Welcome to the first installment of Acme Packing Company's mock draft. We will be rolling out the picks one by one over the next month as part of our 2014 NFL Draft coverage. The mock draft will cover the first two rounds. Each draft pick has been randomly assigned to one of the writers. Selections will be based on not whom the writer thinks the team should take, but rather whom they believe the team will take.
With that, let's move on to the Houston Texans and the number one overall pick.
The 2013 Houston Texans represent one of the most unlikely teams to earn the top pick in recent memory. After winning back-to-back AFC South division crowns, Houston managed to lose 14 consecutive games to close out 2013. The Texans offense, a unit which finished in the top 10 in points scored in each of the two previous seasons, sputtered on its way to 278 points, 31st worst in the league. Similarly, the defense that finished fourth and ninth in points allowed in 2011 and 2012 respectively fell to 24th overall. General manager Rick Smith fired head coach Gary Kubiak and replaced him with former Penn State headman Bill O'Brien.
It's easy to look at Houston's win-loss record and conclude the team is nowhere close to contention. However, that may not be the fairest assessment. Of Houston's 14 losses, nine came in games decided by a touchdown or less. Considering the injuries to key contributors Arian Foster, Brian Cushing, and Owen Daniels as well as the inconsistent play of since-traded quarterback Matt Schaub, 2013 appears more like an aberration for defending division champions rather than a sign of things to come.
However, the strongest indicator that the Texans can quickly turn things around is their talented roster. Houston possesses the league's best defensive player in 3-4 defensive end J.J. Watt. The former Wisconsin Badger won Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012 while earning AP First-Team All-Pro recognition each of the past two seasons. At only 25, Watt projects to improve his craft over the next few seasons, a scary prospect for the rest of the NFL. Around him, Houston has assembled a bevy of talented defenders. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing operates as the brain of the defense while also providing some critical pass rush and run defense. Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus have each shown flashes of great pass rushing skills, while the secondary features true number one corner Johnathan Joseph. Safety D.J. Swearinger struggled early in his rookie season, but came on strong to close out 2013. This is a unit that should return to top 10 form sometime over the next two seasons.
More question marks surround Houston's offense. Besides trading former starter Matt Schaub, the Texans need to determine what role Arian Foster should play going forward. From 2010 to 2012, Foster ran for over 4,200 yards while accumulating 956 carries. He broke down last year, missing time in the preseason and suiting up for only eight games. At 27, Foster probably has a year or two left as a lead rusher. However, his cap hit through 2016 is a ridiculous $26.5 million, $7.5 million of which comes from his signing bonus. At receiver, Andre Johnson continues to elude father time, but at age 32 (33 in July) the Texans need to find other playmakers to help carry the burden on offense.
As with any team selecting number one overall, the Texans can go in a number of directions. Most agree there is no clear top quarterback, however the generally accepted top player in the draft, Jadeveon Clowney, has work ethic concerns and isn't an ideal fit for Houston's 3-4 defense.
With the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans Select...
Name: Blake Bortles
School: Central Florida
Year: Junior (RS)
Let me make this clear: I don't advocate for the Texans to take Blake Bortles number one overall. Bortles isn't even the top quarterback in this class in my view. However, it appears more and more likely that Houston will select him with the top pick come May.
The selection has a lot to do with new Texans head coach. Once Rick Smith tabbed O'Brien as Kubiak's successor, word spread within NFL circles that the Texans would target a pro-style quarterback with the first pick. Such would eliminate Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel from consideration, as the dual-threat passer's improvisation tactics clash with O'Brien's vision for the Texans' offense. Teddy Bridgewater play closer to what O'Brien wants to see from his quarterback. However, more than other teams, Houston is concerned with Bridgewater's slight frame and ability to absorb hits.
Even Bortles' biggest detractors recognize that the 6-5, 232 pound quarterback looks like the prototypical franchise signal caller. His mobility and size also allow him to produce some Ben Roethlisberger-type runs when the pocket breaks down. If his skills are marshaled correctly, Bortles could eventually develop into one of the league's top quarterbacks.
However, that doesn't mean Bortles is the smartest pick for Houston. Even acknowledging the scheme misfit, the idea of pairing Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt together is far more enticing. Such a combination of otherworldly pass rushers has not been seen since perhaps Reggie White and Jerome Brown in the late 80s and early 90s. If the Texans are indeed hell bent on taking a quarterback, Bridgewater is the superior option. Not only can Bridgewater take command of the offense from week 1, but Bridgewater also possesses the potential to become one of the league's better quarterbacks. Given Houston's talent at the skill positions, adding Bridgewater could help return the offense to it's pre-2013 levels this season.
Regardless, neither Clowney nor Bortles appear to be the favorites to go first overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. Sometimes teams just believe a player is the perfect match for their team, and Bortles appears to be that for the Texans.