Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams have plenty of options atop the NFL draft

When the NFL draft begins on May 8, the Houston Texans will know what they will do with the first overall pick. Until then, the Texans will continue to weigh its plethora of options.

Houston could use the pick to select its quarterback of the future. The Texans could get defensive help to go with Pro Bowler J.J. Watt. Or Houston could deal the pick away for multiple picks this year and in the future. 
The latter is what the St. Louis Rams did in 2012, when they traded down from No. 2 with the Washington Redskins. That trade gave the Rams two picks in 2012 and first-round selections in 2013 and 2014. Washington’s pick this year, owned by the Rams, is the second overall selection. St. Louis general manager Les Snead said the team would again consider trading down from No. 2.
“That’s definitely an option,” Snead said last month at the NFL combine. “That’s a nice asset. As an organization, we need to make the best of that asset like an business would do. So that’s definitely an option. Not saying that will happen, but we’ll evaluate and analyze all situations.” 
If Houston and St. Louis do stand pat at 1-2, there are definitely needs to be filled. Houston has to find a replacement for quarterback Matt Schaub, who was benched during last season’s 2-14 campaign and is now in Oakland. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel would be the most popular choice in Texas, but Houston could also go with Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could also be a darkhorse option.
Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith
“We’re still in the process of ranking and evaluating all of these prospects,” Houston GM Rick Smith said in Indianapolis. “Really, the bulk of the evaluation is done because we put the real onus on the playing and what the guys film, what he is as a football player. So that part of it’s done. The other parts of the process that augment that evaluation, whether you’re talking about the performance here, the interviews, the medical, gathering more information from a character standpoint, the pro days, when we bring guys on our campus. All of those other ancillary are ways that we augment the evaluation process, but the bulk of it’s done. We know we how we feel to a large degree about all of these prospects, but we’ll continue to evaluate.” 

Bridgewater was considered a favorite to be the top pick until his sub-par pro day on March 17. He still believes he can be the best quarterback in the draft.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
“I just pay no attention to it,” he said. “Keep my head down, stay focused on what I have to work on. If something is being said in a negative way about me, I use it as growth, I learn from it. If it’s something being said positive about me, I still can learn from it. I’m just on a mission to be the best player that I can be, so I keep my head down and just keep moving forward.” 
Any of the top quarterbacks could be a gamble, which is why the Texans could go defense – or even trade down and maybe select a quarterback like Fresno State’s Derek Carr later in the first round.
“It’s not only important to get that pick right, but it’s also important to understand this is a unique situation,” Smith said. “You get a chance to really set your board three different times and pick the best player on the board three separate times the way that the draft is set up. You get to do that Thursday. You get to do that again on Friday and again on Saturday. You have a chance to obviously pick the best player or, if another team values a guy on the board and they want to come and maybe have the chance to acquire more picks. So it’s not only that first pick, but it’s the way that you manage this entire draft I think is going to be very important. We understand that and our scouts have done an excellent job so far. 
“We haven’t even narrowed it down to the group of guys that we’re considering,” Smith continued in February, “so that I don’t think you box yourself in anyway. We’re open to all possibilities and, I think if you do that, you give yourself the right chance to manage the process the right way.”
If the Texans decide to go defense, the most likely options are South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Houston owner Bob McNair is a South Carolina alumnus and Clowney is hopeful that will lead the owner to order Smith and new coach Bill O’Brien to select the former Gamecocks pass rusher. Smith did say that McNair has not given any such directive. 
“Give me a chance to go to the Texans hopefully, but I just hope I get a chance to go somewhere good,”
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney said at the combine. “I am going to play hard and hope for the best.

“That’s one of my goals here, to go No. 1. I came out of high school as the No. 1 player so I want to come out of here as the No. 1 guy.” 
If the Texans pass on Clowney, St. Louis would definitely be an option.
We’ve proven in the last two years we can get pressure on the quarterback specifically with a four-man rush,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “And we’ve gotten pressure and effective rush from our backups. You can’t get enough guys that can (rush). For example, we lost Will (Hayes) for a couple weeks with an MCL and our numbers went down because Chris (Long) was playing more plays. So the more guys you’ve got up front, the better you are.” 
The Rams also have injury concerns about quarterback Sam Bradford and offensive tackle Jake Long – both of whom are coming off ACL injuries. St. Louis isn’t expected to select a quarterback with either of its first-round picks – 2 and 13. But the Rams will likely select an offensive lineman with one of the picks and could go with either Mack as an outside linebacker in their 4-3 defense, cornerback to replace now-released Cortland Finnegan or add a play-making wide receiver.
The best receiver in the draft is Clemson’s Sammy Watkins – a 6-foot-1 speedster with good hands and athleticism. Watkins caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for the Tigers. 
“I can do just about anything on the field from wide receiver to running back to slot I can make plays all over
Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins

the field,” Watkins said. “What I love doing is dominating defenses. I think that’s what I bring to the game and I think that’s going to turn over to the NFL. When I come into the NFL I think I can be that dominant receiver.”

