The First Overall Pick: Quarterbacks

As May 8th creeps up on us, the Houston Texans’ time on the clock is slowly winding down. After winning their first two games of the 2013 season, the Texans went on to lose fourteen straight, securing the organization the first overall pick in this years draft.  Many holes are in need of plugging in Houston, on both offense and defense. And unlike in many other drafts in the past, there is no consensus number one pick. If Houston believes improving their 31st ranked scoring offense, which put up just 17.2 points per game last season and has now traded away their starting quarterback to the Raiders, is their main priority, they have a three-headed monster of quarterbacks to choose from. We will take a look at the pros and cons of candidates Teddy Bridgewater,  Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel.

First, let’s highlight Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Throughout the 2013 season, it was believed by many that Bridgewater was the most NFL-ready quarterback and  and the one most deserving of the number one pick. His numbers sure do back him up.

Pro: Very accurate.

Bridgewater completed 71% of his passes in 2013. Compared to Houston’s Matt Schaub and Case Keenum, who threw for 61% and 54% respectively, that is certainly an upgrade. Where Bridgewater really shined was in the short and intermediate zones: on short passes (0-5 yards), Bridgewater completed 87%. On intermediate passes (6-15 yards), he completed 73%. As a quarterback, your room for error expands when throwing to Andre Johnson, so just imagine the success of a Bridgewater and Johnson duo.

Pro: Few Turnovers.

A truly accurate quarterback values the football and does not throw interceptions. That’s a pretty solid description of Teddy Bridgewater: in 2013 he threw 427 passes, and had only four of them intercepted. That means that only 0.93% of Bridgewater’s passes were picked off. Not 93% – 0.93%. That is efficiency at its finest. Compare that to Matt Schaub, who had 3.91% of his passes intercepted – tied for 8th worst in the league for QBs with a minimum of fifty attempts – inefficiency at its worst.

Con: The Deep Ball.

Bridgewater undoubtedly shines when it comes to accuracy, but that is not the case on his deep throws. On passes of sixteen-plus yards, Bridgewater’s completion percentage was a concerning 45%. Along with his low percentage, three of his four interceptions last year occurred on deep passes. Bridgewater’s struggle with the deep pass has to be a red flag for the Texans.

Con: Small Frame.

Despite having nice height at 6’3, Bridgewater only weighs in at 205 pounds. He has been able to play through ankle and wrist injuries in the past but the beating he took in college cannot compare to the pounding he will take in the NFL. The Texans’ offensive line won’t help Bridgewater’s lack of a big frame. According to Pro Football Focus, the Texans were ranked 27th in the league for pass protection last season. If the Texans do use the first overall pick on Bridgewater, he must bulk up if he expects to have a long career.

Next on the Texans’ list of possible quarterbacks to draft is UCF’s Blake Bortles. Bortles is a latecomer to the first pick discussion, as he was practically unknown to the college football world for most of the 2013 season.  He introduced himself quite nicely.

Pro: Size

Unlike Bridgewater, Blake Bortles has an NFL-ready body. When you look at Blake Bortles, he looks like a starting NFL quarterback. Standing at 6’5 and 230 pounds, the Texans would not have to worry as much as they would with Bridgewater and Manziel every time Bortles takes a hit. Bortles is not afraid to get out of the pocket, either, and his big frame will allow him to continue to do that once he enters the NFL.

Pro: Second Half Performer

The very best in the NFL always deliver in the second half. The same can be said about Bortles. Bortles only throwing nine interceptions is impressive as it is, but only throwing two of those nine in the second half is even more impressive. Not only is he safer with the ball in the second half, but his completion percentage increases by 4%. Where Bortles truly shines is in the third quarter. Throughout the entire game, Bortles completes 67% of his passes – in the third quarter, that number jumps to 76%. His impressive third quarter play doesn’t end there. 20% of Blake Bortles’ touchdowns last season came in the third quarter, while not throwing a single interception. If Bortles expects to compete against the elite quarterbacks of the NFL, he must continue his impressive play in the second half.

