The NFL Draft is always a hot-bed of intrigue and speculation, from General Managers leaking false reports to outwit their competitors, to mock draft upon mock draft upon mock draft – all with different angles and opinions about what will happen when Commissioner Goodell takes the podium at Music City Radio Hall. The one thing that it seems everyone is agreed on is that the later date of the Draft this year is making everyone increasingly frustrated for the event to come, lost in repeated conversations and ‘big questions’ that have now been exhausted. Maybe it is that frustration that has led to me writing this article – needing to pass some time before the Draft next week. The last NFL post I wrote was about how Seattle would crush Denver in the Superbowl, so I advise that you heed my savant-like words about this draft.
Another reason I decided to write this post is that I have a projection for the draft which seems to go against a strong consensus of both fans and ‘draft experts’. On most boards, South Carolina potential once-in-a-generation Defensive End Jadaveon Clowney is going to be picked first overall; a projection which seems to make a lot of sense if you buy Clowney as the All-Pro he is projected as. Further, the argument goes that the team in possession of the #1 pick – The Houston Texans – will take Clowney to add to a Defensive line that also includes former Pro-bowler and NFL Defensive Player of the Year, JJ. Watt to complete a fearsome pass-rush that would undisputedly be the best in the league (and potentially, ever). If they were to do that, teams would certainly struggle to score on them and the Texans would be taking balls away left, right, and centre; and often-times, a great defense can lead to a championship team.
This post wont be arguing that that’s a stupid approach because it isn’t, and if the Texans take Clowney I will neither be surprised or dismissive, but all that being said, I will argue that the Texans as a team will benefit more by going in a different direction in their draft. This is based on a simple premise: the current starting QB for the Houston Texans is Ryan Fitzpatrick, and that isn’t good enough. Fitzpatrick is an ok player, a journeyman veteran, but there is no reason to think he can run a dynamic, successful offense – he never has before, has just joined the Texans, and seems more like a back up or safety net than a feasible starter. The Defense may not concede many points, but the Offense wont be scoring many points either – there will be a lot of low-scoring games involving Houston this year if they take Clowney. That’s a risky strategy when they face teams with good Offensive lines and quarterbacks who can release the ball quickly and successfully as a response to pass rush.
Meanwhile, this year’s Quarterbacks class is a deep one with some special talent, and none more special – in every way – than Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Compared to other Quarterbacks in this class, Manziel seems much less like a development prospect and the most pro-ready prospect – an exciting mobile quarterback who can inject some dynamism and creativity in to an offense held down in the past by Matt Shaub’s limitations. Future Quarterback classes may come and go, but no-one knows what the standard of talent will be; but what is clear is that the Texans need a franchise quarterback, and won’t be a serious competitor until they get one, so it isn’t time to wait on the most important position on the team.
Add to the equation that the Texans do have a great and already successful blind-side rusher in JJ Watt and a good D-line already, the addition of Clowney may be an exceptional addition to an already relative-strong spot, but I argue that it is plainly better to fill a huge team need while keeping a good D-line that the team already has, and if the Texans really feel a need to add to their Defensive line, they can always trade for or sign more defensive linemen in due course and a lot more easily than it is to find a successful franchise quarterback. There are also the extra intangibles of taking Manziel, especially for a Texas expansion team. Any team Manziel goes to will instantly have a much higher profile, huge fan interest, shirt sales, TV time etc that helps build a successful franchise; and in Houston’s case, taking the darling of Texas will only increase that effect. That extra element makes Manziel a once-in-a-lifetime pick for the Texans specifically, and someone they must be looking at much closer than onlookers seem to be crediting.
While it seems to me that some quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr might fall to the second round. Manziel and some others who are in the highest echelon of QB talent, however, will almost certainly not fall out the first round, if not the top 10 picks, and if the Texans trade down and there is a run of Quarterbacks, they could miss out altogether. So though – objectively – Clowney is the #1 talent in this year’s draft, I predict that one of the many shock’s of this year’s draft will be the very first pick, Johnny Manziel to the Houston Texans.
So if Manziel does indeed go to the Texans, where will Clowney go? Well that brings me to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
A lot of people would never anticipate Clowney dropping from #1, so they would anticipate him dropping to #3 even less, but it is nonetheless what I see happening. Once again, I would not be shocked if the St. Louis Rams take Clowney at #2, but they are a team with a much bigger need at Wide Receiver than at Defensive Line due to lack of depth as well as due to a need to give their Quarterback – be it Bradford or a new quarterback with their second first round pick at #13. There are two receivers with game-changing talent in the draft: Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, but neither will be there at #13, so the Rams will want to take one at #2, and Sammy Watkins is certainly deserving of a #2 pick; so that’s why I see the Rams taking Watkins at #2 and therefore, Clowney dropping again.
Clowney is another player who – though to a lesser extent than Manziel – has a franchise, attention-grabbing feel to him, and Jacksonville don’t just have a need at Defensive Line, but they have a need in terms of interest and energy in the franchise. Clowney fits both, the Jaguars will be delighted to see him still on the board, and will announce that pick within seconds of them being on the clock.
But it won’t stop there for the Jaguars. I hinted before at the likelihood that some very talented Quarterbacks could fall to the second round – most infamously, Teddy Bridgewater, who was projected just a month or two ago as a potential top of the first round talent, but has fallen steeply following a disappointing pro day. A disappointing pro day is hard to explain as it should be a gimme performance for a top Quarterback, but it is not the same as his impressive outings for Louisville. Depending on what St. Louis do with their second pick in the first round, I see Bridgewater still being on the board when Jacksonville come to pick in Round 2. I added the Rams caveat there as there has been speculation that they could take a quarterback at some point in their first round picks, but I don’t buy that; I think they still believe in Bradford and were just a bit too keenly supportive of him recently to make it seem insincere or trickery. Call it intuition if you like.
So, by means of an advantageous turn of events, the Jaguars could end up with both Jadaveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater: two players who were at different times projected as top-five prospects, and one of whom is almost certainly the top talent in the draft. If the picks do indeed go that way, it could be a brand new start for a Jacksonville team banished to 3 years of London games due to the franchise’s mediocrity. They are in a division with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, who will provide some pretty stiff completion, but those moves could make the Jaguars competitive, or certainly more competitive in that division. The main thing is that the team would be suddenly one of the freshest and most exciting attractions in the league, starting right off from making the biggest splash in the 2014 Draft.
Of course, if and when teams start trading picks, it could affect the delicate eco-system I have imagined here, but that’s all part of the fun of the draft, and it really can’t come fast enough …