The smart money is on the Texans doing one of two things with the first overall pick: Either they’ll draft a quarterback because they badly need one, or they’ll take the immensely talented South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The latter appears to be the wiser move.
A great quarterback, someone in the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady-Aaron Rodgers-Drew Brees stratosphere, will give a team the chance to win on just about any given Sunday. The same is true of a great defense. There are no other positions or units you can truly say that about in the NFL. At the moment, the Texans have neither, which is why the decision they’ll make this May is such an intriguing one.
It appears that the Texans would have a better chance of finding the pieces to build a great defense than of finding a great quarterback, given the available talent in this year’s draft. This is, of course, a matter of perspective. If the Texans feel that either Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, or Blake Bortles is a can’t-miss franchise quarterback that will lead their team for the next decade, then by all means, they should take a quarterback with the first pick. At the moment though, at least in our judgment, none of this year’s signal-callers are Peyton Manning/Andrew Luck-esque prospects.
There is no question that the Texans need help at quarterback. Despite Matt Schaub’s ultimately successful career in Houston, given the way he played last season, the injuries, and how much money he’ll cost the Texans should he stay in 2014, it appears inevitable that he’ll be released. That doesn’t necessarily mean Houston should use the top overall pick on a quarterback.
There are alternatives out there for the Texans. Plenty of available signal callers could do quite fine with Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Arian Foster, and a good O-line. Josh McCown is one name that comes to mind. Whatever the Texans do, they shouldn’t consider using their first pick on a quarterback until all other good alternatives are completely off the table.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans have the opportunity to get started on building a championship-caliber defense. A great defense starts with the pass rush. Just look at the tape of Super Bowl XLVIII to see why. The Seahawks completely shut down the most prolific offense in NFL history. While they might be known for their secondary (which is far and away the best in football), it was Seattle’s overwhelming pass rush that gave Peyton Manning almost no time to find his dangerous weapons downfield. The Texans have the chance to build this type of unit if they draft Clowney.
Pairing Clowney with J.J. Watt could create an absolutely scary pass rush. Watt is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL. However, in 2013 he faced countless double-teams as the main focus of every offensive protection scheme. The Texans only sacked the quarterback 32 times as a result, tied for 29th in the NFL. Adding Clowney would create more one-on-one opportunities for Watt. It would also create even more opportunities for the likes of outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Not to mention it would give Houston a dangerous edge rusher in Clowney himself.
The Texans need lots of help in their secondary, a huge area of vulnerability in 2013. They can address this need through free agency as well as the Draft. But the best antidote to a poor pass defense is a good pass rush. A good pass rush means opposing quarterbacks have to get rid of the ball quicker than they want to. That means linebackers, the easy targets of every underneath passing game, won’t have to cover for as long. Corners and safeties can sit on or jump routes and take more chances knowing the quarterback most likely won’t have time to push the ball downfield. Clowney can help provide the Texans with this antidote.
Having either a great quarterback or a great defense is the best way to ensure a team will be competitive on a weekly basis. Yet as much attention as the quarterback position regularly gets, a great defense is more likely to lead to a championship. Clowney could be a huge step in achieving this end for the Texans. While he might not be a sure thing, the risk-reward of selecting him is better than that for any of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.