Con: Poor Competition

Coming out of the American Athletic Conference, Blake Bortles rarely faced stiff defenses. UCF’s only loss of the season came against South Carolina, who has a pass defense ranked 12th in the country. Bortles threw two interceptions in that game – the only other times he threw multiple interceptions was against South Florida, the 25th ranked pass defense, and Baylor, the 31st ranked pass defense.  If you exclude those three opponents, and Louisville, the average ranking of the pass defenses that Bortles faced was 81.7. The Texans must keep in mind that, if they do select Bortles, he will be facing competition that he is not accustomed to.

Con: Slow 40 Time

Many have compared Blake Bortles to Ben Roethlisberger, and believe that they have very similar playing styles. It easy to see why people would think that, but the problem is that Bortles does not possess his speed. Bortles’ 40 time came in at a 4.93, which cant compare to Roethlisberger’s 4.75. Who ran a similar forty to Blake Bortles? The plodding Eli Manning, who ran an even faster time at 4.92. Bortles cannot expect to continue his out of the pocket ways with a forty time that slow – NFL defenses are just too fast. 

And finally, we take a look at the one and only Johnny Football. Johnny Manziel entered our hearts two seasons ago when he went from the bottom of the depth chart to Heisman winner. After following his Heisman campaign with another very solid season, Manziel has watched his stock rise to an early first round pick. Selecting Manziel would be a huge PR splash for the Texans, but do his stats back him up?

Pro: Deep Passes

When you watch Johnny Manziel play, you are prepared for a big play at all times. Excitement is never far away from Manziel and that’s due in part to his accuracy with the deep ball. Compared to Bridgewater’s pedestrian percentage of 45% on passes of over sixteen yards, Johnny Manziel’s 58% is remarkable.  Johnny Manziel wasn’t shy about going deep, either. 15% of Manziel’s completions came on passes of 25-plus yards, and 34% came on passes between 15 and 24 yards. Pairing Manziel up with Andre Johnson, a wideout who has shown time and time again that he can win any jump ball thrown his way, would give the Texans a dynamic duo in Houston.

Pro: Mobility

Manziel posted an impressive 4.68 in the forty-yard dash at the NFL combine. Compare that to Tim Tebow’s 4.72, Andrew Luck’s 4.67, Cam Newton’s 4.59 and Colin Kaepernick’s 4.53, Manziel can scramble with the best of them. Manziel is very effective when using his legs as a weapon. Of his 144 attempted runs, Manziel picked up more than ten yards 25% of the time. Considering the struggles of Houston’s offensive line to protect the quarterback, Manziel’s ability to scramble would be a big plus for the Texans.

Cons: Turnover Friendly

Manziel’s history of going for the big play has led the former Heisman winner to make a handful of throws he wishes he could have back. If you were to combine Bridgewater’s four interceptions and Bortles’ nine you would reach Manziel’s interception total last year of thirteen. Manziel is awfully close to Matt Schaub in regards to percentage of passes being intercepted. Having 3.03% of his passes intercepted last year would place Manziel near the bottom portion of the NFL. We all know how tough the defenses are in the SEC, but they come nowhere close to the skill set Manziel will see from defenses in the NFL. It’s hard to imagine that number dropping rather than rising.

Cons: Redzone Struggles

Not only did Manziel struggle with turning the ball over, but far too many of his interceptions came in the red zone – 38% of Johnny Football’s picks came ther last season. Although Matt Schaub, Mr. Pick Six, struggled mightily last season, he only threw one of his fourteen interceptions in the red zone. Last season, five of the top ten ranked teams in red zone efficiency made the playoffs, and three of the five that missed out on the playoffs were one game away from clinching a playoff birth. It is apparent that playing well in the red zone leads to team success. Manziel’s decision-making inside the opponents’ twenty-yard line has to improve if the Texans are going take him with the first overall pick.

Before last season started, many viewed the Houston Texans as a team that could make a Super Bowl run, but those days are long gone. This first overall pick will drastically alter the team’s future success, and if they fail to select the correct player, don’t be surprised if they are faced with this same dilemma in a few years. Taking the right player with the first overall pick can catapult a franchise back into playoff contention. Only time will tell if the Texans make the right choice when May 8th comes around.

by Sean Fener, Saint Joseph’s University

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