- Jeffri Chadiha, ESPN Staff Writer
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Even with so much time still left in the pre-draft evaluation process, it's already looking like the Houston Texans would be foolish to not draft Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick. Manziel has made it known that he would love to remain in his home state as a pro. The Texans also would be crazy to not take a quarterback when that is the most pressing need on this team. Add in the fact that there isn't a dramatically better signal-caller in this class than Manziel, and you can see where this is going. The Texans might have a hard time selling any other choice to their fan base.
The easy assumption is that Houston is facing the same situation that Vince Young created for them in 2006, when the former University of Texas star and Houston native was dying to join his hometown team after a brilliant college career. It's not. The Texans were smart enough to see they had more attractive options in that class, namely defensive end Mario Williams (whom they eventually selected with that year's first overall pick) and running back Reggie Bush. Manziel is a more polished, electrifying talent than Young ever was, one who would be a marketing dream for the Texans' support staff.
It's also worth noting that this year's quarterback class doesn't have a player who transcends all others. For all the red flags that critics like to attach to Manziel, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida's Blake Bortles have their own shortcomings. Bridgewater has a frame so slight that scouts question how he'll handle the pounding at the next level. Bortles has produced one sensational year during his college career, which could make him the next Mark Sanchez. In other words, it's not as if the Texans are going to be bailed out by some prospect morphing into the next Andrew Luck in the coming months.
Instead, Houston might have to accept that Manziel is their man, so long as he doesn't flop at his pro day. If he weren't coachable - and some already wonder how he would co-exist with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, a man who made his name tutoring Tom Brady in New England - he wouldn't have vaulted to stardom in only two seasons at A&M. If Manziel had a lousy work ethic, another commonly mentioned concern, he wouldn't have been grinding under quarterback guru George Whitfield since before anybody ever knew his name outside of College Station. And if Manziel really is overrated, he wouldn't have someone like former Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys head coach Barry Switzer talking about how he'd never seen a player dominate college football as Manziel did over the past two seasons.
Switzer's comments drive home the most important point concerning Manziel right now: He's the most dynamic signal-caller in this class. With all due respect to ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski - who recently claimed that early film study led him to believe Manziel wasn't worth a pick in the first three rounds - playing quarterback in the league these days isn't just about dominating from the pocket any more. It's about making plays out of nothing, when all hell is breaking loose around you.
That one aspect of Manziel's game means he'll have a chance to prosper and possibly help an NFL team right away. Look at what Michael Vick did for the Atlanta Falcons in his first full season as a starter, when he led that team to the playoffs one year after being the top pick in the 2001 draft. We should also remember the buzz Carolina's Cam Newton created in his first season as well as the way San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick blew up with the 49ers once he became a starter. These players thrived early because they could make plays with their feet. Manziel could do exactly the same things for the Texans.
Aside from that, Manziel already is proving that he wants to take professional football seriously. He made a good enough impression at the combine that many teams came away feeling that he was more mature than they anticipated. He's also kept a relatively low profile since declaring for the draft, including making the wise decision to not attend this year's Super Bowl in order to continue focusing on his training. For all the comments about Manziel's partying lifestyle - which have reached the point that you'd swear he was the love child of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan - he clearly understands this is the time when he needs to alter that perception.
It's also clear that Houston shouldn't be afraid of a quarterback with a few warts in his past. The Texans' previous two regular starters, Matt Schaub and David Carr, were incredibly nice guys. But Houston fans weren't praising Schaub's professionalism when he was throwing pick-six after pick-six last season before eventually losing his job. They also weren't that compassionate toward Carr, who was beaten into submission behind a porous offensive line before being run out of town.
In fact, it's fair to say Houston could use a lot more fiery personalities on its roster. For all the success that Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt has enjoyed in his brief career, he's not exactly an inspirational force. The same can be said of other Texans stars, including laid-back types such as wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster. Every team needs a player who is the emotional leader. Even Manziel's biggest haters have to admit his on-field passion gives him a chance to be that kind of player in Houston.
Now does that mean there won't be challenges if Manziel ends up in Houston? No. He will have to deal with the same learning curve that faces every young quarterback in this league. The upside is that more inexperienced signal-callers are growing at a faster rate these days (see: Nick Foles, Philadelphia) and the cost of using a high pick on a rookie quarterback isn't nearly as frightening as it was a few years back.
The question now is whether Houston has the courage to take a chance on Manziel. He's already dominated the toughest conference in college football and proven that he's willing to be more than just a playground playmaker. In fact, we just may be seeing a glimpse of what Johnny Manziel could become in the near future. And as he publicly said, the Texans will surely hate themselves if they end up watching that maturation from an opposing sideline.
1dDoug Clawson, ESPN Stats & Information