What To Do With That Pesky First Pick?
By Emin Avakian
So, did you hear? The Houston Texans have the first overall selection in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft. And did the sports entertainment machines remind you that the draft is less than three weeks away?
Now, there is little need to speculate on what the Texans brass will do with that pick. Of course, that's not going to stop league insiders from quoting anonymous sources and telling curious fans that Houston will draft a quarterback one day, only to come back the next day and tell us it's definitely going to be Jadeveon Clowney.
For arguments sake, we're going to go on a limb and assume Texans General Manager Rick Smith when he told the media that the team is going to draft a quarterback. He's backtracked a bit, recently :
"I can't say it anymore clear. This group has some guys. I don't talk individuals," Smith told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday. "It's a deep board at a number of positions. And the quarterback position is one of them.''
History tells us that the formula of holding the first overall pick and drafting a quarterback can make or break a franchise. ::cut to Browns and Colts fans nodding::
In 1998, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Peyton Manning ahead of Ryan Leaf with the first pick and didn't look back until a transition season resulted in Andrew Luck falling into their laps in 2012. You don't have to dig deep to explain why the franchise has been one of the league's best and most highly regarded for the past 15 years. Good research, good luck (or Luck, see what I just did?); whatever the reasoning, if you draft a quarterback with the top pick and he pans out, then sit back and relax. Job security is a beautiful thing.
On the other hand, you can draft Tim Couch with the first overall selection in the 1999 draft and never recover, as the Cleveland Browns can attest to. Couch didn't provide the same stability that Manning did, or any stability for that matter, as the Browns drafted third the next year and have held a top-seven pick seven years since placing all their chips on Couch. Donovan McNabb went second to the Eagles in that draft. Hindsight, yes, but let's not forget the Browns could have gone either way on that day in 1999.
Ty Detmer, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Brandon Weeden, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme. What do these quarterbacks have in common? They have all started games for the Browns since the 1999 season. In total, Cleveland has trotted out more than 20 quarterbacks in that span. The Colts, you ask? Five, but that includes three in the 2011 season before Luck and after Manning.
And the Browns are STILL trying to find a franchise quarterback. Not all the blame can be put on Couch, but you see the contrast between the two franchises.
You can also see how important the quarterback position is to a franchise, especially one chosen with a high pick in the draft.
A quick comparison to another league: the NBA.
In the 2013 draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett. He made zero impact in his first season. However, it's a quick fix, unlike in the NFL where a disastrous pick such as Bennett sets a franchise back. Moreover, the Cavs can afford to wait on Bennett to develop.The Texans, Browns and Vikings don't have the luxury to wait for Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater to develop, not with a glaring need at that position.
Going back to the NFL, will the Kansas City Chiefs be dealt a huge blow if 2013's first overall pick Eric Fisher proves to be a disappointment? Yes, but aren't there tens of other suitable offensive lineman that the team can plug in. It's easier to recover and substitute an offensive lineman (or any other position for that matter) than it is a quarterback. There are 200 capabale linemen every year. Quarterbacks? Maybe 40, and 35 are taken.
What does that say about the NFL and its dependancy on the quarterback position?
Some more relevant questions: can the Texans post a winning record if they draft Clowney and he struggles? Sure they can. Can the team enjoy success in 2014 if they draft Bortles, or Manziel and one of them needs another year or two? Doubtful. Will Rick Smith lose his job if Clowney does not live up to the hype? Unlikely. Will he be shown the door if he goes with a quarterback, who proves to be the wrong selection? Absolutely.
So what am I saying? That I can write a column with three different topics? All self-loathing aside, the point I'm trying to make is that Houston may improve on a 2-14 campaign if they draft Clowney and he and J.J. Watt spark a potent defense. But the Texans will not make the playoffs if they don't improve at quarterback.
On the flipside, they can go with Manziel or Bortles and one of them can lead an already steady, experienced offense to the postseason. No Clowney? That's OK. Trust that it's easier to find a stud on defense than a franchise quarterback.
What if they do draft a quarterback with the first overall selection, and Clowney does wonders for another franchise? Well, I'd argue that's a necessary risk. Ask the Miami Dolphins and St. Louis Rams if they wish they had taken Matt Ryan ahead of Jake Long and Chris Long, respectively. Which of the three franchises has the most formidable since that 2008 draft?
You better have a consistent quarterback if you're going to win in the NFL. Trent Dilfer was an exception.
This is part two of an offseason quarterback feature, following https://www.football.com/en-us/qb-the-most-important-position-in-sports/