- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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The NFL draft is exactly one month away and, man, are the Houston Texans in a lousy spot.
Sure, they have the No. 1 pick, which means they can take absolutely anyone they want to take. Figure out who the best player is, take him and never look back. No other team has that advantage this year. Everyone else's pick depends, at least to some extent, on what other teams do before them.
But while that sounds like the catbird's seat, for the Texans it is not. Because the Texans' biggest need, by far, is quarterback, and there's no obvious answer sitting there for them at No. 1.
Andrew Luck is not walking through that door. Neither is Peyton Manning or Troy Aikman or, heck, even Cam Newton. This is not a draft with a clear No. 1-pick quarterback, and because of that the worst thing to be is a team that needs one.
So pity Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and even Buffalo, which took a quarterback in the first round last year and still isn't sure it has one. These are the teams in the top 10 that still need quarterbacks. These are the teams whose entire draft process will be consumed by the killer quarterback questions:
When do we take one?
Which one do we take?
What if we're wrong?
The quarterback class of 2014 is a collection of questions. Do you think you can turn a raw Blake Bortles into something special? Do you think Teddy Bridgewater is good enough to start right away? Can you get a Derek Carr or a Jimmy Garoppolo late in the first round or early in the second and expect to hit the lottery? And my goodness, what on earth do you make of Johnny Manziel?
Teams that need quarterbacks have to answer these questions as best they can, then hold their noses and make the pick. The terrifying part is that third question, because if you take one of these guys and you're wrong, everybody is pretty much going to get fired.
Yes, life without a franchise quarterback in the NFL is a waking nightmare. If you don't have one, all you can think about is how to get one. Nothing else you do seems to matter until this particular hole is filled. When you do have a quarterback, everything else seems better. All of your other problems feel solvable. The best team to be in this year's top 10 is Atlanta, which has its franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan and can literally, without any complications, take the best player available to them regardless of position.
Those other teams listed above? They can't. They'll say they can, but they're lying. Every decision they make in this draft from the first round through the seventh will be laced with some degree of uncertainty. Because when you don't have your quarterback, everything you do feels awkward.
If you don't believe quarterback is all that matters in the modern NFL, you're not paying attention. The teams that have them make the playoffs. The teams that don't have them pick in the top 10, every year. The Texans are picking first, in large part, because Matt Schaub imploded and they didn't have anyone behind him. Jacksonville is picking third because the team messed up three years ago when it reached and took Blaine Gabbert. Cleveland is picking fourth because it couldn't get the trade done for Robert Griffin III two years ago. St. Louis is picking second because Washington could and Griffin had a rotten year in 2013.
The Rams, by the way, are sitting pretty, because whatever you think of Sam Bradford, the Rams are invested in him as their guy for at least one more year and therefore don't count quarterback among their 2014 concerns. They might take a flier on a quarterback at some point in the draft, just as a hedge against Bradford busting, but they can pick anyone they want to pick at No. 2. They can trade the pick if they want to trade it, collect another 2012-style haul, keep building around Bradford in the hopes that it will help him deliver on his potential.
The Texans, though? You wouldn't want to be the Texans. They know how important quarterback is. They hired Bill O'Brien to be their coach because of his reputation as some sort of quarterback MacGyver. Give him a rubber band and a paper clip and a kid who started two years at an FCS school, and O'Brien will make him a star. With no perfect solution in sight, Houston is counting on O'Brien to fix the problem with an imperfect solution. If he does it, he's going to coach in the NFL for a long time. If he doesn't, he'll join the long list of men who failed because they couldn't find a quarterback.
We don't know what the Texans are going to do with that first pick on May 8, but whatever they do is going to leave them with a sick feeling in their collective stomach. At the end of this draft, as at the beginning, they are still going to be wondering whether they have the answer to their most important question.
If they take Bridgewater or Manziel or Bortles at No. 1, they're going to be haunted by the ghosts of Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell and, yeah, especially David Carr -- No. 1 picks who weren't good enough to go No. 1 but did anyway because, doggone it, those teams needed quarterbacks. Unless and until their guy shows he deserved to be that pick, they're going to live in some degree of fear that he didn't.
But even if they resist, the Texans are going to be miserable. Even if they decide none of the quarterbacks in this year's draft is worthy of the No. 1 overall pick, which is likely the case, they're going to have to hold their noses. Even if they take Jadeveon Clowney, universally regarded as a superstar pass-rusher in the making, and even if they and their fan base believe Clowney is the second coming of Lawrence Taylor, they won't be able to enjoy it. Because after a few weeks, the excitement of it all will die down, and the Houston Texans and their fan base will go to training camp with the sickest feeling any NFL team can have:
Not knowing who their quarterback is.
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