By BOB GLAUBER
There is no better example of just how unpredictable this year’s NFL draft has become than the status of the No. 1 overall pick: No one — maybe not even the Texans, who own it — knows just what will happen at this point.
Unlike almost every other draft, in which there are plenty of clues about who’s doing what at the top of the draft, it is anybody’s guess about what names — and what teams — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will call out on May 8 at Radio City Music Hall.
“This is a very interesting draft at the very top, and I don’t think we’re going to know exactly what happens until the first card goes in by whichever team goes into that No. 1 spot,” said Phil Savage, director of the Senior Bowl and one of the most knowledgeable people about college players. “There is a lot of uncertainty, especially with the order in which the teams are going to make their picks. We know the names. We just don’t know the order of where those names will come off.”
Translation: We suspect that if billionaire Warren Buffett were offering a $1-million prize for anyone who nails a mock draft, he’d keep the money. Just as he did with his offer in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Another example of just how unpredictable this could turn out to be: Bills general manager Doug Whaley, who has the ninth overall pick, was asked Friday about this year’s class of quarterbacks.
“I hope four of them go before we pick,” he said with a chuckle (the Bills drafted quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round last year). “If four go, we’ll be ready. If none go, we’ll be ready.”
Yes, four quarterbacks could go in the first eight picks. And yes, none could go in the first eight picks.
It starts with the Texans. And it looks as if the Texans might not want to start with the first pick.
“I think the Texans are looking to get out,” said former Browns general manager and longtime Ravens executive Savage, who now has broadcasting gigs with ESPN and Sirius XM Satellite radio. “I don’t think they’re asking for an arm and a leg, either.”
Speculation has swirled in recent days that the Texans indeed are looking to move out of the top spot, although we’re told no final decision has been made. They face a conundrum with the first pick, for a couple of reasons.
One, they need a quarterback but are not fully convinced that any of the top prospects — Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Derek Carr of Fresno State — are worth the No. 1 overall pick.
But Houston also is enamored of the top pass rushers in the draft: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. And there’s increased chatter that Atlanta is looking to move up from No. 5 to No. 1 to take Clowney, who visited with the Falcons during the week.
It’s a quandary with which Savage is somewhat familiar. When he was the Browns’ general manager in 2007, he had the third overall pick and a major need at quarterback. That draft didn’t feature quite the class of quarterbacks that’s available in this one and Savage decided not to make a reach pick, opting for tackle Joe Thomas, who has since turned into a perennial All-Pro.
“We took Joe Thomas at the top of that draft because we thought he was a can’t-miss (prospect),” Savage said. “We then circled back at the bottom of the first round and took Brady Quinn.”
Savage pulled off a trade with Dallas to get Quinn with the 22nd overall pick, and though Quinn never panned out, the dynamics of Savage’s predraft thinking are worth mentioning.
That kind of approach could come into play with some or all of the quarterback-needy teams at the top. Of the first eight picks, six teams — Houston (1), Jacksonville (3), Cleveland (4), Oakland (5), Tampa (7) and Minnesota (8) — can make a case to go for a quarterback.
Or not, if some or all of them are unconvinced that any of the passers merit a top-10 pick.
“I’ve known that this would be a class with a lot of quarterbacks, but I’ve always recognized that you were going to poke some holes in them,” Savage said. “In this quarterback class, you can find weaknesses in every one of them. They all have some strengths as well. That’s the real art of putting together a winning team, having a vision for a player, not only from a scouting standpoint but from a coaching standpoint as well. It’s easier said than done.”
Clowney’s situation makes the dynamic all the more interesting. There have been questions about his work ethic but there is no debating his talent, which is off the charts. But Clowney’s best position is as a 4-3 defensive end; the Texans run a 3-4, which makes Mack, a versatile outside linebacker, a potentially more valuable target. The tricky part is how low the Texans can trade and still come away with Mack; he might not be there at No. 5 if they swap picks with Atlanta.
Confusing circumstances? You bet. And don’t be surprised if things continue to evolve in the days ahead as speculation continues to ramp up and force changes to all those mock drafts — emphasis on the word “mock” — that most likely will fall apart once Goodell starts calling off the names.