2014 combine: Texans GM on No. 1 pick: 'Everything is up for grabs'
Rick Smith won't tip his hand regarding the No. 1 overall pick, but the Houston Texans general manager clearly likes the hand he has been dealt in preparing for the 2014 NFL Draft.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rick Smith won't tip his hand, but the Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith clearly likes the hand he has been dealt in preparing for the 2014 NFL Draft.
"Everything is up for grabs at this point," Smith said at the NFL combine, where the biggest question remains what the Texans will do with the No. 1 overall pick.
The Texans are coming off a stunning freefall from a playoff team in 2012 to a two-win season in 2013 that included a 14-game losing streak following a 2-0 start. But Smith clearly likes the quality and depth of this draft class. He also likes his position as the franchise holding not only the first overall pick, but the first pick on each of draft's three days.
"This is a unique situation," he said. "You get a chance to reset your board three times."
Smith has spent the past six weeks getting to know new head coach Bill O'Brien and what type of players will fit best in his scheme, as well as that of new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. The bulk of the evaluations is based off film study, but the Texans' brass is in Indianapolis this week meeting with dozens of prospects face to face.
The general consensus is Houston has narrowed its focus for the No. 1 pick to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or one of the three highly rated quarterbacks -- Blake Bortles from Central Florida, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
"Everybody wants to know," said Smith. "We try to keep our opinions close to the vest, but that becomes increasingly difficult."
NFLDraftScout.com analyst Dane Brugler believes it's "a coin flip" at this stage between Bortles and Manziel. Bortles impressed O'Brien when UCF played against Penn State, while Manziel is a Texas native with a massive risk-reward scenario. Swing and miss on him with the top pick, and it could set the franchise back several years. Pass on Manziel, and the Texans risk him falling to conference rival Jacksonville and haunting Houston twice a year for the next decade.
Smith was blunt in his desire to see all the prospects work out at the combine -- Bortles will throw on Sunday while Manziel has chosen to wait until his March 27 pro day -- but the decision the Texans make with the top pick could be determined by individual meetings with each top prospect this week.
"What you try to do, especially with younger players, is you begin to talk to them about what's important," said O'Brien. "What's important to us is being a team player, a coachable player."
O'Brien disputed the notion he has a head start in the draft process as a rookie head coach who was in the college ranks the past two years. That said, he did watch Bortles lead a 34-31 victory over Penn State last September, a game in which Bortles threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
"He played well. I thought he threw the ball well that night," said O'Brien. "I have a connection with [UCF head coach] George O'Leary obviously, and their coaching staff is very high on him.
"He's a big guy, he's athletic, he's a competitive guy."
While the media, and to a lesser degree NFL teams, are still getting to know Bortles, Manziel has been squarely in the public eye since his Heisman Trophy campaign as a redshirt freshman in 2012. That was followed by a tumultuous offseason that generated heavy criticism regarding his maturity level and ability to serve as the face of an NFL franchise.
Smith believes there are quarterbacks in this draft capable of starting in the NFL next season, he's just not saying which ones. And while "everything is on the table," he doesn't see the Texans trading out of the top spot at this point.
"You don't box yourself into anything, you keep your options open," said Smith. "There is a certain amount of discipline in this process. You have to remove the need and value players based on pure value"
Without a clear-cut Andrew Luck-type prospect at the top of everyone's board, Smith, O'Brien and Texans owner Bob McNair will have extensive internal discussions between now and May 8 before settling on whose name will be on the card handed to commissioner Roger Goodell to kick off the draft proceedings.
"You're never going to find the perfect player," said Smith. "What you try to do is project how well he's going to fit what you're trying to do.
"A lot of it is risk assessment."
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