Recent years have delivered NFL Drafts that were all too predictable, with the No. 1 pick already decided before the combine. Thank goodness for this year, because finally we have uncertainty at the top which leads to a domino effect throughout the first round.
Everybody remembers when the Houston Texans had decided upon Mario Williams back in 2006 and when the Oakland Raiders were set on JaMarcus Russell in 2007, or as recently as 2012 with Andrew Luck a sure bet to land with the Indianapolis Colts. The element of surprise has been lacking over the past decade — until now.
Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Jadeveon Clowney are all in contention to be the No. 1 selection May’s 2014 NFL Draft, and the Texans have yet to tip their hand in a certain direction. The team could go after the hometown product, Johnny Football, who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman playing at nearby College Station. They could take Bridgewater, considered to be the most NFL-ready prospect and start him under center Week 1, or go for the prototypical big-bodied, big-armed Bortles, who is arguably the best fit for first-year coach Bill O’Brien’s offense.
Then there’s the Clowney dilemma. After wowing scouts at the NFL Combine this past week, the South Carolina standout has resurfaced as a potential top pick. His athleticism is undeniable and the threat of a pass rush featuring him and All-Pro J.J. Watt is as scary a tandem as they get.
The uncertainty at the top of the draft not only impacts the Texans’ draft strategy but the next eight or nine picks as well.
Let’s say Houston nabs Bortles with the No. 1 pick. On deck is the St. Louis Rams, a team that can well afford to trade out of that spot and allow a team that desires Manziel, Bridgewater, or Clowney to jump in and grab their guy. Or the Rams could take Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson, putting the pressure on the Jacksonville Jaguars to decide between their future quarterback and Clowney, with both positions considered major needs for the team.
The Jags’ decision has the same kind of ramifications as it did for the Texans: if they take Clowney, the Cleveland Browns have almost no choice but to pick between Manziel and Bridgewater, and if one of those two remains available at No. 5, don’t the Oakland Raiders have to pull the trigger?
Oakland has oft been linked to Sammy Watkins, but if Bridgewater — widely considered the top-rated quarterback prospect in the draft — is available, can they afford to pass up the opportunity?
But the best part about this played out scenario is that there are so many more possibilities depending on what direction Houston goes in at No. 1 or what the Jaguars do at No. 3. What if the Jags decide they want Manziel to be their guy? Then Cleveland picks Bridgewater and Watkins falls to the Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons then pull off the steal of the draft as Clowney falls into their laps.
I did mention the decisions at the top of the draft would affect the top 10 picks, though. If the top-three quarterbacks come off the board within the top five picks, do the Minnesota Vikings draft a Derek Carr with the eighth pick or do they take a chance to see if they can grab him in Round 2? If Oakland drafts a quarterback, does Watkins fall to the Buffalo Bills or even possibly join Calvin Johnson in Detroit? That just wouldn’t be fair.
With so many questions remaining about the teams picking at the top, what happens in May has the potential to be the most dramatic, unpredictable draft in recent memory. There are so many possibilities and so many possible twists that could make for such an intriguing event. I can create an argument for the Texans picking Bortles or Manziel or Clowney, and each would make sense for the organization. But this kind of theater playing out in the drama is unprecedented, so enjoy it while it lasts.