The Houston Texans are in a very familiar spot. Eight years ago they also held the first overall draft pick. At the time, there was also a much heralded QB from a Texas college, and Texas high school who also had excellent mobility but somewhat questioned passing ability. There was also a franchise pass rusher sitting near the top of most draft boards.
When it was all said and done, to much scrutiny, the Texans passed on QB Vince Young and instead drafted DE Mario William. Eight years later, Young is out of the league and facing money problems, while Williams is about to start his third season in Buffalo. Common logic indicates the Texans made the right move. Williams made multiple All-Pro teams, and his 76.5 sacks already put him 64th all-time. He only missed 3 starts in his first five seasons. But after an injury plagued 2011 he went to Buffalo, where he has already racked up 23.5 of those 76.5 sacks (just under one-third).
It’s easy to think of Young as a punchline. Despite good records his first two years, his stats were not very good. Without the rushing piece he would have been terrible. He missed significant time in his third season and never played 16 games. He only played 9 games his last year in Tennessee, but that might have been his best season as a passer. After failing to have success stepping in as the backup in Philly, he is now unemployed.
It seemed apparent that Young had some issues off the field, as well as just general personal struggles playing the game. Sometimes players that are just so naturally physically gifted have a hard time with the mental portion of the game as it gets more difficult1, and there is no more difficult position to play in sports than quarterback. The pressure of playing in his home state might have made things worse, but no one can say that for sure. A QB is so affected by the players around him, it’s difficult to know he would have faired better in Houston. Matt Schaub came in 2007 and faired pretty well.
The six seasons the Texans got out of Williams were far superior to the 6 seasons Young put together in the same time frame. But Williams is already gone, and the Texans don’t have a Super Bowl ring to show for it.
That brings it back to this year. There are already those who think the Texans should take a QB, and some of those people think that QB should be Johnny Manziel. Manziel, like Young, is very naturally gifted. He also has some off-field baggage as well. Meanwhile Clowney has been pegged as the best pass rushing prospect maybe ever.
When they look at Clowney, do they see Mario Williams? If they do, do they see the guy that was just short of great, but wasn’t enough to push them over the top in the playoffs? Or do they see the guy who has 76 sacks in 8 seasons and think Clowney could do better? When they look at Manziel, do they see Colin Kaerpernick or Russell Wilson? Or do they see the last Texas born and raised QB with some off-field questions and a less than perfect passing game?
The parallels here are really uncanny. With a new head coach in the mix, it’s possible the team will take more time than usual to figure it out. O’Brien is an offensive guy, but that can go two ways. He might feel confident that he can turn a cheap QB into talent, and so he is better off getting starts on defense. Or he is the kind of guy who wants an elite QB.
Bringing in a first time head coach and a rookie QB at the same time seems like a recipe for disaster. Barring injury, Clowney will at least be an above-average pass rusher. Missing a QB murders seasons/franchises. Houston doesn’t have to look any further than their own history to see what the right move here is. Play it safe, and figure out QB later.
- This is routinely a problem in basketball [↩]