to just getting the first quarterback. The 49ers were richly rewarded for their patience in nabbing Colin Kaepernick in the second round; as were the Bengals, who didn’t overreact after losing Carson Palmer, and picked up Andy Dalton in the second as well.
As Jeff Diamond, former NFL executive and draft expert for Yahoo! Sports radio told me on my show last week, the growing focus among talent evaluators has been to look for Mr. Right, in whatever round he might be in, as opposed to merely looking for Mr. Right Now. Obviously this doesn’t mean that the teams pass up on a once-in-a-lifetime prospect, if they believe that’s what they’ve got. Clearly, nobody would let an Andrew Luck slip through their fingers just because the 49ers and the Bengals happened to get lucky in the second round in 2011. No, the shift in thinking has been that unless a prospect is clearly above-board and better than the rest, wait and get the value pick later.
I’m a buyer on Johnny Manziel long term, but there’s no way he’s in the vicinity of an Andrew Luck or RG3 in terms of prototypical NFL talent. His ceiling is huge. But whether we’re talking about susceptibility to injury or off-the-field character issues there are some holes in that ceiling that could cause that puppy to fold faster than a pre-fab in a CAT 5 on Galveston Island. In short, the risk-reward relationship is a little too lopsided for Johnny Football to be the #1 pick.
Surely this will cause great consternation among the aforementioned Aggie faithful in Houston. But, it needs to be remembered: Manziel is not from Houston. There was far more pressure on the Texans to bring in Vince Young–who is actually from Houston–in 2006 than there is to bring in Manziel now. Young was a hometown kid just coming off one of the greatest performances in Rose Bowl history, while winning Texas’ first National Championship in 35 years. I’m not sure there’s been an organization in the history of sports under more pressure to pick a particular player than the Texans to pick Young in 2006. No doubt there’s a significant Manziel lobby in Houston, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the VY fandomonium of the mid-2000s.
Obviously, the Texans’ need at the QB position remains if they don’t draft Manziel. But, in a quantity over quality QB class, and with high picks throughout, the Texans will likely get that QB in the second round. What I believe the Texans will, and should, do in the first round is draft Jadeveon Clowney.
Stop it…I can sense your eye-rolling through the motherboard of my laptop. Yes, I know there are concerns over his “motor” and how hard he works on the field, but the reports of these concerns became wildly overblown. Jadeveon Clowney knew full well that he was a top-three pick in this year’s draft long before the start of last season; and, it is rumored, was advised to dial it down to avoid any injuries that could potentially ruin his chances as a high pick.
This might not sit well with fans. But look at it from Clowney’s perspective: he watched up-close as teammate Marcus Lattimore, the South Carolina running back who was projected at least in the top ten coming into the draft, blew-out his knee in the Tennessee game in what is, I contend, the second-most gruesome and uncomfortable injury I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. Lattimore lost millions of dollars that day as they loaded him onto the stretcher. Some will say the Texans don’t have a major need at the DE/OLB position, and this is another reason why Clowney wouldn’t make sense at #1. “Need” is a funny word; it gets evaluated in a macro and micro sense, and it means different things to different people. In the big picture, what the Texans need is to not allow Andrew Luck to run roughshod over them, and the rest of the AFC South, like Peyton Manning did for a decade. Manning won six division titles between 2002, when the Texans came into the league, and 2012, when he left for the Broncos. Manning was 18-2 against the Texans while in the division. Andrew Luck is already 3-1 against the Texans, with one division championship in only two seasons.
Point being, Luck is beginning to look like Manning 2.0 with a beard, and he’s not even close to fulfilling his potential. If you’re the Texans, what better way to prevent Manning redux than choosing a player who could be the best pass rusher in the league inside of the next two-to-three years? They already have JJ Watt, who may be pound-for-pound the best defensive player in the league right now. Given the Texans’ chance to have the league’s #1 and #2 best defensive players on the same defense, how do they not pull the trigger on that? Especially considering that the likely #1 QB will be in their division.
There’s a philosophical argument that favors Clowney as well. What sense does it make to have the #1 overall selection in the draft, and not take the best player in the draft? There are a lot of people out there who love Khalil Mack, the linebacker out of Buffalo, but Clowney remains the consensus #1. At some level, isn’t there a moral obligation to take the best player, when you have your pick of any player you want? Sure, there are other draft needs the Texans could satisfy, but there’s no better player than Clowney; and with a total of 11 picks, the Texans are well-equipped to pursue their other needs.
Though, even with Clowney and whoever they select at QB in the second round, the Texans will not be a playoff team in new coach Bill O’Brien’s rookie season. The division has grown tougher, and the Texans have too many holes. But, a Harbaugh-esque quick-rise isn’t necessary for the Texans; owner Bob McNair gave Gary Kubiak eight years to figure things out before his jettisoning last year. O’Brien will have at least three or four years to clean up Kubiak’s mess.
Can the Texans get the best player in the draft tonight, while laying down a foundation for the team that will prevent Andrew Luck from dominating them like Nancy Pelosi dominates Botox? The answer is a resounding yes. However, the player they need to get there is Jadeveon Clowney. Not Johnny Manziel. I sure am going to miss that chariot, though.
Dylan Gwinn is the host of The Mighty Gwinn Show heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio every Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 EST. Follow him on Twitter @themightygwinn.