The Texans are in a great position.
Houston has a roster that won the division and went to the playoffs just two seasons ago. It has the hot new quarterback guru running the ship now with new head coach Bill O’Brien. And it owns the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The options are plentiful for the new coaching regime in Houston.
O’Brien knows he needs to address the quarterback position and has three good options with the first pick should the Texans decide to take a QB. UCF’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel have plenty of upside and intrigue but also come with loads of risk.
Houston could pair all-everything end J.J. Watt with freak athlete Jadeveon Clowney, one of the greatest pure athletes to enter the draft in decades. Opposing quarterbacks beware when those two take the field together.
The Texans could also go a less risky route with names like Auburn’s Greg Robinson or Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. A trade could also be in the mix as teams begin to covet Clowney or one of the quarterbacks more as draft day gets closer.
Either way, the Texans have a lot of options at No. 1 and O’Brien should feel pretty good about his circumstances heading into his first pro draft.
Longtime Houston Chronicle writer John McClain joins up with the Athlon Sports staff to debate what we think the Texans should do with the No. 1 overall pick.
John McClain, Houston Chronicle (@McClain_On_NFL)
After watching their sack total plunge from 44 to 31 and their takeaways plummet from 29 to 11 last season, the Texans have to bolster their pass rush with the first overall pick in the draft. They must select South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Tyrannosaurus Rex of pass rushers. The Texans were 12-4 when they registered 44 sacks in 2012, but last season — when they were the worst team in the NFL — defensive end J.J. Watt (10.5 sacks) was their only dangerous pass-rusher. As desperately as they need a quarterback, they can’t afford to pass up Clowney unless they receive an overwhelming offer to trade. Offensive coordinators will spend a lot of sleepless nights night trying to game plan a pass rush that features Watt and Clowney.
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports (@AthlonSteven):
I think this decision is pretty easy: The Texans should take Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 overall. Houston has plenty of work to do on its roster, but let’s also not forget this team went 12-4 in 2012 and returns enough pieces to get back in the playoff picture this year. The AFC South isn’t that deep, so getting a sure thing at No. 1 overall has to be a priority. It’s always tough to judge defensive players strictly on statistics, as Clowney’s impact at South Carolina went beyond the box score. Pair Clowney with J.J. Watt and Houston already has one of the best defensive end combinations in the NFL, which will help cover for some of the team’s concerns in the secondary. Another reason to take Clowney is the depth at quarterback in this year’s draft class, as well as what’s coming in 2015 (Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley). If you aren’t sure about a quarterback, take the position player that’s a 10-year starter in the league.
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM (@BradenGall):
My first instinct would be to trade the pick. Clowney is clearly the best available player in the draft but does he really fill a pressing need? Maximizing the value of the pick would be to "sell" the rights to Clowney to the highest bidder. There could also be plenty of teams interested in trading up to draft a quarterback, like say, Jerry Jones? If the Texans can't get rid of the pick then the safest pick on the board would either Clowney or possibly Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson. The Joe Thomas-clone is an elite athlete with little to no downside whatsoever (he's better than both Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel) and is really the only name close to Clowney in terms of upside. Robinson gives O'Brien a bookend left tackle to protect his quarterback for the next decade and the move would allow for the Texans to target one of the undervalued quarterbacks with the first pick of the second round. Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron and possibly even Teddy Bridgewater should be sitting there with the 33rd overall pick. Clowney is the best player and should probably go No. 1 overall but Robinson might be the safest pick on the board. A quarterback is the biggest risk and a trade might only happen in the perfect world. I would expect Houston to entertain offers for as long as it can before taking either Clowney or Robinson — the best two players in the draft.
Nathan Rush, Athlon Sports
The Houston Texans are a dynamic quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender. And now they're sitting with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft debating what to do? Take a quarterback! The Texans shouldn't suffer from paralysis by analysis or thinking wrong by thinking long. It's simple. Since the NFL-AFL merger of 1970, quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall have combined to win 14 Super Bowls, while making a collective 20 starts on Super Sunday. Short of lucking into a Joe Montana (No. 82 overall pick) or Tom Brady (No. 199) — because, be honest, if Bills Walsh and Belichick had known just how good those two would be, they'd have drafted them earlier — a team's best bet to find a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback is at the top spot in the draft. And this year, the Texans have an opportunity to draft THE Texan, Johnny Football himself, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. The stars have aligned over the Lone Star State. But with a South Carolina alum owner in Bob McNair (whose love of Jadeveon Clowney is on record) and a first-time NFL head coach in Bill O'Brien (who lost two Super Bowls with Brady as an assistant in New England), Houston may have a problem making this decision.
Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Houston's most glaring need is at quarterback, but none in this year's class are worthy of that distinction, let alone being taken in the first round period, but that's a separate discussion. In a perfect world, I would think the Texans would entertain thoughts of trading out of the No. 1 spot. However, in a draft like this, I just don't see the potential return justifying such a move. Not unless Jerry Jones or some other owner/GM wants to offer Houston something along the lines of the famous Herschel Walker haul. No, I am pretty sure the Texans will get the draft started with their pick, which should be Jadeveon Clowney. Do the Texans "need" Clowney? Not necessarily, not with 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt already on the roster. But as the Seattle Seahawks showed in winning the Super Bowl this past season, you can never have enough disruptive pass-rushers, especially in the current, pass-happy NFL. Pairing Watt with Clowney would give the Texans a ridiculously athletic and potentially lethal combo off of the edges, one that should give opposing offenses headaches. After all, if you can't grab your franchise quarterback with the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, I can't think of a better Plan B than to make life miserable for the one on the other side of the line of scrimmage.