Another option for the Rams would be Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, who displayed surprising athleticism at the combine. The 6-foot-5, 332-pound Robinson did 32 bench press reps of 225 pounds. He then took the field Saturday at the combine for drills and impressed again with a 4.92 time in the 40-yard dash and 9-foot, 5-inch broad jump and a 28.5-inch vertical leap. 
Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson

“In this league the tackle position is so important,” Smith said. “I learned a long time ago when I came into this league that you really can never have enough tackles. We’re looking at all the tackles – the tackles on our team, the tackles in free agency, the tackles in the draft. So that’s a very important position on your football team.”
The draft is extremely deep at tackle with Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame’s Zack Martin all considered first-round picks. That’s another reason Houston could trade down – to get one of those tackles in the middle of the first round and also gain an additional first-round pick. 
But if Houston stays at 1, there is speculation that O’Brien’s friendship with Central Florida coach George O’Leary could push the Texans toward Bortles. O’Brien also saw Bortles first-hand with Central Florida defeated O’Brien’s Penn State team last September.
“I did work with George for a long time and I’m sure at some point in time we’ll talk about Blake and some
Houston coach Bill O’Brien

of the other guys,” O’Brien said at the combine. “He’s got other guys on that team that are in this draft process, too. 

“I have a connection with George O’Leary and their coaching staff thinks very highly of him there. He’s a big guy. He’s athletic. He’s a competitive guy. So it’s been fun to watch him play on tape and it’ll be good to watch him work out.”

Bortles had one of the more impressive pro days on March 19, but so did draft busts Blaine Gabbert, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell. That may be one reason why a team might shy away from taking Bortles as No. 1 and lean toward a player like Manziel, who has the “it” factor of being able to make plays out of nothing. 
“He’s a colorful, confident guy,” Smith said of Manziel. “You’ve got to appreciate that about him. I don’t have any problem with that.
“The thing about it is you, again, you’re talking about a vacuum and how you evaluate, each of these players, whether you’re talking about the three different quarterbacks, have different skill sets, different physical characteristics,” Smith added. “To the degree that those guys can execute what you want them to do and really that’s what it all boils down to. You’re never going to find a perfect player. You have what we call position parameters and critical factors and specific things that we look at by position, whether that’s height, weight, speed or whether that’s a certain football characteristic, whatever those things are that you look for by position. You’re always looking for those perfect characteristics. You’re never going to have players that fit all of those things, but what you try to do is project how well those guys, whatever his particular skill set is – how well does he project to execute what you’re going to ask him to do. 
“I think that there’s some quarterbacks in this draft that absolutely that you can come in and ultimately be winners in this league. I think I like this entire draft class.”
The question marks at quarterback – without a sure-fire lock like Andrew Luck in this draft class – and depth at other positions like offensive tackle and wide receiver could lead to multiple trades in the first round. And with a general manager like Snead, who has already proven himself to be a wheeler and dealer, anything is possible. 
“It’s a very, very deep draft – at multiple positions,” Snead said. “That’s a good thing for this year. A lot of
St. Louis general manager Les Snead

good players. Heck, the 15th receiver could be a starter in this league. From that group, you get a lot of different flavors, too. You get the large people; and you get the smaller, faster. They’re competitive. And the other thing you notice, there are a lot of underclassmen that are coming out. It’ll be a fun group.

“I’ll say this, any time in the draft, if you could add a really special player, that helps your team…. You start looking at, hey, if you go back here, last year we might have been shutout. This year – wow, look at our options. At worst we’ve got a pick of these (guys). In going through all this in planning for a trade maybe, or just being prepared for whatever happens, you even go further looking into next year’s draft. If this one is this deep, what are we thinking next year is gonna be like? Is it gonna be like really thin? This year being deep, it’s gonna affect trades for sure.” 
What Houston does will surely affect the Rams’ move with the second pick. If Houston passes on a quarterback, there will be teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, Tampa Bay or Minnesota who may want to trade up to ensure they get the quarterback they crave.
O’Brien doesn’t believe he has a “head start” as a former college coach coming in with a better knowledge of the collegiate players. Instead, he said he’ll work with Smith and the Houston scouts to make a “staff evaluation” decision that’s “best for the organization.” His assessment of Clowney wasn’t exactly glowing, call him a “very good player” who “played very well this year.” He then added, “But there are a lot of good players in this draft.” 
“I think what you do is you value your board based on really what the football characteristics and potential is for the player,” Smith said. “A lot of what we do, I said this earlier, a lot of it’s projections, a lot of it’s risk assessments. You’ve got to put all of those factors into your evaluation when you go through the process of ranking and evaluating your board. As the draft progresses, any situation where your pick is there and you’ve got two players who are essentially rated at the same value point. And if one of them is a position need and, you get an opportunity to take that guy, then you’ve hit a home run because you’ve not only fielded a need on your football team, but you’ve also taken the corresponding value, so that’s when it works good. If you don’t have a position of need at that particular point and you draft a value. At some point, that’s going to help your football team. When you take players that valued at the point that you take them because they fit a need, ultimately where that gets you on the back end is you miss an opportunity to get another good player at a different position that’s maybe a little bit better football player. But because you didn’t need that position, you didn’t take him. That, to me, is where you make mistakes. You’ve got to take value because, at some point, at that particular time, it may not be a need for you, but you’ve got a good football player and ultimately you’re to acquire as many good football players as you can.”

About Ron Clements

Wisconsin native, former Marine, Summa Cum Laude graduate of East Carolina University and a working sports journalist since 1999.