St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead and his Jacksonville Jaguars counterpart, David Caldwell, made small talk in a hotel lobby as the NFL owners meetings got going in Orlando last week. Their teams hold the second and third picks in the 2014 NFL draft, respectively, but without knowing the Houston Texans' plans for the No. 1 overall choice, there was nothing concrete for them to discuss.
Will the Texans select a quarterback such as Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel? Or, will the sheer talent that Jadeveon Clowney possesses compel them to select the South Carolina defensive end despite concerns about scheme fit? What about Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack? ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed Mack atop his latest mock draft after going with Manziel in each of his previous two. Colleague Todd McShay has sent Clowney and Bortles to Houston in his past two mocks after penciling in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater way back in December.
The uncertainty at the top of this draft runs counter to recent years when quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (2009), Sam Bradford (2010), Cam Newton (2011) and Andrew Luck (2012) became near-consensus top choices. There wasn't much consensus atop the 2013 draft, but that stemmed mostly from a perceived lack of elite prospects, which certainly isn't the case this year.
With these dynamics in mind, I used the league meetings in Orlando to poll coaches and executives for their thoughts on how the Texans might be most likely to proceed. Clowney was their overwhelming choice despite some notable dissenting opinions. What are league insiders thinking? Let's run through each of the leading possibilities.
1. Clowney is viewed as the likeliest choice
Ten of the 15 people I polled at the meetings thought the Texans would select Clowney first overall even though Houston badly needs a quarterback.
"You've gotta take Clowney, because he's the most talented guy and none of the quarterbacks are good enough to go that early," an offensive-minded head coach said. "This is the 2011 draft revisited."