Rarely has an NFL draft held as much mystery as the 2014 version does with less than a week to go. Nothing seems to be set in stone at the moment, from where the quarterbacks will fall to which teams will trade up to how the Texans handle the No. 1 spot.
The final Rubik's cube gets the spotlight here. Houston can head any number of directions with the first slot in this year's draft. We take a look at five different scenarios:
Scenario 1: Houston drafts Jadeveon Clowney (or Khalil Mack)
This has long been the possibility that makes the most sense, mainly because of Clowney's standing within this draft class. Clowney may not be a perfect fit for the defensive system the Texans had been running, but he remains the clear top 2014 prospect in the minds of many. If the Texans are not sold on a quarterback at No. 1 and do not receive a tempting trade offer, then sticking and continuing to upgrade their defense will be the obvious play.
Mack may appeal to Houston over Clowney because of lingering questions about Clowney's motor and/or Mack's experience playing a hybrid linebacker role. Either way, one of the elite pass rushers comes off the board at No. 1.
And that alone does not really shake up the board. St. Louis would be a potential surprise landing spot for Clowney if he's there at No. 2, but odds are the Rams would focus on the offensive line, Sammy Watkins or (if recent rumors are at all true, which they tend not to be this close to the draft) Johnny Manziel. Jacksonville then could snatch up whichever player of the Clowney/Mack duo that Houston passes on, if it so chooses.
This scenario makes the second-overall pick the swing spot for Round 1.
Scenario 2: Houston drafts a quarterback
This is what all the teams in the top 10 that do not need a QB -- a brief list that includes Atlanta, Detroit, probably Buffalo, and possibly St. Louis and Tampa Bay -- are rooting for atop Round 1. No matter the prospect picked here (Blake Bortles or Manziel, in all likelihood), the resulting fallout would increase the pressure on every other quarterback-needy team to address their situation as soon as possible.
In other words: We might be staring at a quarterback run.
Obviously, the other fallout here would be that Clowney slips below the No. 1 spot, putting him on the table for St. Louis at No. 2 and then potentially Jacksonville at No. 3. The MMQB's Peter King has Clowney slipping even further beyond that, to No. 4, where Atlanta swaps spots with Cleveland to take him. Could three or four teams justifiably pass on Clowney in a draft that runs deep but is shy on real upper-echelon talent?
Clowney aside, the subsequent picks behind Houston definitely would gain trade value in this scenario. The Rams could dangle Clowney, Watkins, all of the offensive linemen and the remaining quarterbacks; Jacksonville would be able to offer a shot at all but one of those prospects, and so on.
Scenario 3: Houston drafts an offensive tackle
Of all the realistic No. 1 pick scenarios, this may be the one that causes the most impact throughout the remainder of Round 1. There are two OTs that appear to be top-10 locks (Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews), a third that may have rejoined them in that mix (Taylor Lewan), and then a fourth with an outside shot (Zack Martin). The perceived drop-off from that quartet to the next block of tackles -- Morgan Moses, Cyrus Kouandjio, Joel Bitonio -- is a rather pronounced one.
St. Louis, Oakland, Atlanta, Buffalo and Detroit all set up as possible OT landing spots within the top 10; the Giants, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Miami and several others could be in the market below them. Subtracting an elite tackle talent from the stockpile at No. 1 overall might set off a bidding war behind Houston, even more so than if a QB is the first pick.
Let's just imagine that St. Louis also has its sights set on a tackle with the No. 2 pick. Hypothetically, if Houston nabs Robinson at No. 1, then the Rams select Matthews at 2, the real victor of Round 1 may be Jacksonville. The Jaguars could then sit at No. 3 and decide between the QB of their choosing, Clowney, Mack, Watkins ... or a trade down with any number of teams that might be interested in climbing the ladder for one of those non-QBs or Lewan.
Without question, Lewan and Martin would benefit from an OT at No. 1. The trickle-down effect also might boost the trade value of picks in the 8-to-11 range, with the tackles dwindling.
Scenario No. 3 may not carry the most favorable odds, but it has the potential to disrupt every other team's plans in a very unique way.
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Scenario 4: Houston trades down
Next to the Texans just staying put and taking Clowney or Mack, Scenario 4 feels likeliest. The Falcons have emerged as a natural candidate to trade up -- they badly need both an edge rusher and an offensive tackle, so hoping the board falls their way is a gamble. Perhaps Jacksonville would think about moving up a couple spots for Clowney/Mack or even Cleveland for someone like Manziel.
A move back would provide Houston with another pick or two in a deep draft, plus still give the franchise a shot at an instant starter. Even if, for example, Clowney, Mack, Robinson, Matthews and a QB came off the board as the first five picks and Houston sits sixth, it could target another quarterback, Lewan or look to trade down again.
The real question here is: How many teams want to move up? Atlanta has shown a recent willingness to pay for the guy it wants, having done so in tracking Julio Jones. But the depth of this draft has left many GMs eyeing a trade down. Not every franchise that wants to accumulate extra picks will be able to do so.
Scenario 5: Houston makes a wild-card pick (Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Aaron Donald, etc.)
At least some of the Round 1 buzz has centered around the possibility of Detroit adding Watkins or Evans to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to form an unmatched three-headed monster at WR. Would Houston toy with a similar notion: Watkins/Evans alongside Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins? Maybe briefly, though the difference between Houston and Detroit is that the Texans do not currently have their version of Matthew Stafford.
Any other selection here -- Donald, TE Eric Ebron, a cornerback -- is almost equally far-fetched. The NFL draft annually offers up some big surprises, but any of these curveballs might throw things off the rails completely.
Let's just play it out for the sake of discussion ...
Watkins at No. 1 overall would be great news for St. Louis and Jacksonville, but a punch to the gut for the likes of Oakland, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Detroit, all of which could be angling for a WR with their first pick. The Rams and especially the Jaguars stand as outside contenders to take Watkins, but the preference for each team may be to address another position with a top-five pick.