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Texans keep draft world in dark, could select Clowney

05/08/2014, 12:00am EDT
By DAVE HACKENBERG BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Texans keep NFL draft world in dark

The Houston Texans are on the clock. Let the most over-hyped, non-sporting event of the sports world begin. Cue Chris Berman and get ready for some “Bortles and Jaymes” references. It is NFL draft time, with the first round going to the gate at 8 tonight on a TV screen near you.

If we knew for sure what the Texans were going to do the rest of this would be much easier to predict.

After a 2-14 season that cost Gary Kubiak his coaching job, and brought on Bill O’Brien from Penn State, the Texans are in the catbird’s seat. They also have a Texas-sized quandary.

Everybody in Houston and their brother and sister wants the Texans to keep quarterback Johnny Manziel at home. O’Brien has distanced his team from that move, saying there isn’t the kind of separation between the top quarterbacks that he’d like and suggesting that starting in the NFL is too big of a big load on a rookie.

The experts translate that into meaning the Texans will opt for end Jadeveon Clowney, the best defensive line prospect since Ndamukong Suh joined the Detroit Lions in the 2010 draft, maybe longer.

Or, the Texans could eschew a big man and big name and trade down for a big haul.

This doesn’t appear to be a draft tailored for trading up during the first round. There is star quality at the top, sure, but depth at a lot of positions.

So is there a candidate? Well, the Atlanta Falcons have done everything short of buying a full-page ad to send the message that they want Clowney.

Here’s the thing about trading up. A team gives away a lot of future picks. In a deep draft like this one it can be a waste. Why, for example, should the Falcons go to the expense of trading up from No. 6 to No. 1 when Khalil Mack of Buffalo, no Clowney but a tackle machine behind the line of scrimmage, should still be on the board?

It might happen, though. Texans owner Bob McNair says he is “open for business” regarding the first pick. He made it clear what he thinks about that pick.

“You take a guy like Jadeveon Clowney,” McNair said.

“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.”

The top quarterbacks are Manziel of Texas A&M and Blake Bortles of Central Florida — we bet you a wine cooler that Berman drops a Bortles and Jaymes reference on us — with Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville factoring in there somewhere.

Houston would be among the quarterback-neediest teams with Ryan Fitzpatrick projecting as its starter.

Jacksonville is in a bit better spot with Chad Henne on the roster, but interested. Still, with top receiver Justin Blackmon indefinitely suspended, and maybe out for the entire season after a third violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, the Jags might instead jump on Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

Cleveland drafts fourth and we’ll find out right away how comfortable the Browns may be with a still-rehabilitating Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback next fall.

The best bet is they are not and here is where either Manziel or Bortles could come off the board. If they are, watch for them to pursue a QB later in the first round, where they also own the 26th pick.

The Lions draft 10th and should have options for the top cornerback or pass-rusher on the board, providing they look to plug holes on defense.

It might be folly to do otherwise, but we keep hearing about Detroit looking for another receiver and maybe Mike Evans of Texas A&M falls that far.

It’s doubtful unless they deal.

We can’t predict trades, but we can predict picks. Let’s go 10 deep:

1. Houston — Needs include quarterback and a defensive game-changer. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina.

2. St. Louis (from Washington) – If they’re going to stick with Sam Bradford at QB, they’d better keep him clean. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M.

3. Jacksonville — Needs somebody to throw it and somebody to catch it. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson.

4. Cleveland — The question at quarterback is small or big. I’ve changed my mind in 24 hours. Go big. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida.

5. Oakland — They signed a QB (Matt Schaub) so do they go for protection or a target? Since Watkins is already off board… Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn.

6. Atlanta — The Falcons wanted Clowney. But they’ll settle. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo.

7. Tampa Bay — Worst offense in NFL last season. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M.

8. Minnesota — They like Teddy Bridgewater, but can they pass on Johnny Football? Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M.

9. Buffalo — Not all good picks are sexy ones. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan.

10. Detroit — Premier player is available at a position of great need. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.

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