After months of kerfluffle about Jadeveon Clowney's motor and a deluge of trade rumors large enough to get Russell Crowe looking for the 2x4's, the Texans kept things simple at the top. When a potentially generational talent intersects with an area of dire need, you run to the podium and don't look back.
The area of dire need is something resembling a legit pass rusher opposite
Ben Grimm Piotr Rasputin Angry Bruce Banner J.J. Watt. The particular position of need is, on the surface, a tad stickier. In an ideal world, you'd drop Clowney on the weak side of a 4-3 and let him go bananas. In a 3-4, he's got the length but not the bulk you'd want to play a 5-tech end. Watt's prior bookend Antonio Smith wasn't exactly a run-game stalwart, but he still had 20+ pounds on Clowney, and you don't want a guy with Clowney's quick-twitch bogged down in interior bar fights anyway.
Clowney's likelier home in Houston's base defense is at outside linebacker, where neither Whitney Mercilus nor Brooks Reed have exactly lit the world on fire to date. He lacks much experience dropping into coverage, but as a coach once said about Sergio Kindle, "thoroughbreds don't back up." A see-QB, kill-QB approach is fine for Clowney's rookie season, and he can pick up the nuances along the way. There's also the fact that most NFL teams spend 50+% of their time in nickel or dime alignments, and even base 3-4 teams frequently switch over to a 4-2-5 nickel look that will give Clowney plenty of hand-on-ground time.
The bottom line is that however Romeo Crennel and company choose to deploy Clowney, they've got the potential for a 1-2 superfreak punch on their defensive front that no team in the league can match. Motor and motivation concerns may linger until Clowney proves them baseless, but the good news for Texans fans is that guys who want to retire rich can't really do it on a rookie contract under the new CBA. That, plus the presence of a workhorse like Watt, should keep Clowney's nose to the grindstone.
Houston didn't have another pick in the first round, but they might have seen their man get snaked out from under them when the Vikes traded into Pick 32 to grab Teddy Bridgewater. The weeks leading up to the draft are such liar's poker that it's nigh-impossible to get a clean read on who really covets who, but there's a lot to like about Bridgewater. Derek Carr is an intriguing guy, but Carr-Houston may be a pretty bad institutional memory on both sides. Texans fans, what's your druthers for the 33rd pick?
On the Cowboys side of things...everything was basically a blur once Johnny Manziel got past the Browns and Vikes at 8 and 9. Picks came, graphics flashed and analysts chattered, but I saw only spots and heard nothing but the pounding of my own heart. I was thrilled to hear Zack Martin's name called, but at that point I'd have been thrilled to hear Anthony Fera's name called if it meant not divorcing my childhood team.
Martin is an interesting pick on the merits. He was never going to be a sexy selection, but his power, athleticism and versatility made him a worthy first-round selection. With guys like Anthony Barr and Aaron Donald already off the board, there wasn't a had-to-have-him talent at a position of need. Dallas could have gone with Louisville's Calvin Pryor or a corner (I thought it was too early to roll the dice on Florida's Dominique Easley) and I wouldn't have objected, but Martin was a fine get.
His likely landing spot is at guard or right tackle. At those three spots, Dallas is currently trotting out:
- A career backup who more than likely stumblebum'd into one league-average season in 2013, and was rewarded with a pay cut,
- A guy who was regarded as a third-round talent who the Cowboys scooped as a UDFA thanks to ticking time bombs in his knees, and
- A proven thief who will only work for you when his money and job are under direct threat.
Methinks Dallas shouldn't have too much trouble finding a spot for Mr. Martin to get to work.
In the second round, I'd been hoping Marcus Smith might drop into range of the Cowboys' selection at #47, but the Eagles of all teams put paid to that plan. I'm crossing my fingers that Kony Ealy, Louis Nix or Timmy Jernigan makes it Dallas' way. I'm not wowed by any of the safeties on the board at the moment, but I'd be happy to call an immediate moratorium on the Gavin Escobar experiment if Austin Sefarian-Jenkins or Jace Amaro fell into Round 3.
Some quick hits from the rest of the first round:
- On the Manziel tip, the Browns had themselves quite the first round. They netted an extra first rounder in 2015 by trading out of the #4 spot, got a terrific bookend for Joe Haden in Okie Lite corner Justin Gilbert, and then got their QB target anyway at 22 once Johnny Football became Johnny Freefall. By that point in the first round the risk-reward equation on Manziel's skills was plenty palatable. I'm utterly convinced that the six inches between his ears will doom Manziel in the pros, but I won't even pretend objectivity on any Manziel-related topic. Outside of QB, running back and some interior line foibles, the Browns had a pretty solid roster in 2013. If Brittle Ben Tate holds up in the backfield and Manziel gets a scheme crafted to his talents while proving willing to accept coaching, Cleveland fans could have real reason to get excited.
- The league's other pre-eminent Headless Horseman remains headless at this hour as the Rams stocked the trenches with OT
Gerg Greg Robinson and DT Aaron Donald. They're both fine choices who meet needs - Robinson probably fills the Rams' bereft right tackle spot before eventually succeeding Jake Long on the left side, and Donald should immediately beef up a lackluster interior pass rush. But the Rams have had a bevy of high draft choices in the last couple of seasons and remained content to stay wed to Sam Bradford at QB. You'll never get past the Seahawks and Niners without FAR more than St. Louis has gotten from the QB spot so far, but Bradford is likely to get at least one more season to show some inkling that he can do something at an above-average NFL level. And if he can't? Well, Jeff Fisher would rather win a game 13-10 than 35-24, anyway, and no coach in league history has proven more job-secure while trotting out .500 seasons.
- It's looking like my #1 overall draft choice in one of my Dynasty leagues is going to be Mike Evans. Poor Sammy Watkins got kneecapped from a Dynasty perspective, as there's no evidence that E.J. Manuel has it and every chance that he could stagger around for two full seasons of not having it before giving way to...who? Odell Beckham landed in a crowded house of receivers and may not shove his way to the forefront until Eli Manning is about to hang up the cleats. Evans' long-term picture is no clearer, but he starts from Day One with a QB in Josh McCown who has demonstrated the ability to keep a Twin Towers wideout corps well fed. Factor in warm weather and the enduring attraction of fast dudes with big catch windows, and Evans gets the nod. On a side note - did anyone else think Evans was 100% Caucasian until last night? ***EDIT - Or, upon further reflection, Brandin Cooks. Brees should have three more years in him, and those years could be rich for Cooks with Marques Colston winding down.
- Speaking of Fantasy, get on Matt Stafford. His Calvin Johnson-enabled floor is already pretty high, and there's word that new coach Jim Caldwell is going to take an active hand in cleaning up Stafford's frequently dubious mechanics. Replace the questionable routes, catch-and-fall "athleticism" and frequent volleyball sets of Brandon Pettigrew with a freak like Eric Ebron in the seam and add a young/competent/healthy #2 wideout in Golden Tate while retaining 500 free backfield passing yards from Reggie Bush? That's the stuff 5200 yard, 35 TD seasons are made of.
What did y'all think of Round One, and what are you hoping to see from your favorite teams when Friday's proceedings get underway?