With new head coach Bill O'Brien in the fold and the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Houston Texans are excited about moving on from a profoundly disappointing 2013 season in which they went 2-14 and lost their last 14 games. The automatic assumption has been that the Texans will take a quarterback with the first overall pick, given Matt Schaub's pick-six issues and Case Keenum's possible low upside. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is the name most will tie to that pick, and there's little doubt that Bridgewater has the raw talent and football acumen to live up to that highest pick under the right circumstances.
But when it comes time to finalize their final big board and pull the top name, the Texans will surely consider the 'Best Player Available' approach, and that could just as easily lead them to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Many have questioned Clowney's effort and productivity after a 2013 season in which his sack total plummeted from 13 to three, and his tackles for loss total dropped from 23.5 to 11.5, but when he's on, Clowney is still one of college football's most disruptive forces.
Texans owner Bob McNair said as much in a recent interview with the team's official website.
"He is a remarkable player. He's one of these players that's really a once-in-every-10-years kind of physical specimen that comes along."
Word is that Romeo Crennel might get the defensive coordinator job that last belonged to Wade Phillips, and Crennel would likely give Clowney a set of hybrid front concepts intriguingly suited to his talent and positional versatility. The question is how much Clowney's alleged work-ethic issues will come up in pre-draft meetings.
McNair has been proactive about the matter, and he's already talked to his best defensive player about what he thinks needs to happen if Clowney comes to Houston.
"He's not a J.J. Watt," McNair said. "You know, J.J. didn't have that natural ability. He worked. He developed his [abilities]. And one of the things I said to J.J., I said, 'J.J., I don't know what will happen, but if we get Clowney, we want you to instill in him the same kind of work habits that you have.' He said, 'If he's in the same room with me, then he'll have them.'"
Not that anyone is questioning Watt's work habits, but Watt was also a ridiculously productive player at Wisconsin with tremendous natural athletic ability. At the 2011 scouting combine, he ran a 4.81 40-yard dash at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, which is just as insanely rare as it sounds. Now, he did overcome a two-star ranking as a tight end coming out of high school, and he had to develop into a first-round talent at a new position after one year as a tight end at Central Michigan. That's to Watt's credit, and his amazing productivity as an NFL player speaks to the fact that he does play football the right way. But it's a bit of a stretch to insinuate that Watt was some sort of "Rudy" before he started taking scrappy pills. Could Watt help Clowney become a better player? There is absolutely no doubt. Should McNair check his statements to make sure they don't sound so, um, clichéd before he even meets the player he's talking about? Just as surely. It might be best to keep that kind of concern in-house for now.